Spotify picks out soundtracks for you. Little mixes. There are six on my app. The first contains artists like Christina Aguilera, Olly Murs, and Jennifer Lopez, and the second contains ones such as Chingy, Tyga, and Akon, and the third has artists such as Daddy Yankee and Shakira. Etc. etc. Really the problem is not the artists but that my playlists change very seldom and I find myself listening to the same music every workout.
Today as I pedalled the stationary bike, I racked my brain for some new old music; something I maybe hadn’t listened to in a long time, an old favourite. Well, I came up with Postmen, you know? That Dutch rap band from the 80s and 90s? Probably not. Anyway, I had one of their EPs or a single with a bonus song, not sure. It was a gift from my cousin, and I loved the song This Life. You can find it on Youtube. It’s rap but you can definitely also hear a bit of reggae and it’s very articulate and powerful. Many of their songs are/were.
It’s beautiful to really hear the artistry in a genre associated with very, very simple verses that often aren’t saying anything of value. Rap can be so powerful.
After a few songs, I wanted more, and decided to try an old trick in my book. I Googled “Stephen Holden Rolling Stone.” Stephen Holden was a writer and reviewer for Rolling Stone for some decades, and his album reviews never fail to capture the heart of everything I listen to. It’s like this. If I listen to an album and need to know how to put my feelings into words, I can read the Stephen Holden review of it, and he’s nearly always on point. Of course, there are a limited number of those.
Anyway, today I came across a 4/5 review for Stevie Wonder’s “Hotter Than July.” Not having made much of an effort to listen to Stevie Wonder before, I kept pedalling, ear buds in and opened up Spotify where I found the album and listened from the top.
It took maybe a minute to realize this music needed space, air, and that the small space between my ear buds and drums wasn’t enough to create the depth these notes needed. They needed to stretch in the air. It was a very strange intuitive sensation that my ear buds were a problem and that I wouldn’t be able to get the full effect of “Did I Hear You Say You Love Me” with them in.
So of course I took them out, turned up the sound and the rest of my workout was a dance workout.
But that got me thinking about music; how much the listening experience can vary depending on if you’re wearing headphones or not. I don’t know whether to call it a qualitative difference, because this felt like something essential, a prerequisite. It really felt like the notes in his music needed five metres of space to unravel. When you listen to the same songs but there’s only an inch of space between your ear canal and the source of the sound, it’s something different.
Though not always. For most music I hear, it sounds generally the same whether it’s in my ears or coming form another sound source.
But that still got me wondering about music made for headphones. Does it affect the musicality of the song? Does it have to be less or more complex somehow? And what makes a song that’s good for headphones and one that isn’t?