Songza and some cultural observations

Did anyone else just find out about Songza? How long has been it here? Is it not the best thing ever?

It is. A free music service that offers users the ability to select music based on their current mood? That’s brilliant. And it’s staffed by music experts that have combed over thousands of artists and records to produce the most “energetic” or “hauntingly beautiful” playlists. So cool. My two favorites right now are “Mellow Indie” and “Guitars and PBRs.”

But more to the point, how many more of these amazing revolutionary music programs can we as a people digest? Has music consumerism taken too much a toll on the actual process of actually appreciating music deeply? I wonder if the desire for newer and better has supplanted longterm fandom. I remember two years ago, I listened to basically nothing but the Low Anthem, Fleet Foxes, and Hayes Carll. And their music is still better than a lot of the new artists I’ve found. They were new then, and are not by any definition old now. But it feels like they’re ripe for a “Where Are They Now?” VH1 feature, just because they haven’t released anything in over a year. Do we just not expect bands to stand the test of time?

Spotify. Rdio. Soundcloud. Grooveshark. First Listen. Purevolume. Noisetrade. Turntable.fm. Songza. How much is too much? It seems like everywhere we turn listeners are invited to tune into the next big thing whether it’s a brand new artist or a new way of getting that artist into our ears.

I know that I am introvert and can thus be easily overstimulated. I prefer things simple and calm. But I also like options. And new technological advances and am not a Luddite (hello, I write a blog). But at some point every music lover must realize that there are always going to be new artists. Always. More than you can name or count. For the rest of time. You will never get to peak of musical knowledge. While our brains have infinite memory storage capabilities, there is a limit to what we can psychologically consume and still actually gain benefit.

I think the vinyl trend is a good thing, as is the communal listening option ala Turntable.fm. But has our music become so commodified that its original purpose – to lift, inspire, and motivate the spirits – has become spread so thin that “wearing out a record” isn’t even possible anymore?

I’ll close with NPR (another introvert fetish of mine). This year is the 40th anniversary of Dark Side of the Moon. Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton from All Songs Considered featured this conversation about when they first heard Pink Floyd. I like Bob Boilen’s story the most:

BOB BOILEN: Back in 1972, I worked in record stores in Rockville, Md., and a huge Pink Floyd fan. They were coming to the Kennedy Center, and I was totally, totally psyched. My hair was down on my shoulders, much like the band members. I’d give anything to have that hair back.

They came out and performed this piece of music. Everybody in the audience, no doubt, their jaws just dropped. You had no idea what it was — and you have to understand, in 1972, if you don’t know what it is, there’s nowhere to look it up. It was like, “OK, when am I ever going to hear this amazing music again?”

It was nearly a year later. The truck that was carrying that record, I knew where it was gonna show up so I could get the record, like, four hours earlier than I would have had I waited for it to come to the store I worked in.

That part in bold just captures it all for me. What are missing in 2013 is a good measure of that anticipation, that excitement, that sense of wonder — when will I be able to hear this again?  I can’t go to Wikipedia. I can’t instantly download or stream it from a dozen of options. I can’t Google it and bring up emerging artist write-ups on Rolling Stone, B illboard, No Depression, Spin, Spinner, Paste, Pitchfork, ad infinitum. And it’s not a wholesale problem, mind us. The music being created today possess much more intrigue and wonder than anything since the Pink Floyd hey day. And I am a subscriber to pretty much every e-magazine listed above.

But what if our only source of music was the record shop owner down on the corner? What if the only way to get a live session was to know someone who knows someone in the band? What if the process of acquiring musical knowledge was complete relational instead of transmitted through bots and digitized?

I love living at the height of modern democracy and our information age. And while I may not shed a DH Lawrence-ridden tear for the past,  I sure do long for that nostalgia and human connection.

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