I often find myself to be an anomaly among my music–loving peers. While many are dying to hear any live music they can get their ears to absorb, I really just prefer listening to music on my own earbuds. I’m just not as drawn to concerts as other music fans. Although it’s not a popular opinion, and some music junkies may look down on me, I still find myself enjoying my listening experience much more in a setting of my own choosing while playing my recently–created Spotify playlist.
While many do, I don’t really love the experience of hearing random live music. Companies, such as Sofar Sounds, set up subscribers with secret concerts around their cities, allowing listeners to get a taste of a small, homegrown band. It’s a great experience that allows people to find artists they’d never heard of and expose themselves to genres they’d never heard of while exploring some low–key spot in his or her city. Sounds like a pretty cool, hipster adventure, right? Well, not for me. Anytime I do something like this and listen to some artist I’d never heard of in a bar or small venue, I just get bored. I enjoy one song, maybe two, then I'm ready to go. Regardless of if I like the music or not, it’s just not the listening experience I like most.
This isn’t just the case with small concerts, but with big artists as well. Although I’ve been to some pretty great concerts, I’m disappointed more often than not. Of all the concerts I’ve seen, I can count on one hand how many I’ve really enjoyed.
Take, for example, take a Cage the Elephant concert I saw about a year ago. I loved Cage, and I still do, so I was super excited to see them live. They were performing at the Shrine in Los Angeles. I got to the venue early, got a good spot in the standing section, and waited eagerly for the show to begin. After a few minutes, lead singer Matt Shultz ran onto the stage in a red and black striped jacket, full of energy. The music began, but it was just so loud. The lyrics to “Shake Me Down” got drowned out by the amped up instruments. The stressed voice I was used to on “Cigarette Daydreams” faded into the singing crowd. The gentle tambourine shakes on “Trouble,” which had added a sort of homey pleasantness to the recorded version, could not be heard. At points, I didn’t even know when my favorite songs were being performed. Throughout the whole show, I couldn’t help but think that I liked the digital version of Cage the Elephant better.
Although not every concert–going experience was like that one, it still made me much more aware of how I like to listen to music. It wasn’t just the music, but it was the experience of being at a concert in itself. Honestly, I feel a little awkward standing there listening to someone perform. I just don’t really know what to do with myself. I don’t like singing along surrounded by a bunch of strangers; I feel even more out of place when I don’t know the words; and I especially hate when concerts require you to jump up and down for two hours in what has somehow come to be called "dancing."
For many shows, particularly that Cage the Elephant one, I find the recorded versions of songs to just sound better. In shows, I find the singer and the instruments to clash. The instruments are either too loud, watering the voice down, or the instruments are too low and don’t feel fully present. For recorded music, I find everything to sound just right. In great songs, the instruments and the voice mesh perfectly in a way I’ve rarely come across with live music. Live instrumental performances are an outlier in this case, and I do really enjoy those.
Ultimately, I’d rather just lie in bed, walk on the street, or sit in a park and listen to music in my own setting. I can control the volume, have authority over song choice, and play what I choose. I find it a better zone to meditate on the lyrics, become aware of the instruments, and just introspect. This taste doesn’t mean I’ll say no to a concert invite or avoid seeing artists I love perform; I still do love a good concert. It just means I prefer discovering new artists on Spotify to hearing a band I’ll never hear again in some dingy basement in the middle of Philly.