29/04/2016

The Pain of Painkillers

Tramadol Withdrawal

It has been half a year since I last published a Blog post and in that time lots has happened.  There have been many things I wanted to write about but haven't had the time or dedication to finish the numerous false starts that will forever be forgotten.

But over the last two and a half weeks I have found, that through no choice of my own, I have had extra hours in the day.  And that is what I am using to write this now.  Let me explain.

As some people reading may be aware, I have 'incurable spinal damage'; a phrase I upgraded to after saying 'I have back pain' simply did not cut it.  It's been a long and painful journey which started 11 years ago

I'll try and tell a long and winding story quickly, in order to get back to the earlier comment about having extra hours.

Many years ago I lifted a heavy guitar cab and threw my back out.  I was unable to walk or move properly for weeks and at the time my doctor just prescribed me pain killers.  Months later I went back and he then sent me to Physiotherapy.  Many, many months later the painkillers and physio were not helping in any way and I knew that there was something mechanically wrong with my body.

I pushed for a MRI scan but was first referred to a spinal specialist which wasted yet another 6 months. Two years after the initial problem I eventually got a scan and it was now very visible to everyone that I had a prolapsed disc.  By this time I had lost nerve feeling in my leg and my spinal vertebrae were under massive stress, so they operated and cut the bulge.

The operation meant that I was stuck on my back for months and didn't really help, I continued to be in pain.  I have since learnt that if people did listen to me at the start I would have most likely been cured and not have to live with pain the rest of my life. And there are two strands to the pain:

i) The back pain - which feels like someone is punching your lower spine until you are bruised and continues to do so; all day / all night - non stop / all the time.
ii) Then there is the nerve pain in my leg which feels like someone has plunged a knife into my leg and keeps twisting it constantly sending off nerve pain signals. Not fun.

So time passed and about three years ago I started speaking to my new doctor to try and get help as the pain I had become stuck with was becoming unbearable.  Since then I have been on a medical journey - seeing the so-called specialists in their field.  Each time it goes something like this:

Book an appointment - wait 3 months to see the specialist - see the specialist - wait 3 months for the tests they want - have tests - wait 3 months to see the specialist again - see specialist who refers me to next specialist - wait for referral to come through ... then ... repeat to fade.

I have seen a lot of people over the last three years and am currently waiting for a second opinion from a second spinal surgeon as to whether they feel another operation will help, the first one said no, but a later specialist was totally shocked at that decision because of the damage they saw on a new MRI.

I have also recently been referred to have hydrotherapy, but I am now waiting months for the appointment to come through and even when it does it won't fix the pain I am in daily.

So the other side of all of this is medication.  My currently doctor is very good and understanding and has been doing her best to help me with the tools available to her i.e. prescription meds.

Since going back three years ago and kicking off the whole process  I have been on a whole host of medications:

For the nerve pain in my leg I was originally prescribed Gabapentin, which is an anticonvulsant and often given to people who have epilepsy.  It stopped the nerve pain but played havoc with my head and had other side effects that were not fun.  So I swapped over to Pregabalin which has now sorted out the leg pain and that is something I will have to stay on for life.

Because the vertebrae in my spin have deteriorated my muscles often tense up and won't relax so I was given Naproxen which is an anti inflammatory, but later switched to Celebrix (which makes me laugh as it sounds like a cereal).  Again I will have to be on this forever and it heightens the chance of Liver problems so I also take Omeprazole to counteract that.

The harder thing was trying to find medication for the actual back pain.  I started off taking 8 Paracetamol a day, that didn't really help.  So was then bumped up to Codeine, which worked for a while but eventually my body got used to it.  It is also pretty horrible on your mind long term and makes you constipated so all in all not fun.

Next I tried Amitriptyline which is a tricyclic antidepressant and was horrid.  The idea was to take it at night and it would give me pain relief in the day.  But all it did was knock me out and leave me feeling sick and dazed the following day, so I stopped that and eventually I was put on Tramadol.

I had used Tramadol before when I had a hernia operation and back then I only used it for a few days and had to stop as it was too strong.  This time round I was given it and told to 'use it when you need it'.  I did this for a while but the pain in my back was always there so I was then told to take it daily - then twice a day - then three times and eventually by March this year I was taking it five/six times a day.  But by this time my body built up a tolerance to it and it has given me no pain relief at all for the last six months.

