Five a day.

I'm a pretty bad correspondent as a rule, so that I've left this be for four months shouldn't be surprising, right? But yes, I've been busy--less consistently than I'd prefer, just like lots of you, I'm guessing.

Two posts and four months ago I noted that my arbitrary rule for 2010 would be that I would limit my acquisition of music to five discrete items (mixes, albums, singles, box sets, whatever) per day. That's exactly what I've been sticking to--and what do you know? It's working, far better than the one-in-one-out that I abandoned fairly early into 2009 did, or the endless catch-up that ensued when I decided to let the floodgates open last year.

By "acquisitions," I basically mean downloads. Beyond stuff I get sent for potential review--most of which is of basically no interest--I don't acquire much physical media, haven't in ages, aside from the occasional title I won't hear unless I buy it. I'll buy a CD if I like it a lot, too, as with the new Ted Leo album, but that's rare. Well, not entirely rare--not in 2010, the first quarter of which (I've talked elsewhere about this) has been terrific to my ears. Since much of my listening is bound up in podcasts and mixes for Beat Connection, my A.V. Club column, where I pick 10 good Web freebies a month (here's 2010's first four), the five-a-day method makes a special kind of sense; there's so much out there to pick from that whittling it down (especially since they tend to run in the hour range) helps manage the flood.

My methods are simple: I keep a Word doc per month in which I keep track of "acquisitions" (stuff I d/l or buy or, sometimes, request from publicists) and "browsed" (stuff I note for later) per day. Sometimes I cheat: I find as many titles as I can from each month's Resident Advisor DJ Top 50 [Feb, March] from eMusic and other sources, and that uses up an entire day's quota, for example. But most of the time I stick with five, and it's a good foreshortening exercise: it forces me to focus on what I'm really interested in, rather than things I vaguely think I might want to know about someday, long after I've forgotten I have it to begin with (i.e. about 10 minutes later). As much as anything, that's one reason 2010 sounds better to me: I'm more selective but still have some range.

What happens next is where my OCD tendencies works in my favor. New stuff goes into a dated folder, which then goes into an "Unheard" folder. Then, when I have time or interest--pretty frequently--I drag a day's worth of stuff into my iTunes "Unheard" playlist and listen to it. I did this last year with Slow Listening, except instead of an endless morass of stuff, some of which I have no recollection of (and given how lazy some of the stuff is tagged, there have been cases where I couldn't figure out what I was listening to at all), it's more finite, and therefore easier to manage. (Podcasts I subscribe to go into the playlist automatically, which on Mondays especially cuts down on the number of things I need to catch up on later.) For a while I was proceeding in strict order, but I've lately been doubling up, adding the most recent and earliest unheard folder into the playlist at the same time, so that I'm not consistently a month--or more--behind.

There really isn't a downside to doing things this way, I find. It's efficient, manageable, and exposes me to a lot without feeling like I'm drowning. Another wrinkle is in the way I've started to approach bigger items--the 12-and-a-half-hour Autechre mega-mix I mention in the April Beat Connection, for example, or this monster 12-volume history of female-fronted punk bands, both of which I've counted as a day's quota. Each is now on my iPod, and the Autechre is now my mandatory commute/headphone listening whenever I'm running errands or traveling into Manhattan or whatever else. (I'm seven minutes into part 8 of the 13-part Autechre mix as I type.) I might try and do something similar with this crazy 24-part history of electroacoustic music as well. (If the files are still available; haven't really looked at that site in a while.)

So yes, it's fairly rigorous. But it doesn't feel like a chore the way dumping 10 to 30 hours of music acquired willy-nilly into a first-listen playlist did in 2009. Again, I think 2010 is already a really good year for music, which 2009 was most assuredly not; that helps. But weeding/whittling things down beforehand, instead of just grabbing whatever, plays a part as well. I'm getting better at filtering this stuff for myself, and that helps me filter it better for others in return, especially since I listen to mixes/podcasts in a more purposeful way now. Let me say as well that two weeks after turning in the previous Beat Connection I have 16 mixes in serious contention for the May column's Top 10, with two more to go, and plenty as yet unheard. That's a dilemma I'm happy to have.

As for what's left to get into--well, plenty. The "Unheard" folder has 16 dated folders in it (earliest: March 13) and five other albums, only a couple of which feature music I already know--re-downloaded on a whim--that I haven't gotten to yet. The five-a-day rule doesn't lend itself to cleaning house with the kind of determination I had last year, but it's allowed me more breathing room than Slow Listening did. I think I've found my pace.

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