For as long as I can remember music has been an essential part of my life. I play music myself (though I haven’t touched the piano all year this year because of my depression…), but mostly I listen to music. If I’m in the house and not sleeping, I’m probably listening to some music on my Apple HomePod. When I walk in the morning I often—though not always— listen to music through earphones, streamed from my iPhone. I listen to music when using the train. I guess before I was a teenager I didn’t listen to much, but ever since then it’s a daily, even hourly thing.

So I’m always shocked when I meet people who don’t really listen to music. Or people who don’t seem interested in listening to new music. I can understand that there are people who grew up in households without music and who didn’t get the bug themselves, but I’m always disappointed when I hear people describe how they used to listen to music but now they don’t. Yeah I know it’s none of my business how others live their lives but I just can’t help feeling that something has been lost.

I wonder if it’s because for a long time, like many young people, music was an integral part of my identity. As a teen I listened to Metal, lots of 60s music (was a huge Doors fan), some goth, grunge when that came about etc. I dressed as you’d expect someone who listened to that to dress. My friends dressed similarly. We’d exchange cassette tapes, we’d get together, drink, and listen to music. We’d go to a rock bar where (again, we’d drink) and listen to either live bands or put something on the jukebox.

I think this is probably a similar experience for most teens. I probably went a step further in that I played in bands (keyboards and guitar) and wrote some of my own tunes.

But what happens to those people who stop listening to music when they become an adult? Actually I think there are probably two types: those who stop entirely listening to music, and those who still listen occasionally but only to the same music they were into when they were young. Don’t the former feel something is lacking in their lives? Don’t the latter feel stuck in the past?

About a decade ago I’d say it was challenging to discover new music. You needed to either buy music magazines for recommendations, actively check out websites or go to music stores and listen to CDs there. But times have changed dramatically in the last few years. With Apple, Spotify and other music subscriptions you lose the ‘owning’ aspect of music but you gain the ability to discover a *ton* of new music from musicians of every age. So if you want to find new music and can afford the subscriptions, there’s no excuse not to. On these services you can follow your friends and see what they’re listening to, which is another way to discover bands you might not have known before. If you feel you’re stuck in a musical rut, these services are there to help you.

Anyway, I’m genuinely interested in how music falls out of people’s lives. I’m guessing it’s not an active decision to stop listening, but probably just other interests (including work) take over. And I know I shouldn’t judge people if they don’t listen, but part of me feels they’re missing out on a huge pool of joy and emotion by not doing so. While I no longer have an ‘identity’ that’s defined or even shaped by the music I listen to, music remains one of the constant loves of my life.

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6 comments

  1. Ahaha! Great post, I’m on lunch break so I’ll respond. I never listen to music. The short answer is I forget to turn it on. The longer answer is because I haven’t listened regularly I don’t know what I want to listen to, so if I do turn it on I have to spend the next 40 minutes deciding what to listen to, by which time I’ve moved on and don’t have time to listen anymore, or I just give up. Apple Music has helped a lot because I can shuffle & choose from themed playlists. But invariably something will annoy me & I have to change the ‘channel’. For example, I started listening to France top 100, and there’s some great diaspora music in their charts. But it’s all men. French women used to make great music but they are wholly absent now, and I don’t want to think about why because I’m sure it’s disturbing. So I start looking for female artists, and they are all American and either do country (which I hate) or hip-hop, which is great but is that it? So I go back to my old staples, Liz Phaire & Fiona Apple and so on, and they’re nice to listen to but then I feel like the old person who only listens to familiar stuff. So then I go looking for something different. Ok, let’s give Swedish Jazz a try. Ok, let’s not. Well now what?

    So then I resort to what I used to do as a teenager, which is listen to music that boys recommend. I hate that. But you & Ant do give great music recommendations & I enjoy listening. Although I feel like I’m letting feminism down by just following the boys.

    As you can see, it’s all quite fraught, which is the opposite of why I’d want to listen to music in the first place. So I forget to turn it on.

    1. That’s really interesting! Thank you for your reply. I hadn’t considered the feminism angle at all to be honest, so you’ve got me thinking now. I found some LGBTQ playlists on Apple Music which are updated relatively frequently so I get some new music ideas from there (usually if there’s a track I like I’ll look at their albums and listen to more of their stuff).

  2. I always used to listen to music. And then I danced competitively…to music. And now I don’t listen to music very much. I think part of it is that I don’t drive as much, and music was a great way of surviving Los Angeles traffic. The other part of it is that I’ve grown to like quiet. Two big dogs, noisy neighbors, and then a very loud little boy will do that to you!

    1. Ah that’s a really good point. Sometimes I do want the peace and quiet of no music, but unfortunately we live quite close to a busy road so actual silence is really hard to find.

  3. “About a decade ago I’d say it was challenging to discover new music. You needed to either buy music magazines for recommendations, actively check out websites or go to music stores and listen to CDs there”

    And listen to the radio! BBC Radio One is great for finding new music, they do a lot to promote new bands and artists, not just play the latest big label artists.

    But yeah I did go through a musical rut as I reached adulthood, I listened to the radio and had lots of new bands I got into up until I graduated uni in 2006 and then I didn’t really have many chances to just sit in my room listening to music after that. But then around 2011/12 I really felt that I was missing out on not hearing new stuff and only listening to the stuff I’d got into in my teens/early 20s and started listening to radio one again, and then as you say music subscription services are great for hearing new things as well these days!

    1. Yes, radio!! I should have mentioned that. I used to listen to Radio 1 quite a lot. Maybe I should listen again, but definitely I get a lot of benefit from the music subscription services.

      Thanks for your comment!

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