Two weeks ago I saw a Pain Management Consultant which in itself was a painful experience.  I have found many of the consultants I deal with to be rude and not overly bothered about trying to help.  On the last visit rather than give me options available to me he asked why I was there and then said there was nothing he could do.  I got really pissed off and said 'I know there are things you can refer me to', he said 'like what?'.  I then listed about 4 things I had heard about to which he said 'yes let's try those'.

It really feels like you have to know what options are there for you before you speak to people and unless you kick up a fuss you are send away without any help.  The last three years have been hard in that sense, trying to push these people to do their job.

Anyway.  One of the things he picked up on, was the fact that I was on a lot of medication and said that they are obviously not working as I'm still in so much pain so suggested I come off Tramadol.

Usually when coming off medication like this it is recommended to taper off; you can't just stop taking them as it could kill you.  So over the last fortnight I have been cutting down my Tramadol intake, one less every few days.  The thing that is not communicated well enough are the side effects that you get whilst going through withdrawal.  

I am at the stage where I have gone down from six to two a day and I have already gone through the mental issues; psychosis, mood swings (sorry to my family), nausea, extreme happiness / sadness, sweating, hot flushes, toilet issues, and so on.  

But the thing I had not expected was the physical effects of withdrawal.

A few days ago I went to bed night and my entire body was 'buzzing', I tried to lay down to go to sleep and my body was spasming throughout the night.  After a very restless night I managed to get 2 hours sleep.  This happened the next night and the next.  After that I got a couple of nights full sleep.

I am now at the stage where I am on one pill a day and I thought the insomnia / restlessness had ended, it hasn't.  This is the sixth night I have been awake all day and night.  I am sat on the sofa, gone 3am and my body feels like there is electricity running through it - I am exhausted / but can't sleep so decided to document where I am in the coming off process.  This is not pleasant at all.

I have been on a whole host of medications over the last 3 years and have been used to the daily side effects but have never experienced something as hard and horrible as coming off Tramadol. 


epilogue

Tramadol is a controlled Schedule 3 drug in UK and is fast becoming the go-to medication which GPs give people when they have pain.  I was never addicted to Tramadol but my body had definitely come to rely on it being taken and when I stopped, it was a hard path to get through.

I knew that I wanted to come off and even after a week when I down to three tablets my head felt so much clearer.  I have pretty much been 'stoned' for the last few years and it now feels like someone has lifted the fog.

For me, it's been a rotten couple of weeks but I am pleased to say I am now Tramadol free and am glad I have gone through that.
 
 My back pain is no different to what it was a month ago which goes to show that when you are put on these meds there is always a short shelf life in terms of their efficiency, this is never explain at the start and you are not pre-warned that one day you will have to try and come off.  

I  read a few forums over the last couple of weeks where people don't like going through the withdrawal process so start taking it again just to make it stop.  It's a real shame.

These are dangerous little things, great for short term use but really the doctors and specialists should be finding ways to fix the problems earlier rather than use pain relief as the first port of call.

If you have stumbled on this page and read to the end and are coming off medication or thinking about it I just want to wish you all the best, you can do it and the withdrawal symptoms will soon be a think of the past.

The one thing I will miss and need to find is that extra time to write these posts more often.  Hopefully the next one will be on a much happier subject. 

21/10/2015

Why I hate going to gigs


I was 13 when I went to my first ever live concert.  For all my sins I went to see Simply Red at Wembley stadium with my mum.  A few months later I went to see Genesis at The Brighton Centre.  But please don't judge me.

I used to live in Crawley, West Sussex, near Three Bridges railway station which had good train routes to both Brighton and London and a year later, when I was 14, I started going to a LOT of gigs. 

This was around the time the music press invented the term 'Brit Pop' and I went to see bands like Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Radiohead, Verve, Dodgy, Supergrass, Suede, Elastica, etc, etc in a load of small venues.  Places like The Astoria, 100 Club, or smaller venues in Brighton which are now long gone.  I also went to some really big shows like R.E.M. at Milton Keynes Bowl, Oasis at Knebworth and U2 at Wembley Stadium.

Alongside the traditional 'guitar' bands I also really loved (and still do) 'dance' music and went to see acts such as Orbital, Leftfield, The Chemical Brothers, Underworld and The Prodigy.  The majority of those shows were at Brixton Academy and tended to be 'all-nighters' where the shows ran from 9pm - 6am.  I also went to a lot of clubs, but will cover that side of things another time.

