Sunday, 30 August 2015

I don't know how to listen to music anymore

I listen to music a lot, but I don't really listen to a lot of music. I buy three or four albums a year and listen to them, which has seemed like the best way to do it. These become my albums. The ones that I listen to over and over again.  I used to buy them on CDs, and now, because CDs are kind of horrible, I download them. It's nice to have a collection. I know where I am with these songs, because they're mostly pretty good. Now big companies tell me I shouldn't be doing this. Don't pay for some of the music, they say, pay for all of the music. Give us ten pounds a month and you can listen to anything you want.

I didn't bother with Spotify, partially because it's easy to ignore, but mostly because it's called Spotify. Apple's new streaming thing was harder to ignore, since it landed in my iTunes and said 'Do this free for three months, you might like it!' And I do sort of like it. I can listen to pretty much anything I want in good quality and with no adverts (unlike YouTube). I can click around to find things that are similar to things I already like, and catch up on bands I forgot about five years ago. There's a freedom to it. I don't have to invest in anything. I can walk into a band's discography, play a few songs, have a nice time, then leave. Except, that's the problem. Music becomes easier, but also throwaway. Streaming music is oddly impersonal. There isn't the care that comes with ownership, or the attention. When you can listen to anything you want, you can give up on something after thirty seconds and find the next song that might be better.

I can complain about this, but then owning music doesn't actually matter. It's not like I'm polishing old vinyl records, or whatever you do with vinyl records. I have CD copies of my favourite albums in cardboard sleeves, and I'm fairly sure 'owning' anything on iTunes is an illusion. Still, having something is a different feeling to consuming it. Taking books out of the library is nice, but my books are excellent, lovely objects that I read more carefully. They take on a different quality.

This might all be nonsense, though. I've discovered that there's a different problem: I don't really like new music. By that I mean I don't like music I haven't heard before. When I want to listen to music I go for something I know I like. The hypocrisy in this is that all my favourite songs were new once. In my mind, though, that happened accidentally, like I tripped over them in the street or something. There's no point trying to look for them in a playlist called 'Best New Songs', and they won't be in 'Similar artists to this one' either. They are the unexpected things you don't know you like until you hear it. For me, that doesn't happen often.

I wonder if I found my new favourite band on Apple Music, whether I would instantly click away to find something better. And there's plenty there, plenty this-is-alright-but-I-would-never-actually-buy-this albums. Cutting off all this noise into a collection is having your own little haven. The internet is a big cloud of floating stuff, and we reach into it and say I'll have this and this and this and keep them over here. I think we need to do that, or it's just endless noise pouring out of speakers. It won't mean anything. But if this is true, why do I keep going back to Apple Music? I'm always looking for the next thing, the next great thing. It's in there somewhere. When I hear it, I don't know what I'll do with it.