So Much Music… Have We All Blown Our Attention Spans?

jude not listeningFirstly, I would like to “publish” a short essay that recently struck a chord with me. It was written by my brother Emmanuel Rizzi, a contributor to Cornell University’s The Diplomacist blog.

Here goes:

Why the Music-Artist envies the Literature-Artist

What luck has the Literature-Artist to have an individual spectatorship! The form of literature precludes reading en masse – it is an isolating form that requires the undistracted focus of its reader. It thus takes for granted the reader’s attention and is delivered to the reader’s most vulnerable state. Though the average reader may certainly not be attuned to the author’s subtleties of artistry, he is nonetheless reached at his most vulnerable, his most open — the medium gets the best out of each reader.

What difference with music! The free-flowing, amorphous and drifting form of the medium means that it may — and usually is (prior to 20th century advent of recording, must) — be heard and experienced en masse; the form imposes no barrier: it will reach the enlightened listener as readily as the benighted one. In fact, it has a tendency to often reach the unwilling listener! Music requires no singular focus of the listener, who is free to attend to any and all mental or physical activities while hearing the music. It is the rare listener who makes himself vulnerable — for this reason the medium seldom gets the best out of each listener.

It is serious music’s curse (but the blessing of popular music).

In my mind, Emmanuel’s words ring oh so true. It would be hard, even foolish, to argue otherwise. The appreciation of music has always depended on a reliable attention span, one that is being challenged more than ever in today’s musical landscape.

As of late, I seem to have hit a crisis… I am listening to less and less music, sometimes none at all for weeks at a time. I am inspired by less and less music, and when a song does get my attention, it is rarely for its whole duration. How can this be? I have always had a voracious appetite for music discovery, a boundless open mind for all sounds regardless of genre, and an enthusiasm for active listening rarely matched by my peers. Could this be the “old” me?

Music is now more readily available, more accessible, more plentiful, and on top of that, cheaper than it has ever been. Recording and self-releasing music have greatly profited from the advent of modern technology making it easier than ever to get one’s music “out there.” So why is it I am struggling so much to feel enthusiastic about music today? Could it be that my precious attention span has been eroded by an over-saturation of music? Am I suffering from option anxiety? Perhaps.

Music is everywhere. It’s stored on my phone. It’s on Spotify on my phone. It’s on YouTube on my phone. It’s on Shazam on my phone. It’s on Deezer on my phone. Between all of them I can listen to pretty much every single piece of music I ever want to, and at any given time. And I can connect this to various sound systems wherever I may be, at home, in the office, in my studio… but the sad thing is, I don’t. And I blame the mass availability of music for the sad state of affairs that my music appreciation has become.

I am not going to go on about how the rise of digital has killed off the culture behind owning a physical piece of music and the pleasures associated with it. Too much has already been said on the topic, and in fact I am not one to dwell on the past. The decline of physical as the leading format has always just been a matter of time. The future is now here, technology and hence the music business continue to evolve, and I am happy to be an active part of these changes, both as an artist and as a professional within the industry. But going back to Emmanuel’s essay — there are very few filters left. We get bombarded by an onslaught of music left and right on a daily basis and picking and choosing (i.e. focusing) has become increasingly difficult. Not to mention the competition created by our daily lives’ distractions. Our attention spans have spun out of control. Too much information, too little time.

As is rather clear, this has taken its toll on me personally. I haven’t dealt with it as well as some. But I remain optimistic. The music world is in a constant state of flux and I am sure that my listening habits of old will come back, somehow some way, either through further changes in our industry or perhaps through some further adaptation on my part. Either way, I am excited to find out.

One Comment

Robert Allen

I feel for you Nicholas. Not liking anything you’re hearing or even want to hear is sad. I’ve been there…I’d be there now if I wasn’t creating new music at the moment to keep me occupied.

I would agree with you but only to a point…which is, you need to take more of the blame or responsibility regarding listening to music. Yes, there is more music being released into the Clouds as it were, and you can access it anytime anywhere…BUT…that should only make it easier for you to listen to anything you want. Now if you say you’re not thrilled with the music that’s available, that’s a different story…

If you’re not involved in creating your own music then maybe you’re listening for something new to come out and excite you. IMO there is not a whole lot happening right now in any genre you care to name. And I agree with you about the fact that so much music being available in any form on any platform only amplifies the sameness to everything.

There’s a corporate Music Industry that is running on empty, so there’s no real excitement on a big scale. But I do think that really opens the door to Indies and I get the vibe that something better is coming. My reason being that music is in flux right now. Things are being weeded out and soon quality over quantity will win out. You’ll know the second you hear it and you’ll be able to get excited about music again.


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