“I just can’t live without my music!”

How many times have you heard a friend or acquaintance say that?

And on the face of it, it sounds perfectly rational – perfectly right.

But this past year, I have tried an experiment. I decided to go for a year without listening to any music.

Why did I do this?

Just a suggestion from a little voice in my head. That’s the only explanation I can offer you.

As a writer, I often write with music on. Loud! So on the first day, I turned off the music (and when I say I turned it off, I mean ALL of it).

The first thing that happened was, I found I couldn’t write. Nothing would come. Did it mean that I “needed” music to write? Apparently so. I guess, just like some writers who can’t work without a cigarette or a cup of coffee, what it meant was that I was addicted to music.

By my third day of writers block, a few stray ideas began to creep into my head. But they had no rhythm. They were lifeless and hollow.

Now I began to get scared. Was I truly going to be stuck with needing music as a drug that would enable me to engage in my profession?

Finally, on day five, I managed to turn out a couple of not-so-bad paragraphs. It wasn’t easy. But I got them.

Another week passed. Finally – and with the utmost difficulty – I managed to turn out an entire column for WND. My columns are generally approximately 1,000 words in length. Not very long. But to finish this particular column, it took me nearly three hours.

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I decided it was time to do a bit of research. Oddly I could only find one article after Googling the subject. It was titled, “Fighting Music Addiction: An Experiment.”

The writers of the article concluded what I had suspected. Listening to music is definitely an addiction – a powerful one.

Consider: It’s almost impossible to remove music from your life completely. It’s everywhere. I’m just talking about not listening to it on headphones for pleasure. Obviously, it’s virtually impossible to watch a movie without a soundtrack. If you’re in a store or club, 90 percent of the time you’ve got to contend with “background music.”

But what about the rest of the world? The fact is, today, there is almost no place you can go where music is not playing – at least in the background. And if you haven’t noticed – these days, so called “background music” is getting louder and louder.

I decided it was time to purchase a pair of high-quality noise cancelling earphones. I took them with me everywhere I went. Needless to say, I encountered some strange looks from people.

When most individuals really like a song, they experience a “high” of sorts, which may give them a lot of energy and a pleasurable feeling. Those who put songs on all the time want to re-experience those sensations over and over again.

Listening to music triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in underlying pleasurable reactions caused by food, drugs and arousal before intercourse.

The chemical has been linked in a variety of studies with mechanisms underlying addiction in humans, and it would appear that it also plays a role in the way people feel when listening to their favorite tunes.

In a new investigation, Robert Zatorre and Valorie Salimpoor, who both hold appointments as neuroscientists at the McGill University, detail the pathways through which dopamine acts on the brain.

Details of the investigation were recently published in the latest issue of the esteemed scientific journal Nature Neuroscience at the Northwestern University’s MEDILL news service report.

Scientists with the research team measured a variety of factors influencing perception and the human body in the new experiments. They monitored dopamine release in test subjects, and also their heart rates, body temperature and other such effects.

Participants were asked to listen to some of their favorite tunes while their brains were being observed using an imaging technique known as Position Emission Tomography, or PET.

“Dopamine is important because it makes us want to repeat behaviors. It’s the reason why addictions exist, whether positive or negative,” Salimpoor explains.

“In this case, the euphoric ‘highs’ from music are neurochemically reinforced by our brain so we keep coming back to them. It’s like drugs. It works on the same system as cocaine,” he adds.

“It’s working on the same systems of addiction, which explain why we’re willing to spend so much time and money trying to achieve musical experiences,” he goes on to say.

I continued my experiment for the next several months. Gradually, I found that eventually I had lost my “craving” for music. In fact – just the opposite took place. I began to crave quiet. Now, when I was in a restaurant or a store where music was playing in the background, I found it to be irritating. Moreover, I wasn’t experiencing any more “cravings” for music, as I had during the first month of my experiment.

After approximately three months of virtually eliminating music from my life, I decided to let it back in. I opted to take a major dose. So I listened to the entire album “Rubber Soul” (one of my favorites) entirely through. The experience was not unlike having eaten for the first time after months of starvation. But this time, when I’d finished the record, I turned it off.

No cravings.

I felt as if I’d proved my point. Music is definitely an addiction. And as I said at the outset, I don’t want to be dependent upon anything – at least not to do my work.

So now when I sit down to write, I put on my noise-cancelling earphones. These days, I find that after months of practice, I am able to turn out an article with perfect ease without having to have music playing in the background.

Are the new (non-musical) articles any better than the ones I was writing before I eliminated the music? That’s a tough thing for a writer to judge.

But I do know this. If I were to be trapped on a desert island with no music, and I was on a deadline to write a story, I’d do just fine.

Now I listen to music when I choose to do so. When I want quiet, I’m perfectly fine with it.

Addiction eliminated.

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