Looking back on it, I was lucky that my mum let me go to all these shows.  Things were very different in the 90s; venues were not so strict on ID and under-age kids with fake ID could not only get into venues, but could usually buy drinks too.  It was also easier to bunk the train fares which helped financially.

Between 1993 and 1998, during my school and college days, I was going to gigs on a weekly basis.  Sometimes 2 or 3 a week.  I saw some amazing shows, I got to see pretty much every act who was popular at the time.  I have a lot of the ticket stubs and wrist bands for these shows in my loft and plan to frame them one day.  

It's worth remembering this was a time before the internet and tours would be announced in the weekly NME and you had to ring up on the phone to buy the tickets or get them in person from the venues.  Shows did not tend to sell out so quickly and ticket prices were much, much cheaper back then.

Most of the time I would go to these shows with my friends, sometimes it was me and just one other person, other times it was large groups of us, usually with me as the ring master buying the tickets and organising everyone.  However sometimes I would not have people to go with and rather than miss out I would go on my own.  I reckon I have actually been to more gigs on my own than with other people and that does not bother me at all, in fact, I enjoy the actual performance more although the travelling and waiting around can be boring.

In later life I went to university and continued to go to shows, either at the Sugar Mill (The Stage) in Stoke or larger venues in Manchester.  Again during this time I was probably going to a gig a week and continuing to see the popular acts at that time, as well as continuing to see the bands I loved, playing their bigger shows when they toured.

In 2002, after uni, I moved to Brighton and then it got really stupid.  I found a venue called The Freebutt and spent nearly every night there watching all the bands that came through the city.

It was at this stage that I also started promoting gigs and watching friends bands, and doing gigs myself, but again, that's a story for another day. 

In 2004 I went to over 200 gigs!  Looking back on it now, that was utter madness, but I loved it.  I would get home from work, have dinner and head into town to watch shows, standing at the back of the venue, resting on the wall with a pint in my hand.

There would often be people I knew at these shows, but more often than not, it was just me on my own enjoying the music and atmosphere.

So, in a period of about ten years I think its safe to say I went to about to 600-700 gigs.  Looking back on it I REALLY wish I kept a list of all the shows I went to.  Yes, I have ticket stubs for a lot of those shows, but that's only half the story.


It is now 2015 and I don't get to go to as many shows as I used to.  Nowhere near!  There are many reasons for this; having a young family, not as much money to spend, living by the sea, and generally not having enough time to fit them in.

I do get to go to shows every couple of months and I recently went to see Leftfield at The Roundhouse in Camden and it was that show that inspired me to write this post.  Incidentally I first saw Leftfield in 1996 at the Phoenix Festival and went on to see them a fair few times over the years, including the night they broke the roof at Brixton Academy.

Reading the above you may be wondering why I am writing a post about hating going to gigs, in many ways I am starting to wonder that too, but bare with me as I head into this next bit.

When I saw Leftfield the other night I got myself into a fairly good position. Not too close to the front and not right at the back, with a decent view of the stage, in the middle of the speaker set up.  Perfect.  Well, it was until the band came on stage.  At that point the rush and pushing of people trying to get close to the stage started.  It has been a while since I had standing tickets for a gig and had forgotten how annoying it is when people push past, not saying excuse me and basically just trying to walk straight through you.

This is what started to make me think 'I hate going to gigs'.  This was shortly followed by something I think everyone has probably experienced; when the people walking through the crowd decide that stopping right in front of you is a great place for them to be.  As I was stood watching the band play a bunch of guys pushed through, realised they could not get any further and then spread themselves out blocking my view and pretty much stepping on my toes.  The guy in front of me was taller than me and had a really horrible fake leather jacket on which stank.

So, I tried to move myself to the side a bit.  Hurrah, a better view and all was well, for a minute.

There was a girl dancing next to me who was continually taking selfie photos and videos and sending them to someone via WhatsApp.  Literally every 5 minutes there was a different photo/video and it became very distracting.  I know people like to take photos at shows,  I take them, but not during every single song.  Not only did she look like an idiot, it made me wonder why someone would pay £35 to see a band, just to take photos of themselves during it.

Now, I am going to list some more reasons as to why I hate going to gigs and really hope I am not coming across as a grumpy old man,  I am not grumpy - or that old (yet) but do get bewildered at what people do at gigs rather than enjoy the music.

