I tend to overindulge in the things I enjoy, frequently to an unhealthy degree. One example is music: I like playing it and hearing it, but for the past few days of coronavirus confinement, the only tunes I can bring myself to put on are random Lo-Fi YouTube streams.
I spoiled just about everything else I was listening to by playing it on repeat until the melodies became boring and the lyrics mundane. Recently, I spent weeks listening to Phoebe Bridgers and Clairo croon about distant romantic partners — every day, on repeat. Not long ago, I did the same with Gatecreeper, constantly acknowledging their all-too-pertinent growls about the end of humanity, day in and day out.
Obviously, I really, really like these artists — so much, in fact, that I overindulged in their releases to the point of no return. Now, I wish I’d been more sparing with my listening. Or as Clairo sings in her knockout song “Bags,” when it comes to absorbing music, I wish I could still “savor this with everything I have inside of me.”
But there must be a middle ground — a method of providing your favorite tunes with the listens they deserve, without tarnishing them by listening too much. So I reached out to a whole bunch of music nerds for advice on healthier listening.
“That shit happens to me all the time,” says Matt Sutton, drummer for Arms Akimbo. “The easiest way to avoid it is by simply being aware. For example, I have the urge to listen to the new Local Natives record all the time, but I have to remind myself that I burned out one or two of their records in the past.” Simply by acknowledging that, you can be more mindful in how you approach listening to the next album your favorite artist releases.
Along the same lines, Hayze DuMont, of Loma Vista Recordings, suggests that mixing things up might be your only option. “If that happens, you just have to stop listening and revisit the album again later,” he says.
I already did both of these things, though, and while, yeah, I probably will someday come back to these great albums, what I really want is to 1) develop better listening habits; and 2) more urgently, give them a new life right now.
So, in a final shot for advice, I reached out to Michael Alcee, clinical psychologist and creator of the Live Life Creatively podcast. “Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer has done tons of studies on mindful creativity — the capacity to notice and make novel distinctions — and has shown how this makes us happier, more engaged and more productive,” he explains. “So, next time you’re listening to that song for the 100th time, focus in on some aspect of it that you didn’t notice before. Have you always been listening to the melody, but never noticed what the bassline was doing? Or better yet, tune out the whole melody and harmony, and just listen to the drums, as if you’re at the actual set. Mix it up again, and try to pick out or even sing the backup vocals. If you can keep on noticing something new, you’ll continue to be intrigued.”
“Burnout comes from boredom and monotony, which is the enemy of creativity,” Alcee continues. “Put another way, what you want to do is continue to engage what the Zen Buddhists call the Beginner’s Mind and be open to something completely different that you hadn’t quite noticed before. It’s what psychologist Adam Grant calls ‘vuja de,’ or the opposite of deja vu: When you start to see something that you already think you know in a whole new light.”
If you have trouble picking out the intricacies of your favorite tunes on your own, maybe try messing around with the bass and treble knobs in your car, or better yet, try listening through some new headphones or a different set of speakers. You might be surprised at how different a song can sound under different circumstances.
Alternatively, Alcee also harkens back to the DuMont approach: “Remember that absence makes the heart grow fonder, or that there can be too much of a good thing. Giving yourself a little break can help you hear the music anew.”
Well, Phoebe, goodbye for now, but sounds like we’ll be meeting again soon — and maybe even sooner if I can find some new headphones.