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Why Owning Beats Renting, Digital Music Edition

beats-mog

One of the perils of the Internet age is that companies constantly go belly up, leaving their customers in a lurch. TechCrunch reports on the latest example:

As Beats Music turns up the volume on itsnew streaming service (which is now live in the App Store), it is calling it a day on MOG, the streaming service its parent Beats Electronics acquired in 2012 reportedly for $10-15 million, and which forms the backbone of Beats Music: it will shut MOG down on April 15.

At the same time, some news about David Hyman, MOG’s founder who brokered the sale of the startup to Beats: he is now the CEO of Chosen.fm, a mobile video startup still in stealth mode, according to a statement sent to TechCrunch.

The news about MOG is not yet live on MOG’s own site, but it is confirmed on the support pages of the Beats Music site. The company says it will be looking to migrate MOG users to Beats Music

Now, I”m guessing most of you have never heard of MOG, which might explain why it’s going out of business. Alas, it has been my music streaming service of choice since stumbling on it a couple years ago. I’d tried Spotify and others but settled on MOG because it allowed me to create my own playlists. While the discovery function of the “they pick, you skip” model is interesting, I mostly want to listen to particular songs that I know I like rather than have an algorithm incorrectly guess what I want to hear and have to skip constantly. That’s particularly true since I mostly listen to music while concentrating on other things and thus don’t want to have to constantly fiddle with knobs to get to a song I like.

For roughly ten bucks a month, I had a couple dozen playlists that I’d painstakingly crafted and could stream through my car stereo on my commute or through my iPhone headphones while running. MOG also allowed me download songs for offline streaming. But not, unfortunately, download download them. That is, once MOG goes away, so do my downloads.

While I’m reading good things about Beats Music, which just launched yesterday, and there are doubtless plenty of other services out there that will more-or-less meet my needs, the problem is that those playlists, and the hours I’d spent curating them, will vanish with the service.

MOG users may be getting a month of free music to sweeten the deal, but they can’t take their playlists with them. In answer to a question about whether they would be transferrable, Beats flatly says “No.”

“We found that most MOG subscribers only kept a few playlists, so we focused our energies on making Beats Music as good as it could be. It’s worth noting that while Beats Music incorporated many elements of MOG, it was not built directly on top of MOG, so switching playlists and libraries from MOG to Beats is just as difficult as it would be to transfer the same from MOG to any other music service.”

The point of all this isn’t to complain about the horrible injustice of Beats’ business decision but rather to note the vagaries of relying on external providers. Increasingly, we live our lives on the cloud, with all of our files stored on somebody else’s server. All our photos are on Facebook or Flickr or Picasa or wherever. Our friends are on various social networks. Our news clippings are on Instapaper or Pocket or Evernote. And there are fantastic conveniences to all of that.

But the downside is that, if the company fails or sells to a competitor—or, as with seemingly every other Google product, simply decides to no longer support it—then all our data and connections go along with it, along with all the man-hours we’ve invested in curating our content there.

There’s some time yet until MOG goes away, so maybe they’ll come up with some sort of way to export my playlists. But I doubt it. I’m not sure what’s in it for them. Apparently, not enough for Beats to avoid alienating the MOG customer base, which is guestimated to be half a million people or so—a tenth of so of Spotify’s.

My late wife had taken to put all our family photos on Google’s Picasa and I followed suit. So far as I know, that product isn’t going away any time soon, but it could. What did happen, though, is Google went from charging a nominal sum—like $12 a year—for the storage I needed to some extreme multiple of that. So, I quit using them and all the hours spent loading and organizing albums on their site have been wasted. At least, in the case of the photos, I still own them as digital files on my own hard drives. But, aside from sharing a few on Facebook as I go, I doubt I’ll bother to find another online service.

In terms of music streaming, the costs are low enough compared to buying songs that I may suck it up and switch to another service and start over.

UPDATE:  C. Clavin, in the first comment below, reminds me that ownership is not without its own risk of obsolescence. My old VHS movies and albums on 8-track and cassette tape are mostly useless; indeed, I’ve thrown most of them away. And I had thousands of dollars invested in those over the years.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    Brother…do you want to see my closet full of both vinyl and cd’s that are now, functionally if not actually, obsolete?
    And don’t get me started on 3/4″, Betamax, and VHS tapes. I spent last Saturday editing a file cabinet full of them down to a reasonable amount to save.
    It’s the curse of progress. No wonder you Republicans hate it!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  2. James Joyner says:

    @C. Clavin: That’s actually a good point. My old CDs are still perfectly useful but I mostly use the MP3s that I’ve ripped from them. And I did throw away hundreds of dollars of albums on cassette tape years ago.

