Digital Music

The Biggest Challenge Facing Music Right Now [Hisham Dahud]

image from"When was the last time you sat down and just… listened?" That's the question asked by Hypebot contributor Hisham Dahud.  The answer for most of us could have significant implications for artists and the entire music industry in the streaming era.


By independent music professional, educator and Hypebot contributor Hisham Dahud.

The biggest challenge for music right now isn’t trying to figure out how to pay artists more per stream.

It’s finding new ways to get the public at large to care about music again.

Reducing the time music spends supplementing our lives, and increasing how much time it is a part of it.

Streaming, playlists, social media, mobile technology — all of which have advanced the exposure of more music to more people — have also relegated it to (mostly) background noise in our day-to-day lives.

When was the last time you sat down and just… listened?

Think about it – we the masses no longer utilize devices that specifically deliver us music experiences. As a result, we no longer give music undivided attention.

Now, let me to be clear: having apps like Spotify, Apple Music, etc. is simply awesome. Having this level of accessibility would've appeared like some distant utopian world just a decade or two ago.

But they're just that… apps. One of many on your phone – usually pushed to the background once music is selected, allowing for social media browsing, chatting, or other mobile experiences.

Tape players, CD players, record players… these all did one thing, and one thing only: play music. As a result, we often looked toward the packaging of music to tell the rest of the story.

Our attention was focused. It isn't anymore, and hasn't been for some time.

Youtube_logoSIDE NOTE: One exception that comes to mind? YouTube. When we watch a music or music related video, the YouTube player dominates the experience – especially on mobile. But even then, that video is just one of the dozens presented in front of you to continue watching on the platform.

What I'm talking about is simple, dedicated, and focused listening. Nothing else, selecting music with intent and just… listening. 

Look, I’m just as guilty as anyone… but this morning, I tried something. I woke up early to specifically to sit down, close my eyes, and listen.

I listened to a piece of music that I’ve heard dozens of times (this beautiful piece from Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds), but I can truthfully say that I heard it in a whole new way.

Sounds I didn’t recognize before, emotions I’d not yet felt – and perhaps most importantly – meaning I was only able to interpret through focused listening of the material and the artist’s message.

When an artist creates, they give their work undivided attention. 

It’s amazing what happens when we do the same.

Of course music means different things to different people, but perhaps it’s all in the presentation?

Maybe we the masses could benefit from having music RE-introduced to our lives — this time, let us see the value in dedicated listening, art, interpretation, craft and meaning as opposed to convenience and accessibility.

Maybe then the relationship between artists and the audience can deepen through added and guided context.

Maybe then, casual listeners can turn into dedicated fans once they’ve interpreted something of more inherent value. This naturally leads to increased profits for the artists in all the other usual ways —  reliant on streaming services merely as the delivery vehicle of the audio component.

Music discovery is just the first step of a much larger, more involved process known as artist discovery.

**more on that later**

I don’t have the answers on exactly how and what we do (I’m working on it)… but I am starting with why.

Agree? Disagree? Having a different perspective is welcome. Continue the conversation in the comments, or on Twitter: @HishamDahud

Hisham Dahud is an independent music professional and educator based in Los Angeles. 

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  1. Interesting. Many forces at play, not the least of which is the avalanche of media clutter that has descended upon society. And it is reflected in the music that is made. We live in a chorus driven world where lyrics and melody play a minor role; forget virtuosity.
    The Spotify model, interactive music streaming, has effectively finished off what piracy began. Recorded music sales have plummeted even further, while curation generates more interest than simply having access to thirty million songs.
    But we’ve been on this path for a while. When Apple Music acquired Beats and Jimmy Iovine, I thought here’s a record guy that will leverage Apple Music with iTunes’ paid down loads. Wrong, Iovine did nothing to sustain the sales of recorded music, even if it was supporting a buyer who was older and a format that was in decline.
    To his death, Steve Jobs was opposed to “renting” music. It wasn’t a business decision, Jobs was old school when it came to music and saw the value of supporting music sales. He also limited his kids to two hours of computer screen time a night. A visionary in so many ways.
    Have we learned nothing from the resurgence of Vinyl? And should fans willing to pay for music be denied? Was it simply easier to get out of the manufacturing business for the labels?

  2. People continue to love music, continue their engagement with music and despite the many distractions competing for their attention, music remains the most powerful communication of human emotion above all.
    When you eliminate all financial compensation to validate their creation of interesting new music, such as what the technology industry has done, talented and brilliantly artistic people retreat and migrate to where they receive appreciation for their efforts.

  3. Yes, yes, yes.
    It’s also the problem of too much music, too much of the time. You don’t have to seek it out; music is forced upon us whether we want or not. This devalues music; at worst, it makes the listener resist and resent its constant aural assault.
    Every store, restaurant, cafe, advertisement, movie, car driving down the street with windows open, etc. is just blasting “music” non-stop. At some point it crosses from exciting or engaging to boring to irritating. It’s too much of a good thing (well, and of a bad thing, if you prefer, as I do, to avoid the alternately sugary and obscene designs of pop music).

  4. You can of course choose to do this individually:
    – set aside a bit of time at home, choose a favorite or even unknown new work, and just listen, no devices or distractions
    – go to a concert and really listen, close your eyes and listen

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