There are few verbal tics in my field less savory than the contraction of "South by Southwest," the annual indie-rock wingding going on more or less right now in Austin, Texas, into "Southby," and I say this as someone who's said it a couple of times. It really is easier to say, if not to listen to, but I bring this up not to bitch (already did that here) but to point out something related to it that also relates to this blog. (No, I'm not going; only ever been once, in '05; had a great time, don't need to go back unless someone wants to foot the bill.) Two years ago, SXSW issued (or someone issued it for them) a torrent of free MP3s, one per participating artist; it featured 739 tracks. The 2008 edition contained 764 artists. Now, the 2009 edition features a tune each from 1,267 acts.

I snapped up both the 2007 and 2008 editions of the SXSW guide because I figured I would one day pull it out for reference purposes. The joke, of course, is that I never did. The 2007 seems to be lost in the mists of time: a year-plus's worth of MP3s and other data was stored on a 500GB EHD I received while working at eMusic. On January 2, 2008, right after emptying my entire hard drive onto it, after having done a Secure Empty Trash, I unplugged the EHD from my laptop a split second too fast and it never worked again. I toyed with bringing it to a shop for repair but was too busy/broke to bother. Shortly thereafter I bought the 1TB drive and have lived, so far, happily ever after.

The 2008 SXSW special I snapped up quickly as well. I put it on my EHD and figured I would dip into it any time I wanted to hear one of the likelies I'd inevitably read about. This was a false premise. For one thing, if I want to spot-listen to a band, I just Google and then stream from their MySpace or an embedded video. Just as likely, I'll Hype Machine them, download something, and then figure out if I care or not. Often I don't--easy come, easy go. The permanence of a giant file like the SXSW Torrent needs to be such that owning it means something in itself; not just that it's a buffet full of iffy treats, but that the buffet in itself is a treat. It says something that I haven't even bothered sorting out the good from the bad as per this great, outlandish compendium of six-word reviews by Paul Ford from The Daily News--surely that's what the piece was made for, right? Yet even then it would take, at a guess, five hours just to listen to Ford's 71 five-starrers, never mind the seven or so it would take for the 108 songs he gave four stars--and also not to mention that Ford's five-star earners include Martha Wainswright, WHY?, the Von Bondies, Pigeon John, the BoDeans, and Laura Barrett's "Robot Ponies," none of whom or which I have much fondness for.

So the compulsion I'd normally have to just download the new supersized torrent and stash it for an incredibly rainy day goes untended. Ah well. At this point I think a lot of that compulsive acquisition boils down to wanting a visual/tangible record of how ambitious I used to be. Not that I'm totally unambitious now--just that most of the places I'd like to be ambitious for have very little interest in utilizing it (or even more to the point, paying me to do it). But a mega-sized SXSW 2009 MP3 folder is the sort of thing, like a box set you've never taken the shrink wrap off, that you feel somewhat better about yourself whenever you run across it: Oh yeah, I need to really dip into that, I bet it's great. Except in this case I bet it isn't. If Ford's numbers were transposed we'd get 118 five-star songs and 179 four-stars. But something tells me Ford isn't gonna make this a yearly thing (I hope for his sake not, anyway), and something else tells me I shouldn't start.

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