Listening to Music in a Scalable Way

We became used to senseless listening.

Unconscious, indifferent. Empty in essence.

Might streaming services be to blame for the negative effects of offering such accessible means?

They could, maybe. But it’s more interesting if we choose to leverage upon them.

How can we adopt listening habits that allow us to exponentially expand both our musical knowledge overall while also scaling our personal storing libraries at the same time?

What’s more, how can we achieve it without falling into stagnation and at a steady, healthy and sustainable pace over time?

The Album-Storing Method

Here’s a method to solve it.

It’s main formula is to dive into meaningful listens, opposite to ad-hoc picks. Sounds easy to state; however, it’s the contrary to what we are used to in the era of digital streaming. Let’s break it down into components.

Artists

When using the method, the artist is going to be the starting point.

“Well, if not artists, then what?

It might seem obvious at first, but it isn’t: we spend a considerable amount of our listening time immersed on to randomized lists (“Top Picks”, “Made for You”, “Radios”, just to name a few) which do not prioritize artists at all but only volume of content (the more the better).

What we are looking for is to modify our listening behavior so that new reproductions become based on learning about individual artists from zero. Such as if we knew writers we are interested in and choose to explore them for our next reads, for example.

The main benefit of following this criteria is that it will lead us to dive straight into what the different artists from all different places have to share with us. In other words, we will start to explore the world in its most coherent granular way.

Albums

“Okay, given we start with the artists, how do we listen to them? I use to pick their top songs. Should I continue to do such? Or maybe should I try the artists’ radio?”

Short answer: none of the above!

For a moment, we want to assume there’s no streaming apps and imagine we are back to CDs era. How did we listen at that time? Possibly, we started with an artist’s name as the “seed” and we were then motivated to learn more about it. At that point, we would have chosen one of their albums (bought it first) and listened to it in detail, in an experience that lasted from first song to last.

The same concept we want to apply to our method. Once we have the artist, independently of how many different ways we’ve might have in an app (Spotify, for example) to listen to them, we are going to do so by their albums.

Which album to start with and how many albums should we listen are two questions that need to be addressed separately on a subject of their own. It depends on multiple factors from which the most important ones are:

  • The length of the artist’s discography (is it just one album-length? Or are there decades of released content?).
  • Our intention in approaching this artist (why did we choose to listen to it in the first place? Was it a casual recommendation by a friend or is it an artist which we want to dive more deep into?).
  • Our experience with our first listens (did we like it? Would we be interested in listening more?).

Storing

“Okay, so artists and albums? Well, nothing seems so different… what is going to generate a real change anyways?”

There’s half the work to be done yet!

And the rest is through an elementary resource: storing.

Let’s return to our contemporary technology and use Spotify as an example. Spotify gives us the possibility to save every song with a simple tap on “Like”. With this being done, we can return later and see all songs that were liked under its corresponding list: “Your liked songs”.

As simple as it sounds, we are going to make use of it as an essential tool. When listening to an album, we are going to apply a “measure of judgement” at song level that will determine if the song should be saved or not. Three good questions to make a good approach to it, in order of complexity, would be:

  • The song that has just finished, did I like it?
  • Am I interested in saving it for later?
  • Is it representative of the album and therefore of the artist that I’m listening to?

If the answer to any of these is “yes”, the song should be stored. If not, we can continue with our listening experience.

Again, there are various aspects to consider when saving songs in this way. The key is that you get to know which songs represent real value to you when stored and that you can apply your own principles when deciding.

However, liking is a double edged sword; as easy as it sounds, we can rapidly loose sight of the objective and start adding songs which in fact don’t represent meaning for us (and we all know the frustration of handling an infinite list without any criteria).

A cool tip to start with would be to make the final decision of liking (or not) once the song has finished. Songs can change drastically from beginning to end both for better or for worse. Therefore, we should decide once all the information is available.

“Wait, I know where you’re going… we can also like albums!”

Of course, the aim is that we apply the same process of evaluation to the album itself. Once completed, we are going to assess with the same criteria wether we would like to store it (which would mean “carrying” it in our future personal library) or not. Such as we stated at song level, the same consideration applies to albums.

Results

“Well, I’ve changed my ways of listening to music. I’ve selected artists, went through their albums and saved some of the songs and some of the albums, too. What about it then?”

Go back.

See what you have now:

  • You’ve started with an unknown artist and explored it.
  • You’ve studied its content: you went over its discography and choose with criteria what to listen to and what to store.
  • You’ve kept what you most value from it, both at song and album level.

Now, imagine you apply the same process into more iterations: two artists, then five and then ten.

From a moment to next, you’ve built solid foundations over what you’ve were deciding to explore.

  • Isn’t it much more deliberate than hitting random to a playlist you don’t even know who created it and why?
  • Isn’t it much more scalable than hopping over whatever content arrives next and without ever storing what you’ve discovered?
  • Isn’t it way more close to a real study of all the different concepts artist have to share?

Further applications

“Okay, I understand and it is better… but, can you give me a concrete example in which this method gives me a real benefit?”

Let’s return to imagining we repeat the process above with five artists.

Suppose that these five artists are from a particular category that you don’t know, at first, but want to dive in and investigate further.

Once you apply the method and end up the process, you have:

  • X amount of albums stored within the category, across five different artists.
  • Z amount of songs stored, across the X albums by five different artists.

Why shouldn’t all these songs go together into a playlist that show up your knowledge over the category, for example? Wouldn’t be a result from a study with both meaning and purpose?

Try it out on your own!

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Guido Karmel

Guido Karmel

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Exploring meaning beyond things. I write about music as an experience.