Monday, July 14, 2014

Listening to Music Now (Part 3: Critics)

Who tells you what to listen to . . .  or guides you to places they've discovered?
I used to go to record store owners to find new music. One of them made the switch and now I listen to his Spotify playlists. It is now, however, a different experience. Fundamentally. Whereas before I'd save up to buy an album every month or so (or maybe sign up for BMG again and get the free cds), now it's all at my fingertips. An unfathomable amount of music, right there. The fact that our minds are not blown by the landscapes open to us now, the treasure hunting available, is stunning. Once we start to get it we will learn new things, recognize new patterns, invent new ways of describing what we see. This is probably already happening.

This new reality calls for a new type of critic -- one that helps people learn how to listen again, how to look, how to appreciate, how to swim in the ocean.  Before critics were expert guides to particular swimming holes, rivers, or lakes. Some were explorers who visited other lakes and rivers. Some found the sea, but most of us didn't care because we couldn't afford to travel there. Now, however, the ocean is open to many, many more of us, and it's hard to hear the old critics voices over the roar of the waves. But some of them are modifying their boats or buying seagoing vessels. . . and other, younger ones are growing up on the ocean, visitors to the lakes and rivers  that were homes to yesterdays critics. But salt water is different than fresh water -- some skills translate and some don't.

I have a friend in his twenties that I see two or three times a year when I go to Nashville. He's become one of my new music "dealers", a seagoing explorer who comes to shore and shows me what he found since I last talked to him. He sometimes begins with an apologetic, "Well I don't have much for you this time" and then goes on to introduce me to a brilliant singer, writer, song, or even sub-genre. I'm trying to get him to write about what he hears. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. Maybe it will work, maybe not. At this point the important thing is that he's out of his boat looking. When he comes to shore he talks to his friends and they talk to their friends. People like him may end up writing... or not. Maybe they'll talk, or tweet, or host television shows -- or maybe (hopefully) there will be another way to introduce people to what they find in the sea, a method that does justice to the kind of change we are undergoing.

1 comment:

Veritas said...

One thing I'm noticing in my own experience of listening to music is that the wide availability of content and free access to it has gradually eroded genre boundaries as useful organizers.

Ten or fifteen years ago I listened to radio in my car, and chose stations by genre as best as possible.

Two or three years ago I listened mostly through Pandora, and carefully pruned stations centered around a core artist to get a certain "feel". Not quite genre anymore, but still ordered.

Nowadays I build Spotify playlists around mood and context. I have lists that I want to listen to in certain situations, and the only thing that unites the artists on them is that FOR ME, they fit those situations. Others would probably disagree. I regularly add or remove tracks or entire artists from my playlists as my sense of that particular mood or context evolves or I find new stuff.

Yesterday I spent some time listening to a playlist of someone or other's called "Smart is the New Sexy". It wasn't really my thing, but the songs were widely eclectic, and only shared space on the list because in her opinion they were both "smart" and "sexy".

Indeed, we live in interesting times.