How to Listen to Music in the 21st Century


Nov 02 2016

Gold Tape

How to Listen to Music in the 21st Century

I had a deep and personal relationship with my big yellow Sony boombox.

I’d pick an album from the stack of plastic jewel cases beside it, press play, and we’d be as good to go as Taylor Swift recording a duet with Ed Sheeran.

These days summoning the musical muse is a bit more fiddly.

Open up the iTunes app, scroll scroll scroll, pick from a million overwhelming choices, connect the speakers ahhhhhhh

And that’s just my iTunes library. I remember vividly sitting at my friend Connor’s desk when we were like, ten, and he was showing me this new thing called an MP3 player and I was like, that’s never going to last! CD’s 4ever! Flash forward to 2016 and MP3s are even becoming defunct compared to streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music and plain old YouTube. But what about my curated music collection!

How to Listen to Music in the 21st Century

You see, I had a special ritual when I was in high school, living in the suburbs of Boston.

Every Saturday was my escape into the city. I took the commuter rail downtown first thing in the morning, browsed the shelves of the Prudential Center Barnes & Noble as soon as the doors unlocked at 9am*, and grabbed a frappucino at the Northeastern Starbucks to be consumed just in time for my voice lesson. Afterwards I’d head to Chinatown for my tutoring job, taking the scenic route down Newbury Street, where I would scour the used CD rack at Newbury Comics, walking away with a new album for my collection for just $5.

* I even wrote a song about this.

Every morning I would load up that new CD in my yellow boombox.

Its opening tracks became my morning soundtrack. I would get to know my new musical acquaintances, and by the end of the week we would be close friends.

For YEARS I have been searching for a way to recreate this ritual.

A way that doesn’t require purchasing a CD player (or a record player. which I did consider.), because I do love the digital simplicity of having my entire music collection in my pocket. I tried Apple Music, I tried Spotify, but there is something special about purchasing and curating my own personal library.

How to Listen to Music in the 21st Century

So here’s my new weekly ritual.

I made a series of playlists, based on time of day: matin, midi, soir, nuit [because I’m also learning French]. There are also playlists for walking, running, and cooking. Every weekend I sit down and edit them, deleting anything I’ve played to death [trusting that my love for it will be rekindled another week] and filling the lists up to 20 songs from my collection. I also treat myself to a new tune, which I select from my wish list of songs that have caught my ear in a coffee shop, on a friend’s playlist, or, in most cases, featured in an episode of Gossip Girl.

Then, every month, I treat myself to an entire album.

How to Listen to Music in the 21st Century

The new album earns a spot in my “listen” playlist, which I treat like the stack of CD’s piled up next to the boombox (rather than being tucked away, alphabatised by genre on the larger shelf). They’re the ones I feel like giving extra attention to, the ones that make me go oh yeah I haven’t listened to that in a while! I limit that playlist to 10 at a time, so I can see them all without having to scroll.

How do you listen to music in the 21st century? And do you have any recommendations for my December album?


P.S. behold another musical tradition from my school days: the month cd

Play Audiobook

Be my pen pal!