Brendon Shields
Brendon Shields

There simply is no space

I find it odd that people today will log into various platforms of social networking to ”consume” new music yet you ask them what their favourite band is and they draw a blank.

Look at your twitter timeline or go onto Facebook and just study for a day or so the amount of new music that gets sent around from person to person in search of that elusive ”like”. It’s hard to know how many people actually listen to a song before clicking ”like” or even if they listen at all. In today’s world we pay for music with ”likes” and very rarely do we feel the need to purchase music in a physical format because free music is easily accessible.

The debate around downloading an mp3 versus owning an audio file together with an artwork is an old one and not the point of this blog. Instead I want to challenge the notion that people’s appetite for new music is limitless. Instead I will argue that music simply no longer fulfils the same function it did before social networking came about.

In the old days you could walk on the school terrain and ask any boy or girl what they favourite band was and they would tell you straight out — usually willing to educate you about their band in the event that your facial expression did not show enough interest. Do the same exercise today and you will find many a teenager willing to share song after song from their seemingly endless collection of pirated downloads. The trick you see is not to be a ”fan” of any particular band any longer. You can merely ”like” a song without having to know who performs it and the next day you move on to the next download. Currency is no longer awarded to he who knows his music well. Instead today the kid with the most songs on his cell phone is the cool kid.

Now I don’t want to come across as old school or bitter about this changing nature of how people consume music. It’s important for the human species to evolve and our relationship with sound and silence will inevitably change also. I merely want to explain why this kind of consumption is not for me!

The truth is I only know two bands really well and I have been a fan of a further four bands. That’s six bands over a lifetime — roughly the same amount of times I fell in love. I have an intimate knowledge of The Beatles and U2 while I am an avid supporter of Radiohead, Queen, Travis and Keane. There are some splatterings of bands that I really like but don’t know enough of to truly rate — most notably The Stereophonics and The Thrills. That’s it.

The reason I have only been ”into” this few bands is because the music they make is bloody great. The song writing of McCartney and Lennon and Harrison, along with the ambient genius of The Egde — in itself create lasting works of art that must be listened to over and over again to understand and truly appreciate. And by the time I fully grasp The Unforgettable Fire the band will release Achtung Baby, which I get to listen to four years later!

In between these works of genius I simply do not have time or space for anything else. I cannot allow any other music in while my mind tries to make sense of this beauty. Every now and again a record like The Wall by Pink Floyd will violently force itself into my mind-scape and literally wrestle my current musical obsessions for head-space. There simply is no space for new music while my head is busy processing these fantastic pieces of music.

The main reason why I am programmed to consume music in this way is because I grew up in an era when music was for the most part a private thing you did in your own bedroom and in your own time, while today’s kids have a far more social approach to music sharing which in a sense is a good thing. The fuckers get the music for free so least they can do is then share it!

How do you feel? Which bands have been occupying your head-space or are you from the ”song-a-day” generation?

This article first appeared on Brendon’s private blog “A Spade is a Shit-Scoop”. Follow him on twitter @brendonshields to continue the debate.

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    • ian shaw

      To me, virtually all music distributed today sounds the same, except the loud shrieks and wailings shown on various American TV talent shows. Yes, the Beatles did have a few memorable pieces and for awile Kidjo was singing fairly unique songs. It seems however, that quality does not sell.

    • Paul Barrett

      I suspect I grew up in much the same era as you, and I don’t really have this problem of “not enough space.” I don’t know how many different artists I listen to, but I know it’s a lot. True, I don’t listen to most of them as often as I would listen to individual artists in my youth, but that was a function of lack of money, not a feeling that I couldn’t fit them in. Out of all these artists, some rise to the level of favourites and get more play than others, of course.

      But I listen to music probably around 4 to 6 hours a day. Almost every day. If you have less time each day, I can understand restricting what you listen to a little more.

      I also grew up sharing music. While most listening was private, there was a definite social aspect, with my friends and I introducing each other to new music.

      Rarely am I interested in anything that would fit the “song a day” definition. Anything that interests me that little is unlikely to even get to the end of one play before I’m skipping it.

      So what are my favourite bands? Well, it changes all the time, though some stay in my top 5 or 10 for a long time.

