The Listening

Don't get so caught up that you stop hearing and enjoying music


his column is due the day I’m writing it.

Up until today, I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. I’ve been writing these columns for a couple years now, and in the interest of not feeling like I’m writing the same thing over and over, I never just want to phone it in and write some existential bullshit piece just for the sake of writing.

Last night I dimmed the lights and listed to The Weeknd’s House of Balloons and Flying Lotus’s Cosmogramma back to back. I totally spaced out and just swam inside the music. It was an amazing feeling. The type of feeling that our parents say doesn’t exist in “our” music.

It’s occurred to me on a few occasions that it’s not so much the music we listen to that sucks, it’s the way we’re listening to our music that sucks. I won’t even get into the lowered quality of MP3s and iPod earbuds, or even the shitty laptop speakers, though all that plays a huge part in this. It’s the way we’re delivered music and begin to absorb it, especially folks in the music game, whether it be artists, bloggers, DJs, whatever.

A problem of mine is that I have too many ears, and sometimes I don’t know when to shut the unimportant ones off for a while. One of the beautiful things about music is that there’s a million ways to listen to it. You can listen to the lyrics, the arrangement, the melody, the rhythm, the hi-hat, the little reverb guitar waaaay in the background, anything. When you’re in a certain mood, you’ll hear things in a song or album you’ve never heard before. Personally, I think that’s one of the marks of a great record.

But sometimes I miss out on some amazing records because I’m listening with one of my fucked-up ears. These ears usually rear their ugly lobes when I’m doing work online and run through blogs to get a sample of music. These lobes are specifically ugly in that they have a built-in 10-second filter that will instantly shut off a song before it even gets a chance to grow. This ear also awakens when going through stacks of demos and free CDs I get from strangers. It’s not a pretty ear. Sometimes it’s necessary to filter out bullshit, but it’s not the best ear in the world.

Another ear I find myself battling is the “engineer ear,” which I will dub the “Engine-ear.” This is an ear I’m often guilty of using to judge music, as well. It usually appears when I’m deep into working on my music — recording, mixing, producing, etc. It tends to filter songs out in similar fashion to my “blog ear,” listening first for the sonic quality before absorbing the feeling and vibe of what the song is trying to express.

This ear is great at picking apart everything the artist did; figuring out how vocals were laid, what samples were flipped, how the harmonies were arranged, etc. Again, this is a good ear to use when I’m filtering out some bullshit or taking notes to learn from and bring back to my own projects, but I have a feeling I’ve missed out on some really great music because I was in Engine-ear Zone.

These types of ears only last so long before they burn the brain out on the entire idea of music, simply breaking it down to a series of mathematical rhythms of sound and frequency. As a music fan, this is a horrible place to exist. It’s like Neo seeing the walls of The Matrix as the binary numbers they are; cool at first, but probably annoying when you just want to go pick up eggs from the grocery and just see little green zeros in the dairy aisle. Thankfully, it’s pretty easily resolvable.

It’s at this point that my favorite ears start to reign in and take their proper seat on the throne of my iTunes list. These ears tell the rest of me to dim the lights, turn off the TV, close the laptop, close my eyes and press play through an entire album. These ears make the rest of my body and the rest of the world to fall in line with them for the moment. These ears know how to get my attention. And they know they deserve my attention because these are the Ears that stimulate ideas and imagination in me. They tend to go grab records that they know the rest of me should listen to and absorb. I owe these ears my life.

So I guess I’m not just writing this column specifically for the musical artist. This is kind of built for everyone who takes part in this industry, whether at a local level or a national level. Sometimes you can get so caught up in the job of what you do inside music that you can forget how to enjoy the music.

So stop reading and go listen to this Weeknd album. Enjoy the music.

ILL POETIC is a multitasking Hip Hop artist and producer. He will be shooting a video and hosting a wrap-party at Dive Bar (formerly Sub Galley) in Corryville on July 1. Visit

for details.

Scroll to read more Music Feature articles


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.