I was stuck next to selfie-girl for most of the night, she was annoying but did not bash into me, so I was ok.  However, when the next bunch of people pushed through and stopped near by, things got worse.  There was a small Scottish man who was 'dancing' around bashing into everyone and basically being a real dick.  He was pretty out of it and after bashing into me a number of times I gave him a glance which did not go down well.

He came up to me and said 'yer alreet fella?' to which I simply replied 'yes'.  I have been in situations like this before and know it can get nasty so just tried to ignore him.  He kept bashing into me and saying 'cheer up matey' and other stupid things.  Thankfully after a while he and his group moved forward and I did not have to deal with him, but could see other people also getting fed up.

There were a couple more incidents during the evening which added to my list of why I hate gigs.  Things like people smoking inside, even though they are not meant to, the sticky alcohol covered floor, the queue for the gents, the show was probably 90% male and I have never seen such a long line for the loos, other than at festivals.

But all that aside there is something magical about going to gigs and the truth is my love for them far outweighs any negatives.  There is nothing better than watching artists you love playing their songs live, putting on a performance and being in a room with like-minded music lovers.  

There are often funny interactions with other people,  the other night there was a guy stood next to me who had lost his friends after he went to the bar.  He was holding four pints and after offering me one, (I declined) he went on to drink them all himself.

I've had some of my fondest ever memories going to gigs; meeting famous musicians, talking to strangers, falling in love, (well not that one, but the poetic thought of it works), laughing, crying, jumping around and despite all the things that annoy me I will long continue going to them.

02/10/2015

Why do we revisit old music?



I like to listen to music in the car, especially when I am driving on my own and can have it loud because it keeps me company and is one of the rare occasions I can actually turn the volume up without fear of upsetting the neighbours, waking the kids etc. 

A few weeks ago I had to go out to collect some flooring and had a couple of hours driving ahead of me.  Before I left home I looked through my 'Current favourites' Spotify playlist and decided I was bored of all the new music I had been listening to over the last few weeks and wanted to hear something old.


Back in the day, I would browse my CD collection, first of all looking at the genre I wanted and then cutting it down to the band/artist and then eventually I would settle on one of their albums.


Things are a bit different now with Spotify, etc, but the theory is still the same.  You can of course browse by genre and rather than just having your own physical CD collection in front of you, the musical world is your oyster. 


As it goes, I randomly settled on listening to Primal Screams' 'Give out but don't give up' album from 1994.  This is an album I really enjoyed when it came out 20+ years ago and up until the other week I had not listened to it for probably ten years or so.


From the opening notes of 'Jailbird' to the closing lines of 'Everybody Needs Somebody', it all sounded so familiar, but at times it also sounded new.  I really love it when you listen to an album you have enjoyed over and over and suddenly pick up on something you have not heard before. It might be a bass line that was hidden in the mix or some melody that you just never took notice of before.


(As a side - that is why I was always keen to multi-layer my own music so people would hear more melodies the more they listened to it).


Whilst I was nearing the end of the album I started to question what makes us revisit albums and with that, how we choose the one we want at that time. I find that sometimes when I revisit an album I listen to it a for a prolonged time and it becomes a current favourite for a while.  Other times one listen is enough and after that I won't hear it again for another decade.


Recorded music is an ever increasing commodity, with more and more new albums being released every year. Older music is constantly being remastered and marketed and with streaming services there really is an incredible wealth of choice out there.


Some people get stuck in listening to music from a particular time, my Father-in-law for example rarely cares about anything past the 60s.  I love new music and hearing things that are fresh and new but when revisiting albums I always tend to listen to music from 1994-1998.  This was a time when I was heavily into buying new music, going to gigs and festivals and generally didn't have a care in the world.  I actually reckon 50% of my top albums ever come from that period.


So the question I have been trying to answer over the last few weeks is 'why do we choose to revisit particular albums?'


In many ways this questions is impossible to answer and everyone will have their own different reasons but it is something I am really interested in.


I started to come up with a list of thoughts:

  • it is to do with nostalgia
  • it fitted how you were feeling
  • it helped with how you would like to feel
  • the album spine stuck out amongst the others
  • you heard one of the songs on the radio and wanted to hear the whole album
  • you needed comfort from an old friend 
Or maybe it is much simpler and I am over complicating things.  Either way I would be really interested to get your thoughts on this one, so please feel free to leave a comment or drop me a tweet.

