dr. …i think i have Shuffle Syndrome

At one point, everyone listened to music the same way. You bought a new record and put it on your stereo. Listening parties weren’t what they are now. Listening Parties weren’t even a thing – it was just how folks got together to listen to a new album, or any music. Today we have so many ways to listen to music through so many portals, websites and devices. And unless you find yourself among audiophiles, communal listening is rare outside of bars and actual concerts. People hide away in their headphones and keep others out by blaring music from their car. Although there is one device that the masses use, and prefer, that might end up hurting them in the end.

The iTunes Shuffle is breeding lazy listeners. No one has to make a sonic decision and everyone is fine with it. The album is lost. Popular music and top 40 is being swallowed up by an endless sea of drum machines and overproduction. Availability to all is excellent, but with such great artistic power we need to cherish artistic responsibility, which is drowning.

Pandora provides “easy listening” the same way with effortlessness. Although it does help you discover new music, all the work is done for you. Shuffling your songs creates song ADD and restless listeners. About ten years ago radio stations starting popping up in major cities, Ben FM, Jack FM – usually a generic name with generic programming. Actually no programming at all – all the stations play are hits and commercials, keeping their listeners satisfied with the music they know and love. With the rise of the shuffle we have lost our love for deep tracks and misplaced the art of the mix tape.

There is the function to shuffle between artists and within an album but it compromises the artist’s original intent for their record, their art. Musicians record certain tracks in a certain order, placing the single just so and the uppers and downers far enough apart and close enough together.

The Shuffle is undoubtedly a function that changes the way masses listen to music. But is it changing the way popular music is being released? Deferring people from listening to albums [making full albums less common and less known] and just preferring the hits? We go to bars where bands only play covers that everyone knows. DJs blare familiar music, to sing along to. No one is in control. More Than A Feeling has left us in the dark. Rarities and B-sides may be somewhere in the shuffle but unless we step outside our comfort zone and stop ourselves from skipping forward we might never Go Our Own Way.

Just the other day I was sitting in a diner eating lunch with two friends. There was constant play of old R&B records, Georgia On My Mind, It’s In His Kiss, Signed Seal Delivered, Mamma Told Me, Please Mr. Postman. “Isn’t it great that no matter how many times we remaster the same songs over and over again, no matter what – these songs still sound great. They stand up on their own, after all these years,” my roommate narrated. It got me to thinking how we still love the music from fifty and sixty years ago. Will it take years for a generation to pass before the music of our age becomes the new favorite? Or will it ever? “I wonder when we’ll hear our hits played everywhere, if ever?” I continued. Will we be lost in a continuous shuffle of our own hits years from now? Or will people just always stick to what they know and never move on? I can’t help but think if I am overreacting…

I always have, and always will, listen to full records. It’s how you get to know the artist, record by record you can hear how they grow, change, get better or worse. You can fully digest the art. The shuffle has always seemed useless to me. Like watching only bits and pieces of my favorite movies, why would I not listen to the whole record? Sure hits compilations are useful, but without the full record we never hear the music in between the hits.

iTunes is the most popular and most used music listening program – with its great organization and dominant operating system in dominant music listening devices – the shuffle is everywhere. Other programs have adapted to it and it’s possibilities are as endless as your library. The only ending I can provide is hope that you will listen to full records, or start to, or continue to. Don’t be lazy with your music. The same way we need to know our food, as it enters our body, we need to know our music. It’s just as much a part of us as all the other choices we make. Life is about choices and we need to make them. Or else we might just get lost in the Shuffle.

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