Listening to music in the 21st century

- building in public music

How might I stop and appreciate music more?

My musical life has been a bit stuck. I find myself not getting too excited about music these days. Maybe this is not really a problem. Or, perhaps this is just a result of my taking myself and my existential crises too seriously.

Probably a bit of both. But I think there is another factor.

I wonder if the emerging structure of music - e.g., a streaming service with personalized, algorithmically-generated playlists amidst a vast and ever-expanding library of music - for all its benefits, actually inhibits sincere music appreciation and discovery.

A. Paradox of Choice

One of the most striking lines I’ve read recently was: “…if you have too many options, you actually have none at all.”

Discover Weekly introduces me to ~20 new artists a week. In the course of random internet browsing, I probably discover a few more myself every week. That’s not to mention recommendations from friends, tastemakers, or other playlists. That’s not to mention Release Radar. That’s not to mention the existing library of content and all the safer choices I could make.

The result is constant overload, FOMO, song-switching, and disenchantment.

B. Lonely Discovery

AI, personalization, algorithms, yahta-yahta. A friend of a friend - I’m sure a bright guy - apparently interviewed 5 times unsuccessfully for Spotify’s data science team. As if there is even a data science problem to be solved here!

I don’t really want a personalized playlist.

I’d be more interested in inviting some surprise and serendipity into my life. I want to know what my friends are listening to, I want to know what my favorite artists or other public figures are listening to, I want to know what the Washington Football Team was listening to in the locker room, I want to know what Ted Gioia and Evan Gitterman recommend.

Spotify gives me worse versions of the music I already listen to, anyway - on the grounds that it sounds similar to my current listening habits.

Even some of our most personal choices were “co-created” out of some experience that involved other people and/or an environment. Context matters; I don’t think I have some “true” or static set of tastes. A car ride up the 101 playing Jacob Collier with friends. Walking by a stunning rendition of Chaka Khan’s Thought The Fire in a K-Town karaoke lounge. A Copa90 video showcasing Brazilian beach soccer.

C. Absence of Ritual

While exercising. While working. While cooking. While driving (this one’s better, though). While…doing something else.

I think it’s cool that music can be the soundtrack to our lives - to other activities. But ought to be a centerpiece at times, too. If music is always a secondary activity, of course I won’t appreciate it much.

I think there is a need for more structure, yet also more serendipity, more community, and more ritual in 21st century music listening.

What do you think?