The (Re)Discovery of Listening to Music

Part one of a three-part series


Music is very prominent in my life. My taste in music is a result of each member of my family, the different genres of music they listened to and the music I personally identify with. My mother was one of those crazy teenagers screaming at a Beatles concert. My father is a fan of classic soul and R&B music like Motown. My brother Jerry is a Prince fanatic. My brother Tony was always blasting The Doors and Led Zeppelin. My sister Barbi was a fan of early 90s music like Nirvana. Because they are much older than me (a 13 year gap between me and my next of kin), they come from a time when you listened to albums on a record player.

The earliest experience I can recall listening to music is when I was around 5. I was playing with my older sister’s Fisher Price toy record player and I was listening to The Chipmunks song “Christmas Don’t Be Late.” I was sitting in the living room near the fireplace and when the song finished, I moved the needle back to the first groove to start it over again, and then again. Every time I hear this song I am taken back to this memory.

Almost everyone loves music but in the digital age we live in it’s easy to forget that music is an art form and something to be experienced. The compositions recorded years ago were accompanied by album artwork chosen by each musician or band; some were even made by musicians and were often visual representations of what you were hearing. When listening to a record, you can’t skip a song with the push of a button. You are able to pay attention to what is coming out of the speakers and you can actually appreciate it. It must be physically flipped over once a side is finished. Unlike the infinite amount of music and shuffling that technology offers us today, a record gives us a unique listen to the artist’s work as they planned it. The record may or may not skip depending on whether you are the first owner or if there were many owners before you.

I used to think of records as dusty antiques found in your parent’s or grandparent’s garage. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I discovered actual record stores. My mother took me to The Village in Claremont, Calif. for one of her hair appointments and told me about the store Rhino Records where I could kill time until she was done. I had a tremendous feeling of self-discovery when I walked through the door. This wasn’t Best Buy or Target where you could only find the latest in pop music or the greatest hits of a classic rock band after dealing with a musically uneducated employee. This was a community and the employees were fanatics like myself. You could have a 20 minute conversation about a band with another shopper and recommend albums to each other. The record store is a mashup of counter-cultures forming a counter-culture of its own. It genuinely feels like a home away from home and to this day, I visit it as often as possible.

It was that first day in Rhino Records that I discovered how special music is to me. I begged my mom to buy me a Beatles record. It was a compilation spanning their career called “Rock and Roll Music” and I admired it the entire drive home. Immediately, I went digging through the garage to find that Fisher-Price record player and sat in the same spot by the fireplace that I did as a child with the Chipmunks album. By now the toy was falling apart and the volume was quite low which only demanded more of my attention. I crawled as close to it as needed and had an awakening of sorts when I heard the song “Helter Skelter.”

The sense of discovery is my favorite quality of music streaming programs like Pandora and Spotify. It enables us to find millions of tracks from artists all over the world. While convenience and price are easily what makes these media giants so successful, I would argue, however, that with so much music at your fingertips for less than the price of an album on iTunes, you cannot fully appreciate or take in everything you listen to.

Rafael Esguerra, 24, appreciates the convenience of digital music. “Everything is digital and while I appreciate how simple it makes things, a tangible item is something worth taking care of and of personal value to you.”

At least a few times a year, my friends and I will have “Record Parties” where we each bring a stack of albums and enjoy music, drinks and each other’s company. While some of us might bring an album or two that the rest may not want to hear, it engages conversation and even debate, similar to visiting an art gallery.

And it isn’t just my friends and I who appreciate the many qualities of vinyl. Vinyl sales are rising each year and record stores continue to pop up across the country. Record Store Day, a holiday started in 2007, is a celebration where artists old and new release albums that are exclusive to independent record retailers to encourage music fans to keep the tradition of vinyl alive. Buying albums on vinyl also reminds us of our childhood before mp3’s and iTunes.

For David Torres, a 25-year-old art major, having records brings him a bit of nostalgia. “I will go out of my way to buy an album on vinyl if I favor the band and the music is truly worth purchasing,” Torres said.

Nostalgia is a factor for me as well. I much prefer to find an old, less-than-perfect version of a Billie Holiday album to a new polished reissue with premium sound quality. Like finding a lost gem from the past or even your childhood, it feels more like a treasure than an album.

I recently had the delight of finding such a treasure at a garage sale. After finding an ad in the paper about a man selling records, I paid him a visit and discovered he had thousands of albums he wanted to get rid of. It was an original print from 1959 and it was on bright red vinyl. It was “Let’s All Sing With the Chipmunks.”

After geeking out to the owner of the album about how important it was to me, he gave it to me for free. While I was willing to buy it off of him, he understood and related to how important it was to me. I made a new friend through our mutual love of albums and through a sense of community, he continues to collect and sell albums for the joy it brings him.

I think my next purchase will be a Fisher-Price record player.

Substance is a publication of the Mt. San Antonio College Journalism Program. The program recently moved its newsroom over to Medium as part of a one-year experiment. Read about it here.