Is The Celestial Jukebox Resulting In Less Music Being Heard?

noah | June 6, 2008 6:00 am

Something to mull over if you want to think about music this weekend (but please, do it away from the computer, unless your area of the country is going to be as oppressively hot as the NYC area is slated to be and the only climate-controlled option you have is a tiny room with nothing but a glowing MacBook): Is the increased capacity of MP3 players, and the resultant passivity a listener can engage in when listening to their record collection, resulting in people actually listening–really listening–to less music, and subtly narrowing their tastes? The Phoenix New Times thought about this recently, and as luck would have it, I have been too.

So, some good news: Idolator HQ has finally hooked up its turntable post-move (hey, it only took a few months!), and as a result I’ve been listening to more vinyl. And having to change over the sides of LPs or singles has seemingly resulted in me being more engaged with what I’m listening to than, say, just putting iTunes on shuffle or even putting five CDs in a changer. It made me realize how the download-then-import model wasn’t always successful as far as getting people to remember everything lurking within their music library, although truth be told I’d also forget that I owned certain albums, too. Maybe it’s just the idea of too much stuff being out there, and the resultant data smog, that results in people hearing less, whether the “stuff” in question is on vinyl or streaming from a MySpace page.

(This quote, I thought, was also notable given my recent chafing against the tunnel-vision of music blogs: Barry Schwartz, who wrote The Paradox Of Choice, told the Phoenix New Times “Less album listening means that people aren’t forced to listen to things that don’t turn them on right away, and as a result, tastes change less.” Which certainly dovetails nicely with the thesis of the book he’s still flogging, but could it be true? I know that if I’m in the mood for background noise, I’m certainly more likely to put on Music Choice’s classic-jams-heavy R & B Hits station than something I have to really listen to. And one can’t help but wonder if that sort of comfort-listening spills over to matters of taste in newer music, etc.)

The whole “could more be less?” idea sort of dovetails, I think, with the cover story in the most recent Atlantic Monthly about the Internet’s seemingly endless capacity for shortening attention spans (not online yet, ho ho irony), which would certainly help explain the “intellectualism is so 20th-century” attitude that’s been creeping out of certain quarters. Part of me thinks it boils down to the fact that despite the promise of the Internet–which I do believe in, to a point–society as a whole is quite stressed out, exhausted, and agitated. But that could also be my “hey, it’s been a long, cranky Friday and I’m still trying to gut out a post at 6 p.m.” feeling talking. I’d love to hear the Idolator assemblage’s feelings on this, as I’ve found that you all are really good at helping me flesh out the half-formed thoughts that fill up my brain while I’m looking for hilarious headline fodder. (But get outside this weekend! Seriously.)

When every song ever recorded fits on your MP3 player, will you listen to any of them? [Phoenix New Times via Velvet Rope] [Photo: Valerie Loiseleux]