My Ears Might Never Be Bored Again

Jun 03, 2021 · 171 comments
wfw (nyc)
...but have you heard music played on a tube amplifier? Valves are the future. Class A All The Way!
Ben (Florida)
The flip side is that your ears will be far more bored, even depressed, when you experience “withdrawal” from the addiction of stimulating your auditory system with headphones. I.e., when you are actually participating in ordinary life.
Caesius (LINY)
While I'm all in on audio assault - music, podcasts, audio books, lectures, etc...long been a audio motivated guy, who took to the Walkman innovation early, and often... I would not, and did not do it 24/7, nor around the kids. I grew up in a audio driven house. Radio - news, talk radio was always on. And if not, music was playing on the old record player. But we could all hear it. I didnt always like hearing Oklahoma, or Man of La Mancha, or the incessant swing music (which I now thoroughly enjoy!) But the "rents, were including us, the kids. Not isolating themselves in their own world. Not ignoring us...(I learned to dance when they would break into their spontaneous swing dancing...which sure helped me do well at high school dances) So I repeated that behavior with our offspring. I have to figure Mr. Manjoo, is that parent out with their kid, in a stroller with the kid facing away, and on his phone? Or older kids seeing a dad who has no interest in the world as long as they are in it and around him. So when they grow-up, into teens and older - and don't want to be bothered with him, he'll be miffed. Wonder why they don't want to talk to their old-man. ignored them, and thought being elsewhere, when they were around was the better option. Kinda the major mortal sin of the device obsessed generations. Not being where you are...deeming elsewhere much better... I'm not really sure why any adult, and/or parent would write and publish such a piece as this.
Meza (Wisconsin)
Music has been a constant in our house - even before Covid. Always in the car. I think I spent over $1500 this year on music. I like CDs because i can own them. If I download music, I will usually burn a CD to keep as a backup. ( I have experienced a hard drive crash) I rarely play the CDs. instead I have 10,000 songs on my phone - and that's just part of the collection. My vinyl collection goes back to the 60's although I have added a few. But frankly - changing a vinyl record every 15 minutes is a pain, and I have become used to shuffling my selections - more interesting. I have rarely used my headset (except when flying), and hardly ever the earbuds (they start to hurt my ears after a while. And I never play music when I cycle, because I want to hear the car before it runs me over. I prefer my Bose speakers - tuned as loud as I dare. All genres - Jazz, Blues, Rock, World, Gospel, Folk, Country, Old Time, Do-Wop, Classical, - I like it all. But I also like the quiet. and have realized that sometimes music - even quietly in the background can raise tensions when I need to concentrate, or just want to let my mind wander. So a time and place for all things,
Frank O (Houston)
Mr. Manjoo puts in his earbuds as soon as he wakes up, and listens to external audio input all day long. I wonder if it's because he can't stand being, effectively, alone with his thoughts. He might try taking them out for 15 minutes and listening to the sounds of the world around him once a day, and work up from there. If he shows discipline, before he knows it he will be able to go outside and hear birds, and the wind, and who knows what else.
nycptc (new york city)
What a pity. You talk of turning 40 and becoming a "Dylanologist," as if that were somehow a deeply knowledgeable historian of music. Do you ever listen to anything classical? Have you heard some of the startling contemporary classical composers like Arvo Part or Einojuhani Rautavaara? Have you heard the magic of some Indian raga or Javanese gamelan music? What a pity that even college-educated kids today rarely have a clue who Bela Bartok is. One college intern in a coaching session I was leading had no idea who Beethoven was. Oh well.
nerdrage (SF)
The inventor of noise cancelling headphones deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. Kept me from committing homicide, that's for sure. PS don't put it on the highest setting. It'll give you a headache.
Meza (Wisconsin)
Go online and check out the local musicians in your area. Many have websites and sell CDs It may broaden you musical horizons and will surely benefit the artists
Rita (NY)
Prediction -- people in the future. will pay a massive premium for unadulterated quiet.
BSargent (Berlin, NH)
Even as a kid, I had a "special relationship" with music. I wasn't very musical, but I could whacked the drums. I recently listened to the first love of my 13-year old life: Sandy Nelson playing "Let There Be Drums". Great fun. I had a stereo in my dorm room closet with an antique Macintosh amp and Radio Shack speakers. WBAI in NYC blew my newly "experienced" mind with John Cage's Indeterminacy and African kora. The highlight of my first college career was the rock and revolution campus radio program I hosted with a pal. Later, in my hippie days, having dropped out and moved to a remote and artsy place, I led the founding of a community radio station, still on the air some forty years later. Soon after the radio station founding, I came in from the cold, got a degree meaningful--and very consuming--career and relationships. Music had to take a back seat...until I retired. Then I put all my CDs and many of my vinyl records on to iTunes. Then thoughly explored iTunes and other outlets for new to me music. Now I'm exploring AmazonMusic. I've loved having my 1783 favorite songs on my little ipod, in part because I've had great earphones(and great speakers too.), in part because music is an important part of my life. I've loved listening to Coltrane in the car driving along the lonely Newfoundland coast. I've loved siting on the deck facing the frozen ocean listening to Clapton's guitar wailing. Music is one of my greatest joys. I worry about musicians getting fair pay.
Aria (Jakarta)
The access to inexhaustible catalogues of music and great gear is something I too celebrate. However I feel there is a more staid reason underlying how your journey into music has evolved, one which you allude to yourself. You are getting old. Playing the same song on repeat is something I associate with my youth. I also make sure I devote much of my day to aural pleasures, because it's so much easier now, and also because it's even easier to tax my eyesight unhealthily with excessive screen time. I don't have any problems with my eyes now, but having seen my father's physical health collapse after slowly going blind from cataracts. I'm now in my forties and ocular health is not something I take lightly.
sedanchair (Tacoma WA)
YouTube is my Tardis when it comes to music, and its range is limitless. I'm not too bothered by compression; discovery is the thing, I can get a better copy later. Discovery is the thing; I move seamlessly from Russo-Memphis phonk to Japanese lounge music to Motown to vaporwave. And back again, but Alphabet's trying to clamp down on me, and all the others who use YouTube's bandwidth constantly while ignoring its "influencers." So ads are steadily increasing, as you may have noticed. If I see one more ad for CenturyLink broadband featuring an extreme "squirrel suit" paraglider, surely I will begin to associate CenturyLink with these daring qualities. What I'm getting at is, I'm about to get systematic about using a script to purloin content from YouTube.
Rahul (Philadelphia)
Streaming music will be another revenue capture heist by big tech like journalism. In the beginning, journalists were under the illusion that even though their newspaper company went under and is now owned by a hedge fund, they could still prosper by publishing their stories digitally or broadcast through their Youtube channel and get paid by google ads. Guess what, when the media platform is limitless, the media owner (google) has all the power. With each passing month, the media platform expands with more articles, more stories, more news, more outlets, more channels but each outlet gets less and less. Google could not care less if you went out of business, because there are 10 more in line to replace you. It was the newspapers, TV channels, Movie studios and recording companies that made stars and when there are 40 stars, each can count on millions in fees. When there are 40,000 stars, they will all be fighting for scraps and it will be big tech pocketing the big money.
Emily J Gertz (NYC)
Streaming is music is definitely pretty neat after a lifetime of trying to free up shelf space for physical media, and cost-effective compared to buying a single album, for those who have the fat in their monthly budgets. But one big trade-off is that it shaves away one more layer of privacy from our lives. How do we opt out of having our music choices recorded, stored, and fed into algorithms devised by big tech and media corporations to try to gain a little more of our discretionary income every month?
Neale (Los Angeles)
Ah! The frisson of wrestling with a CD jewel box and swatting at the static-prone plastic wrapping before sliding out the little square book of liner notes and sliding in the shining disc. Some of our best musicians are best enjoyed at album length. They are story tellers. Imagine if you could purchase movies in 10 minute increments.
Tim (Milwaukee)
I did plenty of damage to my hearing back in college, too much loud music through speakers and old style "cans". I can only imagine the damage people are doing to their hearing now with the constant input of sound from earbuds. Everyone wears them all the time.
Son Of Liberty (nyc)
Music consumers should be clear about one thing: Streaming services have eliminated the creators of recorded music from the income derived from streaming. This is not because of the nature of streaming but because the oligopolies who control streaming, are able to control price. The average pay-out per stream an artist receives on Spotify is $0.003, so a musician can expect to make between $3 and $5 per 1,000 streams. This situation will only improve if a streaming platform is created that functions like a public utility, where artists receive the bulk of the revenue generated by streaming subscriptions.
frank (seattle)
John Cage once said that the best music is the music we hear all the time when we are quiet. Try unplugging for a couple of days and listen to the amazingly complex symphony going on around us all the time. Listen to the sounds as sounds, not as the product of this or that (birds, traffic, etc). You'll wonder why music puts itself in such strait jackets as rhythm, melodies and chords. Who needs streaming?
