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Do You Hear What I Hear? The music lover's struggle

I always seem to be at my most paranoid when my headphones are in. And if I can help it, they’re always in. Sometimes when I cross a road I know to be empty, the steady thump of drums reverberating in my skull fools me. The music creates illusions I don’t see, pictures of cars and buses that never meet my vision. It fuels my consciousness like the caffeine in my black coffee, speeding up my heartbeat and my feet. See, a good song is a drug like any other, but its potency wanes when people who don’t understand it abuse it.
I don’t want just anyone to hear what I hear, and this is the source of my musical anxiety. It literally made me nervous to see the “New Moon” soundtrack overflowing with up-and-coming indie kids because big trends and small bands just don’t safely mix. It’s a Molotov cocktail made of talent and exploitation, thrown with astounding accuracy at the average consumer. I started to worry that all the great artists would break through to the mainstream completely and soon the radio waves would be filled with thoughtful songs for all the followers, who would, by reflex, accept practically anything the record company Gestapo put out there, to sing along to while carpooling in the bandwagon. It’s just the fact that a price is being put on great music that devalues it to me.

The way I see it, a mass of creativity floats around the Internet, across coffee shops and inside the garages of talented musicians, eager to be exploited and begging to be cheapened. There isn’t typically much money in being great. It’s easier to swallow something without substance and dance to songs with lyrics that we don’t have to think about. For this reason, mediocrity sells mp3s. And kids don’t blow so much money on packaged CDs anymore, so businessmen are stocking up on the indie.
Apple is the frontrunner in this mainstream race to the underground, supplying its commercials with unknown artists since the birth of the iPod. I’m not saying I haven’t Googled bands after hearing their songs on television or that their exposure hasn’t been beneficial in my never-ending search for good music. I’m not saying I’ve never enjoyed a song on the radio or that I’ve never liked what other people liked, as defying the norm simply to defy it is not the point of seeking the real. But I have never liked a song for the main reason of the media telling me to, and that is the difference between someone who makes music the soundtrack to his or her life and someone who lets it all be background noise.
When I offer this view in conversation, many people oversimplify the issue, asking why it’s such a big deal for bands I like to supposedly get the attention they deserve and make more money. The most practical reason is that the quality of music so often suffers after a band receives attention. Yes, there are always the old records to listen to, but the future concerts, talk show appearances and radio plays serve to remind true fans of the good old days, and this is the wrong sort of nostalgia to be associated with music. If a band loses inspiration on its own accord, fine, but if the visceral, guttural, genuine music they want to make is mixed, scratched and brutalized by the industry for the sake of being easier for the layman to listen to, it’s simply sad. And this all for the sake of money is, yes, selling out.

The true musical experience, whether group-based or more clearly individual, is characterized by a relationship between song and listener and can be as intense as a bond between two people. If a band coaxes me out of reclusion and comforts me when I won’t come out, if a band tags along for memorable outings, makes me laugh and cry, and gets stuck in my head like the most interesting of people, then it’s like a lover is leaving me for everyone in the universe with a radio when the band sells out. It makes it all the more intense when I feel like I found the band - like I was the one who approached the mystery in the corner and took him in only for everyone to like his new and “improved” version later. So I’m happy for the passive listeners to stick with their Top 40 watered-down tracks, because I want the sounds in my head to belong to me and whoever I choose to share them with. Because even if we’re listening to the same song, the people who don’t love or actively look for music are hearing it differently.




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This article has 6 comments. Post your own!

ExtrovertedIntrovert said...
Nov. 14, 2010 at 11:31 am:

This is by far one of the greater articles I have read on this site. I read it twice-over. The words seem to have struck home a bit; I relate more to this subject than almost any other. And while I think some bands do end up better than before whilest getting their deserved fame and fortune, Corporations mainly seem to be taking all the feeling and meaning out of the un-known bands. -The well-known ones too. And it bothers me. Not because I am an overly selfish music-lover, who wants to keep ... (more »)

 
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angela15 said...
Apr. 25, 2010 at 8:22 pm:
This is a great piece.
 
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They_Call_Her_Amphetamine said...
Feb. 16, 2010 at 12:54 pm:
These are great thoughts, I agree with most of what you said - I don't preach it very often, because I know it sounds "anti-conformist" to be against a band you like making it mainstream... however, I know that I also subconsciously shed a tear if I hear one of my personal favorites starting to make it big... it just takes away the special feeling of knowing a song or a band no one else knows - of it being "yours," i suppose. Really good, really well written... check out... (more »)
 
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They_Call_Her_Amphetamine said...
Feb. 16, 2010 at 12:51 pm:
These are great thoughts, I agree with most of what you said - I don't preach it very often, because I know it sounds "anti-conformist" to be against a band you like making it mainstream... however, I know that I also subconsciously shed a tear if I hear one of my personal favorites starting to make it big... it just takes away the special feeling of knowing a song or a band no one else knows - of it being "yours," i suppose. Really good, really well written... check out... (more »)
 
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acousticalex This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 15, 2010 at 8:54 pm:
I would definitely be interested. Just tell me when :)
 
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JLovely2011 said...
Feb. 15, 2010 at 4:56 pm:
I completely agree with you. I have this argument lots of times. I'm a hip-hop person. When I see rappers make it mainstream, they seriously dumb-down and make stereotypical music. I love when a rapper or any musician can talk about their view of the world, but sadly radio makes them talk about money. I love what you said. I'm starting a blog and will love for you to be a guest author sometime
 
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