When people hear that I'm a music reviewer, often the first question they have is "How do you appreciate so many different kinds of music?" Believe me, I had the same question for myself when I first tried my hand at reviewing albums. It seemed like such a huge feat that I was most certainly under-prepared for to treat different types of music objectively and appreciate them equally. Of course, I didn't always start out loving all kinds of music, initially I was most inclined towards R&B and Pop, and it took years of patient listening and maturity as a person for me to immerse myself into different genres. Here's a rough timeline of how my musical tastes have expanded over the years:
2007: R&B, Pop
2008: Initial appreciation for Rap and Hip hop
2009: Further appreciation for Hip hop
2010: Grew an appreciation for Rock & Easy listening/Folk
2011: Developed an appreciation for Jazz
2012: Got into Alternative Rock/Folk Rock and Brit Rock
2013: Initial appreciation for Electronic Dance Music
2015: Deeper appreciation for independent genres and Jazz, and gained an increased appreciation for EDM music
2016: Gained a greater love for Rap music, EDM, Reggae and Indie music in general
So as you can see, my appreciation for music and different styles of it has grown over time, and is still growing and changing every single day. Some of my appreciations of genres were love at first sight (rock, folk) but with some others such as alternative rock, they were slow to take shape but got there in the end! I do not claim to be an expert on any of the genres that I love, but as a music reviewer I believe its important to have a base of knowledge and understanding of how different genres have come to be, and what characteristics artists who are inclined towards these genres share.
However, my appreciation for a wide range of genres did not happen organically, nor overnight. Some songs from different genres I may have immediately taken a liking to, but for others, it took perseverance and persistence. I managed to discipline myself by taking a critical approach to every song that I listened to. Rather than just listening once and from there deciding whether I liked it or not, I listened again, again, and again (and wore out many MP3 players in the process). If I didn't like the song, I would ask myself why and listen carefully to pinpoint what exactly it was about the particular song which led me to dislike it. Was it bias that had led me to immediate dislike for a song? And likewise, if I liked a song, what was it about the melody, lyrics or arrangement which had attracted me to it? If theoretically speaking it wasn't a good song but I liked it anyway, was I being biased due to a particular artist's participation on the track? All in all, I constantly pushed myself to find justification that was relevant rather than arbitrary for my attitude towards every song. This constant questioning and critiquing of each piece of music I listened to led to an increased need for answers that I usually didn't have. So that meant listening to every piece of music and researching the characteristics and histories of different genres and contexts until I had an answer that I was satisfied with. In this way, finding an answer for why I felt the way I did gave me a greater appreciation for each of the different genres of music that I listened to, because I then had a better understanding of the way they were created and why they were created in that particular way. (On a side note, now you know why album reviews take me so long!)
So very much in line with what Khalil Fong once said, albums were (and still are) like my textbooks. And like any good textbook, good albums in my opinion give one the tools to ask the important questions and provide a fresh new approach on how to view the world. The only downside to this concept is that this means I have absolutely no intention in curbing my purchase of new albums, even though I clearly have a problem that extends far beyond the perusal of albums as knowledge objects.
But back to the topic at hand. Beginning by putting in place a line of critical thinking and listening over and over again until I was certain that I could make a strong case for my opinion, I've rinsed and repeated this strategy so many times that it's become second nature to me. And when you do this enough times, sooner or later you'll get a feel for the different sensibilities of each music genre. By sensibilities, I mean that each different genre arose from different histories that give it a certain attitude or energy. But this is a very subjective notion that is slightly different for everyone. For example, for me rock is about passion, spunk and rebellion whereas folk is about self-reflection, serenity and clarity. Once you have listened enough to these different genres, you'll develop your own sensibilities of what those genres mean to you be able to appreciate different kinds of music with ease and in a way you're comfortable with. This is because once you make an emotional connection with the sensibilities of a particular genre, you'll gain a greater appreciation for that particular style of music. By no means do I consider myself in any way musically talented, so such music appreciation tactics are for everyone. As long as you have a passion for music and want to be able to appreciate it in a way that will enhance your life and your values, I hope that my experiences and tips can provide you with some food for thought. The key at the bottom of it all is building an emotional attachment to different kinds of music. By doing so you are removing the superficial layers of stigma associated with certain types of music, and appreciating it for what it is. This helps you to develop your own independent opinions and organise your thoughts in a way that is well-argued and credible, but with your own unique spin on it!
Once again, I’m only sharing my personal journey in gaining a greater appreciation for all different kinds of music, and there are certainly many different ways to achieve greater appreciation for music, but I’m happy to announce that nowadays I’ve become more and more open to all different kinds of genres as a result of this particular philosophy. I’ve learned a lot from this practice which has not only trained me in the art of music review writing, but has also allowed me to learn a lot about how to think critically about all types of cultural products, not just music. It has also fuelled my academic approach to the music industry, helped me improve my essay writing skills and trained an objective perspective which allows me to be a good and ethical music journalist. Understanding innately the rhythms and sensibilities of different genres I believe has opened doors for me even in film production which I picked up last year. Despite not knowing anything about film, the art of production just felt so innately natural to me, which I credit to my deep understanding of how different genres and types of music work and fit together. An open appreciation to different types of music has also allowed me to learn more about myself and is such an important tool for practicing self-awareness. If I were to link the importance of wider appreciation of music to the bigger picture, by becoming well-versed in the appreciation of different types of music I feel that it has given me the tools to appreciate music no matter the genre, or the language. So in a way, it has ingrained a respect in me for music from different cultures, removing that sense of ethnocentrism and fostering a culture of respect for those from different cultures. So I really do recommend taking the initiative of practicing openness to different types of music or genres, no matter what sector of the arts you are interested in. Who knows what you might discover? I’d love to hear what kinds of tips or tricks you guys use to enhance your music-listening experiences too, so please leave me a comment about your own opinions below!
It's been my dream since I started getting to know more about Chinese music to be able to live in Taipei, and now I'm finally going to be able to! Starting from the 11th of February, I will be staying in Taipei for 139 days and hope to share parts of my experiences that may be helpful with readers everywhere! This may include upcoming events in Taipei, concert reviews, and just titbits on life in Taipei in general. (Feb 2014)