Questlove on How to Find Music You’ll Fall in Love With
Source: Wired Magazine
Discovering new music was always an act of revolution for me. When I was 5, it was in my parents’ house, sitting near a stack of records I wasn’t allowed to touch, waiting for whatever was next on the turntable, whether it was Stevie Wonder’s Music of My Mind or the O’Jays’ Ship Ahoy. The record went around; that was a revolution. When I was 15, it was sneaking Prince songs onto my Walkman as I practiced drums in the basement, pretending that I was listening to something less scandalous. The cassette reels spun around; that was a revolution. When I was 25, it was walking back to the van after opening for the Pharcyde but getting drawn back to the club by a woozy, witchy beat that turned out to be J Dilla. I turned around; that was another revolution.
There were, of course, less dramatic ways of finding music. Digging in the crates. Staying up all night with a transistor radio. Eavesdropping on conversations in high school. Those were offline revolutions, unwired; it’s just the way the old world worked. Then digital music arrived and again turned everything around. The iPod happened. Playlists happened. Pandora happened. YouTube happened. Spotify happened. SoundCloud happened. Shazam happened. I couldn’t believe them when I saw them. I couldn’t believe them when I heard them. But they are here, and they are changing everything about our relationship with music.
Still—like Fishbone said in a song I just heard on a streaming radio station—problems arise. Sometimes it’s a little too easy to get to a song: think, type, retrieve. What about calling up your friend, making him drive you to the record store, waiting patiently behind the guy who won’t move away from the “B” bin, and then flipping through to see what Beach Boys records (or Beastie Boys or Brothers Johnson or Buckingham Nicks) are left? All of that’s gone now. And, counterintuitively, because it’s gone, it’s harder and harder to truly fall in love with a song or album. What was your cost of entry? How hard did you have to work? Which leaves the ultimate question: How do you build a relationship with music? How do you find your way to those songs that draw you in and—like Eddie Floyd and Mavis Staples said in a song I heard just yesterday on a randomly shuffled playlist—never never let you go?
We did it one way in the past; now we have to figure out how to do it in the present, which, in so many ways, is the future. I try to navigate the waters by remembering where I’m going. When it comes to players, to programs, to services, think of them as ships bringing you to the music you need, have always needed, will continue to need. They’re not the voyage. They’re the vessel. Learn how to steer in the prevailing winds and soon you’ll be sailing.