Editorial Notebook

Changing music habits

By Darby Burns April 11, 2018

A few weeks ago I stumbled across an article by Haley Nahman called, “I Think I Figured Out Why My Brain Always Feels Fried” and for whatever reason I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. It talks about the ways that people nowadays consume information. Some people will fully follow artists or authors, becoming familiar with their work overtime. They, on a daily basis, read and listen with an “intentionality.” Others, like the author of this particular article, listen and absorb passively, taking what comes to them—content suggested by friends, algorithms, or publications. On the musical side of things, this was something that stuck with me.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise that the reason this resonated with me was that I fall firmly in the second category. I name playlists with the dates I started them because I jumble together whatever I come across that speaks to me in some way and then I listen to them until I get bored and start anew. As a result, there is rarely any real connection to the music I’m hearing, beyond simply that I like it. I might add a song because the lyrics have a line that gives me goose bumps, or the melody has a dip leading into a swell that gives me shivers. The playlists I make will give a song like “I’m Your Man” by Leonard Cohen, and follow it up immediately with “Pineapple” by Ty Dolla $ign, and then “Normal” by Sasha Sloan— combination with absolutely no clear rhyme or reason to it.

Until now, I had never really thought about the fact that I do this. The continuous stream of variety has always felt natural and easy. To pay attention to what any one artist is doing, and has done over their career would require me to go out of my way and take time and effort that, typically, I don’t have the inclination to give. Why listen to a whole album, which would contain songs that I might not like as much as the one that had drawn me in, when I could listen to a computer generated playlist full of songs containing a similar vibe?

Now, the way I’m consuming is changing. It’s partially a conscious effort and partially just that I’m now noticing the patterns. There have been several albums recently released by artists I like, who I know I like because they perpetually have songs that I get caught up in enough to add to a playlist, that I have taken the time to listen to from start to finish. And here’s the thing: it feels good. Taking the time to listen to something in its entirety, to me gives a depth that makes the songs themselves so much more impactful.

I’m nowhere close to being able to attentively follow all the artists I listen to, or know everything about them, their music, and their inspiration. Honestly I may never get there, as much as I may fantasize about it. But I think that making the conscious effort to think about where the music blasting through my headphones is coming from might be enough. Taking a step away from the passive absorption to actively seek out, and listen to understand—occasionally anyway—is enough. Or at the very least, it’s a start.