How do you listen to music these days?
I mostly listen to downloads or, if I have a CD, I rip it into my computer and listen on Itunes or through my IPod. The difference in the sound doesn’t bother me. I fell in love with music on a transistor radio and nothing can ever sound better than that music did to me.
When I get a CD by someone I’m eagerly anticipating (a James McMurtry or a Steve Earle) I usually play it all the way through. But even then, I’m already looking for the best songs to pull off and keep in my Itunes jukebox. When I purge, I’m often happy with an album that has three or four songs worth keeping.
I have two main databases for music: one, that I consider my jukebox, has my three thousand favorite songs plus a few hundred to decide about. The other is more eclectic, has between 10 and 14 thousand songs, depending on when I purged Itunes last.
It’s a singles world for me, only it’s singles of my own choosing.
So why don’t I listen to more albums all the way through? Well, first, I grew up in an album world where one side of a record was 20 minutes or less. More than that seems long to me, and I’m ready to move on to something else. Second, most albums don’t have great songs all the way through. I’ve digitalized many if not most of my thousands of records, and it’s great to eliminate that song I never liked anyway.
The great thing about the modern world is that anyone can make CDs, no longer tied to the whims of large corporations. The bad thing is that anyone can make CDs, and there are a lot of bad ones out there. If I’m not already familiar with what I’m listening to, I’ll admit I’ve gotten to where I listen to pieces of the first 3 or 4 songs and if they don’t grab me, that’s it. CDs by friends go into a box in my garage because I know I may not have given them a fair chance and I’m more than willing to have my mind changed. Others that don’t grab me go to Goodwill.
I learn about new CDs from friends: Jeff Talmadge came over one day last year, handed me The Belle Sounds new album and said: “Put this on”, and it became my favorite album of the year. I learn from the radio (though less and less these days): mostly Sun Radio from Dripping Springs and Tom Petty’s show on SiriusXM, which sounds to me like an alternate Jim Patton, spinning discs and saying things like: “But have you heard the B side?” And I learn from hearing great songs by songwriters who inhabit the same world we do. It just takes one great song for me to be interested.
I don’t give songs more of a chance because 1) I already have a great collection and it’s tough to break into; and 2) because I’m a songwriter, I don’t want to listen to mediocre material. Garbage in; garbage out.
So two ways I listen are through shuffle play, either my ‘jukebox’ or the larger database. I also form miscellaneous playlists with whatever is new I’m hearing and want to hear again. For years I made miscellaneous tapes for my friends. This is like having a collection of them, eliminating the songs I didn’t like anymore. I also listen to short, 6-8 song versions of new CDs. And I make playlists for all my favorites, my own personal ‘best ofs”. Two years ago I listened to a David Broyles song where he claims all the best Kinks albums were the first ones, so I had to listen again (and again) to see if he was right. Three years ago I decided to study the underrated works of Paul Edward Sanchez, so that’s all I listened to for weeks. Last year, Lee Cadorette said he thought the Buffalo Springfield was overrated, so I listened to them a lot to see if that’s true. Or sometimes, like with The Belle Sounds or K.C. Clifford, I just fall in love with the music and that’s all I play.
I doubt that anyone listens to music the way I do. But because I listen so differently than say, even 15 years ago, I’m curious as to how you listen. Especially since we’re in the process of making our next CD. Do you take the time to stick with a new album all the way through? Do the first few songs make the difference? When we sequence a CD, I always think back to how I would sequence a record. That’s what I was raised on. I made my first homemade tape almost 45 years ago, and there was a side one, and a side two, and I’ve been making them ever since. I remember a lot of records that I didn’t discover the greatness of side two for months. Now I have to ask: do you even get to the songs that are on what would have been ‘side two’? We know that the sequencing still needs a flow, even while we try to make sure our best stuff is up front. And then of course: what’s the best stuff? How do we know?
How about the length of CDs? I like a 30-40 minute album, straight to the point. But CDs can hold as much as 80 min. Do you feel cheated?
And, just out of curiosity, who are you listening to these days? You can find most of what I listen to by checking out our top Itunes lists each year since the beginning of this blog. I’d like to know who you listen to and how you found them.
Your thoughts, please.