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Monday, April 16, 2012

Are we losing our respect for music?

Much respect to Muema of for bringing this thought provoking article to our attention.

This isn't a critique of Simon Cowell, the Baron Bowdleriser of Pop, the exploitation culture of talent shows, or the paucity of music in the London 2012 Festival programme. It's much simpler than that. I'm worried about our listening habits.

Look at the panorama of music available to us today. We have access to any song we've ever wanted to listen to. Pay £120 a year to Spotify and you get 16 million songs, or use YouTube or one of the other numerous music discovery sites to find what you want. It's a glorious torrent of tunes made accessible by the MP3 and higher bandwidth. The main benefit is obvious: we can listen to and discover more music than ever before. Additionally, the ease of sharing music creates communities across social networks and many older music fans have rediscovered the songs of their youth. Just last night my great uncle in San Francisco sent me a message thanking me for introducing him to Spotify. There is no orthodoxy or dominant genre; everything exists on an even playing field. With this democratisation comes the need for artists to step up their game; they have to be brilliant to be heard.

The one thing we don't have more of is time. We cannot listen to the entire matrix of music, nor can we pay attention to, say, 100 songs, in the same way as we can 10. Our listening is often quicker, shallower and of a lesser quality, through tinny computer speakers and low bit rate streams and downloads. It is in danger of degrading and trivialising what we're hearing. In Simon Reynolds' words: "every gain in consumer-empowering convenience has come at the cost of disempowering the power of art to dominate our attention, to induce a state of aesthetic surrender."

An undertow of wariness crept up on me over the last year. Albums didn't have the same amount of significance as before, apart from those I listened to many times for work. I found myself flippantly turning my back on others that I deemed too difficult. Panic appeared at the amount of music that was on offer, often resulting in a retreat to Radiohead. I returned from SXSW, the great new music festival in Texas, feeling as if I'd OD'd on pop.