      Right now as my top ten we have (not in order of preference): Autechre, Four Tet, Tool, Fall Out Boy, Lark, Nirvana, Pixies, Radiohead, Primus, 16 Horsepower.

    • Momma Cyndi

      We shared music. That is why my old vinals still have my name on them and how I knew my brother stole half my record collection.

      I tend to be mood orientated. ‘Life is a Lemon’ is a favourite whilst doing the VAT return. Simon and Garfunkel ish type music whilst typing reports. Nickleback whilst doing the general accounts and possibly something fun like ‘Patricia the Stripper’ or something by Queen for doing the filing.

      It isn’t the vast array of music today that I have a problem with, it is the lamentable death of musical instruments.

    • http://www.wineou.co.za Wineou

      Pachelbel’s Canon in D does it for me. Ask Mr Google to take you there. All else pales in comparison to Johann’s greatest hit . . .

    • Cmoon

      I grew up treasuring my vinyl and still do, at one time the attainment of a treasured slab a black plastic wrapped in a gatefold sleeve was a moment to be savoured. You’d boast about your acquisition, especially if it was something other than the humdrum that usually filled your local record store’s shelves, and made furtive mix tapes to impress potential lovers and friends. The choice was certainly smaller and the main acts were promoted heavily. Record bars used to be places to hang around and clubs (and Barney Simon) the places to hear new stuff. Cd’s arrived and music became easier to store, carry around, get access to, the genres spread and multiplied and the finding of the obscure became, somewhat, easier. The CD never had the appeal of vinyl though, nasty plastic covers that broke easily and cramped artwork and illegible inner scribblings. With the arrival of the internet the mystique of music collection was stripped away, everything and anything is available at the click of a mouse. I still have a firm top 10 (20?) firm favourites but like to dig up new stuff regularly. I do agree though that, in the main, pop music has descended to some horrible level of preprogrammed, easily marketable/digestible elevator music, most with a flaccid beat to enable ‘dancing’ to. It has become way to easy to find music and though one would think this would encourage diversity, it has done quite the opposite and made (pop)music as generic and disposable as plastic carrier bag.

    • Jens Bierbrauer

      @ Paul Barrett

      You sound like a Paul Barrett I knew in the Misty past before my name changed.

      I live in China these days. My music is a Gordian knot of memories and an armoury of memes. I’m listening to Jane’s Addiction “Pigs in Zen” right now. Tomorrow, at the annual staff party, I’m scheduled to do a rendition of Monty Python’s “Eric the Half-a-Bee” (Area manager chose the English name “Eric” so he asked for it). Reading the old news about SA through the filters of state internet, I am drawn back to Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble” with those incredibly relevant and prescient lyrics. Then it’s “Decomposing Composers”, Monty Python again, because this blog just screams for it.

      I find myself listening to Juluka and Koos Kombuis more when I’m a little homesick. Leonard Cohen when I’m more than a lttle downed by negative 13 celsius temperatures, acid snow in the industrial heart of the world. “Green and Grey” by New Model Army adds a twist to the sense of exile or homelessness, call it what you will. I don’t listen to so much glam rock or metal anymore as I am simply working too hard and am therefore too tired to retain a rebellious frame of mind. That said, when the Man screws me over, I often turn to Rage Against the Machine.

      I still like U2 and they are incredibly talented but their lyrics just don’t speak to me so much anymore. They are for nostalgia trips. Same goes for Nick Cave and Tori Amos. My newest listening is all about Chinese…

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/brendonshields Brendon Shields

      Some great comments here. Also had some very fruitful exchanges on twitter. Its really good for people to consider their relationship with music. Many dont even know why they pirate music where they used to love the process of buying music in a store.

    • The Creator

      Well, it’s a bit like downloading books onto a Kindle. Eventually you stop going to the bookshop. Eventually you stop caring about the tactile side of books and the way you used to be able to browse.

      At least there still are music shops and bookshops. But eventually there won’t be.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Brendon,

      Have you heard some of the trite nonsense that passes for music today? If they are going to phone it in (so to speak) then people will just call it up?

    • MaDor

      For me – nothin beats an iPod stuffed to the gills and played on Shuffle – constant pickaroonies of little gems abundant….from Manu Chau to Caravan, John Martyn to Johnny Cash….The Dubliners to Los de Abajo – its all good as Damo would say…