Ben (Florida)
Music is a way of literally killing time, to paraphrase Thomas Mann.
Ben (Florida)
I have a type of synesthesia. Digital music is shaped like squares. Its lines have sharp edges and 90 degree angles. It reminds me of Tetris. Analog is much more organic, with flowing curves and spirals. I wonder how that affects other listeners.
APS (Olympia WA)
"“Is it even possible, in 2021, to locate, let alone enforce, an impermeable membrane between R. & B. and hip-hop, hip-hop and pop?”" Radio and awards shows certainly try their hardest to do so. They can be thwarted by listeners but the artists still don't get the kind of money they could if streaming services paid artists rather than just labels.
Taz (NYC)
Cool headphones as a capitalist solution to what problem? There was no problem. The author acknowledges that, way back when, he didn't care enough to immerse himself in Dylan, etc., but now it's easy so let's do it. My response is that the economic and emotional rewards must be commensurate with the risk. Discovering new art ought to be time consuming because mining for gold takes time and patience. If that concept is trashed and replaced by the notion that finding new, exciting art is just a swipe to the right and costs next to nothing, I'll take a pass.
Elliott (Midwest)
I prefer the sounds of birds singing or rain falling to a Spotify playlist. Even silence can be soothing. To each his own, I suppose.
Paula (Austin, TX)
"Still, these issues seem fixable — contracts will likely adjust to artists’ needs over time..." Yeah, sure, that will probably happen. If there's anything the last few decades of American economic history has taught us, it's that corporations will willingly forego profits in order to meet the needs of their workers. Oh wait, that never happens. Of course "these issues seem fixable." They would be fixable if governments and consumers were willing to force Spotify and other streaming corporations to change the rules. But that won't happen as long as the journalists who cover these issues are content to zone out to nature sounds and trust that the market will magically fix itself.
LBeck (CA)
When I ask my teenaged music students what kind of music or which artists do they like, they almost all of them have the same answer “oh, pretty mush everything.” While their tastes are very eclectic, they are also often very short lived (Hello December 2020 teaching sea shanties). While I love the effortless access to great music, I miss the passion. I mean, these are music students! Shouldn’t they be obsessed with and in love with their favorite music? I remember favorite music being a major point of identity when I was a young person. We wrote the names of our favorite bands all over our book covers, even cut out pictures of them from Tiger Beat, ahem, I mean Rolling Stone (!) and pasted them to those book covers, decorated our bedrooms and lockers (also relics) with the pictures, and spent hours writing out the lyrics to our favorite songs. It’s awfully hard to be invested and passionate about “pretty much everything.”
DaveD (Wisconsin)
Random prerecorded music streams represent the death of taste. I have no idea what Taylor Swift represents.
Makifat (Texas)
I feel bad for your kids. How many insights and conversations have you missed because your children see that dad has his headphones in - and walk away. You are creating a pattern that will have long repercussions.
Mile High Atheist (Denver, CO)
This hit me in the sweet spot. Music has really been savior for me in the pandemic. Specifically I jumped back into vinyl and vintage audio. A return to my musical roots and exploring, both with streaming and the help of the NPR New Music podcast and playlists helped me grow my vinyl collection with new stuff, and patrolling the bins of used vinyl.
Marshall Doris (Concord, CA)
Ahhh! But go back even further. My ah-ha moment was driving in the Central Coast of California and discovering KPIG radio, so fundamentally different from top twenty stations as if they were from different planets. They played long songs, and songs that got no air play from regular stations, and the sets were extended, with fewer commercial breaks. KPIG made me realize what I was missing, and taught me to pay attention to an entire album, not just the commonly curated tracks. In order to customize my listening experience I then learned to make mix tapes (itself a term that has become antiquated) from LP’s. I would laboriously cue up the LP, have the cassette tape in the recorder, put the needle down, then start the recorder, hoping that I had timed it just right. Repeat that enough times, and you could have portable music. It usually took hours to produce 90 minutes of tape, which even then was on two sides of the cassette. I suppose I could claim that the self-discipline was good for me and made the mix-tape better for my having earned the pleasure. Nah! It was a pain, and I’m glad I don’t have to do that any more.
Christopher (Providence, RI)
This was a fun read. And it reminded me of all the digital music that I have (from Abba to Nine Inch Nails to Beethoven) but have fallen away from during these last tumultuous 5 years in the USA. Time to listen again and enjoy music.
D Maxwell (Europe)
Like a lot of folks, I’m a music nut and have been blissfully happy at the choice of music I now have to listen to compared to 30 years ago, but the current models for streaming and buying digital music definitely leave me wanting. I used to sing the praises of Amazon for how easy they made purchasing and playing digital music, but as it seems to go with many online businesses, the terms of service often change and what was creative and user-friendly becomes invasive, controlling, and less open to choice. Over the last few years, Amazon has consistently made it harder to find, download and enjoy the music I bought through them, in the way I prefer to listen to it (on my own stand-alone MP3 player), while incessantly pestering me to switch to their streaming service. Amazon must have slowly realized a one-time purchase of an MP3 doesn’t yield as much long-term revenue as a paid-for, constantly streaming subscription, and I suspect they’ll continue making their MP3-buying service less user-friendly and ad-harassing me until I cave in to subscribe or find another alternative.
Candice (Stockholm, Sweden)
The publishing industry is now well underway the same transformation as did the music industry decades ago. Might not be long until paper books are a novelty just like vinyl.
Ben (Florida)
“Novelty,” or a superior product abandoned by philistines?
Nancy (California)
I come from the era of 8-tracks and cassettes and we thought we were at the top of our game then! I enjoy downloading music and listen to many songs on repeat as well. Yesterday, a young man in front of me in line at Target was buying two albums, real old-fashioned albums. (Didn’t even know they were sold there). Neverthless, I smiled to myself a little.
RichardM (Phoenix)
Farhad, As a person who has worked with sound for 50+ years, a warning is in store as what will be coming down the pike for you..... HEARING AIDS..... (I got my first one at age 58 and now, nearly 20 years later need them even more. Watch those levels....if you roll up the bass frequencies, you will probably be damaging your hearing.....And be especially careful for loud music for your daughter. I would also like to put in a word for finding links for audio and sound art that is NOT in the realm of popular music. I suggest you do a little digging to find sites that are preserving sounds from all over the planet. These can spin off into valuable educational experiences for children that are not connected to pop music.......
R Allen (Columbus, Ohio)
I would ask people to spend time AWAY from music. I love music, and I have all kinds of ear buds, headphones, good speakers, but please, people. If you're out on a walk or riding your bike, no bluetooth, no ear buds. Get out on a bike trail or a walk and try it without a soundtrack. I hate not being able to be somewhere without music. Every store, every mall, every sporting event, high decibel assaults on your ears, with music you don't like. Enough already.
James Johns (Long Island City NJ)
MISANIM.COM Is a magical website where the sounds are transformed into different shapes designed to match the sequence and structure of the sounds. It's like Aladdin's cave of treasures for me, as a musician. A musician/physicist friend said that it's like reading an orchestral score intuitively. And much easier. So if you want to boost your brain power through music, the website is a great place to begin. Also, studies have shown that music is the human activity that activates the greatest number of brain centers. So if anybody tells you that listening to music is a waste of time, I'm telling you that's totally false. Especially for children--listening to music combined with watching shapes that represent the form of the music, is just the kind of mental gymnastics that all people need to expand their minds and strengthen their mental capacities and abilities. And best of all it's all FREE! Beyond that, YouTube is the place where I can find whatever music I wish to listen to. I've found rare recordings and performances I'd never have known about or much less been able to attend. may have pushed me from a committed melomane to bordering on becoming a melomaniac.
rachel b portland (portland, or)
"Kids, when I was a teenager, a new album, let’s say a dozen songs, usually sold for between $15 and $20, at least a month’s allowance. If you liked a song — even just one — from a new release, you were all but forced to buy the whole album." Oh, tragedy. Just think of the money saved on the backs of musicians that can now fund your daily latte (no quibble over that cost). Hey--can you put me on the list at the door at the show? I need my $$ for beer! Pardon my sidetrack, but who thinks this brave new paradigm has worked out just dandy for musicians? Somebody (tech) is still making money on music. All that money we're saving on CDS is now overspent on delivery systems (computers, phones, Spotify). You're not actually coming out ahead--it's just a nasty transfer of wealth from creators/musicians to moneyed big tech, the 1%. None of that money goes to musicians. Well, unless you count the .00000000001 of a cent Spotify dishes to us. If you consider what goes into making music, the hours of labor, the creativity, the cost, the actual money it takes to make music (yeesh), $15 is dirt cheap. Nobody moans that they have to buy the whole carton of eggs. That musicians were ever thrown under the bus without a care or any real means of making a living is a great worldwide shame, and we'll all live to regret it. Enjoy your music. And consider paying the creators/ musicians for it.
