Over the many years I’ve spent buying new music, (and yes, I still enjoy purchasing CDs) I’ve come to realize one thing. Listening to an album for the first time is like starting a new romantic relationship. At least it is for me, anyway.
It begins with me being attracted or intrigued by a new CD. Maybe I like the band’s other albums. Maybe I’ve heard and enjoyed a couple of the artist’s songs. Or maybe I’ve just heard good things about their music.
Maybe the lead singer’s super attractive. Regardless, it always starts with some initial attraction, some tiny little spark that grabs my interest.
Personally, I hate listening to CDs for the first time. It is one of my absolute least favorite things to do. I don’t like going into an experience unsure of what I’m going to get out of it and not knowing if I’m even going to enjoy myself.
I’m just sitting there, listening to song after song that I’ve never heard before. I can’t really hum along or sing the lyrics because I don’t know them yet. I’m just sort of listening, judging everything I’m hearing and getting kind of restless.
I want to skip ahead, I want to move quickly through each track, just so I can finally reach the end of it and have that first listening experience be over.
It’s awkward and uncomfortable because you know that if you don’t listen to every song in its entirety you’re probably never going to like the CD. So you have to listen. You have to force yourself to do it because it’s the only way you’ll ever get to know whether or not you enjoyed what you just heard. And even after listening to it all the way through, you’re still not completely sure you liked it. A couple of the songs seemed good, but you don’t really remember them that well. They all kind of just washed right over you. Is that a bad thing? Does that mean you and that CD aren’t a good match? Do you really have nothing in common? Maybe it’s not really that serious, but you get the idea.
I think we can all see where this is going.
After I’ve listened to a CD a few times, I eventually start feeling comfortable enough to start singing along a little bit with the lyrics. And honestly, I don’t know why, but I feel completely embarrassed if I accidentally mess up the lyrics or sing the wrong thing at the wrong time. It’s like I’ve gotten too cocky and now my confidence has gotten the best of me. I thought that I finally “knew” this CD. Foolish me.
It’s not like someone in the car next to me would’ve noticed my error, but still, I feel stupid. Shame on me for thinking I knew these songs well enough to sing along. I’ve only just started listening to them. It’s too early for me to know everything about them.
After several more listens, things begin to change. You’ve got a good feel for the new CD now. You know what makes it tick. You know which songs are your favorites and which ones you don’t like as much. It’s starting to become a part of you now.
You get excited when you hear the songs you like and for some reason, their lyrics begin to sound more poignant and meaningful to you. They’ve struck a chord. You sing along, confidently now, and even when you sometimes mess up a lyric, you don’t care as much because you know, deep down, that you know every song by heart, even if it doesn’t always show on the outside.
Even the songs you don’t like as much still seem amazing to you because they’re a part of something bigger. They’re a part of the CD that you’ve become obsessed with. The CD that’s the only thing you’ll listen to in the car. The CD you’ve started to tell your friends and family about.
Soon, you’re confident enough in your new CD to share it with the people you care about most. You’re excited now. You’ve been talking about it for a while and you’re finally ready to spread the awesomeness that is this new music.
You bring it in the car with you and eagerly put it in the CD player. As each song plays, you hum along and tell whoever’s listening to it with you why you love each track. “This one has a really cool guitar part,” or “His voice in this one is amazing,” or “This lyric is the best thing I have ever heard in my life.”
Inevitably, whoever else is listening probably doesn’t hear what you hear, and that’s to be expected. After all, you’ve spent a lot of time getting to know this CD, listening to every track in detail.
Of course no one else is going to be able to have the same reaction to it that you do. It’s never going to be as amazing to them as it is to you. But you don’t really care. Because right now, to you it’s perfect.
Some time goes by.
You’ve heard every song on your new CD countless times by now. It’s beginning to become comfortable. A little too comfortable.
As you listen to track 3, you realize that some of the background vocals are actually kind of annoying and distracting. In track 6, you hear a space where a short little piano solo would’ve added a nice touch, had the band thought to add it. The vocals in track 8 sound a little strained. And that line in track 10? How cliché and melodramatic it seems! How could you never have noticed it before?
More importantly, why are you suddenly tearing your once-beloved CD apart? Why is it no longer good enough for you? Maybe it’s time to put it away for a while.
When some time has passed, you come back to it after you’ve had a sufficient break. Maybe you listen to something ridiculous like an old REO Speedwagon album just to remind you why that other CD was so much better.
Upon hearing the first track again, you are reminded instantly why you loved it in the first place. You remember how this CD could always make you happy, how it was always there for you when you were sad. You can’t wait to listen to every song again. It’s like hearing it all for the first time. And it’s then that you know, you love this CD. You really love it.
It’s probably at this point, if you haven’t already, that you begin reading album reviews of your new CD love. You know how you feel about it, and now, you’re curious to see what other people think. And you want them to be honest. You’re at a point where you’re completely confident in your feelings toward this music, so nothing anyone else says can sway your opinion.
Some of the reviews are nice. Some are really good, actually. They’re upbeat, positive, and offer helpful feedback. But some are mean. In fact, some are downright nasty.
You start feeling like someone who has just had his or her boyfriend or girlfriend insulted. You don’t agree with what these people say at all. You’re actually even a little bit offended that they would have such horrible taste in music. You don’t know why they can’t see what you see.
And when it comes down to it, you don’t really care. Screw them. You two are soul mates.
You can read more from Hallie Moreland on her blog.