Listening to music can sometimes be a needlessly complicated process. It’s not hard to see why; for some people, listening to music is an incredibly substantial part of their lives, tuning in day-in, day-out, as often as they humanly can, consuming just about as much auditory stimuli as they do water. Last.fm and Spotify accounts resemble empires built out of years worth of plays and a diverse spectrum of genres, proudly flaunting one’s most-listened to albums like symbols reflective of one’s personality. Music is more than an embellishment for one’s surroundings or mood-lifting, mood-altering landfill for silence, it’s a genuine passion, and like any other form of art, savviness in it is rewarded with a feeling of self-expression and self-discovery that is unrivaled. Even when it’s not pushing one’s own boundaries, the simple pleasures of uncovering a piece of music that moves you, either physically or otherwise, is enough a reward in and of itself. The hobby is fundamentally very simple: you like what you like, and you dislike what you dislike. Despite what others may tell you, opinions are not objective, but shrewdly rejecting the idea of understanding another person’s thoughts doesn’t get you very far if discovery is on your list of objectives. Hell, some of my favorite music I hated at first, but a modest advocate imparting a fresh perspective can flip you a full one-eighty.
The science behind what makes music “good” or “bad” is relative but again very simple at its core. Sometimes one spares but fleeting attention as to what’s making the pretty noise around them, while other times each listen is a more intimate experience, preferring perfect conditions in one’s state of mind as opposed to constant exposure. This simply boils down to how your mind works; does constant exposure ruin a song for you or make it more pleasurable? Is it a waste of time to deny yourself the need to listen to the music you’d rather save for a more apt climate, or a rewarding endeavor? Do your online play counts even mean a goddamn thing at the end of the day? Thirty-thousand plays is a proud lifetime stride for some people but a mere season’s work for others. Likewise, does the person who has chronicled 50 plays of a track over a period of time have any deeper a connection with the song than someone who has played it double the amount in half the time?
Recorded listens obviously aren’t everything, since they don’t account for anything you listen to away from the computer, among other things, but some of us (myself included) borderline on obsessing that everything you hear, everyone else should know about it. A huge amount of plays on any given piece of music says something about who you are as a person and your taste, who wouldn’t wish to share that with fellow music enthusiasts? After all, some friendships begin over a humble mutual interest in an artist, and fuck, spotting someone with the same band t-shirt on as you at a show gives you a feeling like you are already friends. The thing is recorded plays as a representation of your listening habits and your taste yield varying degrees of accuracy. For one thing, and as mentioned above, people listen to music in different ways; the battle of quality vs. quantity is ever at play here. Second, did you even like that band’s discography you left playing on Spotify casually in the background, focused on your homework? Do people who prefer spread-out, focused listens in bed with the lights off have a better understanding of the music than someone who spares but half the attention casually playing their music in the background constantly? My question here is, how much integrity do counters such as last.fm really possess? Is there really a correlation between your highest-played artists and your favorite artists, or do play counts have nothing to do with it?
Though this is something interesting to think about, the real question is, are you getting the max enjoyment out of your musical crusade? Everyone’s listening habits are different, but let me tell you a little about my personal experience as a junkie. Growing up as an avid gamer, most of my earliest memories of loving music stemmed from the soundtracks of these games, and they also had a massive role in forging the music tastes I still have to this day. Now, repeated exposure can be a slippery slope when grinding music; listening to something too much at once can butcher the song for some people, but there are others out there that can sit and play the same single song ad infinitum and not grow tired of it. I found that despite how oft-repeated certain songs can be in video game soundtracks, there’s a certain associative conditioning at play here that keeps even the most abused of tracks in good graces. For example, a song that only plays when you are winning has the power to elicit a sense of victory long after the game is finished, even after you’ve heard it a thousand times. Other songs that you may associate with a certain location or character from the game can evoke a particular feeling in your mind as well; you might find the main menu tune you hear every time you start the game has gotten under your skin after the umpteenth time. When it comes to non-soundtrack music, however, you’ll find the same psychology is at play here, but it is much more open-ended. Simply put, music is free to associate with whatever you please, and it has the potency to be the soundtrack to your own life and experiences, like a ritualistic jog out by the lake, or catching up on some late night drawing. Replaying a song or album in succession frequently yields its own rewards, but there are times where it’s swinging in the opposite direction. One of the more bombastic and absurd pieces I’ve listened to is The Knife’s collaboration album Tomorrow In a Year, a double-disc concept album on Darwinism and an avant-garde giant. On the first disc in particular, the album sports some rather ludicrous, formless and painfully abstract tracks that don’t exactly make for addictive tunes. More grandiose epics like “The Colouring of Pigeons” or the album’s eponymous track deliver on a more “collected” level, but they are nonetheless massive, and enjoying a lengthy piece of music like this requires a bit of time, and a more focused listening environment helps peel away the music’s many layers and rewards. This album is a very special piece of music for me, and it never fails to blow me away given the proper time and attention, but it is by no means an album I can just pull up and listen to at any time, unlike the group’s other albums, because it’s a much more demanding experience. On the other hand, an album like TOKiMONSTA’s Creature Dreams EP I can pull up and enjoy much more often and this is because I associate it with getting artsy fartsy in the middle of the night, a much more reasonable criteria than the almost ceremonial sessions of the former album. Another habit of mine is favoring certain albums during different times of the year. When its cold and snowing there’s a certain lust for electronic music in the air, and conversely, summertime reminds me of my love for folk and more guitar-driven genres like shoegaze or punk.
