In the Silence of the Mind: November 10th, 2014
Is There Just Too Much Music?
My wife started listening to Christmas music this week. I know, that’s an odd way to begin an article ten days removed from Halloween, but it’s true. In a right and proper chain of cause and effect, this got me to thinking about our annual staff picks for best albums of the year. This has been a huge year for music. I didn’t even really realize this fact until I started compiling my 2014 list.
You see, if I were to sit down and list my favorite bands, in no particular order, that list would include Project 86, Demon Hunter, Blindside, P.O.D., Lecrae, Lil’ Dre, Spoken, Thousand Foot Krutch, Disciple, Tedashii, For Today, War of Ages, and more. Now, here’s a fun little game; count just how many of those bands released albums in 2014. By my count, we sit at 9/12, and that’s if you don’t count Blindside (as Lindforest) releasing a single.
Now, I love these bands. In fact, I have reviewed many of these albums so far this year and given glowing scores. But, the sad reality is that I haven’t been able to spend much time with them since my reviews. This doesn’t even take into account the amazing albums bands like Eyes of Eli, Fit For A King, Trip Lee, A Feast For Kings, Weird Al and others have released just this year alone, either. Nor does it take account of all of the great albums that came out last year that I was really excited about, but got so little practical time with. That’s a lot of great music! Way too much to really give enough attention to, even in a year’s time.
Thinking back to childhood, it wasn’t always this way. I remember when my friend David first introduced me to music. I went over to his house after Grade School and he showed me Alapalooza, this new CD he had just gotten. We sat and listened to the whole album that day. Then, I begged my mom to buy me the album and I went home and, in the course of a few days, must have listened to it a few dozen times.
I can still remember the first few albums I bought. After Weird Al (my collection grew as I tried to get everything he ever did), my next couple albums were Michael Jackson’s Bad and Madonna’s The Immaculate Collection. Not far after that I picked up LL Cool J’s Greatest Hits. For years my entire album collection was just a few CD’s deep and I knew every song on every album like the back of my proverbial hand. Sure, I would later discover P.O.D., Blindside, Audio Adrenaline and many other artists and my collection would burgeon to a couple hundred albums, but I still had relatively few enough to give each their just due. But, this still pales in comparison to music today.
According to at least one music executive, there are at least 97 Million songs out there, and that just counts the ones that are recorded by the GraceNotes database. That’s an awful lot of music. If we were to conservatively say that each of these songs is just three minutes in length, we’re talking 291,000,000 minutes of music! That’s over 200,000 days worth of music! If you lived to be, say 100 years old, you would barely be able to listen to 15% of that huge figure… and that’s if you were listening to music non-stop every single day. But, I’m not a math guy, so feel free to argue with these figures, just know that the point remains.
In today’s world, we have instant access to whatever we want, musically. Now, I get that I am a music reviewer (on the side, I’m actually a pastor by calling and author/college professor to help with the bills), and so I get, in some cases, more music sent my way than some. However, because I am reviewing said albums, I actually probably listen to less (overall) music than most people. When I review an album, I give it (sometimes) weeks worth of play. I listen from start to finish. I listen back to back. I take notes.
The average listener today has access to radio, Spotify, iTunes, and about two hundred other sources of music. We have instant access to whatever we want, whenever we want it. Gone are the days of having six or seven CD’s in your visor that represent everything you’re able to listen to that day.
Now, all of this is a good thing. We have unleashed music in a way that no other generation ever has. Just think back and imagine the days when there were no recording abilities. If you wanted to listen to music, you had to create it yourself or go to someone, in person, who could. Now, it is literally a voice command away. Access to so much good music is a wonderful thing.
However, do we value music anymore?
With so much at our disposal, and often costing us so very little, do we even think of music as something of value? We say we do. Yet, we argue over why streaming services should cost even $9.99 a month. We used to pay that for just one CD! Because of this, most (not the big names, of course) artists are starving on a scale not seen on as wide-spread a basis before.
And so, on the one hand, we value music more than we ever have as a society. We listen to more music in a year than previous generations could in their entire lives. We have more favorite bands individually than once existed in all the universe (a little hyperbole, of course). Yet, it is harder for bands to survive than ever before. We likely give less attention to the ones that do than before. Most releases last in our collective consciousness for much less time than before.
It’s almost as if we’re loving music to death.
Of course, everything evolves. While record labels are dying off, which some argue to be a very good thing, established bands are seeing great success by using fan-funded outlets to get their music created. This allows the bands to create the music they want to create, often with fewer industry chains. Also, since bands aren’t making as much money off of albums, they are forced to provide more compelling stage experiences, interact more with the fans through every media outlet (including social media), and bring fans along with them in the process more than ever before.
Still, when bands make so little off of their trade, and so few fans are willing to properly invest in their creation (death to freemium?!?), what does the future of music look like? That’s simply a question I am not wise enough, nor connected enough to answer. What I can say with conviction, however, is that albums I think are simply fantastic often disappear into the ether. I often look at my iTunes collection and get overwhelmed by how much music is there and how long it’s been since most of it was gracing (or crushing) my ear drums.
Sometimes I’ll hear of a great album and want to listen to it, but years go by before I even think of it again. We’re almost music fatigued.
So, what’s the answer? I don’t really have one. This piece isn’t about solving the problem, it’s about discussing if there really is one in the first place. It’s all just a rambling, really. For every person who failed to listen to every great album that came out this year, there is someone who deeply invested themselves in the few albums that really mattered to them. And, while the music industry is changing in increasingly more profound ways than we could have even imagined when the letters MP and number 3 were first tied together to make a new word, music itself is not going anywhere.
As Walter Savage Landor once said, “Music is God’s gift to man. The only art of heaven given to the earth. The only art of earth we take to heaven.” Music itself isn’t going away. The ways we interact with it are simply changing.
It’s just that having so much music is both a blessing and a curse. The reality is that for every album or song we choose to listen to, we are actively ignoring 97,000,000 others. But, to the person engaging that one song, in that exact moment, that song is all that really matters. I feel like there is something to be learned from this.
Trek back through the Silence:
Ten Faith-Based Bands Every Heavy Music Fan Must Listen To, The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Read; Becoming a Band – Part 1 (featuring Seth Hecox of Becoming the Archetype) Part 2: What’s in a Name, The “In The Silence of the Mind” Interviews (feat. Eyes of Eli, Righteous Vendetta, Southbound Fearing, Dorean Lives, and Declaration AD), Part 2 (feat. Silverline, Merge, My Ransomed Soul, This City Awaits)