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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Is discovery really the greatest thrill in music?

There's a new music sharing service called mflow. I haven't tried it yet. Its tagline is "Discovery - it’s the greatest thrill in music".

Well, I know why they've said it. I use something along those lines myself. It plays well with advertisers. It's one of those uncontroversial sentiments that goes through on the nod in any company. Everybody likes to think that nothing gets them more thrilled than the prospect of another new group. People with no more than a passing interest in music ask me "what should I be listening to?", which I've decided is the single most dispiriting sentence in the English language. What you should be listening to is whatever makes you happiest. I've no idea what that is unless I've known you for a few years.

I don't think discovery is the greatest thrill in music, not unless you're a night time DJ looking to get the jump on your competitors or an A&R man for a publishing company. I can see how you might get thrilled if you thought that your fortunes would rise in lockstep with the act you've discovered. But the rest of us have got lives to lead, lives that are full enough with work commitments and entertainment options not to be sitting around saying "it's Thursday and I haven't discovered anyone new this week."

And we've already got tons of music to listen to, much of which we hardly know. In fact a lot of it we don't have much interest in. We "discovered" it at some point in the past but then the thrill didn't last very long. The really precious commodity is not "new music". It's our proper attention. This is governed far more by mood and all sorts of things swimming through our lives  – how we're feeling, what we're reading, where we are, who we're with – than it is by the arrival of a previously unheard talent.

I discovered some music recently – the early albums of Cat Stevens. These came out forty years ago. Of course I'd heard them before but I hadn't listened before and I certainly hadn't listened sympathetically, which is the only kind of listening that matters. That's the thing about music. You have to lean towards it. "Discovering" it means that you have to first discover something within yourself.