What are you listening to?

Rebecca Li, Staff Writer

I have not run into many people, especially among my peers, who flat-out hate music.  Listening to good bops is a hobby for many, a career for some, and a formative experience for all. For many of us, music rings an alarm that gets us out of bed in the morning. We listen in the car, as we walk down the street, and when we are with our friends. At the end of the day, music helps us unwind. Some testify that they cannot live without it. All these melodies, rhythms and sounds combine to leave an indelible mark on the subconscious mind, for better or for worse.

Few other media sources are so imperceptibly woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. Whereas other types of entertainment like movies, TV, video games or social media platforms demand our focus, songs often go unnoticed. Unlike those aforementioned hobbies, music does not rely on any visual component. When watching a tense thriller, the audience rarely stops to analyze the various instruments or melodies integrated into the soundtrack, but if it were suddenly stripped away — or if the music switched to some slow jazz — everyone would notice instantaneously. Perhaps we do not give enough thought to how potent this is. If music holds the reins to our emotions, impulses and thoughts, then it essentially controls our actions. If we rarely notice the consequences of our music, then we cannot begin to mitigate those effects.

For instance, when was the last time you stopped to think about the lyrics of a song? More and more, songwriters tend to load their music with lines that reflect their raw realities. It is necessary at times to process life unfiltered, but it would be unjust to the creator and the listener alike to treat content ranging from addiction, suicide, profanity, abuse and toxicity as nothing. So often this is precisely the case. When listeners constantly fill their ears and minds with these lyrics, they become numb to the underlying issues at hand. The numbness eventually incapacitates one’s ability to respond to such issues when encountering them in the real world. The mindsets these writers portray tend to become our own, swiftly and irreversibly. By carefully copying the thought lives of a few standout individuals, it is easy to become so wrapped up in who they are that we lose sight of our own identities. When we enrobe ourselves in the constant ideas of other people, those messages have the potential to severely damage our mental health.  

One solution offered here is to take a step back. Perhaps we need to literally press pause and listen to silence — or rather, that which fills the void music leaves behind. Right now, where you are, can you hear people talking, birds chirping, or ocean waves breaking on shore? As we soak in the unaccustomed peace, let us remember this truth: humans create music, not the other way around. In other words, music is designed to help and not to harm. Now and then, perhaps we need to reevaluate our own priorities, ideals and beliefs before once again putting in our earbuds and listening to the voices of others.

As a musician writing this, I completely affirm that music can be wonderful, beautiful and unifying. It has the power to stitch humankind together and remind us of our roots. To be able to create music is a wonderful privilege as well as a grave responsibility. Creators have the necessary burden of remaining cognizant of what they imbue their listeners with, while the audience should think carefully about the messages they receive. May we remember that it is never just music that we listen to and create.


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