From the Archives: You Can Only Listen to So Much Music

Editor’s note: This is an editorial originally published by former Country Music Minds co-writer, Andy, in August of 2016. This piece has been republished with his permission.

It’s something that nearly every avid music fan has said or thought to themselves at one time or another: “so much music, so little time.”

And boy, is it true. There’s an utterly enormous amount of music in existence stretching back almost a century to the dawn of recorded music, and an overwhelming amount of new music coming out at all times. Even just within the country genre and its related offshoots, hundreds of interesting albums come out every year to add to the countless thousands already released. No one has enough time for it all. And if you’re interested in other kinds of music, as I am, God help you.
If you actually do the math, things get pretty bleak. Let’s say the average dedicated music listener has enough time to listen to and digest two new albums a week, and does so from the ages of eighteen to eighty-five. That works out to about 7,000 albums. I realize that this calculation might be a bit crude and simplistic for a variety of reasons, but bear with me here.

(Side note: I also acknowledge that tons of great music exists outside the album format, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s count compilations, EPs and the like as “albums.”)

Now, 7,000 might seem like a huge number, but while no one knows exactly how many albums there are, the popular music database website Discogs suggests that the answer is over a million. Let’s call it an even million, which is probably significantly lower than the real number, but whatever. That means if you listen to two albums a week for your entire adult life, you can only listen to .007% of the albums in existence. Even if you think the “two albums a week” pace is way too low, you can multiply it by ten, and you’re still only talking about less than one percent of the albums ever made. And that’s not even taking into account all the new music that will come out over your lifetime.

None of us can hope to listen to more than a tiny sliver of the music in existence. That means we have to pick and choose what to spend our limited amount of time on. The bad news is that, no matter what you do, you will miss out on some great stuff. The good news is that regardless of your taste, there is a huge, seemingly never-ending supply of albums and songs out there that will absolutely blow you away. You just have to find them.

What’s the best way to do that?

I have no idea.

Or, more accurately, I think it depends on the person.

The first thing to get out of the way is that every listener is unique, and different people have different interests and goals when it comes to exploring music. Of course, there’s no wrong approach. It just depends on what gives you the most satisfaction and fulfillment personally. Unfortunately, this makes this topic hard to talk about in a general way. I can only give my own perspective.

Like many people, I rely on critical or popular opinion to a large extent. What music review sites and opinion aggregator sites suggest is often what I choose to listen to. It makes sense. I’ve found that albums that are widely considered great are more likely to be worthwhile than the average album. On the other hand, some of my most cherished albums received only mildly positive or even mixed reviews. If I went solely by other people’s opinions, I never would have listened to them.

Personally, I try to find balance in everything. I try to listen to both music that is widely hailed as great and music that isn’t considered as important, but my intuition tells me I might love. I try to listen to albums by both artists who are long-time favorites and artists I’ve never heard before but are potential new favorites. I try to expand my comfort zone as much as possible, but aren’t afraid to delve deeper into the genres and artists I already know and love. I basically listen to whatever I feel like at a given moment rather than adopting a specific approach. By no means am I suggesting that this is the only or best way of discovering good music, but it’s what works for me.

What are your thoughts? How do you navigate the world of music? How do you deal with the “problem” of there being not enough time to get to everything?

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