Katy (Seattle)
@rachel b portland Yes, and being forced to buy the whole record was often a good thing for the listener too; it meant you'd invested enough in the album to spend time with it as a whole, and so you got to appreciate its arc and structure, the way the songs interacted with each other, the songs that didn't hit you on a first listen but grew on you over time. The album is a wonderful art form, and streaming is taking away our ability to appreciate it.
rachel b portland (portland, or)
@Katy Well said, Katy. We don't complain that paintings can't be cut up so we can take just the corner we're most immediately interested in (for cheaper). Albums are whole works, even though all writers want their songs to stand up alone, too.
Leigh (Qc)
The allure of distancing oneself from the seemingly banal reality of daily life through the use of earbuds is undeniable. But this older reader would never exchange the soundscape of the streets for listening to music which however wonderful can never be as pertinent to the fleeting moment especially once taking into account such threats to life and limb as are rambunctiously, sometimes even drunkenly, coming up from behind whether on foot, or on wheels.
GG (New Windsor, NY)
"The recording industry spent the early part of this century fighting against the digital world rather than trying to adapt to it; it was not until the 2010s that all-you-can-play subscription services like Spotify gained clearances to operate in the United States." Not to be an Apple Sheep but I remember that time, coming on the heels countless young teens were sued and fined thousands of dollars they didn't have, in court for using Napster and other download services, Steve Jobs and Apple coming along with a simple reasonable, premise $.99 per song, $9.99 per album. That was the beginning of the record companies accepting their digital fate rather than Spotify which came on the heels of that to my recollection.
Zeke27 (Hudson Valley, NY)
We live in a wonderful age of music where, as Mr. Manjoo writes, any song you can name is a click away. The entire catalog from the past 100 years is available somewhere. it's great. It is not a good thing that the creators don't get paid what there craft should earn them, but there was never any music in the music business. The money is in sound tracks and commercials now. Performijng artists may have to spend the next year recovering from the last one. What's even better, is how much easier it is to create music. Any desktop computer can bang out the latest hits, and song editing and mastering is accessible to anyone with the will to learn it. Pick up a guitar, pull out a keyboard, mic it, hit record, publish and you too can listen to your music on Youtube and Spotify.
rachel b portland (portland, or)
@Zeke27 As a musician I can tell you it was much easier to to make money when I could sell my work (albums) and receive the money, pre-Napster and all the hell it ushered in for musicians. Free is a very good price (though it's not free, actually--just a big wealth transfer from musicians to big tech. Them devices ain't cheap, are they?). And "free" tends to make people dismiss the real costs to real people with a blitheness that takes my breath away.
cjprof2 (Orange Beach, AL)
OMG! A reference to "Radio Gaga," my absolute favorite song by Queen! The song's lyrics aptly describe my 'tween and teenage years during which I spent countless hours hooking up the headphones and listening to "free-form" FM radio from Detroit (e.g., WABX) and Windsor (e.g., CJOM). The DJs of that day would play the entirety of new albums received from rising artists like Rush, Pink Floyd, Yes . . . you get the idea. Thanks for jogging my memory about those halcyon days of FM radio!
Mark (New York, NY)
This is all well and good, but I have run into an issue with streaming services, or at least I think I have, that I have not seen fully addressed. It is I guess what you would call a digital artifact, especially noticeable on classical piano music, on long, sustained tones. There is a kind of flutter or tremolo. (For instance, on the Chopin--Pletnev recital on DG.) It's also on digital downloads, and it may occur more often on certain labels than on others. I have seen this referred to as audible watermarking. For this reason, I lack confidence that these services are giving me the real product, the recordings that the artists intended to make. I can certainly hear the difference in some places (I can compare the CD with the download), and maybe in other cases it's harder for me to detect anything, but it is just annoying that there should be some doubt about it.
Ann Mc (Jeffersonville)
I fell down the Pentatonix rabbit hole during the height of the Pandemic. There is no going back. I dislike headphones when you are around others, because it is difficult when someone says something to you or needs to get your attention. But I like headphones when listening by myself.
Michelle (Robbinsville)
I've enjoyed reading your column, Farhad, but I can't help but wonder what all of the constant listening through ear pods will do to your hearing. Will you and the thousands (millions?) of others who daily create their own private utopia through their ear pods need hearing aids before their elderly parents?
Katie Smith (Norwich VT)
@Michelle I do worry about this slightly, because, just like Farhad, I use earbuds a lot of the time. It is not to drown out children, however, just to keep me "plugged in" to podcasts, books, public radio, and music while I am long arming (a noisy quilting machine), or doing menial tasks around the house. My kids have flown the nest, and I live alone, so I think it's a way to have "company". I think, however, that I would feel a little guilty if I was drowning out the sound of children. "Daaaaaad, Hellllllp!" And yes, my hearing is diminishing, but I'm 65 and maybe that would have happened anyway, and earbuds certainly solve the problem. It's like wearing far-sighted glasses, even though they ultimately make the problem get worse faster. Did that, too.
Ben (Florida)
Wearing headphones for long periods at a time has also been linked to irritability and depression in studies. Many years ago I had a job in customer service/support where I had to wear headphones for eight hours at a time. It definitely made me irritable. All I wanted was silence when I wasn’t at work. You might say music is different, but there is something about the insulation which is isolating and not just in a temporary sense.
J (Brooklyn)
Another name for a musical butterfly could be a dilletante. Digital streaming has transformed my relationship to music, but whether it's technology or age (I'm in my late 40s), the relationship to particular artists or albums--with few exceptions--has become shallower.
Mark (Milwaukee)
I still feel compelled to have my own music library, though, because I know the music in it can never disappear if the rightsholder revokes streaming services' rights to play it, and because as each new listening format takes hold, some of the music available only in older formats gets left behind. Some record albums were never released on CD, and some CDs were never released on streaming services. Owning my own copies still matters to me.
Independent Observer (Texas)
@Mark "I still feel compelled to have my own music library, though, because I know the music in it can never disappear if the rightsholder revokes streaming services' rights to play it, and because as each new listening format takes hold, some of the music available only in older formats gets left behind" I too have quite a large music collection, but I "ripped" everything 20 years ago as both a backup to the collection as well as ease of play (PC and laptop, that is). With that said, I joined several music streaming services to compare them a few months ago. Now while I'm driving, I enjoy calling out to my iPhone to play whatever it is that comes into my head. Since I live in such a flat area that is Houston, I rarely suffer any so-called dead zones. I have to say that spontaneously revisiting music while driving, some of which I haven't heard in decades, has been a real treat.
@Independent Observer tru dat my first year with Spotify connected me to music not heard in decades now they stream ECM jazz so...
Zamboanga (Seattle)
I recently bought a quality turntable and have been revisiting my ECM records from the 80’s. This is the first time I’ve listened to quality pressings on a good system and the sound is fantastic. Way beyond most digital platforms especially if listened to through wireless earphones. I listen through wired earbuds on my phone also and both have their place. It’s quality versus quantity. Enjoy both.
michjas (Phoenix)
Mr. Manjoo waxes eloquent about audio. But When I saw the headline and read the first paragraph, I thought he was headed in a whole different direction. Practical not rarified. I too found that the pandemic exercised my aural sense. And everyone else’s. For the past year I have strained my hearing like never before, often to no avail. Over and over, despite my best efforts, I have had to ask those wearing masks to please repeat what they said.
Steve F. (Pompton Lakes, NJ)
For me the good news is that vinyl has made a comeback. So much so, that the companies who invested in manufacturing them cannot keep up with demand. I think the internet and current communications technology has been the engine that enabled analog playback technology to resurface and be sustainable in the marketplace. I have purchased many albums online. I'm not alone. And it just keeps getting better. The quality of the records manufactured today is very much improved from the standards of 30-50 years ago. Many albums have been remastered from the original analog masters, and sometimes supervised by the original engineers and producers. But to enjoy the quality does require some upfront cost (turntable/cartridge/preamp + amp + speakers). I enjoy digital audio and I find it's best for it's accessibility and portability, and for a small investment the sound can be very good. But I prefer the sound of vinyl records, I find it more engaging (plus I like the cover artwork, liner notes, etc.) As for digital vs. analog sound quality - I will not go there (an argument as dumb as Red vs. Blue) I don't like to call myself an audiophile, because I can't really afford to be one. But I do own some great playback equipment (I love tube amps).
achilli (Lewiston, NY)
@Steve F. - I'm 64. I lived through the previous age of LPs. Listen well, on that first playing of the LP, because the sound quality will degrade every time you play it. Let's see...a stylus made of the hardest material on the planet, riding in a groove in a disc made of vinyl...what could possibly go wrong...? Of course the musicians and producers of vinyl LPs love offering them...they will have to be replaced sooner or later! To me and to other music-lovers of my generation, digital music was a revelation...great signal-to-noise ration, low distortion, great separation without unintended crosstalk...but the fabulous thing was that you could play the cut over and over and over again without encountering any degradation of the sound quality! It was a miracle. It still seems like one.