    But this isn’t a function of newer and better products rendering old ones obsolete–it’s building whole chunks of one’s life on a platform you don’t own and then having to start over constantly if you guess wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. grewgills says:

    Storage is so small and cheap now that any music I listen to with any frequency I own. I have managed to get about half of my CD collection near enough to lossless on my comp that I can’t hear the difference through the sound set up I have. If I had a much nicer amp and speakers I would need another couple of hard drives to have it all FLAC, but I am not that much of an audiophile.* With the 16 Gig microSD card I have on my phone I can carry around as much music as I want.
    As far as the online music services, I like Jango’s algorithm and I get some exposure to artists that I might not have otherwise come across.

    * Fortunate given how much I have to spend on sound equipment and spare multiterrabyte drives.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. grumpy realist says:

    Eh. I have most of my music on CDs rather than on playlists, mainly because most of them are obscure performances of even more obscure pieces of music and unless I have it on vinyl/tape/CD I’ll never hear it.

    There was a reason I carted around a series of cassette tapes for years: Deutsche Gramaphone sat on their asses for 20 years before putting out the very same performance of Don Giovanni on CD.

    And I still have a load of stuff still on LPs which need to get stripped off and recorded….a collection of hunting horn calls from France, anyone? Try finding THAT on CD!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  5. Matt says:

    @grewgills: There’s absolutely no reason to settle for a lossy format. Flac is archival quality while keeping disk space usage to a fraction of what .wav files use. My entire cd collection now exists on my hard drives in flac format. All said and done I have about 200 GB worth of music which is enough to play constantly for over a decade.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Matt says:

    I have a bargain basement system that is good enough to allow me to tell the difference between even some 320kb mp3s and the flac version. I did a blind test with my ex fiancee because she didn’t believe me when I said I could tell the difference.

    My home stereo consists of a xonar dx output into an old silver pioneer sx model (refreshed some components by myself). Channel A goes to a set of vintage 81 fisher 3 ways with 12 inch woofers that I have moved to a custom box with a custom crossover set. B output goes to a convertor which runs to a ppi powerclass 2150 class a/b amplifier (>1000 damping 5-30k hz output) which then powers my 12 inch alpine type r (I originally used a 12w6v2 from Jl audio but the magnet was too powerful so it messed with my computers and such). All in all the entire system costs a fraction of what you’d pay for some of the new terrible home theater systems on market. I have measurable output from 10-30k hz (i own a db meter from my car stereo competition days). I have flat output from 25-20k hz roughly. Unfortunately vintage receivers are starting to increase in price because people are starting to catch on to the quality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  7. PJ says:

    Personally, I’m happy to pay a monthly fee and have access to a massive amount of music without having to store anything on phones or computers.
    And if the current service I’m paying for go belly up, then there will be something else.

    Sure, losing playlists and having to rebuild them is a bit of a hassle. But then that same thing could happen if you lose the hard drive with your locally stored music (unless you have it backed up.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. Matt says:

    @grewgills: I guess I should of asked how many CDs you have as there are some people who have thousands. I merely was into the hundreds.

    I’m working on a degree in electrical engineering so this kind of stuff is right up my alley.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. PJ says:

    @Matt:

    I have a bargain basement system that is good enough to allow me to tell the difference between even some 320kb mp3s and the flac version.

    I’m so happy that I can’t.

    Edit: Just want to add that I got a cd-rom reader based on how good it was for ripping music cds and I set up Exact Audio Copy to make perfect copies when I ripped my CD collection which I stored in FLAC.
    I want to have perfect copies even if I can’t hear the difference between 320kb and lossless versions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Matt says:

    @PJ: Yeah it is a bit of a curse in reality :(

    There are some genres and music types that I can’t tell the difference with. Generally it’s the type of music that already has a lot of processing and distortion in it’s creation.

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  11. trumwill says:

    One of the things I like about streaming is that there isn’t the illusion of ownership. You know precisely what you’re getting and what you’re not. This beats DRM models* where you kinda-sorta own songs or books, to be played in a specified manner, as long as the provider is in business. Of course, it’s cooler to own it outright. With music, at least, you can!

