I’d like to depart from the normal format of this column for a moment. That is to say, you will not find music industry news in the following paragraphs. Instead, I want to address the power of sharing music: Not torrenting or peer-to-peer clients, nor any other extralegal activities, but giving someone else the keys to the kingdom.
We share music in all kinds of ways. We make mixtapes for high school love interests; we sit our friends down and force them to listen to a revelatory album; we wave band shirts and patches like semaphores.
The titular host of Podcast,WTF with Marc Maron likes to poke and prod at his guests whenever they bring up music. He is monomaniacally obsessed with the idea that good, meaningful music is passed down from someone, usually an older brother or a local record storeowner. And he’s not wrong to believe in that power either (aside from the singularly male bent he seems to give it). You can hear Maron light up when a guest talks about a guest getting into THE ROLLING STONES or MUDDY WATERS, not just because it’s a common connection, but because it gives him another chance to explore the torch-passing of musical taste and sophistication.
Another recent work that addresses the musical heritage that exists within families, particularly among brothers, is John Carney’s Sing Street. The film follows an Irish teenager, Cosmo, in the 1980s through a rough home life and an even rougher school, escaping only through music both created and absorbed. His Virgil in all this is his older brother, Brendan, who likes to give long powerful speeches in favor of certain bands and styles of music and invectives against what he thinks are false prophets. Brendan gives Cosmo homework in the form of LPs and love advice in the context of The Cure lyrics. Carney, who has spent his working life creating films like Once and Begin Again which seek to transmit meaning through music, as well as glorify the art form, ends the film with a title card “For Brothers Everywhere.”
It’s a powerful moment when you’re turned on to the right band or artist. It can change the way you view yourself. In Sing Street, for example, each time Cosmo and his band get into different artists—new wave, pop, gothic rock—their looks change. These transformations are played for laughs, but they represent a very real search for identity that happens in all of us, especially in adolescence.
But equally powerful can be the moment that an artist decides to share their music with you. Sometimes this is in the form of an album release or the debut of a music video—but there’s still often a pay wall between you and the music. CHANCE THE RAPPER, a phenomenal artist that has been exploding in the last few years and collaborating with, most notably, KANYE WEST, has always released his “mixtapes” for free. His album Coloring Book is streaming only, but that hasn’t kept it from setting records. It’s the first streaming-exclusive album to reach the Billboard Top 200, charting at #8. In its first two weeks, it was streamed 57.3 million times on Apple Music alone. (Full disclosure: A good number of those are from your humble correspondent). As Chance continues to impress audiences, critics, and tastemakers alike, there’s no telling how his business model might change. But for now, he’s doing the most sacred thing he can with the masterpieces he’s made: He’s getting them into the hands (metaphorically speaking) of the people.
Taste and pretension can be inhibiting. We’ve all met (or been) that annoying person rolling their eyes at a popular act or judged someone for a perceived lapse in musical judgment. But the more we can openly and honestly share music with each other, the more meaningful our connection to music can become.