Do you know the phrase “fear of missing out”? FOMO. That feeling that you always have to be everywhere, or else. Or else …? Or else you’ll miss out on the most awesome adventure ever! The one everyone will be talking about for hours to come. The one you’ll almost remember when trying to reference it a few months later.
It’s a silly paranoia to have, and one that usually comes with youth and ego. We grow up, and eventually it’s not as important to be everywhere all the time. Maybe we get lazier, or maybe it’s that we’ve done those parties enough to know there’s always another party. Either way, letting go of FOMO is healthy.
So, at nearly 33, why do I carry around a similar fear? My FOMO has nothing to do with being somewhere. It’s about missing some thing. At WFPK (greatest radio station in the world, or GRSITW … we’ll have to work on that one), I’m the music director. My job is to listen to all the music that comes in and try to find the gems — the ones that are going to have a lasting impression, the ones that will get people excited, occasionally finding what will become a classic. But what if I miss it?
I could ask, “How important is it that we hear everything?” To many, not important at all, not even on the scale. But some of us, we’re kind of nutty like that. We go hunting for a song like a tribesman who hasn’t had dinner for a couple days. It’s survival. But we’re also picky. It can’t just be any meal. It has to be the one — a mouth-watering, juicy, prime-cut, perfect song.
Alas, sometimes we don’t catch it, and it’s really the most frustrating when it was right there the whole time. Likewise, it’s an ego blow to pass something over, sometimes quite loudly, only to discover weeks later that it’s the biggest song in the world. Does that make it better? Maybe not, but “a million Elvis fans can’t be wrong.” (Even when they are.)
The first time I heard the Fitz and the Tantrums song “Money Grabber,” I rolled my eyes and went on. There was so much of that sound at the time. Every white guy was suddenly Otis Redding at Monterey Pop. It was staring toward overkill, so I shrugged it off. A few weeks later, the record label let me know it was “really starting to climb the charts.”
“Nah, just a good week,” I replied. Two months later, it was the No. 1 song in the country, had sold-out shows, the whole deal. Not only did I miss it, but I had to eat some crow, too.
Does it go back to how we hear things? Give a good album to 10 people, and there is a chance we’ll all have a different favorite song. So what makes a single a single? And we’re talking about good albums here — some LPs only have that one obvious song. In those cases, there’s no debate. For the ones with more potential, how much difference does it make that the song we all played on the radio wasn’t a different cut altogether?
I suppose, for the sake of my job, it makes a difference. I have to believe that, anyway. Not just because of my job, but for my own desires. It’s a pretty amazing experience to realize the song I just played connected so hard with someone else. I mean, I’ll never write a song. I’ll never be the one who pens the words that cut straight to your soul, but I can help get those words to you. I just have to make sure not to miss it.
First World problem? Probably not even that. But we all have our tics, and we all have the things that keep us up at night. While this may not literally keep me awake, it’s definitely what pushes me to do the best job I can. It’s what ensures that, while I know that maybe one song in that stack of 70 records is going to be worth spinning over and over, finding that song could be the most important thing I do for you today. And self-servingly, for myself, too.
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.