If I get enough responses I will collate some of the feedback and do a follow up post.

14/08/2015

For your ears only - let's talk headphones

FLARE R2PRO
FLARE AUDIO R2PROs
I ended my last post saying ...

"headphones supplied with modern day portable music players/smartphones are a disgrace". 

That may sound harsh, but I wholeheartedly stand by my statement.  Here is some context:  

I commute on trains for over 15 hours a week and witnesses first-hand how bad this has become.  Take the white earbud headphones issued with iPod/iPhones.  If you listen to music at over 40% volume they leak sound externally, meaning everyone around you has to put up with a garbled version of what you are listening to.  

I often find myself asking people to turn their music down as it's disturbing me and other passengers.  I hate having to do it, but feel it has to be done.

Internally, the distortion and quality of music is awful.  A large part of this is because of the vibrations the headphones cause inside your ears, and with that, these headphones are damaging peoples ears.


The World Health Organisation recently issued guidance which states:

'Listening through ear/headphones at 95% of maximum sound volume for 5 minutes continuously will damage the hearing capacity'

Personally I do not believe this statement is correct, and feel what it should say is: 

'Listening through RUBBISH ear/headphones at 95% of maximum sound volume for 5 minutes continuously will damage the hearing capacity'

Now, I must point out here that I am an audiophile; I can tell the difference between what sounds good and what sounds bad.  A lot of people can't or are simply not bothered and that is fine.

What I do get angry about is how the companies making music players and the general public have allowed this to happen.  I also get unbelievably frustrated with those people who listen to music in public places so loudly that everyone around them has to put up with it.

So what do we do about it?  Well, some people realise that the headphones supplied as standard are not great and look to purchase better quality ones, and this is what I recently decided to do.

Over the last 3-4 months I have been researching online and spending time in shops listening to a whole host of brands and styles of headphones.  One of the first things I noticed whilst physically listening was that on the whole there is not a great deal of difference between a £25 and £300 pair of headphones.  Now, that is probably a lot more than most people would want to spend but being as I listen to music on the go 30+ hours a week I feel that my ears deserve to be treated with respect.

The other thing I noticed from my research was that the premium headphone market is awash with 'designer' headphones which have become fashion accessories rather than focusing on sound quality.

When I see people wearing Apple Beats headphones I often wonder how many of them took the time to listen before buying them, as you really can get a much better sound on some cheaper brands.  As I said, they are fashion items and it's a shame people assume they give the best sound, because they don't!

I must point out here - this is purely my personal preference and all thoughts are my own, etc.

I was starting to wonder if I would ever find the perfect headphones but then during my online investigations I came across something really interesting.  I found a Kickstarter campaign by a company called Flare Audio.

The campaign was set up in May and focused on their new range of R2 IEM (in-ear-monitors) headphones.  Unbeknown to me, Flare have been around for a while, primarily supplying pro audio speakers to venues and festivals, but these headphones are their first stab at the consumer market and the Kickstarter was backed by some incredible reviews and celebrity endorsements (Huey Morgan, Jarvis Cocker).

I was intrigued and started following them on Twitter only to find out they are based 2 minutes from my home in Lancing.

I am quite a fan of Kickstarter campaigns and have previously purchased accessories for my bike such as the Blaze light and Spur bell, but in this instance before committing to buy I really wanted to try a pair of the headphones to see if they lived up to the hype.  So I emailed Flare and a couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of going to their office and trying out the headphones for myself.


When I arrived I was greeted by Naomi who showed me the production line for the R2s.  When I visited they were just finishing off the backlog of Kickstarter orders.  Each individual pair of R2s gets checked for quality before they are boxed and sent out.

I was allowed to try out all three variants of the R2s.  There is an entry level aluminium model, followed by a mid-level stainless steel model and then the titanium PRO model.

Each variant sounded incredible.  For most people I imagine the entry level version would surpass whatever headphones they currently have.  But for me there was a noticeable sound quality in the PRO versions.  The reason for this is that the metal is more solid and therefore has less vibration.

The R2s are not much to look at, just a really small bud with a Comply ear tip that you squeeze to put in your ear which then expands to create a seal to isolate the sound.  There is a small metal rectangle on the cord with the Flare logo, but other than that, they are very pain.

But my word they are deceptive little things and the sound is incredible.  As I said earlier I had tried a lot of headphones over the last few months and when I listened to the R2s I was utterly blown away and I knew that I had to invest in a pair.

