Recently, I’ve been feeling a bit less driven to listen to my own playlists. I’ve become bored with the music that I regularly listen to and frequently feel exempt of any inspiration or pull towards a specific artist. It’s hard to say how long I’ve been in this mindset but the general lack of direction in my choice of music is not something I’ve always experienced (at least to this extreme). This is more than an on-the-spot indecisiveness when asked to choose a song at the party, rather an inability to decide what to engage with, for a while, for my own personal fulfilment. I’m not sure I have a passionate list of favourite artists right now, and it’s hard so say whether this is in spite of or due to the vast number of choices I could make, which I will try to explain.
To be honest, I find this situation difficult to articulate so will do my best to make myself clear. And, perhaps by the end of this article I will have a better understanding of this phenomena.
Picking a song to listen to with others is easy. More often than not, you’ll have an idea of their tastes, how they fit with your own, and what may be appropriate for your environment – an occasional sing-a-long to Cigarettes and Alcohol is fine in the pub but is it really still your first choice at home? These factors will limit your options and, therefore, encourage you towards making a particular decision. Plus, I’d argue, you’re probably not really listening to it anyway – it’s background music.
Of late, it’s been when I’m alone – with complete freedom of choice – that I struggle to make a decision. The first obstacle can simply be the method of listening; do I open up Spotify? Listen to a radio station? An online playlist? Do I find a live performance on YouTube or go retro and take a look through my CD collection? Do I want to hear something new? Or something familiar?
It’s not that there aren’t enough options, sometimes it’s as if there’s TOO MUCH music out there – to get my head around at least. The internet has become a jukebox the size of the universe for the music fan, and it’s all so easily accesible that it can seem overwhelming. It’s hard to decide what to choose when there’s so many options, so many places to look. First world problems, I suppose.
JUST PICK A SONG
Let’s say I choose Spotify. Open up the search bar and it’s time to make a decision. Where do I start? My recent search history may provide some worthy hints but often I’ll want to start fresh. As I rack my brain, exploring options, perhaps I’ll probe my earbuds with a quick blast of go-to tunes before swiftly moving on unsatisfied. I’ll find myself jumping between genres, trying to find something that fits my mood, and inevitably check-in with music of tastes gone by (I’ll never give up the love of punk I had as a teenager but I just can’t stick to that sound for too long anymore – one day of nostalgic indulgence is enough.) Sometimes I just spend a hell of a lot of time wondering what the fuck to listen to. It’s like flicking through Netflix only to realise you’d be half way through a decent film if only you made a decision sooner. The feeling could be linked to, or construed as, an anxiety from being unable to define myself or my tastes by a particular genre but I’d like to think that this was not the case. Although, I do confusingly find myself wondering what type of music I actually like, puzzled as to why I can’t settle with a particular style.
Musicologist Simon Frith has explained ‘The experience of pop music is an experience of identity: in responding to a song, we are drawn, haphazardly, into emotional alliances with the performers and with the performers’ other fans. Because of its qualities of abstractness, music is, by nature, an individualizing form. We absorb songs into our own lives and rhythm into our own bodies; they have a looseness of reference that makes them immediately accessible. At the same time, and equally significantly, music is obviously collective. We hear things as music because their sounds obey a more or less familiar cultural logic, and for most music listeners (who are not themselves music makers) this logic is out of our control. There is a mystery to our own musical tastes. Some records and performers work for us, others do not – we know this without being able to explain it. Somebody else has set up the conventions; they are clearly social and clearly apart from us. Music, whether teenybop for young female fans or jazz or rap for African- Americans or nineteenth century chamber music for German Jews in Israel, stands for, symbolizes and offers the immediate experience of collective identity.’
With this in mind, we could summarise that my inability to pick a song signifies a lack of identity or, more simply, a detachment with a particular collective identity. I’ve grown out of the tastes I’ve developed over the years and now have nowhere to go (and oh that magic feeling, nowhere to go). When pondering this potential conclusion, I am tempted to conclude that life would be much simpler to be the Metalhead; satisfied in their genre, confident in their musical choices, with seemingly no desire to step out of their comfort zone. Then again, metal can be divided into many different sub-categories in itself, so perhaps this is just a false ideal and an unfair stereotype. The graph below (featured on Metalsucks.net) demonstrates this, and suggests to me that even the Metal fan could have a hard time deciding what to listen to, when given their choices;
If this is a mere identity crisis that I am experiencing, then I have at least began to reveal a cause for this uninspired lull in my current relationship with music. Now I am tasked with alleviating the problem.
I think a simple yet challenging position I must adopt to help resolve this issue is to follow the mantra that it is important to be open to listening to new or unfamiliar sounds. I think part of my problem is that I’m constantly looking for something new to listen to that also sounds exactly like everything else I listen to , which is an absurd and regressive mentality that will, of course, lead to disappointment. While it’s fun losing yourself in a particular genre or music scene, I think it’s important to remember that your current preference may not be the ‘ultimate’ form as this will inevitably lead to the exclusion of new ideas and eventual burnout. Occasionally, too, there are artists who manage to define their own genre, or at least create a unique enough sound to help them stand out from the crowd. And in these cases, it wouldn’t really make sense for this to be replicated by another artist. For example, I’m quite into Swedish rockers Goat. Imagine every band sounded like Goat? We’d have a never-ending regurgitation of European artists trying to cover-up their whiteness with tribal masks and a set of bongos. In the end, there’s only so much of one band, or particular sound or style you can indulge in before a lack of enthusiasm starts to develop, in my opinion.
So, it’s time to stop looking for the Holy Grail, give up my subconscious search for the Best Song in the World. I should no longer expect to hear the next Queen is Dead suddenly appear in my own playlists and accept the occasional shanner as I develop new tastes. This sounds awfully like an epiphany but I am not so naive to believe this will rid me of my boredom for good. Though, I believe it is a step in the right direction. A New Set of Ears is possibly just what I’m after, if I’m able to find them within myself.
I’m interested in others’ thoughts on this and would be interested in discussing similar feelings you may have felt regarding your taste or enthusiasm for music (or maybe other art forms/ aspects of life?) How do you deal with it? What are your barriers? How on Earth can we achieve satisfaction? For now, as I’ve tried to explain, I’m tentative but open to ideas.