Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Allow Me to Indulgently & Obnoxiously Complain About All the Free Music at My Fingertips and Having to Listen to an Occasional Comercial

You would think that working at a job where you can play the music you want would be awesome. And of course, it is nice to be able to control what you hear, as opposed to other jobs where the employees have no say in the music and it sucks. But the problem is that when you can play whatever you want for 8 hours a day, you listen to CDs or playlists you like over and over, and then you actually get sick of them really quickly. When I'm working I'm already expending so much mental energy doing work-y things that I am not even really paying attention to the music. My main concern in terms of music in the bookstore where I work is just that there should be music playing all the time, because otherwise it gets so quiet it sounds like a library. So when it comes time to put on more music, when the album or playlist ends, it's actually annoying that I have to quit what I'm concentrating on and expend the energy to decide what to put on. This is why I sometimes make work-friendly playlists at home of music on my iPod. I don't mean "work-friendly" as in like, songs without swears. Fuck no. I just mean, stuff that won't make me crazy at work. It turns out Jandek, well, not so listenable in a work environment…Even if it's a cool weirdo bookstore like the one where I work. So I've curated playlists that are specific to my work environment, with titles like, "Music I Can Deal With At Work" or "Post Punk That Will Fly On a Judgmental Audience," or even "Songs Most Music Snobs and Normal People Would Agree Is Innocuously Tolerable In a Sort of Cool Retail Atmosphere." A playlist that would not fly where I work but would fly with the same people I normally encounter at work (just not WHEN I see them at this particular workplace) are playlists with names like "Novelty Songs And Other Music That Appeals to the Songs In the Key of Z Outsider Incredibly Strange Music Crowd" or "Admit It You Like It."

It stands to reason that sometimes my co-workers and I just play the same things over and over because we know that they go over well, or at the very least, nonjudgementally from coworkers or customers. Music that goes over well at work includes canonical punk/post-punk/new wave/ska, selected classic metal like Maiden or Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, both volumes of the compilation "Music For TV Dinners" and strangely, any number of remixes songs by the Gorillas. There's a certain ratio of characteristics that need to come together to create the right type of music for tolerability in a retail atmosphere, but the main one is "Can I hear this album one more time without it driving me OUT OF MY MIND?"

Sometimes music choice at work devolves into the lowest common emotional denominator. By this I mean, everybody might be super sick of the album, but it's something we all liked at one point, and there was an unspoken group consensus that whatever album it was, it was one we all liked. Even if its the same album we've been listening to for ages, it's still more convenient to pick that one in a pinch, and its still better then having to think super hard every 40 minutes what to listen to, using the few brain cells you have left for musical curation when you need those brain cells to deal with any number of store tasks requiring your attention, such as consignment paperwork, accounting, negotiating a consignor's or customer's emotional meltdown, as well as whatever other fires we have to put out that accompany a high profile but also highly stressful, understaffed and overworked bookstore job.

The upshot is that, if a customer spends enough time in the store, they come to understand which albums and playlists are in heavy rotation. A former co-worker at the bookstore who loved the Television album Marquee Moon played it every time he worked, and finally, a customer complained, begging him to change the album, pretty much engaging in a live interactive performance of a Yelp review: "Oh my god! This album is on every single time I'm here! I can't take it any more!"

In spite of the redundancy of music in heavy rotation at the bookstore, it is also true that I seek out new music to in my spare time, and I read articles on the internet as well as books and magazines about music. So when I hear of a band, artist or song I think I might like, I make a Spotify playlist of the album, that which I wait until I'm at work to listen to. This comes in handy at those moments when I don't want to think hard about what to play (and I want to explore something new). However, because I am a fickle listener, I am also not shy about deleting a playlist less then 3 or 4 songs in (and only 30 seconds in to each of those songs) and announcing, "BOO! Bah! OUT!" It is the sad truth that music, along with any type of art form, there is more crap then good stuff of it so you have to go through a lot of it to find the gems.

