Music. It is something we all enjoy. Everyone has a collection of favorite songs and artists that they have held onto over the years. It is this connection which we develop over time that makes music so special. It becomes personalized: music is an extension of our individuality and identity. When we share a song, we share a piece of ourselves and a part of our lives that we want someone else to understand.
However, it is easy to become reliant on what we already know and find familiar. In a study by the University of Michigan, 86% of participants stated that they enjoy listening to the same song on repeat, with 60% of them listening to the same song multiple times in a row. Listening to songs we already know and love is comforting, but it also keeps us in a bubble of safe listening.
When you expand your music tastes you expand your knowledge of culture, past and present. Too often people write off entire genres and artists, eliminating worlds of interesting and meaningful music. When they hear something unfamiliar, they brush it off without giving it a second chance.
To free yourself from this mindset, you must first ask the right questions. An open-minded approach to music starts with the mindset that every artist, album, and song is worthwhile. With every listen you should ask yourself, “what can I take away from this? What makes it special to someone who enjoys it?” Always assume that a song is somebody’s favorite. It will make you approach that new song from a perspective of love and admiration.
Understanding a song or album takes time. When you immediately write off a song, you’re missing the opportunity to see it from new angles. After multiple listens, songs that have sounded like pure noise to me have transformed into something beautiful. Bands I could not for the life of me understand have become my favorites over time, whether it’s the outlandish neo-psychedelia and freak-folk of a band like Animal Collective, the chaotic industrial aggression of a group like Death Grips, or even the noisy distortion of an entire genre like shoegaze.
By revisiting and asking myself these questions, I find myself enjoying everything I encounter. I see the sense of emotion behind Animal Collective. I feel the power and energy exploding in every Death Grips song. Shoegaze sounds like a warm, colored fuzz. I have found that being patient with longer songs takes you on a journey. It teaches you that not everything has to click instantly. I have found that there’s always something waiting to be discovered in every single record.
This works from multiple angles. If you’re a fan of pop music, try taking steps towards less mainstream music. It doesn’t have to be a big leap; there is plenty of experimental pop to discover. If you’re into more obscure groups, try taking steps toward the mainstream.. There’s plenty of fun to be had in what you might consider silly or “below you”.
There are endless benefits to opening your heart to all kinds of music. New music can define moments in our lives and create new memories. It changes our thinking and connects us with different voices in society and perspectives we may not be familiar with.
Approaching the medium with this mindset can also be healthy for your brain. Discovering and understanding a song activates multiple parts of the brain and can give us a feeling of satisfaction and euphoria. This is known as the ‘click’ phenomenon, when music you previously didn’t understand becomes something amazing. Expanding your tastes early can benefit you in the future, as research shows many people stop discovering music at age 30. We become reliant upon what we’re comfortable with.
Having an eager, passionate mindset can produce a genuine love for almost any kind of music. That can change our identity and help us develop new understandings about music as an art form. So go and listen. Search for something new. That could be your new favorite song.