Do You Have Music in Your Background?
I’ve been taking guitar lessons for over 12 years now. I’m not particularly good at it, and I only practice about 1/10th the amount of time it takes to get good. But I still really enjoy it. I study under a world-class local guitarist, and sometimes it’s just fun to be in the presence of a musical genius who truly has an appreciation for music. Music has always been a part of my life, and I guess it always will. But I have come to realize that the way I listen to and appreciate music is much different than the way most people do it. I’m obviously biased, but I think more people need to try my way, as I’ll attempt to explain below!
The overwhelming majority of people listen to music as background music. They have music on when they’re at home doing chores or at work adjusting their spreadsheets. It’s just playing in the background. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this, it is NOT the best way to listen to music in my humble opinion. In fact, most people are surprised to find out that I simply cannot listen to music this way. To me music should be the main event, not the background. It requires a certain amount of focus and concentration that listening in the background simply can’t give you. As I type this, I am looking at a $3000 headphone setup I have at my desk that is not on my head and not producing any sound. Why – because writing a blog requires concentration and will take away from the music listening experience (or vice-versa).
So, you’re probably asking yourself, “what exactly is proper listening, then, “Mr. Listening Expert”? To that I would reply that proper listening starts with sitting down in the main listening area in your house, where you are equidistant from both speakers (i.e. taking advantage of that wonderful thing called “stereo” that they invented decades ago), with the tweeters of your speakers approximately at ear level. (If you don’t even have this setup, I encourage you to get to your nearest electronics dealer as quickly as you can and remedy that situation. You are truly missing out!)
From there you can take multiple approaches for your music source. Some still use CDs. Many audiophiles swear by record albums. Most people today use a streaming service (Spotify, TIDAL, etc.) As I’ve said in previous blogs, the quality of your source is key here. Spotify and Apple Music are “lossy compressed” services, but Spotify is at least minimally destructive to the music. Other services like Pandora are way too low-quality to be used for what I’ll call “critical listening”. Personally, I use a combination of discs and TIDAL. The music from my roughly 1000 CD collection is stored on a computer drive, and TIDAL is a lossless music service (many titles are even higher-than-CD resolution). I use an app called Roon that combines both my computer library and the TIDAL streaming service into one, easy-to-use user interface.
Once you’ve got the equipment and the source straightened out, the rest is easy. Well, easy to do, but difficult to find the time to do it. The key is finding uninterrupted time to sit down and just listen. No outside talking. No surfing
social media. No phone calls. No requests about “what can I do, I’m bored!” from the kids. Nothing. Only listening. A glass of wine or beer or your other favorite drink can be involved, but nothing else. Nothing.
With a properly set up system and a high-quality lossless audio source, your experience will be mesmerizing. It will take you to a place that you’ve rarely been before. It will be involving, emotional, captivating. You will appreciate the subtleties of the music that you never heard before, but the artist and producer worked so hard to convey. You will be immersed in the richness of the sound and transported to almost another dimension.
I could go on and on, but I’ve run out of space. If you’ve never taken the time to do proper music listening, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Like reading a great book or seeing a wonderful play, the experience of listing to your favorite music on a properly setup system is second to none, in my humble opinion. I see too many people who never fully appreciate the music they listen to because of the way they listen to it. I hope to change that!