What is a listening party? I’ve often found myself asking that question since I moved to Singapore. Every time I’ve described my studio space in Singapore to people in the local scene the question has come back; could you host a listening party?
“I guess,” is my usual answer, while I rack my brain trying to figure out what they mean.
Parsing The Trend
It seems “listening party” can refer to at least two kinds of activities; something we used to call “playback” and something that had no name since it was just what you did because you were young, a musician, or both.
Playback was the stage when a band or musician would share their work with the world. The formality of a playback session depended a lot on the size of the project (and the kind of label involved). Sometimes playback sessions occurred while an album or single was still being mixed, or when there were different mixes to choose from. Other times playback was a more ordered affair where tracks were showcased in the studio to journalists and industry insiders.
The other kind of activity needed no name because it was just so normal to listen to music in a social setting. Particularly, the sharing of new music with friends or band mates was normal. And, we didn’t need to formalise social rules to get people to focus on music, listen critically and gather musical ideas and inspiration. It was just what we did, maybe because we didn’t have smartphones, internet or even in some cases, TV.
Formalising The Informal
I guess part of my disquiet about listening parties is they seem to part of a larger trend to formalise things that used to be informal (like playdates and networking events). Back in the day we didn’t have listening parties, we just listened to music. And, we didn’t need formal social rules to get the message across that when someone put a new piece of music on, either something they had recorded or something they had found, everyone would just shut up and listen.
And, this really isn’t just a Singapore thing either. It’s part of a much larger trend towards needing permission, formality and frequent creative validation that I’m not entirely sure is good for the development of new and original music.