We hear so much about change these
days, from climate change to the changes in the public's music listening habits,
that it is wise to remember the famous phrase ,"The more things change, the more
they stay the same." The music of Beethoven, Miles Davis, the Beatles or Rolling
Stones, you name it, has not changed one iota. It's capable of as much
profundity as ever. How often has someone said: "The first time I heard ______ ,
my life changed forever."
Yes, on the surface it appears as if the public's
love affair with an I-Pod playing data-reduced files through tiny headphones, or
MP-3 tracks from a PC, represents a big shift, but does it really mean that
things have changed that much?
Almost regardless of age or era, we all began our
love of music from a little portable device. My (boomer) generation held
transistor radios up to our ears in the 1950's, and the magic began. But those
were just the first step up the playback quality/ music enjoyment ladder. Soon
after that, the little mono, fold down phonograph set arrived in my room.
Finally, at age 14, I sold ice cream on Broadway in NYC, saved up my money,
walked into the world's # 1 snob audio salon, and bought a killer used stereo
for $250. Yes, and 47 years later, it has been a life in music, and everyone
says they can't believe I am almost 62; all that musical energy that has flowed
through me as both a gigging and recording musician combined with a 31 year
high-end audio career must have something to do with it. I can say with
certainty that you get out of music what you put into it.
But early in my hi-fi career, the public traded
quality for convenience decades before today's scenario. Does anyone but me
remember the enormous popularity of the cassette medium? Directly analogous to
the questionable practice of buying a cheap USB turntable to rip righteous vinyl
LP's, folks would purchase an expensive, high quality turntable from us at our
shop, and simultaneously buy a pricey tape deck so that they could record the
vinyl and instead play the not quite as good-sounding tapes so as to "preserve"
their records. Today, people rip CD's to a computer without ever having owned a
player that would actually let them hear all the music on their CD's, at a time
when CD has reached maturity and players are at the zenith of development. The
billions and billions of discs in homes are not going to go away. Craig's 5th
law of hi-fi: "Always improve what you have been doing before you move onto the
new thing." This is yet another unchanging truism that the public frequently
misses as the hype for half-baked new technology assaults them through every
It may be my postulate, but I'm willing to go on the record as a veteran career observer of listening habits. Today's portable music devices commonly used with low-end 'phones are largely being used to 'screen out' the rest of the world as opposed to taking anything in deeply. That's fine, but I'm absolutely, scientifically sure that this music application can't begin to provide the full rewards that are waiting for you.
I recently explained much of this to a group of 'under
35' folks; that we all started out with some portable device glued to our ear;
my sexy radio said "five transistors" on it, and today yours says iPod. That
very same never-exposed group responded enthusiastically when I asked them to
turn off their phones, take a deep breath in and out, assume a relaxed posture,
and just listen for five minutes.
Result: They melted and were moved in a way they had never known was available
from music listening.
Not much change there either, really. It is all
about exposure to the real experience that can be had from even a modest good
stereo. If you feed someone organic food for two weeks, they're not likely to go
home and open up the can! In both cases, we begin by essentially consuming "the
appetizer," music-wise, imagining all the rest of the music that our little
devices left out. But the appetizer is only supposed to whet your appetite for "the
main course," not replace it. Would you be content to eat only 'appetizers' for
the rest of your life?
Given the many variables of live performance,
including the fact that no one ever remembers 12 notes in a row that they just
heard, it is fair to position listening to music as a sole activity through a
fine stereo system in the comfort of your home as the single most rewarding and
beneficial way to enjoy the universe of music; the main course. This is where
and when the music truly sinks in to your body and soul, almost welding itself
into your life. This deep musical access not only provides vastly more pure
emotional and sonic pleasure, but also significant medically acknowledged
wellness benefits, starting with lower blood pressure and the calming of the
multi-tasking-driven "racing mind" syndrome. If that wasn't enough, pain relief/
distraction, improved sleep and digestion, the list goes on and on. Today more
than ever, we need to "get back to where we once belong" to be the happiest and
healthiest people we can be.
Given the chaos and stress this era has generated, a fine stereo and a return to listening as a sole activity can and should be recognized as the "free lunch" of wellness. Encore: the more you give to music listening, the more you will get out of it. This too will never change.