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Record Collecting for Girls by Courtney E. Smith (Thoughts)

November 29, 2011

From the publisher’s website:
You never leave home without your iPod. You’re always on the lookout for new bands, and you have strong opinions when it comes to music debates, like Beatles vs. Stones. For years, you’ve listened to men talk about all things music, but the female perspective has been missing. Until now.
Drawing on her personal life as a music enthusiast, as well as her experience working at MTV and in radio, Courtney E. Smith explores what music can tell women about themselves—and the men in their lives. She takes on a range of topics, from the romantic soundtracks of Romeo and Juliet to the evolution of girl bands. She shares stories from her own life that shed light on the phenomenon of guilty pleasure music and the incredible power of an Our Song. Along the way, she evaluates the essential role that music plays as we navigate life’s glorious victories and its soul-crushing defeats. Finally, here is a voice that speaks to women—because girls get their hearts broken and make mix tapes about it, too.

This is the kind of book I used to love to read before I worked in the industry, but has been sadly missing from my Books Read lists for the last few years. It’s got a bit of music history, a bit of analyzing of music preference, and a whole lot of song recommendations.

There’s a lot of great stuff in here – nostalgic soundtracks from my junior high days, guilty pleasures, make out & break up songs – but two sections stood out to me the most. The first – history of girl bands. It was fascinating to learn how girl band impacted each other and how their careers were so linked together. And then how, with the advent of Britney Spears-esque pop stars, they’ve seemed to disappear from mainstream music.

The other section that I really liked was the one about the change to digital. When it comes to books, I’m all about the tangible, physical book. But for music, it’s been a lot easier for me to move to digital. I can think of maybe three CDs I’ve bought in the last year or so, but I buy music online constantly. I still have my collection of CDs and vinyl, and my stereo and record player, but they’ve been relocated to a less prominent area of our place. In this chapter, Smith also talks about how the move to digital has changed how we listening to music – that it’s something instant and easily paused. Whereas with vinyl, and even tapes and CDs to some extent, it was something that was a deliberate activity on its own. When was the last time you listened to an album front to back without doing anything else at the same time?

I did, however, have one problem with the book. Smith decided to write Record Collecting for Girls because she realized that most, if not all, the books about music and the music industry she had read were from a male perspective. I’m all for the reasons behind why she wrote the book, but there still seemed to be a sense of ‘boys choose what we want to listen to’ behind what she had to say. I’m not just talking about record label and radio station execs who decide what to play. I’m talking about boys in our every day lives – ones we’re friends with, ones we’re interested in. She even goes so far as to say that most girls want their boyfriends to tell then what to listen to, but she’s different from those girls. What? I mean seriously, what? Music has always been something that’s personal to me, that I listen to because I like it, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that. Okay, yes, I have started listening to bands because a guy, or some other friend, was really into them. But if I didn’t like it, I stopped listening to it. For me, it’s always been more fun to realize myself and someone else like the same obscure band than to try to like whatever they like. And, end rant.

One last thing that I really liked about the book was all her talk about Last.fm. I’ve been using Last.fm for years, but only as a tool to track what I listen to, not as a social network. After reading Record Collecting for Girls I really want that to change! If you have a Last.fm account, add me as a friend – I’m IndieRockWinter.

Big thanks for Michelle, who’s review caused me to hit the ‘buy now’ button. I need to read more books like this more often. If you have any recommendations, let me know!

My rating: 7/10

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2011 12:20 am

    I added you as a friend on last.fm :)

    I agree with your problem with this book, I felt the same. At the same time, I had a lot of fun reading it. It was when I started to think about my review afterwards that I felt very conflicted about it. Also, I personally do listen to albums a lot still. Yes, I do things at the same time, like reading or internet, but I did the same when I still played CDs. I get how it was different when there were LPs, but I think perhaps I am too young to really know the difference, and not using the ‘one song at a time and then switch to a different song altogether’ too little.

  2. November 29, 2011 6:40 am

    I will add you as a friend on last.fm. I am memccart.

    I’m so glad you liked this book. I think the issue with the men vs. women thing was that most music WRITERS are men and she wanted to change that. Not that men are telling us what to listen to.

  3. November 29, 2011 11:27 am

    Sounds like an interesting book. I’m definitely with you on the whole men telling me what to listen to thing. I’ve dated some guys who had atrocious taste in music. The current one is a musician and has good musical taste. So, I’ll keep him around even if he does listen to too much country music and get annoyed by my love of punk rock. I’ll have to look at lastfm. I’m curious.

  4. November 29, 2011 8:16 pm

    Looks like a good book! As a Librarian and fellow record collector, its always nice to read more about such things! (Though I’m more partial to the acid-pop of the 70’s and folk-rock of the 60’s)
    Thanks for the recommendation!
    Peace,
    – Jen

  5. December 1, 2011 4:03 pm

    If boys dictated what I listened to it would be rap (brother) and heavy metal/punk (boyfriend) and I am definitely not going there, so I guess I’m not “one of those girls either”. I love your blog and I am following it now. I also stopped by to thank you, thank you, thank you for the wonderful Not-So-Secret-Anymore Santa gift through the book blogger holiday swap! I was super excited to receive the gift in the mail. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

  6. December 2, 2011 7:36 pm

    This sounds like a book I would love. I definitely agree with you about relationships and music. I’ve never wanted someone I was dating to tell me what to listen to. If anything, we usually listen to the same music already.

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