How to Enjoy Music: Listening for Experience

by Langdon Crawford

A student recently pointed me towards this article on mic.com. It discusses why we’ve lost touch with music. On the one hand, streaming and skipping on digital platforms decreases our attention spans when it comes to music. On the other, crushing musical data into bandwidth and spatial constraints is limiting our experiences.

I don’t even for a second believe its the quality of the audio that is neutering our connection with music. The ease at which we experience music is.

Take a look back at the thought an attention required just to make ye olde mix tape.
Then when you listened to that mix tape, you actually listened.  You didn’t edit, you didn’t skim, skip, or flip the tape over other song.
And the quality was total crap. It was a cassette tape recorded either from the radio or another cassette, which may have also been another mix tape. The noise floor on these tapes was crazy.
But the tapes were awesome.
You listened to every song, because you knew what it took to make that tape. And when you listened, you listened not only to the tracks but the intention of the mix tape maker who chose to put on one track after another.
You can make a playlist in iTunes or burn a CD in seconds. It’s the ease of rendering which has rendered the playlist almost trivial. It’s just a collection of songs.
When you receive a playlist from someone, you just sample it.  You listen and go, Hey, thats cool, then probably skip to the next song after the second chorus or bass drop.
All that said you have to ask why people are listing to music. When I’m inhabiting my role as a music maker and educator, I listen to music very differently than I do when I’m driving to the airport or painting the house.
Each context involves different levels of attention, (background noise, vs focused analysis) and different motivations (inspiration for my next piece or lecture, vs inspiration to move furniture while vacuuming). If I’m looking for something new, I might skip more tracks on Pandora. If I’m looking for the right vibe to keep me going while organizing photos on my computer, I might jump to the heavy section of Bohemian Rhapsody…
But if I’m looking to feel the feelings,  I’m probably going to set up a playlist of the songs as presented on an artist’s album and let them play through, preferably in a chill space without any noise from Fox News or Buzzfeed.  Vinyl records and cassettes are good for that, but it’s not because of the sound quality.  It’s the fact that its not a computer, it’s the album and only that album. I don’t have a remote or itchy trigger finger when playing a tape or record. It’s a time to listen and relax: there’s no need to stress, or spazz each time there is a series of 4 notes I don’t absolutely love, because the next good part is probably less than a minute away…
Take a break and enjoy music every once in a while.  It might just be good for you.