In December 2015 I caved. I finally signed up to Spotify. My music world shifted on its damn axis. I was catching up on a few albums from 2015, so that I could submit an informed Top 10 of the year to The Edge, which meant multiple new albums each day.
Before the end of March, this had become the new normal. Since the start of 2016, I’ve been going to the “New Releases” page of Spotify every Friday and saving as many albums as caught my eye. I didn’t start this with a goal in mind, but. 100 albums* in three whole months felt like a milestone. In that time I’ve actually learnt some things about music.
Music is alchemical
What works for us at one time, may not work at another when tried by somebody else. As it is with sex, it is with music. Case in point: the album Need Your Light by Ra Ra Riot is one
that I enjoyed enough on the first go round to listen to a second time. It’s a very 80s infused pop album, but the second go left me feeling flat. Whereas, last year’s world-beater E-MO-TION by Carly Bae Jepsen, also very 80s influenced, is full of energy and life. The collection of influences, instruments, the lyrics, the production, who’s singing, all produce something wildly different, despite surface similarities. It all gets mixed together and produces something new, and occasionally magical.
Variety is the spice of Records
Never mind the next 80s-infused 21st century pop record you think is really good – what was the last electronica album you listened to? Neo-Soul?
How about experimental rock? Even the right Metal album for you exists (N.B. I haven’t listened to a metal album since the 6th entry to my 2016 list nearly broke me, an utter monstrosity that still scares me away from the genre). Give everything you can a try. Modern technology has made it possible for anyone to distribute music, even if not everyone can make it, but way more people than you think are still trying to. Honestly, I was surprised I reached 100 albums this quickly, as it can often feel like the same ten artists are the ones being talked about.
Listening to this many albums is exhausting
I get headaches, I can’t focus on my work, I start to beat myself up if I go more than 24 hours without listening to something new. I’ve spent the last week going back through some of my favourite albums from the year, the vast majority of which I only listened to once anyway, and it’s surreal. I know I’ve heard them before, but it still feels fresh, and that mind-boggling perspective is enough to make me want a nap.
The first listen is flirting
You want to see if the music responds to you, if it gets your heart going a bit, if it peaks an intellectual curiosity, or hell, if you think you could really lay down and bed someone whilst listening to the smooth vocals and production. It doesn’t matter if you can’t name a single track once its done. What’s important is the overall impression you get (“impressionistic” is my favourite word to describe my listening methods). The whole point is that you should want to come back to the album a second time, to re-experience it and re-evaluate it.
Sometimes, what was intriguing turns out to be captivating. My second listen to Colour Theory by Submotion Orchestra was late at night, while I read, and although it must be one of 30-odd electro-style albums I’ve come across this year, everything simply fell perfectly into place, and it almost elicited tears from me. On an instrumental track, of all things.
There still aren’t enough women in music
Looking at the 100 artists and albums, only 20 that I know of are female solo artists or all female bands (a category to which only 3 that I know belong). There are still a few more artists where there aren’t obvious vocals, such as with electronica, and so I can’t tell from the music or the name if women were involved in creating it, and whilst there are still male/female duos and groups, more often than not the men outnumber the women. Some of my absolute favourite bands from the last few years (Marmozets, Misterwives, Wolf Alice) are all fronted by women, with men making up the rest of it, and they all seem like great bunches, where the women are far from bit players. They’re badasses.
But it isn’t about that, it’s about who young women can look up to. Beyond the obvious pop icons (Sia, Rihanna, Foxes), what primarily, identifiably girl bands and artists are being played on the radio? Where, without the aid of the internet, you can’t check their pictures, or who is in the band, just to be certain?
If you want to write, read more; If you want to write about music, listen more
Nothing replaces picking up an instrument and just playing it for the fun of playing it, when it comes to learning how to make music. But if you want to write about music, you have to listen to more music.Understanding different genres and understanding the variety that’s out there will do so much for your appreciation of genres you already love, because it opens your mind, and gives you a greater context when discussing the music industry as it is now. It helps you understand exactly what it is in music that works for you, and it’s unlikely to just be ONE thing!
Everything I’ve listed above is something I’ve learnt, or re-learnt, but the simple fact that I have no intention of slowing down now is enough for me. Yes it’s exhausting. Yes it’s very surface based. But the sheer amount of great albums and great artists I’ve stumbled across so far has repaid that pain 10 times over.
*As I don’t have anything else relevant to attach it to, my featured image is that way because the 1st album I listened to was Hinds’ Leave Me Alone, and the 100th was ZAYN’s Mind of Mine. In the image is also Anderson Paak’s top hat from the cover of Malibu, and on Baby Zayn’s wrist is the crown from the cover of ANTI by Rihanna.