    I’ve been a customer of Rhapsody for over a decade now. I’m a mostly satisfied one. I don’t think that they’re going anywhere.

    Can you really not do playlists on Spotify?

    I’ve been big into audiobooks, and it’s a huge issue there. With eMusic I can get DRM-free audiobooks, but with a very limited selection and an unforgiving subscription model. Audible has a great selection, wherein I “buy” audiobooks, but can only listen to them as long as I am a customer, can only listen to them with certain software, and so on, or I can break the law. I think I’d actually prefer a rental market, with a discount, than the purchasing-but-not-really model.

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  12. Matt says:

    @PJ: Yes I used exact audio copy to archive my CD collection. Best program for creating high quality copies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. mantis says:

    I used to use MOG but switched to Google Play All Access, which has the same basic feature set (playlists, download, extensive catalog, etc.), with a brief stop at Spotify in between.

    Someone may yet build a tool to export your playlists before MOG disappears though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. mantis says:

    @trumwill:

    You can make playlists on Spotify, and share them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. trumwill says:

    Also, James, with regard to Picasa and whatnot, there are technical solutions to that. So that basically you can store them on a cloud and your computer at the same time, and they’ll sync on organization.

    For my part, I have rarely found it worthwhile to organize them. Especially since the baby was born and I am taking exponentially more pictures. I basically have them organized by month, and if there are any I am specifically interested in preserving I keep those in a separate directory. Which I guess does count as organization, if I were more diligent about it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. trumwill says:

    @mantis: I figured that you could. I must have misunderstood James’ comment about that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. C. Clavin says:

    @James Joyner:
    Understood…I’m just waiting for iTunes to screw me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. wr says:

    @trumwill: I don’t believe you’re right about Audible. If you bought the book, you own it. In fact, if you cancel your membership you can still download purchased items from you “library.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. wr says:

    @trumwill: Also, the model you’re describing doesn’t make sense with Audible, where you can pay retail for any audiobook if you don’t want a subscription. And you can play it through iTunes, which is hardly proprietary to Audible…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. MarkedMan says:

    James, why are your DVD’s obsolete?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. trumwill says:

    @wr: Really? I thought I had to have an active subscription. That removes a lot of my complaint, then.

    I don’t use iTunes, though (my phone is an Android). The audiobook apps I do prefer aren’t compatible. I haven’t found anything compatible with the AVRCP-compatibility I need. I also can’t burn anything to CD, like I can with eMusic.

    The upshot, of course, is that the library is big and I understand the the library is big in part because of the security that the DRM provides. I’d still prefer a more strict rental/library system to the sorta-ownership tethered to DRM. As long as its DRMed, I don’t really own it anyway. Eventually I think I’ll probably just go ahead and stick with eMusic. (Glad I should still have access to Audible when I do, though.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. grumpy realist says:

    @MarkedMan: Because they’re all in Betamax?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Ron Beasley says:

    Now that net neutrality is dead we will soon be getting all of our streaming from our cable company anyway at a much higher price.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  24. MBunge says:

    @Ron Beasley: I wonder what the internet generation will do in the post net-neutrality world. On the one hand, you’d expect them to rebel because they’re used to getting it all free and easy. On the other hand, because they’re used to getting it all free and easy, I’m not sure they’ve got the gumption to fight back.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Franklin says:

    “so switching playlists and libraries from MOG to Beats is just as difficult as it would be to transfer the same from MOG to any other music service.”

    WTF, are we using computers here? How difficult could it possibly be to copy a set of artist/song combinations? This is a complete horseshit answer, suggesting that they really don’t want you to do it for whatever reason (perhaps they plan to sell you a ‘solution’ to this problem in the future).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  26. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: For the same reason that people buy new smart phones every year–because there is new technology to buy and he can buy it.

    On to the issue I was going to post about later. I went deaf last year and while the doctors were able to give me a lot of my hearing back, I’m now essentially tone deaf and can’t hear the music that I own accurately at all. I’m sorry for your inconvenience, James.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Matt says:

    @Franklin: The freemarket demands that doing stuff like that has to be as hard as possible so that your customers won’t move to a competitor…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  28. Tony W says:

    I remember the first vinyl album I bought. I read every bit of text on the cover, including the “license” bit – knew from the start I did not own the music, but rather a license to use it.

