Flavorwire published this article, asking 10 questions about your relationship to music. What I liked was that it wasn’t a quiz, but an actual open-ended look at the range of possibilities in personal taste and approach. So I wrote replies to these questions, because I don’t think I’ve ever asked myself some of these questions. And it looked like fun. If you want, start your own note with these questions and write your own replies. I would definitely read it. And please don’t feel like you have to read this. Just sharing.
1 When do you listen to music?
Throughout the day, mostly while I am at work, and often in the car. I generally save it for shorter drives, because my mind can grow bored with a whole bunch of music in the background. The exception is if I’m on a road trip with friends, in which case music will be in the background probably the whole time. I’ve tried listening on my own, just listening to music and nothing else, but I grow restless and don’t enjoy the music as much. So basically, unless it’s my own music, I have to be doing something while listening.
2 Do you listen to lyrics?
Not a whole lot. Way more than I used to. I used to be someone who solely listened to music for the rhythm and melody, especially hip-hop, where my only criteria was “does it have a good beat?” That evolved to “do they have a good flow?” It took me awhile to accept rap lyrics the way we accept stories in literature: that the stories in these songs are not meant to be agreed upon, the way certain feel-good songs might, but they are meant to convey a complex narrative of what a different life is like, whether it’s the nightmare of the projects or the dream of making it big. And obviously, some people want you to care more about their lyrics than others. So many bands wash out their lyrics with reverb, so they’re basically saying, “this is just rhythmic fill.” But those who want you to listen can make or break their song with their lyrics. Case in point: “Random Rules” by Silver Jews is only a good song because of the lyrics.
3 Are you an album or a singles person?
I’m honestly both. Growing up with albums, I tend to be more of an album person. And I think that the album lends itself to a greater artistic experience. But lately, I’m making more room for singles in my life, if only because there are some terrible bands who put out good singles, and I don’t want to suffer their album for that one song I like. If I like a single enough, and that’s all I’ve heard of the artist, I might check out the album, but I rarely run in expecting anything as great as the single. I think that’s because I also grew up in the 90s, where the single was king. A lot of really great singles came out, and some of those singles came from good albums, but the vast majority did not. So I disappointment myself a whole bunch, buying albums from New Radicals or Matchbox 20, which is probably why I began stealing music in the first place.
4 Are you a streamer or an owner?
I’ve just been following the trends as they come. I bought CDs when they were the primary means of listening. I started stealing singles, then albums, when that became a more reasonable thing to do, and iPods made listening to albums digitally that much easier. But I always hated the weight of that library. I take it back, I love that weight, but it’s a scary weight, especially if that shit is digital. All it takes is a bad backup or a hard drive crashing, and you lose everything. CDs, there was the risk of scratches, sure, but the memory is still there, and a single CD is easier to replace conceptually than a whole music collection. So now that streaming is in, and almost everything I want to hear can be streamed, I’m doing Spotify. I’m convinced that online libraries will only grow in size, and that the market competition will only push these services to improve their software and collections. The big issue, of course, is having a connection the internet, whether through data or wi-fi, and living in the mountains, you don’t have connection everywhere you go. So that’s the biggest argument for downloads, although Spotify will allow you to download a playlist, so I take advantage of that when I feel it’s worth it.
5 Can you separate artists from their art?
Absolutely. Kanye West is an asshole in a lot of ways. I don’t think he’s crazy, but that’s a different conversation. Regardless, I think he makes brilliant music, and I support great work no matter the source. Woody Allen is making that very hard right now, because I don’t want to like the movies of a child rapist–and I’m on the side of the victim in this case–but he’s done brilliant work, and I just have to separate that from his work. Some people think that’s calloused, and that I’m still supporting the artist by consuming their work. And it’s problematic, no doubt. And maybe I shouldn’t be so ready to divorce the two. But I think my fear of missing out on the best the world has to offer supercedes my humanitarian lean.
