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Why Can’t We Always Blink New Music?

Why does it take two or three listens to new music before you decide if you like it or not?

You know what I mean. The first time you hear a song on the radio or Pandora or on an album, you’re not sure if it’s any good. I know I can’t be the only person this happens to.

Take, for example, Light, the latest album from Matisyahu. We bought this album in the car on a recent trip to Philly, but on the first listen, I really wasn’t sure if I would like it (tangent: it is so addictive buying crap on your phone in the middle of nowhere. Apple has to love this).

One Day, the first single off the album, was the song I knew and enjoyed. The rest of the album, at first listen, sounded like a pretty big departure from his last album.

But I somehow knew that it would take more than one listening to really evaluate it. And even though my initial reaction was a bit of surprise (considering how much I liked his last album, Youth), I listened to it more.

And I ended up really liking it.

But in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, he argues that “our initial, intuitive response to a person, object, or event — the one that transpires in the first few milliseconds of our exposure to it — is often the one that proves to be correct.”

While Blink is probably Gladwell’s weakest book, he’s basically arguing that we have a gut instinct, and most of the time, it’s right. I think we can all agree with that.

But there’s something different about music. When it’s good, we know right away. When it’s not obviously good, you need to listen to it again to figure out how you feel.

Maybe it’s because music has a way of growing on you. But I’m not sure 100%.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.


  1. Hi Jason, nice post!

    You’re not alone! Sometimes I will hear a song and absolutely not like it. Then a few weeks later, I’ll hear the same song, and swear it’s the first time I’ve heard it, and have to buy it, like now. – The only way I know this happens is that friends will look at me all confused, citing my dislike for the song not long ago.

    I believe music incites an emotional response, much in the same way any other source of stimulation does, heightening our existing emotions/moods/etc.

    While the gut instinct is of course valid, there are an amazing amount of variables that sway our thoughts and opinions, in this case, about music.

    Thanks for sharing this post!

  2. I agree. I read his book (I agreed with some of it) and I also notice it takes me a minimum of 3 listens before I can get comfortable (or not) with a new album. As much as I love music (and I do a lot), I often find myself in a state of anxiety when I buy a new album, because I don’t yet feel connected to the cd and are not familiar with the tunes.
    I think it comes down to something that may be just a personal issue I have to deal with. I think I listen to music not passively, but rather actively; trying to hear every instrument and track of the song. Therefore, it almost becomes work. It is a much different experience that one I might have with a cd I know from start to finish, where I can multi-task while still understanding the music fully. Perhaps it becomes somewhat memorized and I can automatically anticipate the familiar sounds.
    But that’s just me…

  3. Jay

    I think this most often happens with “preferred” or favorite artists. We buy albums from them expecting to like them. If the new material doesn’t match our expectations, we may be disappointed and actually give away or sell the album on Amazon.

    I would assert that some music is “timed release” music. It almost always repays re-listening when from a preferred artist.

    If not, the Blink is determining if this new material from a less favored or unknown artist is, in fact, “timed release” or just not your cup of tea.

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