Navigating All That Music

How to choose music in an age when everything is online and always there. New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff shows the way.

A portion of the cover of Ben Ratliff's new book, "Every Song Ever." (Courtesy Farar, Straus and Giroux / The Publisher)

A portion of the cover of Ben Ratliff’s new book, “Every Song Ever.” (Courtesy Farar, Straus and Giroux / The Publisher)

Forever, humans had to seek out music. Now it’s available everywhere, all the time, essentially all of it ever recorded. So how do you choose what to listen to? Spotify is glad to make you a playlist, feed you a stream. My guest today, music critic Ben Ratliff says – “not good enough.”  You’ll quickly be channeled and trapped. Go wide, he says. Bach, Beyonce, Drake, Coltrane, Umm Kulthum and on and on. This hour On Point, ow to listen in the age of musical hyper-abundance.

— Tom Ashbrook


Ben Ratliff, music critic for the New York Times. Author of the new book, “Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways To Listen to Music in An Age of Musical Plenty.” Also author of “The Jazz Ear,” “Coltrane” and “Jazz.” (@benratliff)

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: In Praise of Blue Notes: What Makes Music Sad? — “We now have something close to instant, unlimited, often free access to the history of recorded music. But the recommendation engines of the Internet are teaching us to listen more conservatively, through obvious connections based on our casual choices. How can we learn to really listen across genre and era, in a way that takes full advantage of our astonishing new power, this vast musical inventory? How can we listen better than we are being listened to?”

Bloomberg Businessweek: There’s a Better Way to Listen to Music — “Genre, Ratliff says, is just a marketing construct. He urges us to resist the software that relies on this categorization and instead seek out music based on more musically profound characteristics such as speed, sadness, density, and loudness. This leads him to some surprising comparisons (right): In a chapter about repetition, he finds commonalities between the seminal minimalist composer Steve Reich and Kesha, the millennial pop star. For quiet and stillness, he prescribes the austere work of Morton Feldman, the intimate balladry of Nat King Cole and Chet Baker, and Metallica’s All Nightmare Long. Metallica also turns up, fittingly, in the chapter about loudness.”

The Verge: Tastemaker — “Every major streaming service touts its ability to learn your taste and recommend the right song at the right time. And they all use a mix of human curators and computer algorithms to target their suggestions. But increasingly, there is a divide in the industry over which half of that equation should lead and which half should follow.”

Read An Excerpt Of “Every Song Ever” By Ben Ratliff


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