Yellow (NJ)
AirPods Pro are wonderful as technology, but sorely lacking as audio. The syncing among all devices, noise-cancellation, and freedom of movement give that all important sensation of immediate gratification. However, I miss the days when music was BIGGER, with fully realized sounds pumped through massive speakers - much more alive even if less controlled and precise. The utter ubiquity of all sonic options combined with mega apps like Spotify leads to none of it really mattering very much at all, a fate of so many cultural items in our age of ultimate consumer choice.
Law Talking Guy (Lawville)
@Yellow I agree and disagree. For what they do, my Airpods Pro (had 'em for about 3 weeks now) are sublime. I got them for ease of use, seamless device switching, and ability to disconnect from my surroundings. You're right that audio quality is not top-notch, but that's not what I got them for. Later I'll get a nice pair of Sonys or Bose or whatever for the times I want big sound. For for disconnecting from dog, household, and creating my own space for work or chill, these are the best I've ever used.
LPB (Denver)
Interesting thoughts - and I largely agree. I'm a teacher and have seen the ubiquity of airpods/etc. among my students. It can be a great way to get some privacy, enjoy music, help focus, and ease anxiety. And/but it's isolating, too - I wonder if you missed opportunities to joke, laugh, or cook with your kids if you were wearing airpods all day? My students certainly miss out of the spontaneity of random and fun connection and conversations with theirs on. Not to mention the beauty of silence or the worlds small but lovely noises.
Rich (Canada)
I think it's great that the author and anyone else can find great value in streaming music. I had the opposite experience. Music has always been central in my life and I've had generally omnivorous tastes, and therefore had a large collection of CDs before streaming. Eventually I ripped my CDs to be able to stream them via a server to my hi-fi system (iphone/ipad control app) and then added a music streaming service too. "I love music, and now I have instant access to MILLIONS of tracks! What could be better for a music lover?" It turned out to be a "careful what you ask for" scenario. Once I had countless tracks of music at my very fingertips, I found that "exploring" music started to amount to "surfing" music, like I do the web. "This is good, but what about THIS one?" click, click, click... I saved many favorites, but since there was always something new at my fingertips I rarely revisited those favorites - building a library of artists whose names I could barely remember. Music listening thus took on a sort of restless quality: I had developed "Music ADD." What "saved" me was...getting back in to vinyl. The physicality of the process entailed concentrating when listening, such that I'd listen to whole albums. It was more expensive and harder to get, so my music collection is more curated - I know the artists and albums very well. All day long I'm on computer screens or phones; vinyl is like reading a physical book, unplugging from digital life. Ahh..
Steve F. (Pompton Lakes, NJ)
@Rich I agree with you. Streaming music feels like web surfing to me also. I prefer to purchase an artists' music. If anything, streaming allows me to sample that artists music and then decide whether to purchase. As for being unplugged, when listening to vinyl I'd prefer to say I'm plugged into something else....
Not that someone (Somewhere)
@Rich Agreed, plus you are now at the mercy of an app that thinks it knows more about what you want than you do. There is no machine learning algorithm that will ever match the selections curated by an actual human invested in a music genre or style or cultural position. The nauseating marketing pressure of apps and their brain dead recommendations has lead me straight to my local independent radio station full of shows assembled by humans, feature every genre and locality imaginable. Sure, there are clunkers galore, but at least I am left to my judgement and, and as "old man" as it might sound, the character building exercise of asking myself "what's your problem with this?" is mind expanding and meditative. The human element - or "another" human element is a neglected, critical piece of a quality experience, in my view. (Not podcasts, actual radio shows) Also - Farhad, what do you actually gain by writing such insulting things as (paraphrased)"I turned 40 and am now required to become a Dylanologist"
Rich (Canada)
@Not that someone I actually find the music suggestion algorithms, especially on youtube, have led me to wonderful rabbit holes of music discovery. It's just that to stop that rabbit hole, I end up deciding which newly discovered music I value most and want to own (most of which these days is available on vinyl). It's when I translate the act of listening to music in to the physical, buying an album, putting it on the turntable, sitting down to listen, that I connect most. Part of my reaction to streaming is no doubt that I'm an old school "sit and listen to music" guy (and self-confessed audiophile). Which, at least until the vinyl revival, had gone out of style. If like most people music is essentially a sort of background to life, something you do while driving the car, cooking dinner, jogging or whatever, then the ubiquitous and convenient quality fits perfectly. But if you are a sit-down-and-listen type like me, then streaming can have an effect like web surfing has on the ability to concentrate on reading a book: it dilutes my powers of attention. Of course not everyone suffers this. Plenty of music lovers CAN give undivided attention to streamed music. For those it's a godsend. But for folks like me I will grab anything that helps me focus. And all day screens are tugging for my attention, from the web on my desktop to my iphone in my pocket, so the ability to listen to music without interacting with one more g*d-d*amned screen is a blessing.
Joey R. (NYC)
I've always been a big music listener, but I've found that sometimes I prefer to have someone doing the selecting for me. I've got musical tastes that span all genres and won't rule out listening to anything. I've found that streaming community radio stations from around the US has been a great way to not have to think about what to listen to, other than what flavor I feel like hearing. There are so many local radio shows available to anyone at the push of a button, I can hear country music on saturdays on the Harvard radio station and then let it segue right into the Metropolitan Opera broadcast, or in the same timeframe I could tune into a killer reggae show on KEXP in Seattle. Sometimes its a trip to New Orleans with WWOZ or other times its bluegrass and old time music on WNCW, because of the time difference, I can pick up the overnight Hawaiian music program on KKCR, Kauai community radio too. Hearing a DJ who is passionate and knowledgeable about a style or artist is amazing and has opened my ears to so many different artists that left to my own devices and the algorithms of streaming services I probably never would have heard.
Jackson (Virginia)
I recently destroyed my airpods, which I had been using and enjoying daily since the beginning of 2020. They were a tremendous help when working any "back-of-house" job like a kitchen or bike mechanic shop, as often you'll go for many hours without interacting or speaking with another person. I would also put them in right after waking up, and alternate between using one or both, or rarely none. Before the election, I was streaming 8-10 podcasts. I would occasionally use Audm to listen to New Yorker or other articles. Spotify provided a continuous soundtrack to my life, though I too slip into rabbit holes where I listen to the same songs over and over. Coincidentally, I listened to Jenny Lewis' On the Line for like 2-3 months in Spring 2019, and even bought the album on Vinyl from Amoeba Music, a digital distributor of analog media. The ability to seamlessly include them on walks and bike rides without cords getting yanked out was a panacea, and had the practical effect of increasing my listening time to almost the entire day. Straddling the digital and physical world is a fascinating exercise that current humans have to perform to some extent. The analogy is made very real with one airpod in. However, just as the genre boundaries have blurred, so has the definition of addiction and escapism. Information is a substance too, and using it to avoid life can cause problems and sadness. Though seemingly irrational, I'm glad I put my airpods in a bench vise. *whistles*
Sally (California)
Listening to music's good. Walking in a forest or nature preserve is even better. Sometimes I think we're bombarded, always filling up the space. It's nice to recognize, once in a while, there are other ways to tune in.
mikki dora (CA)
@Sally: Agreed. I used to listen to music at low volume during my bike commute... Augmenting just "another chore." i stopped years ago, and it turned that chore into a way to connect with the here & now. My commute has become the best part of my day, as I see, hear, & have unique interactions with my town & the people in it.
pjc (Cleveland)
@mikki dora When you do it right, life turns into Penny Lane, and the sounds of the world become music too. I mentioned a Beatles song, so I will also mention, this is kind of the idea behind the great Beach Boys album, Pet Sounds. Pet sounds. Such a clever little album that was. So preciously teenage-y.
JimmyMac (Valley of the Moon)
@Sally We are bombarded. What our senses are processing for most of the day is stuff being fed to us and sold to us. I feel fortunate to live in a place of nature where my space is my own as much as I want. While I certainly like listening to music I get much more satisfaction playing my own.