6 How close do you follow music?
I try to be as bleeding edge as I can. If I can find a song that I love the day it comes out, I feel pretty awesome. I’m not as concerned with news so much as new music itself. The artist’s lives are rather unimportant to me, which relates to the previous question, but I like knowing about new artists and knowing when albums are coming out from artists I already enjoy. It’s rare that I don’t know when something is coming up, but it happens and I try not to let it bum me out too much.
7 Do you seek out new music?
Every day. I like to know what is coming out, what people are talking about, what styles are emerging, what my friends are listening to, what they’re not listening to. I don’t listen to Top 40, so there’s a lot of radio stuff I miss out on. And it’s not because I hate the radio wholesale, it’s just exhausting to weed through that much mediocrity. Having a source like Pitchfork, NPR, and Metacritic allows me to hear about “good” music, as well as groups that neither source agrees on. I like those, because it forces me to form my own opinion of the material. And I have opinions. I’m not someone who’s going to like everything Pitchfork rates higher than an 8. But I also try to remain open-minded and not judge music based solely on my tastes, which change dramatically all the time.
8 Are you an eclectic listener?
I try to be. I don’t want my ears to be limited in what they contextualize as “good” or “bad” music. And I think that’s just an exposure and time thing. So I keep listening to new music, old music, all the music I can get my hands on. As I get older, it gets harder for me to remain as open-minded as I was, but thankfully I covered a lot of ground in college when my ears were ravenous for something new and different, and I got over a lot of the early hurdles to experimental music that I might not have been able to do today. I’m thankful for that, because there’s some really noisy and out-there stuff that moves me in ways that conventional verse-chorus music just can’t. It’s being open to possibilities, and finding the beauty in the unexpected. Like John Cage used to prescribe, look at an art piece for an hour. If you still don’t like it, look at it for another hour. If you still don’t like it, keep going. The idea is to keep trying to find something worthwhile to you in even the most obscure or familiar of sounds. To me, its harder to find the beauty among the conventional than vice-versa, because expectations tend to fill in the blanks a lot more quickly, so I might miss out on something fantastic. So, I’m listening to the same songs again, trying to make sure that I do or don’t like it. Metal is probably the hardest for me, because I like how it sounds for the most part, but I don’t have the ear or the patience to break down individual sounds. I would almost prefer is someone else put on a metal album for me to hear, because then I’ll have a more personal reason to dissect it and make it my own.
9 Can you tolerate (and maybe even enjoy) festivals?
It depends on the festival, obviously. And honestly, if I’ve heard of a band, I’ll see them live, even if I’m not wild about their music. Because a live experience can change that sentiment. And with festivals, you get a lot of music that you’re not into almost by default, so when the bands you love aren’t playing, you can check out bands that you know of but don’t love, and still have a pleasurable experience. It’s hard when there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know, and multiple stages, because then I don’t know where to go and I feel like I might be missing out on something. And it’s way easier when there’s a couple of like-minded friends with you who might be able to fill in those gaps. You just gotta be prepared for when they want to go on to the next show, and you’re still soaking in that current one. For example, I went with Kyle and his brother Ryan and one of Ryan’s friends to Moogfest in Asheville. We were watching Animal Collective, and this was my first time seeing them, and Ryan’s friend’s second time. Mid-show, Nine Inch Nails–who Kyle and I had seen once, but his brother and his friend had not had not–were going to start on a different stage. We had to make a choice, and the other 3 chose NIN. So I stayed by myself to watch Animal Collective, and it was one of the most emotional shows I had been to. But it was healing too, and that’s why I probably stayed.
10 On your way out of a great show, do you hit the merch booth?
It depends on the popularity of the group. Like, if I see a super small band that has nothing available online, and I love their music, I’m going to buy an album of theirs, most likely a tape because thats what these kids are putting out these days. Otherwise, I’m not much of a merch person. It ends up being super expensive, especially for something like a t-shirt, and I don’t like wearing my loyalties so openly. It might be a conversation starter, sure, but it could also be an alienator, and the one thing I don’t want to do with my music tastes is alienate anyone. Music is a communal thing, something that bridges otherwise insurmountable social gaps, and that’s probably why I listen to as much music as I do. But because I like new music so much, I do it in the cheapest way I can as well. Which means no merch.