Welcome to the rabbit hole of me explaining my music habits. It’s a practice and set of malleable standards that sometimes has me waiting weeks to hear a new album, even after it is in my possession. What follows is an all-too-detailed accounting of my patterns for music acquisitions and first listens, as well as what comes after that. This was inspired by a question asked on facebook by Laura Leebove, a friend of mine who runs an excellent blog Eating The Beats, which features music-inspired recipes.
Some questions for my music-loving friends: How do you usually listen to music? On your computer, iPod, smartphone, stereo? MP3s, CDs, internet radio, actual radio, vinyl? Is it usually full albums, single songs, or playlists? And how do you find out about new things/what would be helpful to you in finding new music?
For albums where there is full buildup, and my fandom of the band has been in the long form, I’ll wait and wait for the album to hit stores, pick up my copy, and wait for a block of time that will not be interrupted so I can play it in an optimum setting. That means good speakers or really good headphones. No streaming pre-releases, because the audio quality is just not trustworthy. No matter how much I’m looking forward to the record, will I listen to the edited leak of a rap album, or a non-iTunes leak of an album. What would an iTunes leak be? The upcoming Bon Iver record, “Bon Iver, Bon Iver,” was accidentally put on sale, and then those files were put out by the eagle-eyed iTunes shoppers. It’s rare that I’ll hear a single from an album, and it mostly only happens when an artist or band puts their album up for some chock-full-of-bonuses pre-order with immediate download of the first single (see the most recent TV On The Radio record). That means no radio edits/rips. These habits can only get more OCD, though, as I plan to be a vinyl record listening kid by the end of 2011.
Those are the practices I have mostly for albums I pay money for, so I’m investing in an experience. Admittedly, there are contradictions in the habits I’ve accrued, so I’m snobbish for music I have expectations for, and am paying money to experience. It’s the equivalent of turning the lights and cell phone off for a Breaking Bad episode you’ve waited a week for. The Bon Iver album, though, actually demanded an immediate play, and I got all the way through without interruption from outside the album. Completely worth it, too. Early front runner for AOTY.
For the most recent Radiohead album, “The King Of Limbs,” I was so excited to listen to it that I waited a day or two for the friend I share my deep Radiohead nerdery with. This was the same friend I saw Atoms for Peace (Yorke, Godrich, Flea, and others) play “The Eraser” with at Roseland Ballroom last year. We just sat there and shared our first listen, in silence. The album has not held up well in the months since, but that’s the best example of putting off the listening of a record to give it the most attention. When it’s a record that’s not by one of those bands that I’ve waited on absurd lines to see, I’ll either try out an album while I’m writing a blog post, or during a walk around the city, and my favorite caffeinated beverage: cold-brewed iced coffee.
Hardware: currently Skullcandy+RocNation Aviator Headphones (which I always have to qualify by saying they are many times better than anything Skullcandy has ever done), plugged into an iPhone 4, or Macbook Pro plugged into the JBL Creature 2 or the Jambox by Jawbone.
Finding New Stuff:
You do get great recommendations from what your facebook and twitter feeds send your way, and I’ll never look past that, but like most of you, I can only assume, I often learn about new artists from blogs. In terms of music blogs, I’ve been assisted by more than a few and I really enjoy the ones with a strong voice. Noz, of Cocaine Blunts and Tumblin’ Erb, is reliable, and also writes for The Fader on occasion, whose music blog is a great resource. The London-based Abeano is a great source for something left of mainstream. Also, former Village Voice and current Pitchfork scribe Tom Breihan has a tumblr called Fighting Crime In The Streets Together, which is great when he’s able to update it with his Quarterly Reports.
For the larger, post-heavy sites, the bigger they are the worse their aim can be, but I’ve realized that Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan are at least worth a skim through, and that Nah Right is okay for rap in general, which I realized after deleting their sister site 2DopeBoyz from my RSS reader when it dawned on me that they had gotten narrower and narrower, to their own detriment. I started to only see links to trash songs by a bunch of weed carriers who will never push units, and posts where they shamelessly suck up to bland successful rappers like B.o.B and Asher Roth. Except they do give shine to my friends the Brown Bag All-Stars, so their content isn’t all bad.
Playlists, and songs that are coming from artists that I’m not that invested in:
The Chrome plug in that rips youtube videos into MP3 files is only something to be used for a song where there AudioThief Converter for Chrome and DownloadHelper for Firefox are great for downloading something that does not have a download link, and a must have for songs where you aren’t sure there will be a won’t be a finished release.
New tracks where I like them on first listen generally get placed near the top of an ongoing master playlist in my iTunes/iPhone, which is what I really find myself listening to a lot of the time I’m outside. I switch between keeping it playing in order and shuffle, because I’ll find a transition I like on occasion.
That playlist is revised as follows: when I randomly accumulate tracks that are not from anticipated albums (remixes, odds and ends, old tracks), the last week of new downloads is a smart playlist in my iTunes called “7.” When I realize “wait, that new song I wanted, throw that in the big list,” I typically make a new playlist on my phone, add the new tracks, and then add the master playlist at the end. When I get home and sync, I rename the new playlist, and delete the old version. That playlist is usually named something simple (currently as “On Blast,”) so that it’s easy for the iPhone voice command software to pull the playlist up. I can just say, “play playlist on blast,” and there we are.
What I Don’t Use:
Pandora: I’ve never liked a single artist that the internet “radio” service has tried to introduce to my ears. Example? For a while it kept suggesting the amazingly boring Immortal Technique, a rapper whose fans at a recent Rock The Bells festival made me forget I liked rap for a second. Actually, all suggestion services. I’ve never gotten good results with iTunes’ Genius or DJ features. I really just don’t trust an algorithm when it comes to taste in music. I don’t care about it needing to build up a history of data, I don’t have the time for that.