TimesReader (Brooklyn)
The statement that streaming services "no doubt" saved the music industry is, no doubt, debatable. One thing that they, no doubt, virtually killed is the album format. It seems to me that most people that use music streaming services really only listen to songs now, which is a loss. When I use streaming services, I make an effort to listen to albums as much as possible which, I find, makes the overall experience better/deeper. With regard to classical music, I have learned that, unless I have 45 minutes or more, it is better to listen to concertos than symphonies. This was a bit of a break through for me in terms of enjoying music.
RB (Nyc)
Farhad, I love that you’ve discovered the joy of music. I hate that you’ve limited yourself to enjoying them through AirPods. Convenient, yes, but they truly rob the music of their, uh, musicality. Please please try listening through a good set of headphones or a even a small home stereo system. Happy to make recommendations!
Mr. Manjoo and other avid headphone users: Do be mindful of the volume at which you play your music and podcasts. And get your hearing checked at the first instance of any trouble. Noise induced hearing loss is insidious. As for using the ears more creatively, I am all for it
Danny. King of (Corona)
You are so right... Johann Sebastian Bach - Mass in B minor. Your own Ezra Klein. Poetryfoundation. Audio books of all kinds. Head phones might be easier to slip off for listening to significant others or maybe they are just better for signaling.
JBReeves (New England)
How about some time without any media at all?
Loved your article and completely agree. I work for HARMAN, an audio company with brands like JBL, Harman Kardon, etc. We do a lot of research into the effects of audio on emotion, well-being, and how to get the most out of every moment you spend listening. You might like our podcast series, Audio Talks. We just published a fascinating episode about music and well-being with Tom Middleton, Psychoacoustics expert behind the Calm App. You might also enjoy our short documentary on 'The Art of Listening' And you find more research and such on our Art of Listening web site. Hope you enjoy. Thanks for the great read!
Elisa Winter (Albany NY)
I’m not even done with the article and already you make me feel not crazy. You call it “rabbit-holing?” Okay, whatever. I don’t have a name for it, but my total obsession with Radiohead, months and months and months of nothing but, including listening to “Reckoner” more than any other tune ever in the last two years, except for perhaps “Moonage Daydream” by Bowie in the last 10 years, well.... I give that band credit for keeping me sane and grounded. Why that song? Why that band? Any ideas? As addictions go, this one’s not gonna kill me.
herzliebster (Connecticut)
Or you can walk around without devices in your ears, and actually listen to the real birds in your back yard, and hum to yourself. Yeah, I'm a Boomer. A pox on virtual reality. I'll stick to the real thing.
Andrew Russell (Katoomba NSW)
@herzliebster. AGREED! I'm a boomer too and I hate the ubiquity of music. One doesn't need any devices: music is everywhere and one can't escape it. Listening to music, really listening, seems to be a thing of the past. Sad, but like much else in our world it has gone, probably for ever.
Dr B (San Diego)
LOL, you're starting to sound like an angry old man. The only thing you forgot to say was, "back in the good old days...".
pollyb1 (san francisco)
I discovered podcasts while knitting. Ezra Klein, Hell & High Water, Lolita Podcast, Guardian Long Read....I bought noise cancelling headphones to mask construction noise and it took Covid for me to realize the true value.
Alphonzo (OR)
I have taken the complete opposite tack...I buy cds from the artist themselves that I love. This way I know they get paid... The digital paradigm has been a living hell for the creators of actual content, you should try and keep that in mind if you care about artists...because these tech companies sure don't!
Barrett Jones (Ridgefield, CT)
As a 14 year old music freak I had my mom drive me to Caldor where the first album I bought was “Some Girls” by The Rolling Stones (with the original cover- I still own that record!). Later I would take the train into Manhattan then the subway downtown to navigate to a record store to locate the out-of-print “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” by Pink Floyd which was only available as an expensive Italian import. A whole day, train fare and a costly purchase to hear one record. There’s nostalgia for the thrill of the hunt and the jackpot of discovering a great record but as a music fan the experience sucked. I was not a record collector, I was a listener in search of sounds. Spotify is a paradise for me. I see a mention of a spiritual jazz record from 1972 and within seconds I’m listening to it. Musicians have never been adequately compensated for their art. That sad truth long predates the internet. The best way to support a musician is to go to their show. And buy a t-shirt when you’re there.
L (Portland)
Older lady here (still uses a record player to listen to Sly) with a word of advice- however you listen to music, watch the volume or you’ll be needing hearing aids sooner than you can imagine. On the plus side, many hearing aids are Bluetooth now, so you can be rocking out and no one will likely know you’re wearing hearing aids or listening to music.
Eliot (NJ)
Your ears might not be bored, however they seem tremendously, deprived, not to say ignorant of, great traditions of music worldwide, much of it conceived of before peoples' ability to record it and play it back at will. That is, if people wanted to hear it, they had to reproduce it by playing it or singing it, in real time without the help of the recording studio gimmicks or the producers. It sounds as if your musical world starts somewhere in the last 20 years or so, though I must admit being very uninformed as to the latest flavor of pop, hip hop, country or whatever flavor the "biz" is pedaling this year. I can only hope that you in fact do become justifiably bored with your repertoire and reach out to something beyond pop music, including your kids.
Antslovehoney (Medford, MA)
"...because I can’t resist information saturation." Same. I, too, and to the point of social impoliteness within my households, keep my AirPods humming as long as possible. Civilization, and civility, have come to a halt. Coordination, in the widest sense, seems absolutely missing from daily experience. And so, obsessively, I listen to books about "deep histories" of human evolution. I am sure that an audiobook's logical argument is a stand-in or placeholder for the world's missing coherence. That's what my AirPods mean to me: order and coherence and logic and standards and evidence and argumentation - all pumped directly into my sensorium. An "audio meantime" I wait to see if, as a country or globe, we can get our act together.
Anthony O (Rochester NY)
I can relate to getting stuck on an album, listening to it on repeat for two months lol. Drives my wife nuts because, really, what are headphones?
Fourteen14 (Boston)
Excuse me for mentioning it but Spotify is, like, last millennium. If you want to be hip you spend $20 per month for lossless Tidal. You'd also want wired in-Ear Chinese monitors such as Moondrops. But beyond that, those coolest of all walk the earth alone with brightly colored NRR 33 disposable ear plugs.
DAS (Los Angeles)
@Fourteen14 I do hear that Tidal has the best sound quality of music streaming services, which tend to be sorely lacking just like standard mp3 files. Hi-res digital music can sound amazing when done right so it's good to see one service on board.
Fourteen14 (Boston)
@DAS They also fairly compensate the artists.
Andy (Yardley PA)
Farhad / All -- Beware . . . '(P)opping your AirPods Pro in just after waking, and remaining ear occupado "all day, often until I sleep"' is a huge risk to your hearing long-term. While I appreciate the value of noise-cancelling headphones, the notion that your ears are covered all day w/a steady stream of inducted, streaming sound, is frightening. This is why one of my best-performing stocks is a European holding company which has acquired several hearing aid tech and manufacturing companies. Keep your AirPods but consider the risk to your hearing over the next decade. And beware !
Sunshine (CT)
I have not bought an album nor a song for the past several years and I do not subscribe to Spotify. Radio and Youtube completely satisfy my listening needs.
NYC Moderate (NYC)
This is the world that Mr. Farhoo wants to push on all of America: 1. force people to abandon cars, travel and personal space and move to dense cities 2. while densely crowded, put in earplugs (I'm sure very expensive ones) from wake-up to sleep to avoid other people Not quite the utopia one would imagine but right in line with a privileged millennial who want to push his entitled way of life on everyone
roaxle (Tucson, AZ)
Be grateful, Farhad, that you can pop those AirPods in first thing in the morning. For some of us, the first thing that goes in our ears are our hearing aids, and that's for those of us lucky enough to be able to afford them. Until my hearing began to follow the trajectory of my father's, I didn't understand how isolating it was to lose the ability to communicate. Hearing aids are a necessary, but inadequate accommodation. (Are you listening, insurance companies?) I expect to end up like my father who had to augment his aids with a white board and dry erase pens. Just don't play your music too loud, Farhad, lest you end up replacing those AirPods with BTE devices.
Mac (Detroit)
At 58, after a life of never really listening to him much, became a Dylanologist only recently. Better late than never. Also good to know I'm not the only one who gets "hooked" on an artist or song and will listen to it repeatedly for quite some time. Might be time to join Spotify
PE (Seattle)
During lockdown I went through the headphone audiobook podcast music soundtrack saturation phase. Now I crave a type of silence. Maybe the birds. The wind. Cars interrupting my escape. No sound. Silence. Such a gorgeous escape when you can claim it. Increasingly hard to find.
