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Are We Losing The Ability To Form Our Own Musical Taste?

From Nights

Thanks to music streaming, many people now have millions of tunes at their fingertips. But are platforms like Spotify leading us to choose convenience over cultivating our own distinct music preferences?

The ability to effortlessly skip a song by clicking 'next' onscreen devalues the experience of music and music itself, says English professor Dr Glenn Fosbraey.

Digital music doesn't deliver the same "thrill and excitement of discovering something new" that hardcopy music once did, he tells Emile Donovan.

Listen to the interview duration10:51Add to playlist

Dr Glenn Fosbraey is an Associate Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Winchester in the UK. He writes about popular music among other topics and also runs the university's record label Splendid Fred.

Back when Fosbraey was a teenager getting into music, he could only afford to buy one CD every month

"You'd go in and you would play and play that and really spend time with it because that was your choice."

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Recent studies have shown hardcopy content distills our concentration in a way that onscreen content does not, he says.

"What's the value between the Instagram post and something in a New York Times article? They're both on the screen and you're flipping between the two."

Digital song files - presented amongst an abundance of other online content we've become "desensitised" to - seem to have less worth than a tactile piece of hardcopy music, Fosbraey says.

This is one reason he loves the memory repository that is his CD collection.

"I can go through it and tell anyone listening exactly how old I was when I bought [a certain CD], which shop, what my first listen was like, who I was going out with at the time... I've never had those kind of bonds with anything on a streaming service or anything digital because I can't formulate those kinds of memories."

When it comes to music discovery, streaming platforms not only "narrow the playing field" and promote artists who've paid to be promoted, they also lend themselves to pigeonholing, Fosbraey says.

On apps, we don't spend as much time getting to know the tracks themselves and are quick to think 'been there, heard that' about an artist after only a cursory listen.

When someone tells Fosbraey they don't like The Beatles, for example, his response is 'Have you listened to every single song they've ever done?'

Their 1964 track 'A Hard Day's Night' and 1968 track 'Revolution 1' are like "chalk and cheese", he points out.

The American rock band Weezer - another of Fosbraey's favourites - can be easily written off as "total comedians" but he says this does their musical output a disservice.

"Some of it doesn't land with me but it will land with other fans … you can't just categorise them just under the band name because there's so much more than that."

To anyone interested in taking a more freestyle approach to music discovery, Fosbraey recommends ditching the algorithms and turning on the radio.

"Have a look around the different stations. BBC's Radio 6 Music is always wonderful and diverse."

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