Now, this isn’t to say you can only fully enjoy music by association, but realize there are many ways you can optimize your listening time to turn great tunes into excellent ones, turn songs that sound good into songs that feel good, and turn love at first listen into a love for life. It’s not impossible to revive music you are all but numb to, music that has become oversaturated to the point where the joy you derived from it is all but a memory, and there are ways you can keep an album in relatively heavy rotation and still keep it feeling fresh even after the seven hundredth listen. The main thing is, like pretty much everything pleasurable in life, moderation is key. Listening to a song or album once per day at most (maybe twice) can feel like a bit of sweet torture, but the idea is to leave you wanting more, keep the memory of it exciting and not exhausting. And speaking of memory, this brings me to something else I find enhances music for me as a whole: your mind. I know you’ve had a song stuck in your head before. I mean, who hasn’t? But would you really say it’s “stuck”? I could talk for days about all the amazing things the mind is capable of in its own right, but I will just tell you that having a song “stuck” in your head and not really really hating it can be a blessing in disguise. It might sound strange, but sometimes listening to no music can be the best way to listen to music; a song replaying in your head is a song you are spending the day with, an embellishment of sorts to your mundane life. A song replaying in your head can not only sound much more beautiful, but it can also last much, much longer than actually replaying that song in the same manor, and it won’t leave nearly as sour a taste in your mouth. If the song is good enough, having it circulate passively in your subconscious can be a real treat, as opposed to having some in-your-face tv commercial jingle plaguing your peace of mind like someone just took a shit in your brain. As you also know, it isn’t always possible to be playing music twenty-four hours a day, for people have jobs and other sundry activities that need their attention, so having a great song playing in your head can really feel like a gift. Music looping in the confines of your own personal headspace gives you the opportunity for it to ferment and really “sink in”, something that can further nurture your relationship with the music. Not only that, but some music has the capacity to warp and change in your mind, and I’m no musician but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was how some covers are conceived. This all, of course, requires both an open-mind (but you likely already have that) and belief that such things are indeed possible. I mean, if you really plan on a song getting old, it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, really. If you want your favorite music to last, it certainly can, but sometimes it requires a new perspective to flip it on its head, and you’ll find several opportunities for that as you discover new tunes and even yourself along the way.
Of course, you might not really be keen on “nurturing relationships” with music, and that’s fine too. If you are more adventurous or less meticulous than that, there’s plenty of music out there to choose from, so even if you think the idea of preserving music from getting old as a load of shit or a waste of time, you can always hop onto something else as well. Getting acquainted with many different genres goes a long way in helping you flesh out your taste and find out what is out there that is best for you. Some of your favorite music could be buried deep within the festering underground of some obscure microgenre you’ve never even heard of, for all you know. The ultimate reward of questing for new tunes is finding your next new favorite album, and even more ambitiously, searching for the perfect album. Leave no stone unturned; ask for recommendations on a music website for artists that serve as good entryways for getting into a particular genre. If your passion is powerful enough, check out every different sound you possibly can. If it’s not, you can always get to know a particular genre better by indulging in its various artists further. Do a little research as well; I doubt odd genres like “vaporwave” will make nary a pint of sense to someone not knowing what they’re getting into. Music is so easily accessible with youtube and the aforementioned Spotify that possibly the greatest psycho-auditory experience of your life is just a hop skip and a jump away, but you will never know if you don’t look.
Music can be a frustrating thing to indulge in. It’s very subjective, and unlike a good book or a movie, an album rarely feels like it’s been “finished” when you get to the end. But also unlike other media, the concept of the “album” isn’t the only way to experience music, as individual songs are easily taken, rearranged and sorted into playlists and bad songs are easily deleted from libraries or ignored entirely. Sometimes one song is all it takes to fall in love, and sometimes one song is all you’re going to fall in love with. Music isn’t always something that works for you; it’s something you have to put yourself in, and the most lavish rewards come from putting in genuine focus. Some of the best music actually creates something like a sonic environment for you to lose yourself in, and there’s a certain interactivity about it that makes listening more than just that. It’s certainly different for everybody, but I find these tips have helped me extract more pleasure from my favorite music and even refreshed my interested in albums I grew all but tired of. An open mind and a driving passion go a long way on their own but there are ways you can avoid needlessly awkward or uncomfortable listens and turn every experience into a fruitful one.