5. Learn an Instrument
To start off, learning an instrument has numerous benefits. It’s shown to help younger children in school, it can serve as a creative outlet and relieve stress, and let’s not forget, ladies love a guitarist! In addition to this, learning to play an instrument for yourself can infinitely increase your enjoyment of music that you’ve always loved.
This can be done relatively cheap, and I would recommend guitar as a cheap guitar can run under $100. Understanding chord structures, basic music theory, and the skill that goes into playing an instrument opens a new window through which to view some of your favorite tunes.
4. Listen with Intention
This is one of the most important and most ignored pieces when it comes to enjoying music thoroughly. If you start a movie and let it play in the background as you clean the house, do homework, etc., you couldn’t truly say that you’ve “seen” the movie. In the same way, music, at least good music, isn’t made to be wallpaper, but to be the focus of your time with it.
If I could set up the perfect listening environment, I’d start with a comfortable room and a closed door. Add a nice pair of headphones or speakers, and even a paper to take notes, and you’ve got yourself a perfect environment to experience a great album. Of course, driving, jogging, cleaning, and other activities provide excellent time to revisit old favorites, but to intently listen, especially to a new record, the music needs to be the primary focus of your time.
3. Listen to Full Albums/Discographies
This may seem obvious to a lot of people, but many music fans, particularly younger, still view an album as nothing more than a collection of songs independent of one another. This couldn’t be a worse understanding of an album’s purpose. A great record functions much like a great film, with each song acting as a scene. Each informs the next, either through direct storyline in the case of a concept album, or through tone and pacing in the case of a traditional album. Experiencing the piece as a whole allows you to place each song in context of the album and gives a fuller understanding of how each track is meant to function.
Beyond this, albums are far better appreciated when viewed in the larger scope of a band’s entire discography. To take a group like The Beatles for example, their discography tells the story of a young boy band developing into an experimental, psychedelic powerhouse, and similar growth can be seen in several bands of the same era. Placing the album you’re hearing into the larger context of the group’s full catalog makes the listening experience vastly better.
2. Read the Lyrics
It’s shocking how few avid music listeners actually do this, especially considering what an important factor it is, but to truly appreciate a great album, you simply have to read and know the lyrics. Lyricism is especially important in folk and rap music, but across all genre’s, it’s one of the most important aspects of a track. Every word is placed in a song for a reason, and a good listener understands the purpose of each line.
Finding lyrics is very easy. Nearly every song ever recorded can be found on genius.com, often with accompanying discussion on the meanings of each line. In addition, physical copies of music generally come with liner notes or a book which will contain the album’s full lyrics and maybe even a few illustrations. Developing the skills to pick apart lyrics and understand their meaning is a remarkably important skill to a music listener, and it will radically change your experience of some of your favorite records.
1. Listen to New Music!!
This is, without a doubt, the most important part of being a good listener. The most uninformed statement I hear and read on a daily basis is some form of “there’s no good music these days.” The modern music industry faces several issues, mainly dealing with artist pay and copyright questions, but the one problem it absolutely does not have is scarcity! It’s impossible to adequately enjoy the work of someone like Tupac without hearing his heavy influence on an artist like Kendrick Lamar, you can’t fully appreciate the violent intensity of Pantera without hearing the way modern hardcore groups like Code Orange have brought their sound roaring into the 21st century, and ignoring changes in current music leaves you alienated as a listener and removed from the world of music as a whole.
Finding new music is a question I get often, and so let me list a few suggestions. The most obvious and affordable may be Spotify, which takes your weekly listening habits into account to create a 30-song playlist for you every Monday, made up of songs you haven’t heard. Spotify also has playlists like “new releases,” which can give you a taste of what’s coming out now. On top of this, websites like nme.com or billboard.com have yearly lists of upcoming albums. If you have certain bands you enjoy, follow their social media accounts to keep updated on upcoming work and the work of their label-mates. As a reviewer, I also sign up for mailing lists for several labels I enjoy, which means I get weekly emails with updates about upcoming music from their rosters. Virtually every genre of music is thriving in an exciting way today, and sitting out on this exciting era is simply not an option for true lovers of music.