Finding joy in the ritual of listening to music

I moved house recently, and in doing so was finally able to get all my music, my mighty hifi setup and my office all combined into one. For me this is Shangri-La; now I get to blast whatever I like all day whilst working.

Having all my vinyl on tap got me passionate for LPs again, though the ever-escalating prices around them quickly dampened that enthusiasm when I realised you could buy an album on vinyl for £30, or just buy it on CD, second-hand, for £3.50, tops.

Consuming albums in both CD and LP format really made me realise something though, namely that the enjoyment of music is greatly enhanced by the rituals of selection that surround it – and indeed the things that in turn drive that ritual of selection itself.

Allow me to elaborate.

Visiting a music streaming service has always been a joyless experience for me, with a combination of weak algorithmic editorial and the paralysis of choice ensuring that my passion for listening to music seemed to ebb away the longer I had the app open.

By having a finite, physical selection of music around me, that joy of limited options and therefore more investment into one’s consequent choices means that I actually emotionally invest into whatever album I elect to play all the more. Even the physical act of pulling the chosen release off the shelf and putting it in/on your player of choice seems to commit you to listening that bit more. Or at least it does for me.

In truth, I think the physical format is less relevant; if I’m honest, I’m not a vinyl snob and most definitely take a view that a great album is a great album, irrespective of whether one owns it on vinyl, CD, cassette or whatever else.

What really enhances one’s joy from physical, in my view anyway, is simply that you tend to place more focus into what you choose to play, and in turn don’t get into ADHD-style track skipping or album hopping.

Of late, I’m listening to albums (and comps) end-to-end… and I’ve not felt as into music – as wholly passionate for it – in decades.

Adding to this passionate deep dive is the veritable smorgasbord of great books about music that have either just been released, or which I’ve discovered (or rediscovered). The stories these tell, the extra context they all bring, ensure that when you’re listening to music, you’re not just putting on some aural wallpaper to largely ignore. You’re deep into the record, the story, the entire world around that release.

One of my favourite books of all time is In Praise Of Slow by Carl Honoré. In it, the author argues a case for simply slowing the pace of life down, and enjoying the moment more. Anything from food to medicine to working is covered in separate chapters, but the over-arching message is simply to stop rushing to complete things, and instead enjoy the process. Savour it all.

That, to me, is where the real joy in listening to music comes in. Don’t rush; take time to select that record, stick it on, and just relax and take it all in.

These are simple pleasures, but in modern society we seem to have a fixation on having access to everything, all the time. Silicon Valley’s main focus is on scale – “all the music in the world at your fingertips!”, “10M books to choose from!” etc – but the victim of that is inevitably those deep connections to something that generate a lasting emotional impact.

Rejecting that entire state has never felt so good.


(Typed whilst playing the legendary Macro Dub Infection Vol. 2 compilation that a pre-Bug Kevin Martin curated back in 1996)