- 20 Aug 19
Over the past year or so I’ve become increasingly conscious of the fact that my attention span is a lot narrower than it used to be. I’ve noticed it as I laboriously struggle through a basic work of fiction, often getting distracted by my smartphone, and I’ve especially noticed it in the way I engage with music.
My life has largely revolved around music since my early teens, but the way in which I listen to it has changed drastically in the last five years. Today, music platforms bombard us with so much music, the same way the internet does with information and content, that a lack of patience has become ingrained in many people’s listening habits. We’re now encouraged to engage with things in bite-size, disposable chunks. Technology feeds and exploits impatience, and a tendency to listen to music in a less immersive way is what has emerged.
This has, I believe, been at the expense of the album as the focal point for listening to an artist. The ease with which we can skip past songs on listening platforms means people are now a lot less inclined to fully immerse themselves in an entire album. I used to listen to any records I purchased repeatedly, and often obsessively, before reaching an ultimate conclusion on them, and many of my now favourite albums are ones that didn’t particularly grab me on first listen, but I stuck with them. Today I’m a lot less likely to give a new album this much of a chance to grow on me.
I believe the technology has in some ways devalued music. A huge amount of people consume vast amounts of music for free or for next to nothing now, and the paltry amount that the likes of Spotify or YouTube pay artists has been well documented. What’s more worrying than the monetary aspect, though, is the fact that the music itself can become devalued, with people habitually listening to music on streaming sites at a much lower quality than vinyl or CD, and the tendency to skip quickly through songs and let the algorithm dictate what you listen to is all too common.
Of course, there are still individuals committed to purchasing and engaging with music in a totally immersive way, and who use these listening platforms to facilitate that. My brother, for example, still buys records at an unhealthy rate, often after discovering bands on Spotify, and my three-year-old nephew listens to his music chiefly on vinyl, exclusively to reggae at present. Though what way he will consume music when he reaches his teens I have no idea. In spite of the way my listening habits have changed, the album remains the measure of my own aspirations when writing music, and it’s still on that basis that I largely assess other artists’ work.
Whatever way listening habits have evolved in 10 years’ time, I just hope the LP still has an important place for those making and listening to music.
• Badhands plays the Salty Dog Stage at Electric Picnic.