There are a couple of areas for improvement for the headphones; there is no volume control on the cord and no microphone for calls.  These really are all about the sound.  No filler all killer!  (And I believe both the volume and microphone are being worked on for future models).

During my visit I also I met Davies, who set up the company.  He is a scientific genius when it comes to sound engineering.  He showed me Flares Pro Audio range and talked to me about the concept of vortexes in their speakers and utterly blew my mind going into the physics behind everything.  This guy loves music and wants people to hear it the way it is meant to be heard.  Talking to him was eye (and ear) opening and his passion and drive were completely obvious.

Davies also gave me a sneak peek at their new 'top secret' home and studio speaker system which is being publicly revealed at a private event on 09.09.15.  (They have actually just released a teaser trailer which I have included at the end of this post).


Over the years I have heard a lot of music on an array of speakers and I have NEVER ever heard anything as good as these.  Davies played a wide selection of tracks and when I shut my eyes it was like I was listening to musicians playing live in the room.  It was one of those moments that words simply could not describe - I was truly blown away.


It is clear to see that Flare are going places; both in the professional and consumer markets and the best part about it is they really care about sound.  I am really excited to see where they will be in a few years time.  Their products are very special, with every minute detail taken care of.  The introduction of the R2s will hopefully gain them a new market and allow them to complete with brands such as Beats, Sony, Sennheiser, Bose etc.


Music will always be subjective and it is loved by people in different ways but I really feel strongly about educating people to look after their ears and allowing them to enjoy hearing it the way the artist and producer intended.  You can't do that with the default headphones supplied with portable music players.   

Don't just stick with the standard ear phones that are supplied - spend time listening to different brands and keep researching as it often leads you to finding amazing companies.  Some of which are right on your door step and allow you to come in and see what they do.

Treat your ears with respect - you only have one pair - and most importantly, keep your music to yourself otherwise you may find me tapping on your shoulder asking you to turn your music down.

As promised here is that Flare Zero teaser trailer - the full product details will be released on 9 September and mark my words, they look and sound like nothing you will ever have of experienced before.



29/07/2015

How we listen to music: Portable music players

Portable Music Players

The last post on Not If When was about the 'ownership' of recorded music, either in a physical/digital format or as a streaming service.  This leads nicely on to the next few entries which focus on how we actually listen to music.  

There is so much subject matter here that it can be broken down into a number of sub categories that can be discussed, such as; what devices we play music on at home, what portable music players exist, and beyond that, even things like the type of headphones we use.  
I've decided to begin the journey of how we listen to music with a post about portable music players.  The other subcategories I mentioned above will be discussed in future posts.

I believe it is now easier than ever for people to listen to music whilst out and about.  This is largely due to the rise of Smartphones.  Nearly everyone owns one and users have a whole host of options to listen to music.  They can sync with their home libraries, download tracks from digital stores or listen to streaming services.


When I was a kid I had loads of cassette tapes.  These were either purchased albums, mix tapes, copies of my mums vinyl collection or live sets taped off the radio.  I had a small Hi-Fi separates system to listen to these at home, but more importantly I had the ability to listen to them whenever and wherever I wanted with my Sony Walkman.

I was quite young when I first got a Walkman, possibly as young as five or six.  Looking back over my notes for this article made me realise that I have always been an early pioneer of portable music players and I plan to continue that in the future.

I owned the Sony WM-F5 Sports Walkman which came out in 1984.  It was bright yellow, splash-proof and had a built-in FM radio.  I loved it.  I actually found it fully working in my loft a few years ago and sold it on eBay for a good price.

I actively (not in a sports way) used my Sony Walkman for probably six years or so, which shows that back then things were built to last, rather than becoming obsolete after three years.  Over the years that followed I started to buy more and more CDs.  For a time I used to copy every album I bought onto cassette so I could listen to it on my Walkman, but around 1990 I upgraded and got my first Discman.

I was now able to listen to CDs on the go and it revolutionised my life.  Both the Walkman and Discman ran off AA batteries which seemed to last much longer than our current portable music players.  I would take the Discman everywhere; on the bus to school, in the car, on days out, on holiday - everywhere.

