A Music Fan in the Age of Overload

We can thank the Internet; it is now possible to listen to nearly every piece of music ever recorded. This is staggering to think about, but it is true. Today, there are millions if not billions of recordings available for download or streaming over the Internet. I haven’t done the math, but it’s a fair bet that it would take multiple lifetimes to listen to all of the recorded music that is available today.

Before the invention of the phonograph in 1877, if you wanted to hear music you had to either play it yourself, or go to a place where it was being played. People would travel for hours and even for days on horseback or horse-drawn carriages just to attend a musical performance.

After the phonograph, if you could afford one, there was a handful of records to choose from. By the time I first started buying music (in the 1970’s, the days of the vinyl LP) you could pretty much flip through every album at the local record store in a couple of hours. Those were the days when you could take pride in the fact that you were a knowledgeable music fan. You used to have two or three local radio stations to choose from – now you can listen to every station twenty four hours a day, from every city in every country on the planet. Simply staggering.

Add to this the fact that multi-track recording equipment which once filled and entire room now fits in a device the size of a smart-phone, and you have a perfect storm, a deluge of music and recording artists. This is a double edged sword if you are a musician: on the one hand you can make your own recordings cheaply and distribute them instantly to the world; on the other hand, how do you get the attention of a potential listener when you are competing with billions of other artists?

On too many occasions lately, I have found myself spending hours searching the Rhapsody catalog (my latest subscription service of choice) for just the right music. Instead of listening like I used to do, I clicked and typed and scrolled for hours and ended up with a less than satisfying listening session.

Many of my friends are musicians like me who make their own recordings and provide samples, CD’s and Internet sites where I can go and listen to their music. It it sad but true that often times I don’t even get around to listening to the music and give it the attention it deserves, and these are people that I know personally, making great music.

Music City, We Have a Problem

I’m not going to solve the problem in this blog post, but I do have some ideas on how we can put some satisfaction back into listening to music and restore the feeling of being a knowledgeable music fan. This is just friendly advice. If you don’t have a problem then you might be wondering what I am talking about, but if you are like me and feel completely overwhelmed, read on.

Many of these ideas overlap but you will soon see where I am going with this:

1. Specialize

Pick the genre, time period, or type of music that you most enjoy and dive into it, ignoring (relatively speaking) everything else.

2. Don’t Apologize for Not Liking a Certain Type of Music

You don’t have to listen to something that doesn’t excite you just because you want to appear well-rounded. It’s just not as easy as it used to be.

3. Be a Groupie

Latch on to two or three artists that you really like and listen to everything that they have ever done.

4. Categorize and Segment

Try dedicating each week to a specific genre or artist or decade of music and during the specified week listen only to that music. You may even want to dedicate each day of the week to a certain artist, band, or genre and stick to it for a while. For example, Monday: Jazz, Tuesday, Rock, Wednesday: Classical, Thursday: Blues, Friday: Modern, Saturday: Motown, Sunday: well maybe Sunday could be an anything goes day. You get the idea. You might even decide to dedicate each day of the week to a single artist, or a single instrument. There are millions of ways to approach this and if you do it with the right spirit it could be kind of fun.

5. Go back to Buying CD’s

If you are like me and have stopped buying CD’s in favor of Internet streaming, it might be time to consider buying CD’s again. The advantage to this is that if you have shelled out the bucks for a physical piece of plastic you are more likely to spend time listening to the whole thing rather than bouncing around on the Internet and switching artists and albums every song or two.

Related to this, why not dive back into collecting vinyl LP’s again? I recently began doing this because I wondered why my serious listening was dropping off, and wondered if it was because of the nature of the digital versus analog sound qualities. There are those that swear that vinyl records provide a depth and warmth that digital recordings just can’t match, even if you have to put up with a few pops and crackles. I happen to be one of them. Used vinyl record stores are popping up all over the place these days and many new artists are even releasing new music on the format. It’s back to the future when it comes to vinyl. Besides, think of all the cool artwork and liner notes you get to experience all over again – something conspicuously missing in the digital age.

6. Listen to the Radio Instead

If you are still too overwhelmed by the choices, try just picking out a favorite radio station and become a faithful listener. Let someone else do the choosing for you and just enjoy the ride. If you can deal with the commercials, that is. There are plenty of commercial free radio stations to choose from on the Internet these days but I find that I really miss Di’s on these stations. It’s nice to have someone that provides a little background on the artists and other commentary on the songs.

7. Start Making Playlists

Playlists are easily created in the many Internet streaming applications or on iTunes. If you are frustrated by too many musical choices, spend some time creating a few themed playlists, listen to them often and revise them to perfection as you go along.

When you can listen to everything ever recorded, what do you listen to? Where do you even begin?

Of all these suggestions, the best advice I can give for finding enjoyment in music again and winning the battle of choice overload is not to be afraid to listen to just a few things over and over. Remember when you were first starting to listen to music and you had a handful of albums that you just played again and again? Why not return to that strategy for a while?

Repeated listenings are the surest way to rediscover the magic in music again. When you hear a piece of music over and over, you hear things you would otherwise miss. The music seeps in deeper and deeper and with that familiarity comes many surprises like the ability to sing along with every word, or to know exactly how the guitar solo goes and be able to hum along with it, or to recognize the verse, chorus structure, or to hear that faint hint of an exotic instrument that you missed the first ten times you heard the piece. If you are always listening to unfamiliar music you miss out on all the magic.

The fact that there are now millions of choices, doesn’t mean you have to consider them all. It’s impossible anyway. Being a music fan is not a contest to see who can name the most obscure artist. It’s about appreciating the music you love and finding simple pleasure in it.


One thought on “A Music Fan in the Age of Overload

  1. An interesting take on a real concern – the over-availability of music. I’m not sure I’ve got the self-discipline to implement many of these ideas though… I like to wander 😉 But it’s true I don’t listen to music with the same focus I used to.

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