There are few forces in the world as therapeutic and inspiring as music. Our favorite songs are always there for us when we desperately need to feel understood. They make us feel like we’re a part of something bigger. The familiar warmth of our comfort zone can be cathartic and safe, but it can also hold us back.
The sheer breadth of incredible, unique, and creative music in all genres is staggering and intimidating. Just thinking about all the amazing artists out there that you’ve never heard of or simply can’t get into is quite stressful. Here are a few ways in which you can step outside your musical comfort zone and discover an appreciation for genres and artists you never thought you’d enjoy.
No One’s Impressed By Elitist Snobbery
This is directed at a very specific kind of person. If you agree with the assertion that all music released this century is heartless hogwash, then this is for you. If you gatekeep genres as if you’re the arbiter of what is and is not punk, then you should listen up. If “well, actually” is one of your most commonly typed phrases, then you should probably delete your Twitter account.
The idea that a person can have good or bad taste in music is moronic. What makes one collection of sounds better than another? We all like different things and listen to music in different ways. So what if someone only likes top 40’s hits? So what if someone else only listens to abstract industrial power whale sounds? It doesn’t matter at all.
You have to fight that part of your brain that insists that the most popular music being made today is abject garbage being churned out by teams of producers with the sole purpose of capitalistic gain, and anyone who listens to that stuff is a sheep that’s contributing to the dilution of artistry. If that sounds highly specific, it’s because I used to think that way, and part of my mind still does. Also, if you’ve ever unironically called someone else a sheep, you’ve got some serious self-reflection to do.
This is why you must actively suppress this line of thinking because all it does is close your heart to some wonderful tunes and make you a bitter human being who sees music as just another thing to be right about. No one cares that your album of the year has under 1000 streams on Spotify. You’re not interesting. Cast your ego aside, realize that nobody is impressed by your opinions, and try to comprehend that guilty pleasure songs shouldn’t really even exist.
Shilling For Spotify
Speaking of Spotify, at the risk of sounding too dramatic, it changed my life. Spotify Premium is an incredible service, and it only costs $5 per month if you’re a student, and it’s bundled with Hulu as well. This is not an advertisement, I swear.
Other services such as Apple Music and YouTube Music offer similar options, but Spotify takes the cake. Having most songs ever recorded and released at the tip of your fingers at all times is a marvel of modern technology that must have seemed like an impossibility not long ago. While Spotify’s payouts to artists are abysmal, there is no denying the tremendous value for consumers.
With many different kinds of personalized recommendations available, Spotify is a great way of discovering new artists that fit into your listening history. Beyond that, however, is the endless rabbit hole that you can, and should, find yourself plummeting through. If you actively seek out and listen to artists that are outside your normal parameters, not only will you make some worthwhile discoveries on your own, but you’ll also diversify your recommendations.
Listen to artists that are brand new to you every chance you get. The worst-case scenario is that you’ll simply not like them, but at least you heard something different. The best-case scenario is that you may have just found the next artist that will change your life.
Understand The Way You Listen To Music
We all implicitly understand what we look for in a song, but most of us probably don’t meditate too deeply on why we like what we do. For so many of us, all we really want is something catchy to sing along to. Others really just want a great beat to twerk to — literally or spiritually. Some want to actively listen to something that challenges them intellectually, and some of us might just want to have a good cry.
Our means of listening are crucial as well. If you primarily put music on as background noise for doing something else, that’s significant. If you really only have time for music on your commute to and from work, that matters too. While I would argue that everyone ought to make as much time as possible for active listening, some of us simply can’t. You need to understand your own needs, and how you can circumvent your listening habits that have ingrained your taste, limiting what you enjoy.
If you can come to a greater understanding of what makes your brain tick, you’ll be able to recognize those desired traits in other genres more easily. The different genres are more alike than you may think.
Learn How To Listen To Different Genres
It may seem like disparate genres like pop and death metal have nothing in common, but there’s more to it than that. From a theory perspective, the average song will follow a similar structure and be in the same time signature, regardless of genre. Whether it’s hip-hop, country, rock or anything in between, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to anticipate the hooks and drops of any song, regardless of your personal background.
While there are many exceptions to this, it still underscores a reality that many people don’t realize, that the average song in any big genre is ostensibly trying to do the same thing, but the approach just might be different.
If you’re a pop fan who thinks death metal is just mindless noise, you’re not listening for what the song is trying to do; you’re only listening for what you’ve grown to want the song to do. The inverse is true as well. If you’re a staunch metalhead who thinks that all pop music is toothless drivel that lacks musicianship, that’s just because you’ve conditioned yourself to expect lightning-quick blast beats and brutal riffs.
To dig a little deeper, the average music fan simply listens to death metal incorrectly. They fixate so much on the guttural vocals and bemoan the lack of clarity in the delivery of the lyrics because they tend to listen for those things above all else. A seasoned headbanger knows that the vocals should simply be treated as another instrument.
This isn’t to say that to not like death metal is somehow incorrect, because it’s completely valid to not like music that abrasive. The point is that it’s paramount to appreciating music that’s out of your comfort zone to comprehend what that music is really trying to do. You can’t listen to every genre of music the exact same way with the exact same expectations and expect positive results.
Share Music With Your Friends
I don’t know if this is a universal phenomenon, but for me, there are few rushes of dopamine better than turning a friend on to a new band. While a carefully curated playlist doesn’t quite match the romance of a mixtape, the sentiment is just as lovely. The act of picking out songs that you think someone important to you will like is heart-warming and it can teach you a lot about your own taste as well.
If you’ve got people in your life who will do the same for you, then you’re in luck. Beyond formal recommendations like that, however, it’s likely that you have someone around you whose taste differs extremely from yours. Do you have that special person in your life who only listens to video game soundtracks? Or how about someone who only gets out of bed for 20-minute jazz odysseys? Don’t ostracize that person; embrace them. Learn from them.
The Power Of Live Music
The pandemic really put into perspective just how magical live concerts really are. It’s been over a year now since attending live shows in person became an impossibility, but there is hope. At the time of writing, the vaccine is still rolling out, and things won’t be back to normal for at least a few more months. Still, it won’t be long now before we can finally go to shows again.
If you’ve never been to a concert, you’re missing out on one of the most enchanting and spiritual human experiences. A crowd of like-minded individuals communing with the artists and each other, whether the venue holds 50 people or 50,000 people, is one of the most divine happenings in which a person may partake. The passion on display by the musicians and their fans is an eye-opening exposé of the soul.
If you are having a hard time understanding how people can possibly enjoy a certain genre, go to a show. It’s an incredible exercise in empathy that will give you a greater understanding of your fellow humans.