My Discman stuck around for a long time until something called a MiniDisc hit the scene.  Now the MiniDisc was a strange one.  The actual disc was a thin 6cm x 7cm square and held 74 minutes of music on it.  It basically looked like a smaller version of the floppy disc used in computers.  Remember them?  The MiniDisc player was not much bigger than the disc, which meant it was great for carrying around loads of music.  A quarter of the size of the Discman.

Although record companies released them, I never actually purchased any albums on the MiniDisc format. Instead I continued to buy CDs and copy them onto blank MiniDiscs, much like when I had a Walkman.  The really great thing about the MiniDisc was it was digital quality and the rechargeable battery lasted ages.

My very favourite thing to do with the MiniDisc player was to record shows off the radio.  It's easy to forget, but not long ago there was no such thing as Podcasts or 'listen again' so if you missed a show on the Radio you did not have the chance to hear it again.

When I was at University I religiously listened to one particular show on Radio One.  It was called 'The Breeze Block' and was hosted by the incredible Mary Anne Hobbs.  Each week she would have a guest artist create an hour long mix.  These were usually dance/electronic based, but that was never set in stone and some were really eclectic.  There were definitely stand out mixes over the years, including ones by Thom Yorke, The Avalanches, Orbital, Lemon Jelly and Chris Morris.

Every week I recorded the live sets onto MiniDisc and listened to them over and over again.  I actually have a load of them still in my studio and do listen to them from time to time. A number of the Breeze Block Mixes are also available online via sites like SoundCloud or Mixcloud and I really do recommend checking them out.  They sound just as good now as they did back in 2000.

So, I was happy with the MiniDisc but in 2004 everything changed again and I got my first iPod.

My brother and I both got iPods at the same time, he got an iPod mini and I got a third generation iPod with the then revolutionary Click Wheel.  Alongside the iPod came iTunes and a whole new digital way of storing music.  I actually had quite a few iPods over the years, upgrading them when new versions came out until I got an iPhone.  After that I elected to just use the phone to listen to music whilst out and about and that is what I am currently using today.

And that in a nutshell, is how I have listened to music on portable formats since being young.

As I said earlier, the rise of Smartphones really has made it incredibly easy for anyone to listen to music wherever they want to, which is a fantastic thing.  But at the same time there has also been the rise of something else which has had a massively negative effect on how we listen to music and that is the influx of rubbish and inadequate headphones.

Think about it for a second, all the headphones supplied with modern day portable music players/Smartphones are quite frankly a disgrace...


In the next post on Not If When I will go into a lot more detail about headphones, including a write-up about my recent visit to Flare Audio; a company who are revolutionising speakers and headphones.

13/07/2015

Dissecting : 'The death of my Music Collection'

I have decided that where possible, I am going to do a brief follow up to the previous post before putting a new one up.   

It will allow me to take into account all of the feedback that people have offered, either by blog comments, forum posts, twitter, direct email etc. 

It also gives me the ability to say thank you for taking the time to read it.  I was quite nervous after putting the first post up because I didn’t know what would happen.  I have to say I am really humbled by all of the nice things people said, I know that won’t always be the case, but for now it’s good. 

There are a few things that I have picked up on from the ‘Death of my Music Collection’ entry and I wanted to share them with you. 

The first is that there are a lot of other people out there who feel the same way, especially in my age bracket.  I am in my mid-thirties and I guess most of the people reading Not If When (for now) are of a similar age.  We have all seen the passing of physical music into a digital era and many of you feel saddened by this. 

One of the key things I picked up on was actually around musical ‘legacy’ and not having anything to show in later life.  In particular it was my wife who said that it made her sad that our kids won’t know what we are currently listening to because there won’t be any tangible history of it. 

It was inspiring to hear from a few people who categorically refuse to say goodbye to their physical collections, but on the whole we are all on the same journey with music, and that is one of the things I really want to capture as the blog goes on.   

That is the fundamental thing this blog is going to be about.  Not some trendy muso thing or something that is too dumbed down – I want to find a way of bringing people in, enjoying the read and giving folks something to think and talk about. 

I already have a few ideas for the next few posts and am in the middle of writing up the second post proper which you will get to read soon.   

Until then a massive thanks to you all.

07/07/2015

The death of my Music Collection

 As far as I can remember, I have always loved music.

Some of my earliest memories are when I used to listen to Lionel Ritchie in my mums car when we were out and about.  My mum had a lot of the 'Now' albums on vinyl, as well as other records such as Diana Ross, Cliff Richard and some classic 80s albums.


