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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: June 2023

Words of Wellbeing: Music

Eric York Drogin


  • Listening to the right type of music can help decrease anxiety and improve your mood and mental alertness.
  • Playing an instrument can improve both mental and physical wellbeing by improving your cognitive function, reducing pain, and helping fine and gross motor skills development.
Words of Wellbeing: Music

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A common saying is that “possession is nine tenths of the law.”  It’s the first thing that many of us “learned” about the law, before we even considered going to law school.  It’s also untrue, like so many of the things that we learned once we eventually took the plunge and matriculated.  However, let’s not blame the academy for this one, if only because so much of legal education is eventually obviated by the simple passage of time.  For example, the original “amount in controversy” threshold for federal jurisdiction was five hundred dollars, worth over 34,000 dollars in today’s money.  Now it's 75,000 dollars … which come to think of it is still probably worth over 34,000 dollars in today’s money.   

Music changes even faster than the law, and possession now has less to do with music than at any time since popular songs began being recorded and distributed commercially, well over a hundred years ago.  My own law students can scarcely remember a world in which music was obtained after a triumphant safari through multiple bricks-and-mortar specialty stores, purchased for a fee on an item-by-item basis, and then triumphantly dragged back home.  If we forgot to bring our music with us on a given evening, we couldn’t listen to it in the car or impress our friends with it at parties.  Maybe next time. 

An additional concern back in the day was that music could warp, get scratched, or simply wear out.  Today’s law students, no matter how resourceful they are in other aspects of life, don’t know how to shield their music from direct sunlight, physically stack it so it can play for more than 22 minutes at a time, or stop it from unraveling with a pencil eraser.  In any event, we don’t “own” music anymore.  We lease it, or perhaps more accurately we pay a fee to dangle our feet—well, ears—in the stream.

Working as a music industry lawyer these days seems like a very hard dollar.  The Taylor Swifts, Rihannas, and Jack Harlows of this world still sell albums like it’s 1999, but for most acts the only way to keep afloat financially is to continue treading the boards like the vaudevillians of old.  Showing up at the studio every once in a while to cheer one’s clients along is one thing, but it’s as true today as it was back in the 1970s that keeping a healthy distance (as it were) from the excesses of the road is the best formula for preserving our licenses and nervous systems alike. 

In addition, musical plagiarism is more difficult to identify, attack, and defend than ever, in an era that at least temporarily appears to prize a rhythmically dominant, melodically minimalist approach above all else, irrespective of genre.  “They say these are different songs, but they all sound the same to me” isn’t just something our grandparents have been saying since the British Invasion.  Musicologists—some of the most genuinely entertaining experts you’re ever going to meet—have been singing the blues about this issue for years.

Music permeates virtually every other nook and cranny of contemporary legal practice.  Zoning lawyers and university counsel grapple with noise ordinances.  This is also an issue for the open road.  In Kentucky, for example, KRS 224.030-050 (“Noise Emission Prohibitions”) establishes that “[n]o person shall emit … from any moving vehicle any noise that unreasonably interferes with the enjoyment of life or with any lawful business or activity in contravention of any rule or regulation adopted by the cabinet.”  Along somewhat similar lines, civil rights attorneys have had occasion to consider the legal and ethical implications of employing daunting levels of musical volume to disrupt the deliberations and break the will of hostage-takers and other adversaries of law enforcement.  A face-melting playlist consisting of K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Alice Cooper, and Black Sabbath was infamously concocted for the purpose of smoking out the asylum-seeking Manuel Noriega over 30 years ago.  Along these lines, let’s not forget that no one can calculate treble damages like personal injury lawyers. 

If music has become an ephemeral, legally complex, and occasionally weaponized phenomenon that now literally eludes our grasp, what does music have to do with wellness?  As it turns out, everything.  Just ask the doctors at Johns Hopkins Medicine, who explain in detail at how “research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.”  Like the rest of society, lawyers in particular have everything to gain from mental alertness and memory, and the notion of sleep itself often seems like a luxury, much less sleep quality.  The Johns Hopkins doctors do sound a note of caution, however, when they remind us to “pay attention to how you react to different forms of music, and pick the kind that works for you,” because “what helps one person concentrate might be distracting to someone else, and what helps one person unwind might make another person jumpy.”

The doctors at Harvard University have urged their own audience to emerge from the mosh pit and find their way to the stage (or at very least to the garage) in order, as Cass Elliot once sang, to “make your own kind of music.”  At, budding musicians are informed that “active music-making truly engages your entire brain,” in a fashion that “creates the most potential for distraction, pain reduction, cognition, fine and gross motor development, and expression.”  Asserting that “making music with an instrument can be fun and easy,” the Harvard doctors—inevitably moved to blow their own horns—serenade us with the following refrain: “A board-certified music therapist can help you find the most direct and successful path to musical expression.”

Even though we can’t put it in a box and tie it up with a bow anymore, music is the wellness gift that keeps giving.  Here’s hoping that this wellness advice winds up striking the right chord.