    The funny thing is that they refuse to honor that license over time – the record companies treat the media as the product they sell, rather than the license. It always seemed fair to me that if I could prove ownership of an LP or CD, I’d be entitled to an MP3 (or whatever’s next) version of the same product.

    To summarize, – it’s media when you need to purchase it on another format, but it’s just a license when you want to rip a copy for your buddy or share on the old Napster. And the law says they can have it both ways. Good to have friends in high places I suppose.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  29. I have been happy with Spotify–especially now that I can make playlists and listen to them (shuffled) on my phone for free (I never cared for the Pandora model).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: Ha. They’re not. Although Bluray has superseded that format, they’re playable and not sufficiently inferior that I’ feel the need to upgrade existing flicks to Bluray. I meant VHS tapes; I’ve corrected the error.

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: That’s awful news and I’m sorry to hear it. I fully understand that this is a mere inconvenience for me, and a relatively minor one at that. But I think the larger point is an interesting one: we give up substantial control when we rely on outside providers. And, in many cases, we can spend an inordinate amount of time building our networks, playlists, photo albums, etc. in those venues.

    @Steven L. Taylor: I may give them another try. When I was using them last, you weren’t able to pick individual songs you wanted.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. Stonetools says:

    As Calvin and others have pointed out, rent or buy, there’s no guarantee that you will always be able to consume your media. It might be a good idea to look not only to the features of the product or service being offered, but who is offering it, and the likelihood that they will be around for a while. Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon will likely be here a long time, but Pandora,Beats, even Spotify? Not sure.
    It’s not just music. I hesitate to buy ebooks from BN, for that reason.
    It’s not just media, either. Going through the gift cards I got for Christmas, I saw one from JC Penney- and made a note that I needed to use that ASAP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. @James Joyner: I mostly use it on my laptop, which gives me total access to whatever I want in whatever order I want it in. Just last month they allowed playlists to be played on the mobile app, which has made it a viable in-car option for me as well.

    I have found the catalog to be pretty impressive as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. anjin-san says:

    Listen to an mp3 file on a high end sound system sometime and ask yourself why you would want to spend money on music in a format that does not sound very good.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. ptfe says:

    Hm. Before recording was possible, music was wholly ephemeral — it happened once, then it was gone until the next performance of a piece, which would be unique and distinct even if played by the same person. Today, to get that same unique effect, we (well, some of us) pay a lot of money to attend live concerts, an ephemeral version of a set of songs played by a particular person at a particular time.*

    James, maybe you should just view this like you went to a series of concerts. Or got stuck in the Victorian era.

    * And we often subsequently record it. Make of that what you will.

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  35. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’ll give them another try, then. They’ve seemingly fixed their major flaws and, as the industry leader, are unlikely to go away.

    @anjin-san: For the most part, I listen to music through either my mobile device speakers or headphones or the car stereo speakers, typically with the top down. @anjin-san: The higher end MP3s have more fidelity than I can hear through those systems.

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  36. anjin-san says:

    @ James

    I have never heard an mp3 that sounded good on my system. It’s a compression format.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. wr says:

    @trumwill: You should explore the Audible site a little more. They’ve got lots and lots of software options for listening, and instructions on how to burn their books to CD. I share lots of your hesitations about non-ownership, but these people don’t seem to play that game.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. James Joyner says:

    @ptfe: That’s certainly true. But when I go to a concert or movie, I’m not expecting to have anything more than the memory of that experience. If I want to experience it again later, I buy a CD or DVD.

    The problem here isn’t the loss access to songs I was listening to, although one presumes that there are some songs I enjoyed on MOG that won’t be available on any given service I migrate to. Rather, it’s the hours and hours spent curating the playlists that are lost.

    Presumably, I can mitigate that somewhat by taking screenshots or otherwise capturing the songs in those lists. But that’s going to take time and creating new ones elsewhere is too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. Stonetools says:

    @anjin-san:

    I hear you, Mr. Audiophile, but I think that battle is over. Most people no longer sit in their living room to listen to their high end system. Rather they listen to their music on the go, the way James does. In those use cases, most people really can’t tell the difference between lossless and compressed formats. And of course for use cases like audiobooks and podcasts, those differences don’t matter.