Alongside this we were allowed to listen to music when we had lunch at school.  I went to a convent (for some reason) and the nuns had an old record player and a rather bizarre bunch of records.  Considering they were nuns some of the records were actually quite risky.

When I was really young my parents got me a few vinyl albums but the building my own personal Music Collection did not properly start until I was in my mid-teens.

It was around 1994 that I started buying CDs, a lot of CDs.  I had a weekend job at the local newsagent and spent all of my money on the latest releases that came out every Monday.

Every Monday after school I would head into Our Price in Crawley and spend my hard earned money.

I bought CD singles and albums.  I usually got at least one, if not two, new albums a week.  They would cost around £10 - £12 each, so my monthly spending was around £100 a month on purchasing real life physical music releases.  More on this later.

As the years went by my music purchases increased.  I got a job at WHS with a staff discount of 20% so I was buying albums left, right and centre.  This trend continued at University when I used most of my student loan to buy albums. By now it was probably about four-five albums a week.  That was probably the peak of my music buying days.

Everyone I knew was amazed at my Music Collection.  In my room at my parents house, I had built a shelving unit which took up an entire wall, and it was a beautiful sight to see.  When I got my own house in Brighton the collection continued to grow and lived in its own built-in wardrobe.

The filing of the collection was important to me, every shelf was it's own genre, within that the albums were filed by artist (A-Z) and then by year of release.  If someone asked me where a certain album was I could say 'third shelf down, front row, under D' etc.  I was proud of my Music Collection.

It continued to grow up until about 2005/2006 and then something happened; iTunes.

I tried as much as I could to keep buying CDs, but ultimately I wanted to listen to music on my iPod and that meant having to get my Music Collection into iTunes, then moving it across to my iPod.  Over the next ten years my Music Collection became a 'digital library' with a very small physical footprint.

I would still buy the occasional CD by bands that I really liked and made sure I always got the limited edition vinyl's, not that I could play them, but I still liked the idea of having something tangible that I could touch and look at.

At this stage, things were cheaper on iTunes (and other digital sites) and I had a mortgage to pay so I was probably spending £50-60 a month to get the same amount of music.

My CD collection pretty much froze in time.  It now lives in fruit and veg boxes in my loft collecting dust.

The digital library grew, at last count I had something like 25k tracks in iTunes.  I make sure I back things up all the time, as if my hard drive ever gave up, ten years of music would be wiped out.


Now we move onto the present day and things are changing again, we have entered the world of streaming.  To be fair this has been the case for the last few years but the launch of Apple Music in the last few weeks has started to accelerate what is going to happen.

I have friends who have been using Spotify Premium for many years and I was always set against it, the lack of physical ownership and at the back of my mind, the small remuneration artists receive meant that I did not want to join in.

But things have changed, I have changed.  At the start of the year I got a collection of Sonos units for my house and signed up for a Spotify Premium account.

I now have (nearly) any track I want at my finger tips and one of the added benefits was being able to have 'offline' playlists so I could listen to my current favourites whilst commuting to work everyday.

So I now pay £10 per month for a music streaming service and spend very little on physical releases.  This suits my life style, with a young family to look after the amount of money I can spend has decreased massively, yet the amount of new music I can listen to has grown considerably.

I have the ability to download 4,5,6,7,8 new albums a week to listen to on my iPhone and Sonos.

Back in the day there would have been loads of releases I would never of heard due to lack of funds.  So in a way it's great - but I am sad about the lack of having my own Music Collection.

I always had this thought in my head that when I was old, my kids would search through my music collection and be amazed at what I used to buy and listen to.

But with streaming it leaves a massive void in my legacy and probably many other peoples too.  I won't have the physical copies or digital tracks to play to my kids as they don't exist, I don't own them myself.

 It looks a bit like this:

  • 1995 - 2005 : 1000 Physical CDs
  • 2005 - 2015 : 25k digital tracks
  • 2015 onwards : Nothing .... it's all on-line and not owned by me.
It also makes me wonder what happens next.

For me, it feels like there is a ten year cycle for big changes in music ownership, so come 2025 how will we be paying for, listening to and enjoying music?

Footnote
You will have noticed how the amount I spend on music has reduced drastically over the last 20 years, from £1200 to £100 per year.

I will be writing more about this in a future post as it has a massive knock on affect to Rightsholders and most importantly the musicians who create the music we listen to.