Col Wagon (US)
Be careful about blasting your ears with loud sounds, day in and day out. Over the years overexposed and shocked nerve cells will die. Once day your head may be consumed by roaring tinnitus, or worse, you'll no longer be able to hear the sounds of birds, or the wind in leaves, or the music you so love. Turn the volume down, way down.
jdmarino (Scarsdale, NY)
You and I are nothing alike. I find it takes a lot of mental effort for me to tune out the soundscape in order to think about something else (such as my work). Relentless aural input would make me crazy.
We lost the record store as a place to go hang out with our friends, admire album art, poke around through sales bins to see if there was more we could afford, or would want to take a chance on. Just like we've lost the mall as a place older people could go, walk around in no matter the weather, and all ages could visit just to find some other humans, even if we didn't interact with them. Now everything appears quickly, so many desires instantly satisfied for those with the funds. What about anticipatory pleasure? What about getting off the couch, and out of the house, for that matter, going where other PEOPLE are? What about the experience of _not_ being able to find what you want, sometimes? What about tactile, in this digitally flattened world? This strays a bit from the discussion of music per se, but cellphones are the new boob tube and we've become a nation of Twits as a result.
msd (NJ)
This also goes for audiobooks. I search out free audiobooks online and have listened to engrossing books I would never have been interested in reading in text. The world is a richer, even more interesting place.
Santa (Cupertino)
With all my family working or attending school from home, I have been pushed out to the sunroom since all the other rooms have already been claimed. Not the quietest, most private space to carry out work, but with the arrival of warmer weather, the mockingbirds seem to have emerged from their winter quiet and so I am treated to their song all day, which is an absolute delight! I am amazed at the energy levels of these little creatures, and how they keep singing almost non-stop all day into the wee hours of the evening.
Madhavi Pashler (Inexplicably, Des Moines, Iowa)
Two months ago I had my second surgery to fix hearing loss after 20 years of being deaf in varying degrees. The surgery was a success even though it left me with facial nerve palsy which should likely resolve in time. But after 20 years I can once again hear things I didn’t even know I was missing. The distant sound of children’s laughter, the chirping birds waking me up. These sounds catch me by surprise and leave me stunned so much so that even a half paralyzed face can’t take away my joy at being able to hear again. The ear is a marvelous thing. Take care of yours.
pjc (Cleveland)
@Madhavi Pashler Oh my! What a happy story! Tonight as the sun starts to go down and the birds sing their final evening songs, I will tell them your story, like Francis of Assisi.
ejb (PA 1st Congressional District)
Farhad, when you say "music" you're of course referring only to pop music. Jazz and especially classical pieces don't lend themselves to being consumed like snacks or appetizers, 3 or 4 minutes at a time. In fact, they grew out of the 3 or 4 minute limitation in the 1940s at the end of the 78 RPM era! Streaming plays no role in my musical world. Not only because I have a huge collection of LPs, 45 RPMs, casettes, CDs and DVDs which aren't going anywhere, but also because classical music is generally consumed as entire, multimovement works that in total last 20 minutes up to a few hours. Streaming services are harder to use when you want to listen that way. Also, of course, sound quality. So, I've no problem with your essay, but realize (and include a little disclaimer) that the ecosystem you describe doesn't include some of the oldest, most venerable types of music and listening -- that studies seem to show many current young folks might grow into as they ... mature.
John (Quebec)
@ejb Yes I quite agree. I am, myself, very much a "mélomane" as it is defined in French. For me, listening to music is like reading a book or a short story: there is a beginning, a middle and an end. It's the narrative without words that I love, which may be 15 or 100 minutes long. Classical and jazz are the finest examples of this, although a lot of early rock also exhibits this characteristic. No question that the digital revolution has gone a long way to democratizing music. It has permitted me to explore my taste in such different "genres" as Minimalist (Morton Feldman) to ElectroSwing (Caravan Palace).
DAS (Los Angeles)
@ejb The other big problem with streaming is the sound quality, which is usually even worse than standard digital files like mp3, which are not great themselves. Hi-res digital music is almost completely ignored today even though it can sound very good and the space/cost considerations of just 20 years ago are gone. Neil Young and a collaborator put out a great book on the subject a few years ago, which I highly recommend.
Kathy Lollock (Santa Rosa, CA)
I and my husband grew up during the Era of LP's and Vinyl. From the time we dated until now, music has been a part of our lives. During the shut-down particularly, I have frequently conversed with my Alexa Echo to ask "her" to play songs from Tony Bennett's I Left My Heart in San Francisco ( how true for me!) to Lin-Manuel's Hamilton sound-track. My husband, now in a residential care facility because of Parkinson's, returned to his favorite Chopin, Rachmaninov, and Andre Segovia pieces, to John Denver, and even Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson! Indeed, he has always been a wise man, including the appreciation of the talent of artists like above representing all different genres. Maybe, just maybe, our desire and need to listen to music will evolve into our need to listen to each other....
Zezee (Bronx)
I am hard of hearing. I love ear pods. But I lounge on the couch listening to music, no distraction, just listening. At the end of the day I take out my hearing aids. It’s actually a relief to be in silence.
L. Raphals (California)
These are interesting points about music. Bur does your spouse also get to pop in those earbuds first thing in the morning? Who do the kids go to?
nadia (Queens NY)
@L. Raphals That was my first thought too! How nice to be able to tune out the kids!! Must have a wife who is at home and on kid duty all day...
Santa (Cupertino)
@L. Raphals Hear, hear! I was thinking the same thing... apparently, the earbuds get popped in first thing in the morning and then stay occupado for the rest of the day till bedtime. Whom does the wife talk to? whom do the kids talk to?
Wendy Gelbart (Bellevue WA)
I love music and silence and good podcasts. For them headphones and ear buds have their place, I guess. But what about being here... now? I walk around my neighborhood with my dog and have a hard time catching the eye, let alone the ears, of passersby to whom I would otherwise smile and exchange a few words of greeting. When someone does remove the headphone or earbud, I feel as though I'm invading personal space. Humanity is too compartmentalized. Sonic bubbles don't help.
carllowe (Huntsville, AL)
Streaming services have not saved the music business for the majority of musicians. But they've helped funnel billions to tech companies. Even on YouTube where theoretically any musician can post just about any creation, the algorithms funnel most viewing traffic to the already well-known and well-off. And it feels like every time we're not paying attention, one of the streaming services changes their terms of payment to lower revenues for the folks creating the content.
Nelson (VA)
Musicians overvalue what their contribution is worth. Now that anyone can make a high quality sounding album in their bedroom. No one owes artists a living. Maybe more should look at it as a side hustle
Not that someone (Somewhere)
@Nelson Quality sounding and "good" are two different things.
Zeke27 (Hudson Valley, NY)
@carllowe There is no music in the music business. It has always been that way.
Gertrudesdottir (Los Angeles)
I have loved laughing out loud while listening to fine writing on Audible this past 15 months. I’ve enjoyed several long and complex “reads,” rewarded with the reliability of a prolonged narrative: Dickens’ Bleak House and his Our Mutual Friend; then George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Next up, on a more somber note, is Shelby Foote’s trilogy on the Civil War, although his descriptions in Vol. 1 of some of the generals can be hilarious. All this has relieved of some of the quotidian worries and tedium of the lockdown.
TexasBee (Fredericksburg, TX)
I recently got hearing aids and put them in first thing in the morning and wear them all day. I'm just grateful to hear the small things again like the ticking of a clock or the chirping of the birds.
DF Paul (Los Angeles)
As to expanding genres, ask a fan of classical music or jazz how they like streaming services. They hate them for the limited and confusingly identified selections. I know I do. Yet the streaming services oppressively continue to take up more and more of the cultural oxygen, not to mention capital. The iPod, for instance, used to be a great way to listen to music. Now the iPhone is, at least, very difficult to use to listen to one’s own music collection of purchased music. The internet mostly enforces a tyranny of the majority in a lot of things. But don’t take my word for it. Ask a classical music fan what they think of streaming. Bah humbug.
pjc (Cleveland)
@DF Paul The above poster is correct. When I listen to classical, which is 80% of how I rock my world, new media seems to be run by people who can't tell a Furtwangler from a Harnoncourt which is a pity, because the fine grain of its differences, well, that's the joy. So the intrawebs are great for broadening your horizon, but stink at deepening them? Bingo. That's getting close to a definition of dilettantism, by the way. Not that there's anything wrong with that! My father was a dilettante!
