Hearing VS. Listening

Publication: MusicalFoster.com
Author: Randall Foster
Date: October 26, 2010

MARSALIS MUSIC NOTE: We wanted to share this interesting piece with you simply as “food for thought.” We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Today we are inundated with noise.  Noise of every kind. Conversation, traffic, dogs barking, music, commercials, noise.  We are constantly bombarded with this noise until we are desensitized to it.  After thinking quite a bit on this subject I turned to Google to see what others had said about this. It turns out that this is a hot-bed topic.  The majority of the results I found were scholarly and business-management types of articles but nonetheless I think I may have found what I was looking for.

To read this blog entry on MusicalFoster.com, please click here.

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the definition of Hearing is “to perceive sound with the ear” whereas listening is “to consider with thoughtful attention.”  So, hearing is a physical thing, but listening is a cognitive response to what has been heard.  Hearing is passive and occurs even while we sleep.  Listening involves hearing, but also involves two other key elements; paying attention and understanding.

I feel that one of the major problems in music today is that people are no longer listening.  I don’t mean listening to a song on the radio while dodging traffic in your Audi, but LISTENING.  Sitting back and giving an album from your favorite artist the attention it deserves.  The “Golden Age” of the music industry was a simpler time.  A time when albums mattered and people actually paid for music VS sharing it.  In fact, sharing music meant that you cared enough for the music to allow a friend to listen to the record… or moreover that you bought another copy for someone…  These concepts seem lost on today’s culture.


I don’t mean to beat the “piracy is wrong drum” or insinuate that where we are culturally today is a lesser place than in the 70′s and 80′s but moreover to suggest that perhaps we should reevaluate how we listen to music.  Reassess why we listen to music.  There is more music being consumed in 2010 than ever before.  We are constantly hearing more and more music.  It is on our computers, in our cars, streaming on our phones, and literally everywhere around us.  Much of which is “free”, some of which is paid..  It doesn’t really change the experience with this type of content…

To this end, I feel that we as an industry and society have forgotten the beauty in the album.  The artwork, the fluid transfer from song to song, the complete package.  Much of this is to blame on the industry itself… chasing one-hit wonders and singles over the album…  How do you compare something like Dark Side of the Moon, Jay Z’s Black album, Wyclef Jean- The Carnival, The Clash- London Calling to Ke$ha, or the Black Eyed Peas?  The answer is you don’t.  You can’t.  The reason being the artists creating the aforementioned albums were creating albums… creative bodies which contained tracks.  Creative bodies which were meant to be heard in one fell swoop.  Not $0.99 at a time.  Not to pick on Ke$ha (although I do love picking on her) I would venture a guess that despite it’s success, “Tik Tok” is greater than the sum of the whole from her freshman release “Animal”.   Sure “Money” is a great tune… but it is not greater than the sum of the whole on “Dark Side of the Moon”…  These albums were built for listening.   There is something fundamentally wrong with the scenario where flash in the pan success of the single outweighs album stability.  I believe this is why we have forgotten how to listen.

I challenge you as you go away from reading this to find an album and truly listen to it.  Listen to the transitions from song to song.  Print out and read the liner notes.  Learn who produced it, where it was recorded, who wrote the lyrics and dive in.  This exercise will give you a new insight into the art of the album… and why the sum of the whole is so very important (even if it does cost more than just buying the single).