I used to buy a record or two a week. If a record that I was waiting for was due out (usually on Friday) I was psyched –it was the event of the week. If no anticipated release existed for me, I’d rummage through the stacks at the local record store - located in the strip mall next to the high school- until I found what I wanted to take home. There were always records I craved as I built my collection, but records were expensive compared to my home chore allowance (until I worked at a record store while in college, where I used my earnings to buy record albums). I’d take the prized possession home. Peel off the plastic wrapper. Study the artwork. Take the record out of the jacket. Feel the weight of it. Smell it. Check the disc for warping. Clean it, careful not to touch any part of the surface with my fingers. Place it slowly on the turntable. Clean the stylus. Carefully place the stylus down on the spinning disc. And sit and listen. If the lyrics were included in the artwork, I’d follow along. At the end of the first side I’d get up, turn the record over and listen to Side Two. I’d sit back down and listen. When the record was over I would study all of the musicians’ names, the producer, and read the other details that went into making the record. Then I’d get up and listen to the record again until the music wormed its way into my heart, my brain, ear, into my psyche.
Records are making a comeback. I wonder if this expensive and limiting medium is an echo, or even backlash to this era where music seems, er…disposable. Music is so plentiful, so abundant that people certainly don’t pay for it anymore. And artists feed us their music one song at a time, so the idea of the LP would require investment in a culture of fast-paced multi-tasking. Who has time anyway to even listen to a full song- let alone a 38 minute, two sided album? I attended a music symposium a few years ago where a guy on a panel delivered his research stating that the average listener decides in 10 seconds if s/he will continue to listen to that song. I wonder if that statistic has gone down to 5 seconds in the years since I heard it? I understand that. My listening habits have changed and developed with the seeming near onslaught of music that I cannot keep up with. Compared to the 2-5 releases per week on average that came out during my tenure as record store employee in the 1980s, literally thousands of new songs/bands come out a day. Computer companies aren’t including CD drives anymore, so we are consuming most of our music on streaming sites. I love that so many people are making music. More art. More music. More passionate creativity and productivity is a great thing. But I ask myself, as I reflect on my own listening habits, and as I contemplate the medium on which I will deliver my new music, are we really listening?
[This is the first in a series of short essays on listening and the LP (Long Play). And how our cultural habits are shaping the way we listen. And how the way we listen shapes the way we think. The choices we make. I am investigating these thoughts for myself, and sharing them as a project in process. I invite your thoughts and comments.]