The power of music
A colleague of mine works with seniors, in particular seniors with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
They hold an annual dance for those affected seniors and their partners. It is amazing to see how music can bring a sparkle of energy to these folks. While they may arrive slowly and apprehensively, once the music starts they smile and are eager to get on the dance floor.
The smart Dj plays older music that they likely danced to when they were young – the big band music of the 1930’s, 40’s and even the 50’s. It’s a common human trait that the music we learn to love when we are young tends to be the music we prefer even as we age.
There are friends of mine who listen only to classic rock radio. Like the seniors at the dance, they like to listen to the music they grew up with – and considering the poor state of commercial pop radio these days, who can blame them?
But it’s likely more than distaste for tight rotations of Justin, Katy, Kanye, Selena and Lady Gaga. Perhaps it’s because it moves them to feel the youthful vibrancy they felt when they first heard it, just as the dementia-addled seniors do at the dance.
Music in a time of change
But still, doesn’t there come a point when one yearns for something new? I too, like the rock music I loved when I was growing up. I am fortunate to be able to gather with musical friends to make music for a while. Invariably it is that music from our youth that we will play, not least because we all know it. Still, I don’t listen to it regularly at other times.
In the last decade or so, I’ve come to appreciate different genres of music. I now lean towards both alt-country/roots music and jazz.
Satellite radio has been great for discovering new music from younger folks. And by ‘younger folks’ I refer to people under 45, not just under 25. And ‘new music’ here means ‘new to me’. Many of the artists I’ve come to appreciate have been producing music for up to 20 years, or more.
For example, Beck – I’ve only come to know of him in the last 7-8 years, but he’s been selling albums for more than 20 years. His 2015 album ‘Morning Phase’ is brilliant and fully deserving of its upset Grammy win in that year (Pink Floyd, ELO, Moody Blues fans owe it to themselves to check it out).
Other great ‘new to me’ artists include Ryan Adams, Ray Lamontagne and Stacey Kent.
Algorithms can’t capture eclectic musical tastes
Another blow has been handed to aspiring professional musicians with the explosion in streaming music services over the last few years. Record sales have been in decline for a long time, and now with streaming music instantly available on your smart phone, there is even less reason (for some) to actually buy music.
While this is more bad news for the bank accounts of struggling musicians it’s a boon for everyone else. Virtually any song is available with a few keystrokes.
But the funny thing is that if you try to listen to these streaming services for a longer period – like a radio station – they struggle to truly provide a broad and interesting range of music.
That’s because they use computer algorithms based on subjective classifications called genres to decide what it thinks you will like. Or you should like. But who comes up with these genres? And who says I can’t like more than one genre?
In my experience, a well-adjudicated mix of music put together by a tasteful, knowledgeable human is far better than any computer algorithm’s stream. One of the best for me has been “The Loft” channel on Sirius-XM satellite radio. Real, live DJs put together a great eclectic mix of music – with an emphasis on folk, alt-country and country-rock. But an “Eagles channel” has recently supplanted it. No doubt a programmer in love with genre algorithms was behind that sad move. Time to cancel my Sirius-XM subscription I guess.
The Loft would have played all of those artist mentioned above – and the Eagles. But nowhere else would you find that mix (for those who don’t know, Stacey Kent is a jazz singer).
Well almost no-where else. For a free, human-managed, streaming music source, I recommend Radio Paradise. It has only the one radio stream but it is a very eclectic mix of rock-oriented music both old and new. And even better it’s stream is available in different levels of audio quality for those who care about the fidelity of what they’re listening to, including FLAC (tip: the higher the stream bit rate, the better; and many audiophiles believe FLAC is the best codec for digital music).
Everyone has a guilty pleasure
Finally I have to admit to my current favourite “guilty pleasure” song. I’m a guy who loves all the above artists and more – heck my favourite band is (still) The Who. But I’m in love with….
‘Everything Now’ by Arcade Fire. With it’s ABBA-esque keys hook, solid dance beat and infectious chorus, it grabs me every time (that is, when played loud through good speakers). Check it out here or below….
But doesn’t that also prove my point?
Let me know what your favourite ‘new to you’ artist is by adding a comment below.