At work the computer (with Spotify on it) as well as the stereo, tuner and receiver are all hooked into the same speakers. This means that the entire store can hear if I'm flippantly skimming through songs and crankily announcing things like, "The Savages? The lead singer doesn't sound like Siouxsie, she sounds like Geddy Lee." Amazingly, I may not have enough brain power to run the store and decide what to listen to, but I certainly have enough brain power to run the store while making play by play MST3K-style commentary on the music we're already listening to. I don't know how snarky commentary came to be a skill at which I excel (and it has done me more harm then good), but I'd much rather be skilled at something that's helpful in the workplace, like, not pissing off people around around me in a customer-service related environment.

Also running on the computer and therefore through the speakers at work, is an interval timer from the internet. For every 20 minutes of sitting, it makes a noise and then we stand for two minutes. The idea is that its better for your circulation or health or calorie burning or some such a thing, if you're not sitting for long stretches like that. When the timers go off, we're either supposed to stand up or sit down, which we all do in mass and it looks kind of preposterous because there's a noise and then the entire staff Pavlovianially stands up or sits down in unison. The noises are supposed to be submarine sounds but they really sound like ping pong balls being launched out of an uzi.

Anyway, so I was saying that I make album playlists to listen to on Spotify. The problem is though, that I'm too cheap to pay for a fancy Spotify account, so I just have one of the free accounts which means you have to listen to the commercials. When they come on, I turn the volume down really low, which means it gets really quiet int he store, and everybody feels all uncomfortable. Anybody who uses Spotify knows that you can't turn the volume off to block out a commercial, because doing that, stops the commercial in such a way that when you turn the volume back on, the commercial just resumes where you left off. It's like a Spotify version of the little guy in the cartoon refrigerator that turns the light on and off when you open and close the door. A song ends, and then it's like someone is shouting at you about Hulu Plus. You turn the sound off like the closing of a tupperware lid, and then when you turn the sound back up just a nibble, it's like you're pulling up a corner of the tupperware lid, and the announcer comes pushing themselves out of the container, a fat loud genie blob in your face with a megaphone "HULU PLUS"sing in your face. I also liken it to someone shouting at you, and then you put them in a closet where they turn themselves off, but then when you open the closet door, they turn themselves back on shouting "THE SAMSUNG NEW GALEXY TAB 3!!!!" Or maybe it's a little like that phenomenon of particles acting differently when they know they're being watched?


I suppose it's my own damn fault for being so cheap. What I want to know is, how do they decide what commercials to play? Because it seems to me that the commercials and banner ads are really out of sync with what the music you're listening to. While I was thinking about my former co-worker and his love for Marquee Moon, I recently revisited the album on Spotify to play in the store, many years later. What would have been hilarious is if that same person who complained about its overplay years ago would also be in the store as I listened to the album. Lucky for me, nobody complained, but what got me complaning was the interruption of irrelevant ads popping up for things like Wal Mart (the name of which, incidentally, in my mind somewhere, when mixed with the title of the album Marquee Moon, became Marky Wal-Mart Mark, in a sort of amusing but intentional post-modern linguistic miscalculation). I couldn't help but think that the type of people who listen to this band are clearly not the target audience for the ads that popped up. There was a banner ad that said, "The Drop: Countdown to Krewella's New Album," which was really a link to some shitty playlist curated by this Skrillex-style technobore "band" called Krewella sponsored by McDonald's. Who did the Spotify marketing team think would give a shit if a handwritten lyric sheet for some auto-tuned track is "dropping" tomorrow? Anybody? Raise your hand if you give a shit…Yeah, I didn't think so.

I know it seems kind of spoiled to complain about the fact that I get to listen to what I want at work. Not everybody gets that luxury. Oh, you poor thing! Too many things to choose from! Life is so hard! My answer to you is that if you want to continue liking the music that you like, you might want to keep it out of the work atmosphere. The surest way to start disliking the music you've liked in the past is to listen to it. Now continue listening to it, over and over. Eight hours a day. Then interupt with constant ads that inform you solemnly "It's a pain only a woman can know. It aches, it throbs, and it goes on and on. It's endometriosis."