Earlier this year I finally bit the bullet and took out a subscription to Spotify. I didn’t anticipate how much it would change the way I treat music.
Music has always been an integral part of who I am, in many different forms. Growing up, in school, music was the great divider. You were either into indie/rock/metal, or you were into the newly emerging, heavily US-influenced rap/R&B scenes. We’re talking late 90s here. There was no other choice. Admitting to liking anything poppy might as well have been an admission of homosexuality. Terrible though that sounds, teenage boys are incredibly cruel to each other, and no one – I mean no one – wanted to stand out from the crowd unless they were an unbreakable character.
You won’t be surprised to hear that there weren’t any unbreakable characters.
In the mid 90s, Britpop was the big thing. I was a huge fan of Oasis, and I like to think that their music was the bedrock to what formed my own musical identity. It introduced me to such great and timeless acts as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. James were also a big hit, thanks to my parents, and that broadened my tastes, as I think James were all about the catchy hook, the tongue-in-cheek lyrics. It was so close to pop, and yet had just enough indie edge to make it effortlessly cool at the same time.
But it still was guitar-based rock that made me feel comfortable. Rock got me into Stereophonics and Green Day, and from there into Blink 182, Sum 41, and then as I got older into the likes of Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Keane and The Killers.
I had always wanted to own a musical instrument, though. But more than that, I wanted to be able to play one. The logical conclusion to that was to start learning the guitar. It was a bit late, at aged 16, but it’s better late than never, and something I can’t recommend more highly to anyone.
Once free of the shackles of school and college (where the musical divides were hugely numerous, but, mercifully, not vicious) and learning more and more about music and musical theory from my exploits with the guitar, I started to listen to more and more genres. Little did I realise that throughout my life my interest in rock/pop rock wasn’t because it was rock, but because I liked simple chord structures, simple motifs, catchy lyrics… and, to my great surprise, I discovered that these are in (almost) all other genres too.
It turns out that, after all, I’m something of a softie for pop. And via pop, all of a sudden, I was listening to many of those genres I apparently wasn’t so keen on.
My music library has grown over the years, expanded by university days of CD sharing, and, of course, being in the right place at the right time to profit from the rise of the illegal download. I was all about curating a list of 4 and 5 star songs, and listening to them, again, and again, and again, and again. Slowly adding more and more as occasional new acts and albums arrived that I liked.
Frankly though, my additions to the music libraries were not keeping pace. Two or three albums a year. Not good. Meanwhile, the same 700 or so tracks on almost continual rotation.
I started to get bored of it. Bored of what is actually a list of my favourite songs of all time. How can that be? How can you get bored of your favourite music?
You can get too much of a good thing.
About three years ago, I made a conscious decision to start to listen to the radio again. Back in the day my weapon of choice was Virgin Radio, then Absolute Radio. I have never been a huge radio listener, not having a car, and not being in a workplace that played music. But I like radio’s social feel, and the fact that you are a passive listener of music, rather than actively picking the tracks. This fits in well with my busier life.
I decided, for my sins, to go with BBC Radio 1. I started with the official Top 40, as a proxy for just finding out what is popular. I didn’t like much of it at first, but as time went by, I found myself appreciating pop music. I am definitely a great believer in the fact that if you hear something often enough, even if you don’t like it, it goes through a phase where eventually your brain accepts it (before eventually rejecting it again). It’s weird, but it’s happened to me enough times now to prove it for me…
It then turned out that I quite like Radio 1. It was a step up from Absolute Radio, because of the lack of inane adverts, and also the diversity of music from so many genres I would normally not listen to. That passive listening has introduced me to more music in the last three years than I probably did in the entirety of my life prior to that.
We then return to where we started. The Spotify subscription.
The last few years have made me value music differently. It is no longer about listening to my all time favourites on permanent rotation. I haven’t forgotten them, but I hardly ever listen to them now.
They have been replaced with my more throwaway relationship with music. I now consume far more music than ever, adding tracks, deleting them, searching them out, listening to other people’s playlists and recommendations, listening to additional songs from an artist that I like one song by, absorbing the good ones, ignoring the bad ones, but forever listening. Listening to more and more.
Until Spotify, I couldn’t do that. Not easily. OK, I could seek things out on YouTube, but I’d have to, again, listen to and ignore inane adverts. Can you tell I hate adverts?
Spotify is exactly what I was looking for in my life. For someone who loves music, though I may have relatively mainstream tastes (he says whilst listening to the Radio 1 Rock Show) that some people might look down on (well, I was listening to the Top 40 prior to that…), the chance of having nearly all music (London Grammar, please get on Spotify!) from several decades at my finger tips is utterly revolutionary.
It is what the Internet was invented for.
The day the music died was when I joined Spotify. It killed my 700 strong playlist for good. Now I can randomly dip into a mere one of those songs, every now and then, and it is a treat, not a chore.
I love that. I love that not listening to my favourites has made them more special. It’s made them more special when set against my new, more voracious, musical consumption. Might seem weird to some people, but it’s perfect to me. It has made huge amounts of space to listen for new music.
Because, to my eternal shame, as an alleged music lover, I had forgotten about new music.
You must never stop listening to new music, Matt.
Read this post again in 10 years time, Matt. See if you still agree.