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I love music, but rarely do I take the time to think about the ways I consume it. Despite being an avid music listener, my music life is a black hole of bad habits and disorderly chaos. I’m the perfect specimen for a rehaul to the logistical system through which I organize and consume music, because I truly have no system.
In our resolution frenzies, our music routines are often overshadowed by hollow promises to work out or to cut back on drinking, but these music resolutions will actually make your life easier and more enjoyable. You can thank us while you’re enjoying your favorite album of 2017 with a drink in hand, as far away from the gym as possible.
Every year, when year end lists roll around, and it comes time to rank all the albums that came out in a given year, I panic. After I shoddily get my list together, I remember my real favorite album of that year came out in January. But the list is already published, and now I hate myself. While rankings can be tedious and arbitrary, they do offer an organized, digestible way of sharing and comparing your music consumption that year. But how do you do this without overlooking something you listened to 363 days ago?
The answer is keeping a rolling ranked list of albums. Starting January 1, every time you listen to a new album, it goes on the list. Every new album must go above albums you think it’s better than, and below albums you liked more. Once you hit your designated number of albums (Top 20, 50, 100), if you add a new album to the list, you have to take one off. This system acts as a running log, saves you time and stress at the end of the year, and ensures you don’t forget anything, even if you’re just making a list for your 393 Twitter followers.
Same goes for new bands. Start to actively seek out new music—dive into Soundcloud tracks with a couple of listens, read pieces on up-and-coming artists, ask your friends about their newest faves—and keep track of it as you go. I have the tendency to listen more passively to artists with which I’m not familiar, but listening to a mixtape I stumbled upon in the depths of the internet with the same attentive, eager ears as I would if Beyoncé had just dropped a new song is a rewarding practice.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve liked an album, been tasked with writing about it, and, in the process, my understanding and love for that album has exploded. It’s more time-consuming than the aforementioned lists, but putting your experience of listening to music into written words is transformative as a listener. Music journals can be a great way to organize this writing and create a low-pressure situation to process sounds and how you experience them.
You ever see that episode of SpongeBob where he clears his mind of everything that doesn’t relate to fine dining to make himself a better waiter, but when a customer asks him his name, he realizes that his mind threw out his name and, subsequently, everything in his brain starts on fire and folds into chaos in an attempt to retrieve it? That’s a shot-for-shot depiction of every time I look for a specific record. My ever-growing collection is sitting willy-nilly in no particular order in a series of milk crates on my floor and, because I live in a closet, I frequently trip over crates in attempt to get to another crate that may or may not contain the album I’d like to hear. Luckily, we published a load of options on ways to organize your collection, and I plan on using them to crawl slowly out of the chaotic hellhole of disorder I’ve placed myself in before this storm of a year hits.
Being the Gen Z Snapchat-ho-trash I am, I struggle to stay off my phone during live music performances. While it’s not inherently bad to grab a couple pics here and there to subtly brag to your friends that your fave is playing 15 feet away from you, we all know how annoying it is to watch a show on the phone screen of the person in front of you. And especially at shows with more audience interaction, it can create environments where the audience is afraid to let loose or dance in fear of looking dumb while everyone’s cameras are rolling. Whether it’s challenging yourself to leave your phone at home, keeping it in your pocket, or limiting yourself to only taking one or two pictures, just develop an overall awareness of the degree to which you’re allowing yourself and the people around you to be present in a performance.
The may come as a huge surprise based on everything else I’ve disclosed in this piece, but I’m chronically late. It’s tempting to skip out on the opener in exchange for some extra pregame or makeup time, but if you always go exclusively for the main act, you’re probably missing out. Some openers are good, some aren’t so good, but a lot of the good ones become one of my favorite artists later on. Get to the gig, go see the opener.
Being a part of a music community often walks a super fine line between internal and external pleasure. A massive part of the joy of loving music and participating in music culture is having people to share sounds with—influencing and being influenced—but another huge part comes from your own tastes and the deeply individual way you experience the music you love. It’s easy to sleep on stuff you’d really like because your friends don’t like it or it hasn’t hit your circle. I used pass on live shows because I couldn’t convince someone to go with me, but I’ve found that shows can be more enjoyable and honest alone, in the same way that watching a movie alone can alleviate the pressure of feeling like you have to laugh out loud at the jokes. Once I started attending shows alone, I learned a lot about my own individual tastes and started meeting new people outside of my circle.
I think this is something a lot of people intend to do, but don’t actually do as often as they should. I’ll leave it up to you to decide who qualifies as a “great,” but in the grand scheme of things, none of us have been alive very long, so there’s a lot to choose from and a lot of catching up to do.
2016 was the worst, in part, because so many of us replaced an active, constant attempt to understand other human beings with blind assumptions. How about 2017 is the year we all (myself included) stop being assholes? I hear things like “I hate country music!!,” or “Electronic music is garbage,” all the time. I’ve said stuff like this, only to eat my words later. If you have to spew hot takes from your mouth/Twitter like lava from a volcano, make sure that lava is laden with nuance and understanding. Once a month, I’m going to make it a point to listen to an album I’m uncomfortable with, even one I think I’ll probably hate. If I love it, cool—I’m expanding! If I hate it, I’m going to make every effort sure I understand its history, its fans; I may not agree but at least I’ll understand them. Music is one of the very few things that is common across so many people. Use it to understand people that aren’t like you.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.
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