During the past few years I've been thinking a lot about music and why it still feels so important to me. I believe in the long-term, far-reaching power of music in our lives, and I feel that many others do as well.
Answer these questions below. Pretend you are taking one of those online surveys, where each question has to be answered before you get to the next screen:
1. What is your favorite movie?
2. How many times have you watched it?
3. What is your favorite book?
4. How many times have you read it?
5. What is your favorite album or song?
6. How many times have you listened to it?
Chances are the answers to questions 2 and 4 vary between 1 to 9 times, while the answer to question 6 is a number above 100, or even possibly above 1000 listens.
Music is unlike every other "popular" art form. One can continue to discover new depth and meaning in a song in ways that we often don't in a movie or book. Maybe it's because it takes several hours to watch a movie, or three days to read a book, but only three minutes to hear a song. That a work of art that's only three minutes long can hold your attention for years, or decades, in ways that movies and books typically don't is telling. Only visual art – painting, photography, etc. – has the same staying power as music in our lives.*
Music is also unique in that it can be shared with other people at a live performance as a group experience, or absorbed alone on headphones in isolation. Either experience can be revelatory to the listener.
When I was ten years old, Paul McCartney's "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" came on the portable radio that belonged to a carpenter working at our house, and I remember being instantly struck by the song. This was quite different than all the music I'd heard during my first decade as a kid. I rode my bike down to Tower Records and bought the seven-inch single that same day. Ten years later, I was playing in bands and learning how to get around a 24-track recording studio. To this day I still find myself enraptured by great music, with the same feeling I had when I first heard "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey".
What we do as creators and documentarians of music really does matter; even if our culture, technology, and the media industry has allowed music to be devalued into an often low-paying endeavor. But for those of us who believe in the power of music, being a part of fostering the creativity is a reward in and of itself. No other art form has the lasting power in our lives that music does. Support the art you care about, and it will support you back.
*It's worth noting that at the peak of recorded music sales, music used to be exclusively packaged with, and accompanied by, a strong visual statement: i.e. the album cover.