A Soundtrack to Life

I love music.

I love music so much. It’s helped me through the worst times of my life, and it’s given me a huge amount of joy. I can’t remember a day going by when I haven’t listened to music: on my phone via headphones, around home on a Bluetooth speaker, on my PC while I’m working. Even when I’m not physically listening to music I’ll usually have something “playing” in the background of my mind. I’ve had a constant soundtrack to my life.

Music can make me so happy that I cry, or even feel slightly sick with joy. It feels like hope, and joy, and nostalgia for something half-real. It’s so potent. I feel like dancing, rocking, flapping my hands around, pressing my hands to my face. I get the same feeling of euphoria when something pushes my other sensory buttons in a major way: the way sunlight dapples across the sand at the bottom of a shallow stream, the brilliant green of new shoots on an old plant, a smell that triggers a memory of a loved place, the warmth of light coming from a window as you walk along a street on a winter’s night. These things hit my emotions hard, and it’s wonderful and uncontrollable and probably looks a little odd when I stop whatever I’m doing to jump up and down and get excited or make involuntary noises in response.

The Soundtrack
I enjoy films, and one of the things I love about them is, obviously, the soundtrack. The music gives you clues about the situation on screen. While the emotions and intentions of the actors may not be immediately obvious in and of themselves, add a soundtrack, and suddenly a normal conversation or glance becomes sinister, or sad, or hopeful. If real life had a soundtrack, people would be a lot easier to read!
Watching films and acting helped me work on my interpersonal skills, and since my early twenties I’ve found that a weird result of this is that I see myself as if from a camera when I’m outside my home. Half my brain is watching me from a slight distance, and I’ll use expressions, movements and gestures taken from films, acted to the invisible camera as well as whoever I’m talking to, to get through the day. And along with that sometimes comes a background soundtrack.
Of course, sometimes the soundtrack will be a song I really love, which can lead to me appearing to suddenly get excited, or ridiculously happy, for no outwardly discernible reason. This can occasionally be awkward if it doesn’t fit the situation!

As long as I can remember I’ve also used music to help regulate my moods. During depression, it was one of the only things that made me feel a little better, a little more stable for a few minutes. In a way I was trying to impose a soundtrack to which my mood would then have to fit.
When I’m distressed, I need my music. I have two sets of earbuds in my daysack just in case I manage to break one.

Photo by Nalau Nobel on Unsplash

Track Fatigue
Throughout my teens, if I found a track or album that I loved, I’d play it over and over for days, weeks, even months. With the advent of iTunes I’d create playlists of those tracks in particular, set it to shuffle, and play it constantly.
Unfortunately after a while I found those tracks suddenly switched. They turned from tracks I loved to tracks I couldn’t stand listening to. I’d get the same repulsion that I do to sounds that push my sensory buttons in a bad way: people breathing, snoring, indistinct television noises, uncontrollable repetitive machine sounds.
I got track fatigue. By that point I’d probably listened to each single track for hours-worth of time. I still quickly hit ‘skip’ on some of those tracks that fatigued 15 years ago, but most have worked their way back into my playlists over the years.

These days I try to be more careful, and have a much larger playlist to try and avoid this happening. First I used Last.fm, which was great for finding new artists through it’s suggestions, and now I use Spotify. My main playlist is days long (and yet it still seems to play the same artists over and over…) but it does still happen occasionally. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk: maintaining self control and rationing yourself when a track sends you into an almost euphoric state every time. Better to leave it in the hands of a randomly shuffling music program.

When the Music Stops…
I rarely listened to the radio when I was younger, even when all my peers were obsessing over charts, presenters, and making mix-tapes for each other. Firstly, I didn’t like a lot of the music, and secondly, every time the presenters interrupted the end of a song to do a voiceover (which was every time) I’d get really irritated. Especially if it was a song I knew. And similarly, I even get annoyed when the credits of a TV series are shrunk down so that the presenter can introduce the next program.
When music streaming sites started appearing on the internet it felt like a revelation. I could cope with the adverts a lot better than interruptions to the actual songs. I spent hours and hours putting together playlists and listening to them. The only annoying thing about Spotify is that the adverts are often set at a louder level than the music, so it’s a bit jarring when they start.

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

Making Music
When I was little I used to pick out songs on the piano and play along to whatever was in our CD player or the radio. As I seemed interested, my parents decided I should get lessons.
Unfortunately I HATED lessons. I didn’t want to learn to read music, I didn’t want to play songs I didn’t like, and I really didn’t want to take exams. I didn’t see the point: I just wanted to play. And I hated having practice enforced upon me at home. So that didn’t go so well, and it put me off playing instruments so much that I now don’t play anything. Part of me would like to, but I’m still repulsed by the idea that anybody could hear me while I practice, perhaps because of the constant comments from my parents all those years ago.
I also can’t sing, which makes me sad. It doesn’t stop me singing along to things when I’m alone, but I wouldn’t (perhaps couldn’t) do it in front of anyone.

Photo by Daniel Fontenele on Unsplash

Headphones
The best way to enjoy music most of the time is by wearing headphones. They also conveniently block out background noise, so I also use music to cope with uncontrollable sounds that I have an aversion to.
Unfortunately I also have problems wearing headphones for long periods. My over-ear headphones are merely irritating for maybe 10 minutes, but then I get a headache, earache, and have to take them off.
I prefer earbuds (is that what they’re called?), but they have a tendency to fall out, and as they don’t block out background noise so well it means I have to turn the volume up higher to compensate which isn’t ideal.
I tried in-ear earbuds once. Never again. How can people put up with that sensation?! Ugh.

At some point I’d love to try noise-cancelling headphones. A more expensive pair might also be more comfortable than my ancient, cheap, 90s headset. The good ones seem to be about £60 though, so I’ll have to save up for a while.

(Header Photo by Elice Moore on Unsplash)

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