I don’t want music I like to become popular

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I don’t want music I like to become popular

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I was listening to Faction a couple days ago. Faction is a satellite radio station that plays contemporary alternative “rock” music. That evening, there was an artist playing his own music along with some songs live. I loved it. I started thinking, “this is great” and “I can’t wait to show it to other people”.

Then I started thinking about how fun it is to play new music for other people who listen and like what they hear. It is utterly satisfying to hear people say “who is this” when they are listening to a new song that is being played for them for the first time. Certainly it’s more pleasurable than having that same friend hear a song on the radio and merely saying to that friend, “I heard this song a couple days ago – good right?”

I realized that a lot of music works this way; when I hear a new artist or song that I like more than a standard deviation above average, I want to show it to other people and paradoxically hope that the song does not become mainstream successful until I have had a reasonable opportunity to play it for my close friends. I understand that this is selfish, but I think it’s selfish for noble reasons.

Reason number one: If that song is overplayed on the radio, it quickly becomes something that cannot be listened to. There are only so many times that I can hear those songs by Imagine Dragons, or Grouplove, or Kings of Leon. I mean, they’re catchy, but as soon as I had heard them, everyone else had too. It has more of a profound impact on my friends when I play for them a song that is not mainstream successful and not likely to achieve mainstream success. If I can show a friend a song that is not otherwise easily uncovered, that friend is more appreciative than if I am able to show them a song a couple of days before the artist is uncovered as the next Justin Beiber.

Reason two: some of my fondest musical memories are of hearing new music for the first time – music that did not achieve mainstream success, if ever, for many years after I started listening. I remember beginning to listen to the Dropkick Murphys my freshman year of high school. At the time, I had almost no musical interests. There was music that I listened to, but not much. Then, my friend Marc told me that he thought I would like Dropkick Murphys, I got The Gang’s All Here, and I loved them. This was around 1999, when the Murphys were not well known to the general public. From there, I started getting into punk rock covers, The Clash (who the Dropkick Murphys covered), and other similar bands. Marc gave me one of the biggest jumping off points for music. Had the Murphys been on the radio at the time, or if they had uber success, I don’t think I would have considered this moment as profound as I do. I want my friends to think of me telling them about music in the same way that I think of Marc.

Reason number three, which is related to reason two: I remember what I was doing when Marc told me about the Dropkick Murphys. I was in gym class. I did not like gym in high school. My favorite part was socializing with friends that I had no other classes with, including Marc. I recall well that this class, where Marc exponentially increased the scope of my musical sensibilities, was a turning point for me. It is forever etched into my mind, as is Marc. There are few memories in any person’s life that is remembered in the way that I think of that class.

Like I said, I know my reasons are self-centered, but I also think my friends who hear the new music from me appreciate it. I think they feel the same sorts of things that I do about Marc. And when the music is not well known, it becomes like an inside joke between you and that friend. So that friend gets to pass along the joke to others and have the same sort of influence that Marc had on me. The new song or artist becomes a form of social currency.


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