Over-Thinking Ordinary Things: When is it OK to play music in public?
Today, after a long break, my short – but weirdly intense – series, Over-Thinking Ordinary Things, returns with the question:
When is it OK to play music in public?
Assuming you’re not, like, a DJ, or a member of a marching band, or someone else whose job it is to play music in public, obviously?
I’ll give you my answer first, and my answer is this:
It is never OK to inflict your choice of music on the unsuspecting public, obvious caveats aside. To illustrate my reasoning for this, allow me to submit the following experience into evidence:
So, while we were holidaying in the south of England last month, we decided to take a trip to the beach: which, in retrospect, was probably a bad idea on my part, because beaches = people, and, as some of you know, I am Not a People Person. Or even much of a beach person, if we’re being particularly honest here.
(This is not the beach that’s the star of this story: this is another, much quieter beach…)
With a few notable exceptions, trips to the beach for me tend to fall into the category of Things You Think Are Going to Make You Feel Like You’re in a Movie, But Which Are Actually a Bit of a Let-Down, Really. (See also: road trips. Yes.), which I guess begs the question: WHY? Why would we do this to ourselves, given everything I’ve just said above?
Well, Max, is the short answer to that. Max, and, I guess, the triumph of hope over bitter experience. Max, you see, loves the beach. I, meanwhile, love the IDEA of the beach. What could possibly go wrong, I thought, as we picked ourselves a nice, quiet spot, as far away from The Others as we could manage, and Max immediately got to work on the sandcastle to end all sandcastles. What, indeed. </ FORESHADOWING>
We’d only been there for fifteen minutes or so – so, just long enough for Max’s sandcastle to have reached an absolutely critical stage in its development – when I glanced up to see a large group of people carting a giant speaker over the sand towards us. “Well, they’re DEFINITELY going to sit right next to us,” I said, grimly, and yes, sure enough, they set the speaker down just a few short metres away, cranked up the volume… and then all disappeared for a swim in the sea, leaving the rest of us to listen to their thumping dance music.
Now, when I say this was a huge speaker, I’m really not exaggerating – for once. The music from it was as loud as if we’d been sitting in a nightclub: so loud, in fact, that moving to another part of the beach wasn’t really an option, because we’d still have been able to hear it no matter where we went.
“It’s a good job EVERYONE on the beach doesn’t decide to play music at that volume” I said, through gritted teeth. “Because can you even IMAGINE how loud it would be then?”
And, no sooner were the words out of my mouth, than the group of people on the other side of us – who’d been perfectly quiet until then – abruptly switched on a speaker of their own, and cranked up the volume on THAT.
I swear I’m not making this up.
So, there we were, sitting on the beach, right in the middle of two duelling boom boxes, each competing to see who could be the loudest. (SPOILER: IT WAS BOTH OF THEM.)
Now, I’ll just make myself crystal-clear here: I don’t expect the beach – or anywhere people are known to congregate – to be particularly quiet. I mean, obviously. It’s a beach, not a church: so I expect there to be people shouting, laughing, screaming, splashing – all of the normal sounds of people enjoying themselves at the beach, in other words. It’s just… do they really HAVE to play loud music, too?
DO they, though?
When is it OK to play music in public, I wonder?
Because, as I said, my thinking is that NEVER is the answer to that question. Literally NEVER.
It is never OK to inflict your choice of music on other people who didn’t choose to listen to it: and who, in some cases, can’t get away from it. Because, sure, we could’ve left the beach when the music started (I mean, we couldn’t really, because have YOU ever tried to take a three year-old away from his half-finished sandcastle? Exactly.), but we can’t always choose to leave our house when someone starts blasting music in their garden, say, or decides to spend four hours washing their car, while using it as a giant speaker.
We can’t always get away from the all-night party someone decides to throw, complete with thumping soundtrack… and, no, we can’t always just choose to stay in bed the next day and catch up on the missed sleep because of it, either. Who CAN, though?
All of these things seem to happen on a depressingly regular basis for me, so my point here is not just about the beach: er, even though I’ve totally made it seem like it IS just about the beach, which means everyone’s just going to be all, “Well, what do you expect, Amber, it’s a beach?”
But it’s not just the beach. It’s everywhere.
It’s the neighbours in our last house who once had a 3-day party, complete with constantly thumping baseline.
It’s the builders who put a radio in front of the house next door, then turned up the volume until it was loud enough for them to be able to hear it from inside the house, and above the sound of their power tools.
It’s the person who listens to music on their phone speaker, instead of using earbuds, on the train.
It’s everyone who’s ever decided to play loud music in public, in other words, with complete disregard for the fact that they might be disturbing someone.
Because, here’s the thing: if you play music outdoors (or indoors, but loud enough for other people to hear it), you will almost certainly be disturbing SOMEONE. They probably won’t tell you about it, or ask you to turn it down: most people don’t, because they’re just too afraid of the confrontation – or of being considered a killjoy.
But someone, somewhere, is probably being inconvenienced by your noise. It’s probably me, in fact, because, as you’ve probably fathomed by now, I am Not OK with the idea of being forced to listen to other people’s music, and I make absolutely no exception to this, for the simple reason given in my beach example above:
Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone did it?
If everyone in a street decided to celebrate their birthday with a loud party, no one would ever get any sleep.
If everyone on the beach brought along a loudspeaker, it would be so loud it would probably scare the fish right out of the water.
If everyone in the train carriage played music from their phone, taking the train would be like going clubbing, basically.
You get the picture, I’m sure.
Thankfully, though, everyone doesn’t do those things: it’s just… I want to say it’s just selfish people here, even though I know I’m probably going to regret it the second this post is published. The truth is, though, that’s pretty much how I feel about it, really. If you play music loud enough to disturb other people, I am judging you. I might not actually be confronting you (I also might, though, because that’s how much it annoys me…), but I’m judging you all the same.
You’re almost definitely judging me too, though. You’re probably gearing up right now to call me a killjoy, or a “Karen”, or to tell me that I just shouldn’t go out in public if I don’t like noise – as if that’s a reasonable solution, and completely ignoring all of the examples I just gave where the music in question was audible inside my own house, with all of the doors and windows closed.
Most importantly, you’ll probably want to ask me why on earth I think MY desire for peace and quiet should trump YOUR right to play music as loudly as you want to.
And why does it?
Well, I guess mostly because the person who wants to listen to music has the option of doing so on headphones – in which case, everyone gets what they want – whereas the ones who don’t can’t always get away from it. And while I’m not sure I could name a single thing that people can’t do without the accompaniment of ear-splitting music (Nightclubs and concerts aside, obviously…), there are plenty of things that can’t be done WITH it: sleeping and working, to name but two.
If I ruled the world, I would immediately ban the playing of loud music by random members of the public. I would probably get lynched for it, obviously, but I would still do it. In saying that, though, I have to acknowledge that, as a misophonia sufferer, I have a slightly skewed perspective on this one.
Certain noises (a thumping baseline being one of them) bother me much more than they do “normal” people: and they bother me in a way that goes far beyond “that’s a bit annoying” and venture directly into “flight or fight” territory.
I can’t even imagine bringing a loudspeaker with me to a public place, say, and making everyone around me listen to Taylor Swift for hours, just because I want to, or blasting music in my garden, knowing that everyone in my street is being forced to listen to it, too. The idea of doing something like that is so totally alien to me that I genuinely can’t understand it: and that makes it almost impossible for me to work out whether it’s the people who do think it’s OK to do these things who are being unreasonable here, or whether it’s … well, ME.
So, where do you stand on this one? When is it acceptable to play music in public?
(P.S. If you’d like to weigh in on any of the other burning issues I’ve addressed in this series, you’ll find them all here. And if there’s something ordinary you’d like me to over-think in future post, feel free to suggest it in the comments!)