A comment on music consumption in the 21st century

Music is something that is ever-changing. The zeitgeist is constantly evolving and so is our taste in music, as well as most other things in our culture. There has been a profound change in the way in which we consume music. We don’t have to go back to far bygone to realize this profound change. Even just roughly 40 years ago, in the days of Pink Floyd and King Crimson, music was something to be savoured; it wasn’t just some background music to underline the mood, or help you relax while doing the dishes. Listening to an album was an activity in itself. Whilst this kind of music is still available today it certainly isn’t the norm, which brings up a question: is our treatment of music a problem? Why has our consumption of music changed in this way, and how can we take a more active role in shaping our musical palate?

Going out of your way to discover new music is something that has fallen by the wayside. Nowadays you just listen to your Spotify discovery playlist and cherry-pick the songs that you enjoy. The artistic vision of crafting an album as a whole experience is something that is wilfully ignored by consumers; the majority of them don’t bother listening to whole albums anymore. This change is understandable from a certain viewpoint: “Why should I bother with listening to a whole album, if I could just listen to the songs I really like?”. But there is something missing if you use this approach. An album can be a carefully crafted, masterfully choreographed experience with previous songs setting the mood for the next one, topics flowing from one to another, and it can even provide a sense of closure. This closure is a prerequisite for feeling of catharsis after finishing an album. While all of this is already evident in music that is still produced today, it is perhaps most obvious in classical music. A Symphony with distinct movements , which call back to previous themes in a later movement is obviously something that is supposed to be enjoyed in one go. Listening to music in such a way isn’t something that is frequently done, and it is somewhat of an acquired skill. We’re accustomed to just listening to music as something on the side and dedicating all of our attention to music isn’t something that is easy. It’s a skill that has to be trained, but if you’re willing to give this a try, I’m sure that the way you’re experiencing music will be enhanced and your perspective on music will fundamentally change. You will understand the connections of themes, and you will be able to view the product as a whole, which will, most importantly, make your experience of listening to music more enjoyable.

By taking such a diligent approach to music you will not only enhance your listening experience, you will probably also want to advance your horizon past your “usual” taste. Having understood your starting point you will move to new music and find new stuff that you like. You will have a newfound understanding of music, the way it evolved and the influences at play are going to be noticeable to you. Consequently music will be enjoyed in a new light and your grasp of music changes, thus enhancing your experience and giving you a sense of proper understanding of what you like.

Musics role in culture has also changed in the past decades. It’s used as a tool of self-discovery and as a means of expressing your personality. While this phenomenon isn’t anything new, it obviously still has to be accounted for. This isn’t a coincidence, coming alongside with the commercialization of music, this is used as a marketing tool to increase the appeal of music, and thereby it’s success. The constant availability of music has also changed our consumption, we don’t have to actively think about which music we will, and which we won’t consume, since all of it is constantly available and just a few clicks away. Music being freely available on YouTube is something that was fought against, whilst now whole albums are uploaded by the label itself to YouTube. It was never as easy to consume music as it is now, and the catalogue of available music is only growing. Music consumption has never been as convenient as in the 21st century, therefore we think less about the music which we consume, since all of it is constantly available.

This however leaves us with our main question: is there anything wrong with our treatment, our current way of consuming, music? Is it alright to listen to music as a side activity? I would say yes, but I would also strongly advise people to take some time to just appreciate music by itself. Sometimes you just want to listen to music while doing something else, and that is alright, but sometimes you should also take a diligent approach. As previously said, this will do nothing but enhance your very own perception of music - something that everyone should be interested in.

I write about whatever crosses my mind; probably mostly music, philosophy, culture.