JDStebley (Beckwourth Peak, CA)
@DF Paul Yes! The A-1 reason I have never streamed a single note.There is a catalog of some of the most beautiful and important music in 500 years that is simply not reachable through an iPhone or Spotify. But then there is simply a decline in demand for it as those of us for whom it matters die out. Enjoy your white noise world.
pjc (Cleveland)
@JDStebley It's all digitized though. The early 90's brought a flood of superb and incredibly rare records, many only on 78's, on labels like Pearl, Lebendige Vergangenheit, and the always reliable Rom-o-Phone. (get it?) Lots of collectors snapped them up. Care for some truly idiosyncratic singing, maybe some Fernando De Lucia? It's all available, it is just not being curated / streamed. So? They stream the songs that make the whole world sing, They stream the songs of love and special things. The stream the songs that make the young girls cry; they stream the songs, they stream the songs. Except Fernando De Lucia.
John (Hershey, PA)
I don't typically use headphones, and only have one subscription service, but I have music on everyday, and usually all day at work (I'm fortunate to be able to have this opportunity). I appreciate that music can enhance or change my mood. I long for the day where the record store was the place to be, flipping through bins, enjoying the cover art, and seeing who played on the various albums. Like you, I purchased many an album for that "one" song. But in this day and age, it's great to be able to play almost anything we want to hear at any time.
Ernest Senior (Upstate NY)
Oh my! One would think you didn't get to make trips to the library, borrow 10-15 records & tapes, record them all, and repeat the process every few weeks. And have a friend or two with modest-to-medium collections to record for one another.
DAS (Los Angeles)
@Ernest Senior I remember those days in the late 70s/early 80s. Both my friend and I had those little units with a radio, tapedeck and turntable on top with a couple speakers. We would record any vinyl records we had that the other did not for each other. I would also record full albums off the radio when one of our local stations had a program called The 7th Day where they would play some.
D. (Ann Arbor)
I would just be careful about hearing loss/tinnitus.
H Silk (Murfreesboro,TN)
Nice column. Music has always been highly important to me. My prize possession when I was a kid was my transistor radio. Yes, the format was highly repetitive, but I loved the radio. I was fortunate to have teachers that introduced me to both classical music and music from the 40's. I sang in choral groups for years an gained appreciation of classical choral works. My husband is a Spaniard and from him I have learned about all things Flamenco, etc. WBGO is still my source for jazz, and on and on.
manfred marcus (Bolivia)
Having nothing against the multiple diverse never-ending auditive sources for pleasure, need we be reminded that, after all the music and especially after so much noise, that 'silence rfemians gold'? Exception taken to the sounds of Nature, a never-ending pleasure where we may lose our ego, and become one with mother Earth.
Ernest Senior (Upstate NY)
@manfred marcus Up here, birdsongs were indeed a feature sound of Early Lockdown Times. I listened more than I had before.
Robo (Florida)
"...contracts will likely adjust to artists’ needs over time, and new streams of revenue, like direct support from audiences, will likely catch on." Yes, and I will likely become the next starting shortstop for the Yankees.
Alphonzo (OR)
@Robo lol! So many artists have gone broke and died while these tech companies have made billions...creators of content are the actually important people, not those who deliver it. I buy my music in hard form (and yes cds sound 100 times better than streaming!) from the people that make it if possible. They need the cash badly.
Sipa (Seattle)
@Robo - Yes, artists will be working for tips now. That's the progress we're making with technology.
Jeo (San Francisco)
Same. Not because of the pandemic though, my noise-cancelling headphones started becoming a refuge for me more than ten years ago. I traveled a lot then and the quiet world where I could listen to whatever I want while on airplanes was a minor miracle. To this day (though I haven't flown in more than a year, like many) I marvel at how even the steady, *loud*, drone of an airliner in flight sounds is nearly deafening before I get the headphones on or any time I take them off. No wonder I was in such a foul, anxious mood while flying before that. I mean it's not the only reason of course, but that constant noise assault wasn't helping, that's for sure. During the pandemic for me being home so much it's been more a matter of watching movies or TV shows with the headphones any time it's after say 10 pm, since I live in an apartment, or if I'm up really early which happens some times. It's a nice apartment and the noise levels are fairly low, but just not having to worry about whether any loud music or sounds from what I'm watching is annoying neighbors at 1 am is great, removes that from the occasion. It also erases the sound of the Monday morning leaf blowers, which is a small miracle. Part of what I do is play and record my own music and the headphones there are essential, I rarely record or listen through speakers, no matter what time it is. It's a noisy, annoying world. I just didn't realize how much so before I got these, and now I practically live with them on.
David H (Northern Va)
Putting on ear buds the moment you wake up? Sounds to me like the author has merely found another means of escape from the humdrum of daily existence. Meantime may I recommend the music of JS Bach, in whose compositions (which will take you more than a lifetime too explore) you will find everything you will ever need emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically.
Janet Baker (Phoenix AZ)
And may I also recommend the music of Mozart, whose piano sonatas I have listened to every night for nearly a year and committed to memory.
The Pessimistic Shrink (Henderson, NV)
@David H Not quite. Round it out with "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor On the Bedpost Overnight?"
Gervaise (Washington)
Isn’t Rhapsody (now Napster) an all you can play subscription service that preceded Spotify by a decade? I’ve had it since it started.
Law Talking Guy (Lawville)
Farhad - you make an intriguing and important point. I came of age in the interstices of LPs, CDs, and MTV, and was always bothered by how "Video Killed the Radio Star." The private spaces of audio and imagination were replaced by shared public images on video. So is it a stretch to say that the passive visual experience of MTV can be seen as a long line that extends all the way to Fox News and disinformation? As McLuhan famously said, "The medium is the message." Until now, I had not considered how the convergence of high-quality headphones, streaming audio, and a desperate need to disconnect might lead to an alternative emerging information ecosphere that may ultimately have important political consequences. What they may be, I don't know.
Stan H (Burnaby)
Yes, I love music, but I steadfastly and stalwartly refuse to use earbuds, and seldom use headphones, except to occasionally play electric guitar quietly in the wee hours. In retirement I walk 3-5 hours a day, and even though the driving beat of Bad Bad Leroy Brown is my most common marching rhythm, I refuse to listen to electronic music piped into my brain, and there’ll be no rude, crude ghetto blaster hangin’ on my hip. For better or worse, I prefer the sounds of nature and the sounds of the city. In short, I prefer to be present. Present in the moment, and present with my surroundings.
May (Portland, OR)
I need to get back to that. I used to do my daily walk without headphones, but for the last few months I've been hooked on listening to music or a podcast. And as some have mentioned here, it's become ADD-like. I want to get back to hearing the sounds of the neighborhood sometimes. I don't need to go without headphones every time, but I hate feeling like I "need" music or something else in the background.
I discovered podcasts during the pandemic and what better way to pop the air pods and listen to podcasts during my long solo runs. I still cannot get the hand of eBooks, I still love to read paperbooks , not even Kindle but podcasts are incredible. In the last 15 months or so, I have learned so much about fitness, global warming, world conflicts, mental health, parenting. Many years from now, whenever I look back and think about the Pandemic, I know I will will talk about Podcasts :)
Carol Brennan (Grosse Pointe Park, MI)
Singing out loud to headphone music is the swiftest way to relieve anxiety! On another note (sorry!), the BBC Sounds app and just BBC online in general has a seemingly bottomless trove of programming--a range of music across Radio 1, 2, 3, and 6 (pop hits to classical and everything in between) and then Sport on 5 (hmph, not for me); via Radio 4 (the Arts) and the World Service there are radio plays, skillfully produced abridgements of classic and new novels, stunning documentaries (Archive on 4 is a favorite) and entire history of the world in 100 objects--I could go on for paragraphs here. All commercial-free and free to us. The BBC is one of the modern era's greatest inventions.
pjc (Cleveland)
For correctly pin-pointing the philosophical issue being raised in Radio Ga-Ga, you deserve many plaudits. The song talks about radio, but really, it is about the fate of music in a world dominated by visual technology. We watch the shows, we watch the stars On videos, for hours and hours. We hardly need to use our ears. How music changes through the years! I'm glad Freddie wasn't around to see the rise of autotune. Even the musicians don't need to use their ears. At a strictly practical level, they don't have to be able to sing. What beast is this! Slouching toward my cochlea!
Sipa (Seattle)
@pjc - I always thought that this was just another mindless recitation of verse, until I saw the movie a couple of years ago and actually listened to the lyrics...What a great song and message..
Michael Sklaroff (Rhinebeck, NY)
If one is lucky enough to live close to a more natural, less developed area, the sounds of nothing other than birds or the rustling of leaves is a welcome respite from all the wonderful music available online. (Also children playing.) I don't want to lose touch with the wider aural world; I don't like seeing so many people plugged into their own audio world. Like zombies to my way of thinking.
