In the beginning…
It used to be so easy. In days gone by, when I wanted to listen to the newest music I just had to turn on the radio or the TV (remember when MTV actually was about music?). It was up to the programming on your station of choice what kind of music would be played, so whatever they would play, would ‘stick’. I would consequently end up incorporating this in my musical taste, more through osmosis than through active listening. The radio station I spent a good chunk of my teenage years listening to was a pop/rock station, so my musical taste was (and sometimes still is, don’t judge me) very mainstream and pop oriented. But at that time that was good enough for me, because music was, for the most part, something to have playing in the background without paying any real attention to make doing homework a little bit easier.
Over the following years my interests in music shifted ever more towards actively seeking to discover new music and expand my musical vocabulary. So there came a point at which the weekly rotation of new songs on the aforementioned radio station no longer sufficed my desire to explore the musical world. After searching the internet for alternatives for a little bit, I stumbled upon a then recently released streaming service, Spotify. Completely blown away by the sheer amount of music available and the plethora of ways to discover and explore new kinds of music and artists, I immediately fell in love with the app. But one question kept on popping up in the back of my mind: how do they do it?
The Spotify way
For me, Spotify’s power lies in the vast number of personalised playlists they provide the user with. 6 different Daily Mixes, Discover Weekly and Release Radar are all based on and tailored to what you listen to. The latter two are refresh weekly and, if you don’t like some of the suggestions the algorithm comes up with, you can simply let it know not to recommend you songs or artists like that in the future. In addition to the personalised playlists, Spotify offers a plethora of other playlists displaying different genres, moods, top-50 charts (per country AND worldwide), user-made playlists, “radio stations” based on artists or songs that sound alike and even an end-of-year wrap-up of everything you listened to. Suffice to say there certainly no longer was a shortage of ways for me to discover new music anymore. But, as with most things, life in the Spotify-realm is not all sunshine and roses.
With the rise in popularity of Spotify (other streaming services are available), more people are getting tailor-made playlists recommending songs they might like. Consequently, the importance of grabbing the listeners attention within the first couple of seconds has become an art in and of itself. On top of that, to appear more attractive to radio stations and to increase the likelihood of getting air time, songs are increasingly becoming shorter. One thing I personally have found to be a ‘negative’ side effect of all these playlists and recommendations everywhere, is that, for nearly ten years now, I have only been listening to ‘songs’.
How to listen to music
Let me expand on what I mean with that. A while back, I was having a conversation about music with a good friend of mine and I asked him what songs he was listening to at the moment. To my surprise his answer was that his preferred way of listening to music is through listening to albums front to back of artists he likes. This is something I had not even considered to be an option. Maybe because I occasionally manage to trick people in to thinking I’m a DJ, the focus of discovering music for me had always been restricted to finding specific songs that worked to fit a specific purpose. I had never even thought to look past finding music to utilise in my hobby, and instead to enjoy a project an artist has put so much time and effort into just for the music’s sake.
At first, because I didn’t know how to properly listen to an album and was still so used to skipping through songs to find one that I could ‘use’, I got impatient really quickly and ended up skipping through the albums (old habits die hard I guess). But after a while I got the hang of it, and now I’m fully convinced that listening to an album is one of the greatest ways of getting into an artists mindset. Seeing the way they craft a narrative in a given amount of songs, taking the listener on a journey with them through whatever concept their album revolves around, has become so magical to me, I wouldn’t have it any other way. So, to my dear friend, thank you so much for changing the way I listen to music, I’m grateful for it every single day.