The Listening Routine

The Listening Routine

By Matthew Holtby

As I type this I have earbuds in. My wife is sitting across the table from me with our son who is working on homework--something about a hamburger. Our daughter is playing a learning game on another Macbook. The TV is off and I’m doing my best to stay grounded and dig into writing this. To my right is my cup of tea and Bill Evans is on my Spotify playlist for the moment. It’s kind of my zen music when I need to tune out or tune in. It’s the feel good stuff I normally start the day with when these monsters have to get up and get ready for school. I have a bluetooth set up in the bathroom where we all get ready. My wife kicked me out of our ensuite bathroom years ago so I outfitted “the kid’s” bathroom with colourful wifi lights and a little system. There’s not really any room in this house that doesn’t have some form of music device and it’s certainly by design. Even my nine year old son has a little Crosley portable turntable in his room and we’ve officially begun that chapter. Yes, it’s a little early but I’m not complaining.

The point is that we kind of have a routine for listening to music. What we listen to at certain points in the day plays into that routine. Morning starts off nice and chill; maybe some piano jazz or William Tyler. Our morning focus is mostly instrumental stuff that will neither rock the boat nor the frequency we all love first thing. As the day progresses, I’m a Podcast guy for long walks down the road. We try to leave the TV off during dinner. Then we let the kids pick out an album. My wife tends to lean on Zach Bryan. Lately it's George and Tammy. I just finished the Willie Nelson series too so that’s made its way into the mix as well.

Back in the day when we were kids, music was always on. We weren’t really a big movie watching family, and my dad loved to make listening to music an experience. Mind you, my mom was totally into great songs too and our car was a concert on wheels. I used to get a kick out of watching her sing and dance to Billy Joel or Huey Lewis while I sat in the back seat of her navy blue Cavalier. My Dad liked to set the mood with his vinyl collection and essentially scare the shit out of us with a strobe light and “Dark Side Of The Moon” at full volume while my mom was at work in the evenings. It was absolutely amazing. MJ’s “Thriller” was another one as well as the soundtrack to “Xanadu.” My friends, The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” cranked to eleven when you’re not even six years old is just off the chart in every way imaginable. It was indeed an experience. It was something that has not only stuck with me but has continued as a tradition in my own family’s home right here. Spinning a new release by a band that I love is kind of ritualistic. There are a few simple elements that make it so.

1. Lighting. I’m a 43 year old who thinks like a high school stoner, complete with wifi lights and LED candles surrounding my drum kit and amps in the “jam room.” It’s gotta be done. Yes, there’s a turntable down there too.

2. I make a choice between "no kids allowed" and letting them in, accepting the fact that they’ll end up arguing, giggling or saying the word “poop” at least a few times during this process. It depends on my mood whether they’re allowed around during this listening session.

3. If it’s a new Guided By Voices album it has to be deafeningly loud. That’s just the way it goes. Anything else, I can be reasonable.

4. Friends and local artists are top priority. Even if it’s a new single or a song or two, it gets my full, undivided attention. I know how much we pour into our releases. It’s the least we can do, ya know?

Other than those simple rules, it’s fair game around our home. My wife would absolutely say that I take over the music. She’s probably right in some respect but we really do love to crank tunes around here. I make a point of having a soundtrack in my day and when it comes to really digging in, there’s no better feeling than cruising down the backroads with one of my favourite songs blasting. I do try to listen to new music but all in all, I don’t feel like enough of us are taking time to make specific environments conducive to just listening. I’m sure some of us do but if you don’t, do yourself a simple favour. The next time you have the house to yourself, think of something that is absolutely spine chillingly beautiful. Make a cup of tea or pour a glass of whatever your thing is, sit down in a really comfy spot and turn up the volume. Take it in, eyes closed and listen to every little nuance that’s recorded. Listen like it’s the first time hearing Sabbath’s “Paranoid” or Wu Tang’s first album, front to back. Make it an experience that you normally wouldn't do; probably like most of us, you’re too damn busy and you probably just hit up the same ol’ playlist on Spotify cuz’ it’s just what we do. Buy vinyl from your local record shop and get to know the people who work there. Look at the racks and imagine how much work goes into not only writing and recording an album but stocking the shelves with an absolute overload of sonic brilliance and wonder.

It’s there and it’s waiting for us if we make the time to truly enjoy it. Make listening part of your daily routine in one form or another. You deserve it.