Ricky Beers (California)
Agree with most of this article. My kids -- now in their twenties -- have far more eclectic tastes than I ever did at their age. We are no longer beholden to radio programmers to sample a wide variety of music from around the worl dand all eras. Buying and owning a bunch of stuff, whether records or CDs, is wasteful and espensive consumerism as well. As far as streaming versus physical copies, there is no way to put the genie back into the bottle; any recording can be digitized and shared. The unfortunate fact is that musicians need to find other ways to earn money. Unfortunately, the result is that price of tickets to live music has skyrocketed.
herzliebster (Connecticut)
@Ricky Beers And live music is increasingly a completely different thing from what comes through the digital stream. It involves actually producing sounds in a coordinated way in real time with no chance for tweaking, mixing, or alternate takes. Those of us who have loved singing in community choirs and have been forced to switch to digitally produced and mixed recordings if we were to keep up our participation at all, have learned how utterly different a way of making music it is. Artists whose main thing is the production of studio recordings may or may not even be able to perform those same numbers in a live-music setting, where each performer only gets to make one "track" and has to get it right on the first try.
Darrel Lauren (Williamsburg)
CDs are wasteful consumerism only if the “music” you listen to is here today gone tomorrow junk. Classical music is here forever and classical CDs are an investment.
hen3ry (Westchester, NY)
Since music has become ubiquitous in public spaces, blares from cars, and is generally too loud I no longer listen when I'm home or in my car. I dislike being forced to listen to music I don't like or do like. It's not as if I can simply close off my hearing the way I can my vision. I don't like having to use ear plugs to have enough quiet at night to sleep. Music used to be a treat for me. I used to be able to relax with it. Now when I go into public spaces it's often so loud that I fear for my hearing. I'd rather have bored ears that can hear rather than ears that are bombarded with extremely loud sounds that can deafen me.
JR (N. Va)
@hen3ry I also worry about those that wear headphones or air buds constantly. It seems likely to cause damage to one's hearing.
A (Boston)
@hen3ry I especially dislike loud music at restaurants. You have to raise your voice just to talk to people at your table. Even the orthodontist has music, which makes it harder to hear what he is saying about my child's teeth.
Jeff (Minneapolis, MN)
Personally, I prefer apps like Headspace or, even better, The WiseGuide App to listen to daily. If I'm going to take time to listen to something, I want it to be something that will improve me and make me a better person. I've called with meditation in the past, but lockdown have me the opportunity to make it a daily habit and that made all the difference. I'm happier, healthier, and more productive today because of it. I recommend we all limit the news and the noise and improve our minds instead!
Anu Shanbhag (Marlboro, N.J.)
Finally a much deserved ode to our sense of hearing! It enriches and enhances our daily lives in so many ways, and I think Farhad has captured them all in this beautiful piece. I listen to NPR all day and it's like turning the dial tone of my daily experience from a hum-ho 5 to a smart 10. And then of course, there's a buffet of music on my Amazon music app. that makes my daily walks Oh so enjoyable! Thank God for our ears!
Sparrow Roberts (Salvador, Bahia, Brazil)
Spotify recommendations are based on what you've willingly listened to before plus what others who've also listened to what you've listened to before have listened to before. Very clever, but such recommendations can't step beyond the original paradigm, as human recommendations can. And human curating has heretofore been very limited. Why not open curation up to everybody in a matrix allowing musical (and otherwise) explorers potential access to all artists? begins in beautiful, benighted Brazil and moves on through the world-at-large. 100% algorithm free.
Sandy Schaffell (Walnut Creek)
Thanks for this, Sparrow. Very much worth traveling to.
MKlik (Vermont)
Mr Manjoo, did you talk to any musicians before writing this piece? I, too, had this idea that streaming services were "saving" the music industry since musicians were now being paid as opposed to the early days of streaming when they were not. I recently had the opportunity to talk to a fantastic professional musician who assured me that the amount that musicians are paid is insignificant. So smaller groups or musicians are not able to support themselves in music. As a result when you talk about blending of genres, I worry about homogenization and on ongoing loss of talent and creativity and variety.
sedanchair (Tacoma WA)
@MKlik Not to put too fine a point on it, but go busk. The idea of the singing millionaire is a weird artifact of the 20th century and shellac recordings. Starvation never limited a musician's creativity, so I don't see how the public loses out here.
Jim (MA)
"smaller groups make a pittance from streaming and must support themselves by selling merchandise, touring and other business opportunities...." such as working at Starbucks. I prefer owning physical media (LPs, some CDs) that will never go away when some multibillion-dollar corporation decides to pull music I "own" through their site from circulation. I also prefer to listen in a room, a physical space, not with headphones. Music belongs in the world, an atmosphere, not in my head.
Alphonzo (OR)
@Jim You reach a certain point where you realize things sound better when they are floating around...headphones are great for airplanes but that is about it...they also completely cut you off from the world around you, good sometimes, but not really.
Ducklady (NH)
@Jim I agree. I hate having music in my ears. I want it to surround. Also it seems downright rude to walk around listening to music when the people I live with can’t hear it. Too easy to get lost in my head and ignore them.
Hugh Massengill (Oregon)
This modern world of audio lets me focus on what I really care about, pretty much from the first minute I wake up, as you, to just minutes before sleep. It makes me more happy to get up in the morning, more excited to check out a new podcast from Kara and Scott, and for me, listen to Amazon HD on good headphones. So sure, using headphones when I listen to Tv inevitably lets me hear quite clearly some disturbing stuff, but all in all, I can choose what part of the stunningly complicated world I live in to focus on, and let the rest just go...on. Not sure my ears will ever get bored again, having lived through the Trump Presidency. So thanks for this column. Our tastes are really, really divergent, but our love is the same, of passion, of ideas, of volition, the power of our wills to mean something. I listen, thus I am.
Colleen Adl (Toronto)
I have listened to podcasts, particularly when resting. Hearing voices takes my mind off my worries and allows me to fall into sleep. For the past year, podcasts about covid-19 such as Grand Rounds, TWiV and a daily educational YouTube channel have helped me to sleep and learn.
Anthony (Western Kansas)
I have found the same to be true with me, save the ear buds. I have discovered a ton of music in recent years that I never would have if required to only listen to the radio and buy CDs. But, I did find a lot of crazy music as a youngster flipping through record bins, but it certainly wasn’t convenient, although a lot of fun. I also read a lot of music magazines to find out what I should take a chance on next.
Steve-O (Houston)
"While big acts can pull through on the internet’s infinite jukebox, smaller groups make a pittance from streaming and must support themselves by selling merchandise, touring and other business opportunities. Still, these issues seem fixable — contracts will likely adjust to artists’ needs over time, and new streams of revenue, like direct support from audiences, will likely catch on." Mr. Manjoo, I appreciate this sentiment, but it is devoid of reality. Streaming is killing the music industry. Couple that with no live gigs during the pandemic, and we now have a crisis. The issue needs to be fixed now, and the lack of progress on fixing it is making "smaller groups" wither away and die.
Brad Steel (The Hood)
@Steve-O The performing arts have always been a difficult way to make a living. Indeed, streaming may make it almost impossible to make a living as a "smaller group". Artists may have to make art for its own virtue and make a living another way.
C Wolfe (Bloomington IN)
@Brad Steel Replace "artists" with "dermatologists" or "bankers" and see how much sense that makes. Most artists don't choose to become artists; making art is their interface with the world, and you can't just reprogram yourself. You have to pursue it in some form regardless of the realities of livelihood. However, the attitude that artists should make a living doing something else and just enjoy making art in their spare time shows a profound misunderstanding of what it takes to do art. Some manage it (I know, I know, Wallace Stevens was in insurance), but making *good* art requires continual practice. And it isn't just a matter of booking time and being disciplined; you need the headspace to explore your creative mode, since there's a difference between creating and performing. Today's work environments with relentless demands of quantifiable "productivity" don't leave a lot of mental energy for outside activities. (That's why most non-artists spend so much time watching screens instead of on active hobbies, as people used to.) My husband used to work as a professional musician. Their band was known for giving the audience an exuberant good time—which depended to a large extent on the audience believing the band members were also having a great time, spontaneously. This was sometimes true, and sometimes an illusion of their professionalism. But it's work. We're just so used to a job being meaningless drudgery that we don't honor the concept of good work.
@C Wolfe correct esp. " having a great time, spontaneously "
Innisfree (US)
What I realized during this pandemic is how much I enjoy singing. So I've just joined a choir, starting next wee,. Everyone has to provide proof of vaccination and we'll sing outside. I haven't sung with a group since I was a child at school. Thankfully this choir does not ask us to audition. Anyone can join. I'm nervous and elated.
herzliebster (Connecticut)
@Innisfree Have a wonderful time! Choral singing is the best; it's a foretaste of heaven.
Zeke27 (Hudson Valley, NY)
@Innisfree Singing is one of life's greatest pleasures. Singing in a group is just the best. I wish we had a more robust singing tradition here. Have fun.
See also