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  40. rudderpedals says:

    I remember buying “Master Recording” albums in the 70s that promised (and delivered) a better sound than normal albums at about a 50% premium. Dark Side of the Moon is the only one I remember (you know about the memory stuff). Unfortunately today I can’t hear anything higher than around 8khz anymore and the air conditioner runs all the time anyway, 360K mp3s work.

    Gaming is another story. If Valve software (steampowered.com) ever goes away I’m hosed out of about 50 games that only work while connected.

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  41. Mikey says:

    @Stonetools:

    I hear you, Mr. Audiophile

    I see what you did there.

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  42. grumpy realist says:

    @rudderpedals: I still can hear pretty high frequencies which was absolute murder for me while in Japan because so many of their security systems use ultrasonic whatever (don’t ask me what or how.) I remember one time following a friend into an atrium looking for a cash machine, turning chalk white, and running out as if the Hounds of Hades were on my heels. My friend ran after me, asking “what’s the matter?!” and I screamed back “CAN’T YOU HEAR IT?!!” To him, it was silence. To me, it was incredible noise.

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  43. Matt says:

    @grumpy realist: Even though I’m 33 I can hear the mosquito noise that only young people are supposed to be able to hear.

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  44. rudderpedals says:

    @grumpy realist: You’re susceptible to the mosquito thing Matt mentioned. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mosquito . wiki claims most people can hear 8khz which is probably true for people who didn’t ruin their hearing in aviation or at concerts during their yute.

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  45. Matt says:

    @rudderpedals: I’ve been to a great number of concerts in my life. I also used to compete in car stereo comps where my car would usually pressure around 145 db. For some magical reason I still have good hearing. I have issues with certain vocal ranges in a noisy environment but other then that I can pickup sounds to 20k hz.

    For some reason I’m far more sensitive to bass then higher frequencies. I can hear bass well before most people I know.

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  46. Paul Hooson says:

    I own a little more than 10,000 albums, singles, cassettes, cds, 8tracks etc., and I still they’re all great and have a real purpose. 8Tracks are probably the most troublesome of the lot because the glue tends to dry out on change changer foil. But even these can be re-glued and repaired and made useful again. On a great stereo system vinyl has very good sound. Some artists like Robbie Krieger of The Doors, actually prefer the vinyl over cd by far.

    The nightclub I own has about $30,000 in audio equipment, and sometimes it’s fun to listen to my cds on this big system, although I often think that some home systems have had this big system beat. Not for bass response, but for clarity of treble response and midrange.

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  47. rudderpedals says:

    @Matt: It’s remarkable you didn’t toast your hearing in those competitions. 145db… Wow No tinnitus?

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  48. Matt says:

    @rudderpedals: This was in 98 so I was in a whole different world from today. I competed in rockford-fosgate sponsored DB drag races. One of the rules is that you were not allowed inside a car if it could pressure over a certain DB. Obviously I was way over the limit. I had an 89 CRX with 3 jl audio 12w6 with PPI powerclass amps in a sealed box with individual chambers. I of course also ran mb quartz components up front and 6 1/2 coaxials in the back. My whole build was designed and installed by me so I was competing against people who spent up to 10x the amount I did (I got beat once by a yugo with a wall of 4x 15 inch kickers powered by 4x 1000 watt rms kicker amps). I actually had a spare back back window and a spare windshield I had pulled out of a junkyard. My windshield actually cracked the time I hit 145db. The back window never did break despite flexing at least an inch during comps (my hatchback wiper bounced off the glass).

    The car was just too loud to listen to at full volume so that probably helped save my hearing some. When driving if you cranked it your eyeballs would jiggle so much everything would blur not to mention the instant pain. Mostly used it for playing music at road parties and such (could be heard miles away).

    I did develop a little tinnitus after effect but I think I saved myself from any serious damage by being somewhat smart with the stereo. I never got a ticket but I did get pulled over once because I turned it up some as I was heading out of town and in the process rattled the cop’s car that passed me in the other direction (we were going 55 each). He searched me and the car extensively before letting me go since I was heading out of town before turning it up.

    Edit : I found out years later that this one dude’s dad absolutely hated me. Because I would sometimes drive down his street with it turned up and when I did stuff would fall off the walls.

    I do feel like an absolutely asshole now though and I wish I could go back and be more considerate of others. I was a stupid kid and I paid for it by working +40 hours a week at a burger king while in high-school. I was the first high-school student to earn vacation time according to my DM.

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