HomeCD JunkiesCD Junkies: Collector Travis Hawkins

CD Junkies: Collector Travis Hawkins

360°Sound’s latest CD Junkie is Travis Hawkins. A longtime music fanatic, Hawkins said he’s almost always listening to something, playing CDs at home and in the car. He prefers quiet stuff in the evenings as he and his wife read, and louder stuff on the weekends. He’ll listen to podcasts, too. One of his favorites is CD Junkie Alex Aubuchon’s The CD Collector’s Podcast.

“I love cranking up a CD and having a dance party with the kids,” Hawkins told 360°Sound. “If you’ve never danced with young children to LCD Soundsystem, I recommend it.”

360°: Where are you based and how old are you? 

Travis Hawkins: I’m in the Atlanta area. Age? Let’s just say I predate the compact disc.

How long have you been collecting CDs? Do you remember the first CD you ever bought?

Yes! The first CD I ever bought was the Pet Shop Boys single “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You).” I was a junior in high school. I didn’t own a CD player. I was a rabid music fan, but I grew up in the cassette era. I had my tape collection. CDs were still pretty new. But the record store didn’t have that single on tape, and apparently, I had to have it. So, I made the jump.

I never stopped buying CDs. I’ve done file sharing, iTunes, vinyl, streaming… I even have an old MiniDisc player! But through it all, I stuck with the humble compact disc. I just like it. I grew up on it. It’s familiar. But I wouldn’t have called myself a collector until recently. Two things pushed me over the edge. One, I got my CDs out of cardboard boxes and into some custom drawers. Two, I put my collection on Discogs. And three, I paid $50 for an out-of-print CD. Okay, three things.

Tell us about that and your CD storage and organization methods. 

A few years ago, we invested in some custom cabinets for our home office, which we lovingly refer to as our library. Bookshelves on top, doors and drawers underneath. The cabinet company was amazing. We got really specific on what we wanted. Space for a record player and a couple of bookshelf speakers. Doors for a component system, including a CD player. And custom drawers for CDs and DVDs.

We have four drawers that can house around 150 CDs each. I have about 450 in my collection at present. My wife also has a few, and we have some kids CDs. My CDs are organized by genre and then alphabetized by artist within genre. I have a separate section for Digipacks (shout out to Alex Aubuchon).

My collection is pretty modest compared with some of the collections I’ve read about in CD Junkies. But that’s okay with me. I like having a limited amount of space. It keeps my collecting under control. I routinely purge my collection. By this point, most of my CDs have survived multiple purges, so they’re keepers. And I’m not a completist. I don’t need every album released by an artist. But I’ll confess that gaps in a run bother me. I’ve got a gap in a Stereolab run right now that needs filling.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

So a lot of what I like might be labeled “alternative.” Mostly from the 1980s – 2000s. Glancing over my collection, I see Beat Happening, Cocteau Twins, Flaming Lips, Love and Rockets, Radiohead, Talking Heads. Also, Beach House, The Sea and Cake, Yo La Tengo, and Broadcast. The Smiths, of course. I have a lot of Saint Etienne. I don’t know why. I don’t need this much Saint Etienne.

But I also love ambient and instrumental music. Recently, I’ve been building a library of ambient essentials like Brian Eno, Steve Roach, and Michael Stearns. I especially like the more melodic ambient artists like Mark Isham and Patrick O’Hearn. And Vangelis. Don’t get me started on Vangelis. Seriously! I have a lot of Vangelis CDs. It ain’t all “Chariots of Fire.” When you need someone to write your “10 Essential Vangelis Tracks” article, please hit me up.

Which CDs are on the top of your wantlist? 

I keep a running list in Discogs. It’s an assortment of somewhat obscure titles. Right now, I have a shoegaze band called Airiel in there, Krautrock act Ashra, and ambient titles from John Foxx. I love finding wantlist CDs in the wild, but it gets harder and harder. I think people have made their minds up about the compact disc at this point. Either they didn’t want ‘em and got rid of ‘em, or they’ve started collecting. Most of the stuff in the used bins, nobody wants.

Where do you typically buy CDs?

Most of the CDs I’m looking for are older and possibly out-of-print. So, I don’t buy a lot of new CDs. I do a fair amount of purchasing from Discogs. I love Discogs! I haven’t had a bad buying experience yet. We have a number of good music stores in the Atlanta area, but hands down the best one is Decatur CD. Great selection of new and used vinyl and CDs. And they’ve got “CD” right there in the title!

What do you love most about the CD format?

How do I love thee, CD? Let me count the ways.

For starters, I love the album as a concept. A work of art with a limited amount of songs, sequenced by the artist in a particular way. With streaming, the idea of the album is diminished. Don’t get me wrong. I love streaming. I’ve found so much music that I love through Spotify. But when virtually every song ever recorded is at your fingertips, it’s hard to feel like any of them really matter.

When you put brackets around a set of songs, as the album does, you set them apart. You’re saying, “these songs mean something when played together.” And when you issue this set of songs in a physical format, it adds further value. It was worth someone’s time and money to put this out into the world as a real thing, and not just dump a bunch of files onto the internet. A physical music collection, regardless of the format, is something like a museum, where each painting is carefully chosen, framed, and displayed with great thought and consideration. Streaming is like somebody threw three million paintings up on the wall.

So that’s why I love the album and physical media. Why the CD specifically? Is it weird to say that the compact disc still feels like the future to me? Or maybe a forgotten future that we missed out on, like flying cars and jet packs. Does that make sense? There’s an elegance to the shiny silver disc. I like the design. I like that I can hold it in my hand. I like the artwork. I like the liner notes. I like that it’s portable. I like that I don’t have to get up and turn it over. I just like it.

How do you feel about the future of the CD? Do you think we will see a revival?

I do think we’ll see some kind of CD revival, even if it’s modest. And it won’t be about sound quality or anything like that. It’ll be about nostalgia and curiosity. Nostalgia for folks like me who were there at the commercial height of the compact disc. Curiosity for Gen Alpha, for whom the format will be a novelty. I mean, the cassette tape resurgence sure wasn’t based on how good they sound.

But to have a proper revival, you need the infrastructure. Makers of stereo and audio equipment are going to have to see the financial potential. Right now, CD players are priced strictly for audiophiles. You can’t get a decent player for less than $300, and it quickly shoots up into the thousands. And consider the cottage industry that’s risen up around vinyl: sleeves, cases, cleaners. There’s none of that for the humble CD. Try finding a decent replacement jewel case. So in some ways, I think the revival may be less about actual CDs and more about the stuff surrounding CDs.

I hope it’ll happen. I’m there for it, as the kids say.


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