But even in those solitary experiences we are communing with the rest of humanity, past, present and future. Music is, in part, an expression of our participation within our species, a collective unconscious, if you will.
That aspect shows itself very powerfully in the way we consume music in society. We want what other people are having.
We want to crowd Met Life Stadium to sway and scream to Bruce Springsteen along with 50,000 other humans. We want to be on the dance floor within body-heat range of a few dozen others for a Lady Gaga song, our senses almost overwhelmed as we become part of the song, part of the physicality of that human collective. We want to be packed into a warm theater for a symphony or an opera where we share the same air with the live musicians and where we keep a polite distance of sometimes mere fractions of an inch from each other's bodies.
That proximity makes the music better because music is at root, a collective experience; it unifies, turns us into a tribe. We aren't merely listening; we participate. By expecting that we want a skin-tight, individualized musical experience, Pandora is ignoring that most powerful aspect.Last night, I experienced an example of where Pandora's individual tailoring breaks down. I was out to eat at a small, intimate upscale seafood restaurant with my family, an electric guitarist quietly playing jazz in the corner. When the musician went on break, the staff switched on Pandora over the loudspeakers. What came out was some awful Beyonce song, followed by something I didn't recognize that sounded a lot like the Beyonce song we had just heard, followed by Rihanna's anthemic drinking song Cheers (Drink to That). It was almost enough to make me get up and walk out. Had it been traditional radio, we wouldn't have heard three such closely related (and bad) songs in a row; if you didn't like Beyonce, the next song might have been Adele or Justin Timberlake or even Stevie Wonder and you could go oh well, that's not so bad. Thankfully after about four songs, the guitarist came back and the trashy music stopped.