Taste Freeze, New Music & How We Discovered Music Before The Internet

There’s a thing called taste freeze where you stop listening to new music as you age. Data show that we stop listening to new pop music after the age of 33 (Psychology Today).

Granted, this concept originates at Spotify, hardly a scientific journal, and the study itself wasn’t so much a study but a crunching of numbers, but there is some truth to it. I am over 33 years old and I’ve experienced taste freeze in the last few years.

From the time I made my first musical discovery all on my own around the age of 13 or 14, I’ve been obsessed with music. When I was a teenager, I spent hours every week digging through record store bins to find new things to listen to.

Before the internet, it was a lot harder to be an audiophile. There was no Bandcamp, Spotify, Last.fm, Pandora, Amazon Music or iTunes. If you listened to something, a window didn’t pop up with recommended artists. There were no algorithms that determined what you would like based on what you listened to. Other than popular releases, where they sometimes had headphones with it cued up in record stores, you couldn’t really listen before you bought it.

Besides songs I heard in my friends’ cars, in clubs, on the radio, particularly the indie college radio station by my house with a range of about ten miles, or from record reviews in printed publications, most of my musical purchases were a shot in the dark. They were mainly based on what the band name was and what the album art looked like. For example, it was totally obvious that this was a punk album:

While this one is clearly heavy metal:

Do you see the difference? Album art used to be an absolutely crucial component to discovering new music.

Pre-internet, other than just taking a chance based on album artist, title and album art, a lot of my musical discoveries came from coveted Various Artists albums.

For example, I picked up this compilation:

Which for the record, does not look at all like a punk comp, but I flipped it over to see what it was.

The first thing I noticed was that it was from Dischord, a great punk label out of Washington, D.C. Record labels were also important in determining whether a purchase was made or not, because they tended to produce things in genres. If you liked one artist on the label, odds were fairly good that you would like more. I used to buy anything from Dischord.

The second thing I did with a comp album was look at the track listing to see if I recognized anyone. On this particular album, Minor Threat jumped out at me. They were one of the first punk bands I ever discovered. That was all I needed. Sold!

That particular album was how I first discovered Government Issue and Youth Brigade. If I liked the song on the comp, I’d go buy more by that artist. Eventually, I’d pick up another punk comp and see Government Issue on it with a bunch of other bands I’d never heard of before. And so it went.

The compilations folder in my current iTunes library has hundreds of Various Artists albums in it, and that’s just the digital stuff. Over the course of my life, I’ve probably listened to thousands of compilation albums. I still listen to new comps. Just recently, I downloaded the Relapse Records Fall 2016 Sampler:

I’m not a huge fan of Relapse Records–they veer a little too far off into extreme metal for my liking–but they do catalog a few really good artists like my favorite Japanese band, Boris, so I still listen to their comps. I didn’t discover anything new and awesome from this album.

As I said, for the past few years, I’ve been experiencing taste freeze. I have gotten lazy about finding new music. I’ve kept up with some artists I know and love–e.g., I actually pre-ordered the latest Clutch album–but I haven’t really been digging for new stuff.

So, I went on a musical bender. It all started when I was listening to a song from a 2012 release by The Sword. I’ve loved this band since their first album in 2006. The Sword is pretty reliable about putting out new albums every couple of years and 2012 was the newest one I own. It occurred to me that they probably had a new album by now, seeing as it is 2017.

Lo and behold, they did! Yay! And it’s already two years old. Oh. Anyway, I immediately purchased it and it is as good as everything else they’ve ever done, which is saying something, because they are absolutely awesome. I got to wondering what other bands put out new stuff while I wasn’t paying attention?

Call me old-fashioned, but I like to own my music outright and DRM-free instead of just listening to it through a subscription service like Spotify, and I still buy music with cold hard cash. I buy music, because I like to support artists. If at all possible, I like to purchase directly from them as well so they get the most profit. As I said on Twitter:

At one point, I had over $500 in new music in my cart, which is hardly surprising since it has been a while since I music shopped. I had to narrow it down to a handful of artists I’ve been slacking on keeping up with and a couple of new artists I discovered.

As I went down the music rabbit hole, it dawned on me just how easy it is to music shop these days. I wish the internet existed when I was a teenager. Finding new music online is so much easier.

Nowadays, you can try before you buy, which is good, but also bad, because sometimes, I only love albums after repeated listenings (which is also part of the reason I like owning music–you’re much more likely to give up on it if you don’t own it). But, it does save me from the dreaded “this album sucks” scenario. I hate to think how many CDs I bought only to find out that I didn’t like them at all. I wasted thousands of dollars on crappy albums, but that’s what made finding that one album you couldn’t stop listening to so special I suppose.

Back in the day, I’d buy an album and take it home to carefully inspect the album art, read the booklet if there was one (I really hated when there was no booklet inside–what a rip off), follow along with the lyrics if they were included (I also hated it when they didn’t list the lyrics), and slowly and carefully digest every track until I was sure which were my favorites and could even sing along.

There were no booklets or album art with my latest purchases though. While I do still buy music, I downloaded everything. I debated whether to buy proper physical CDs, but I already have too many CDs littering my house as it is. Other than when I first get them, I don’t often or ever pick up my CDs and look at them anymore. My music library consisting of 42,000 songs is entirely digital now. According to iTunes, I could listen to all the music I own 24/7 for 112 days without hearing the same song twice. I wish I had a digital musical library as a kid, too.

I miss looking through CD booklets, but other than that, the process of digesting new music is just the same as it has always been.

So, while I am over 33 years old and I don’t give a crap about what’s in the top 40 (I never did), I momentarily broke through my taste freeze. Buying new music felt really awesome. It made me feel like a kid again. No matter what genres you like, I highly recommend that you go buy some new music today.

In case you’re curious, here’s what I bought and what I think about it: