Once upon a time, back in the ‘50s, there were two kinds of pop fans: those who dug rock ‘n’ roll (teenagers, hip parents, DJs and record labels looking to make a quick buck) and everyone else (oldsters, Luddites, reactionaries, squares, conservatives, and racists). In those days, “rock ‘n’ roll” meant R&B, rockabilly, doo-wop, and basically anything with a backbeat. It was a broad term — one used to describe everything from Bo Diddley’s proto-hip-hop diss tracks to Bobby Darin’s splishy, splashy cornball crooning — and in the 60 years since, it’s only gotten broader.
The question, “Do you like rock ‘n’ roll?” is no longer a remotely sufficient indicator of what type of music fan you are. What does rock ‘n’ roll even mean anymore? While determining one’s musical personality doesn’t yet require anything as extensive as the Myers-Briggs test — that 72-question inventory that tells socially awkward high school kids why they should go work at the post office — constant changes in how music is created and consumed mean it’s only a matter of time.
For now, though, ten questions are sufficient, and the first is the most obvious, fundamental, and telling: When do you listen to music? That is, do you play the radio while driving or sweeping the kitchen or doing any number of other things that require at least some fraction of your attention, or are you more of an appointment listener, someone who treats the absorption of music as an activity in and of itself?
Streaming services like Pandora and Spotify have made it easier than ever to zone out and let other people or even algorithms pick your playlist. Listeners can go entire days soaking in music their brains barely register. Pandora says it sounds like Tom Petty, and as long as it doesn’t interfere with updating Excel spreadsheets or killing time on Facebook, that’s good enough.