How we learned to stop listening to music

Other than the folks buying vinyl, is there anybody out there who actually listens to music?

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read
Steve Guttenberg

I'm talking about listening to music, as opposed to having music serve as background to other activities. "Listening" when you're on the computer, making dinner, reading, driving, running, working, etc isn't the same thing as listening at home without doing anything else.

A friend who owned a record store in the 1980s put it best when he said, "Recorded music is the worst thing that ever happened to music." At first I thought he was kidding, but he explained that before Edison recorded sound most families played music, on their own instruments, at home. Most middle class families had a piano, or at least a guitar and sang and played at home. Involvement was on a whole different level than it is now for most people.

Records changed that, so fewer and fewer people played instruments, but at least they were listening to records. They'd put a LP on the record player, sit down and listen to music. Yeah, I know that seems a little strange in 2008, but people actually did that on a regular basis. Especially when they bought a new LP or 45, when they really wanted to take it in, they listened with their eyes closed.

I did, when a new Beatles, Stones, Doors or Led Zeppelin record came out I set aside time to take in the whole thing. When a new LP really grabbed me I'd play it over and over, without playing any other music for three or four days. Yeah, I was and remain a total music freak, but it wasn't just me.

But when CDs came out people immediately used the format's longer playing times to do other stuff, they were no longer tied to the music and stopped listening. Music was just there, filling up space.

Fast forward to the present and now they don't even have to think about the music they want to play. They hit shuffle and let the iPod program the music. And once music is relegated to the background sound quality is no biggie.

There is a glimmer of hope now that LPs are starting to make a comeback. I hope the kids buying vinyl pick up on the sound. Maybe, just maybe they'll become audiophiles, and get more out of music. We'll see.

What about you? Do you ever just listen?