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Do You Fools Listen To Music Or Do You Just Skim Through It?

“Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?”- Jay-Z “Renegade”

I’ve been giving this quote by Jay-Z a lot of thought lately. I know it’s Thanksgiving weekend and all, and nobody wants to think about anything except Turkey (I can’t blame you).

But seriously, how much time do you really spend listening to the music that artists try to offer up for your consumption? Lately, I’ve been shying away from downloading music illegally. The past couple of months actually. The only stuff I’ve been grabbing online has been mixtapes and things that are put on the net specifically to be shared.

It’s not that I don’t want to contribute to the inevitable downfall of the traditional brick and mortar music business. I actually want that business model to break completely. It’s just, I want to give music it’s proper respect, and the attention it deserves.

It sort of bothers me that an artist can sit in a studio for 9 months, maybe a year, maybe even longer, and try to create something– anything really– and in the span of a minute I can download that project for free, listen to each song for a couple of seconds, and if I don’t like it I can just delete the files from my computer. Or if I love it, I can send it to all my friends, with no real compensation handed to anyone who was involved in making the record.

What I’m talking about is obviously an oldschool way of thinking about music, and I gather that I’m in the minority on this, at least as a journalist and person who receives compensation as a critic of music. But as someone who also works on the creative side of the business, as well as in other aspects, it’s really disheartening to see how disposable people’s creative work has become. I don’t think writers and critics, and pretty much everyone who treats the music in such a disposable way, really understand the sheer man hours that go into making a piece of recorded music.

Those were the thoughts that I had this past weekend, when I listened to two very different albums, through streaming them on their individual myspace pages, respectively. They were the new Kanye West album, 808s and Heartbreak, and the new Guns N Roses album, Chinese Democracy. Now I know this is a blog on a hip-hop website, but above and beyond rap, I’m a music lover and creator before anything else in life. I listen to and appreciate everything.

So we have two albums. 808s and Heartbreak was supposedly recorded in Hawaii in a span of three weeks. Chinese Democracy was recorded over a span of 15 years. Everyone in the world, but most particularly in the music and media business, has their 2 cents to offer on both of these records.

How are they related?

Other than the fact that they both dropped this week, they’re both incredibly good. I’ve always been a big GnR fan, and with everyone saying their record is overproduced, I can’t help but feel like critics just have to say something negative about this album, no matter how great it actually is. Kanye West’s album, though, is largely underproduced. And people are citing that fact as one of its sticking points as well, when in actuality it’s probably the project’s biggest asset.

Point being, an artist really can’t please everyone. They can try to appease the label and the public, like so many do, but that’s usually the cause of their epic fail.

When Van Gogh was painting, do you think he was in his studio thinking, “Man, if I put this color here, it’ll make the bitches in the gallery go crazy.” No. Not in the least bit. But I’m sure that if he knew his work would only be glanced at for a few seconds, only to be moved on to the next one, it might have made him go crazy. Actually, he did go crazy, but that’s another story.

Point is, whether the music takes 15 days or 15 years to make, we as fans and critics alike, need to respect the creator’s vision, and really acknowledge just much time and energy goes into bringing it to us. And give it the proper attention. Really listen to it, not skim through it.

I remember friends of mine in the 90s buying CDs and skimming through them. It was the start of music becoming disposable art. Everyone had an opinion, without actually listening.

When I listened to Kanye’s album, I had to take it back to living at home, in my bedroom, to being a fan again. I had to just shut the lights off and turn the music high high high-er. Just so I could give it the respect I feel anyone who truly makes music would want it to have. Same with Chinese Democracy. I definitely feel like I soaked up their creative offerings a lot more having treated their music that way. If I were sitting on the computer multi-tasking, listening between emails and phone calls, or maybe even driving through heavy traffic, stopping and starting at lights, I might not have felt the same.

It kind of sucks that as a society we’re too busy to really pay attention to our musicians. I think they at least deserve that much, no?

I kind of noticed it the other day at Atlantic, when I was in their conference room with a bunch of other industry folks to hear snippets of Plies newest LP, The Realest. People were definitely talking over his music, and he was right in front of them! Now maybe what Plies is saying on record isn’t important enough for people to stop talking about the latest industry fuckery (or what people ate for breakfast), but still, it’s kinda lame.

How do you listen to your music… do you actually listen or do you just check each track for a hot beat and skip to the next song if it doesn’t peak your interest?

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