Why We Listen to Music

Students listening to music. Photograph taken ...
Students listening to music. Photograph taken during the making of a BBC documentary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Music is not a commodity. It’s not something that people buy, or consume. It’s not a revenue stream, or a career choice. It’s an expression of the depths of peoples’ humanity. It’s an experience.

Our ears bring us some of the greatest pleasure. Life is a song that plays all the time: running water, the hum of an air conditioner or computer, traffic, the soft breaths of our loved ones while they sleep.

And music touches, moves, and inspires people. It defines cultural movements, joyous occasions, painful break ups – music evokes powerful memories and responses in us. A song can forever bring us back to specific moments in our lives, to sights and smells of times that have passed us by. Music transcends time, and walks with us through our lives.

We live in an era where the palette of music we can paint onto the canvasses of our lives is a rich spectrum. Any sound we are looking for can be found and heard. The experience of listening has no price, and the soundtracks of our lives are personal. We listen to music with a focus and generosity we give few other things, for music only lives in the moment.

Music has no past, and no future. It exists only now, in the same moment our lives are occurring. It moves with us through life, and as we breathe in and out, music pulses and lives in the same moments we do.

We can break down music to an academic concept or a product, and we can break down the people who listen to it as statistical information. In the end, we listen to music because it moves us. It touches our hearts. It adds a richness to our life experiences, and expands the intensity of our lives. We are not numbers on a sheet, and we are not sales figures. We are human beings, and the music we listen to is one of our most intimate and personal experiences. Even in a crowded room or concert, it speaks to us directly.

Music is a conversation. Spoken by one human being, and heard by another. The listener gets to say how the music moves them. And while we tend to describe it in terms of good or bad, ultimately only the listener can say if a piece of music moves them, and what the experience of it is. As long as it evokes a powerful response, any piece of music has fulfilled its intention. It is when the listener reacts with apathy that a piece has not touched them.

Sometimes I forget why I make music. I get caught up in trends and analysis and perspectives that I lose sight of why I got into this game in the first place. I lose sight of the fact that music has the power to inspire people, and that it is a force that shapes our lives. Music is a shared experience, and once it leaves the studio, it’s a gift to the world, something that no longer belongs to the artist.

This is what called me into making music in the first place, and to support other artists in sharing theirs with the world. When we are dust, our music lives on. Many artists left this world long ago, and their music continues to impact the lives of people today. There are albums that are 40 years old that are discovered by every new generation, and continue to impact people’s lives with the same power they did they day they were released.

I don’t make music for glory, or money, or fame. I don’t seek to release music for recognition, power, or credibility. I want every musician to know that their art has indelibly touched someone’s soul, and to give listeners opportunities to find the song that will forever bring them back to those magical moments of their lives.

We have all been touched by music. I invite you to reply to this post, and share why you listen to music, and the ways that it touches your life.

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  1. Scott Mayer


    I listen to a make music to entertain people first and as art second. As a listener, I listen to music to be entertained. People wanna dance man!!!

    While this is an interesting conversation to be sure, Musicians often lose sight of the fact that on some level they are in the music BUSINESS. It’s not the music “fun time” or the music “hang with your buddies.” As musicians we do ourselves a disservice by often not showing up on time and not playing to our audiences. While music is not a commodity, CD’s and concert tickets certainly are. Without CD and ticket sales we musicians have few avenues to make a living making music. Discounting the fact that musicians all hope to sell their music to the masses in one way or another is antithetical to what we are all trying to do (namely make a living in music)

    Just my $0.02

    Love ya brother,


  2. Greg


    A while back I got moved by the thought that music is one of the few (and increasingly fewer) things in our time shifted and condensed world that has to happen “in time.” If you slow it down or speed it up, the meaning changes. Even books and films, which have a distinct beginning middle and end, have time compression that allow decades of plot to be covered in ten minutes, or detailed descriptions could leave you reading about a second for days. Time has become our play thing, but music forces us to pay attention to time and re-center ourselves on “real” time. You experience music exactly as it was written, performed and recorded, no matter when that all took place.

    Many of us music fans over-think music to the point of abstracting it or forming fetishes for particular elements of music style, theory, genre, etc. But music doesn’t allow us to get too far away from ourselves. You think you’re too cool for pop until you find yourself tapping your toe to a corny song at the drug store, for example.

    Music is insistent, irrepressible and beautiful. An expression, and as you said, an experience. It is the difference between the two that will keep us forever chasing the perfect piece of music because while there is always more you can find in a piece, we need to move on from static pieces back into the community to find new music if we want to continue the conversation and feel that rush of awe and beauty again.

    This is a big conversation, and we could debate the other side as well (it certainly does matter when something was released, for example) but it’s worth reminding ourselves from time to time why and how we elementally and fundamentally love music.

    – Greg

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