Rosie taking a break from Springsteen

Listen Up! (Part 2)

Note: The following post is a reprint from my "Dave's Rave" blog on my old site originally published back in late 2010.

I’m back… Bet you thought this was going to be one of those one-post blogs that launch with a lot of hoo-ha and just fade away. No I’ve actually been busy with some work stuff and lots of preparation for our new baby, who’s due to arrive in just under a month!! I also had a great weekend away with my son quad biking on Stockton Beach somewhere in there too – awesome.

Of course through all of this I’ve been listening to music and, as always, it has inspired, entertained and enlightened me. I’ve been re-discovering albums I haven’t listened to in years as well as enjoying some new stuff. As promised in my last post, today I'd like to share some things I’ve learned and habits I’ve formed over the years that have maximised my own personal enjoyment of music. I hope they help you enjoy music more too (or at least give you some ideas). Here goes…

1. Listen in the best environment you can
To experience music as close to the way the artist and producer intended try to listen in the best environment possible. What do I mean by “environment”? Well if you see yourself listening to a lot of music in the living room, for example, obviously having the best entertainment system you can afford is a good place to start but it goes further than that. Setting up the room itself for optimum results helps too. Things like having the main comfy chair you’ll be listening in right in the middle of the speakers and far enough back to get the best stereo image can make a real difference. Sometimes even closing the curtains can yield a better result if the room you’re in is inherently bright (sounding). The idea is that there’s a difference between a “listening room” and a room that you listen in.

If you’re listening on a smartphone or other portable player, splash out on the best headphones you can afford – you’ll be glad you did. If you’re going to be listening on the bus, jogging near traffic etc, noise-cancelling headphones can make a huge difference and enable you to hear the subtleties of the music that are often lost when listening on the go. They cost a little more but the benefits are worth it. One caution – watch the volume. Listening to music through headphones at high volumes (especially for extended periods) is dangerous to your hearing and can result in actual loss of hearing at certain frequencies and other permanent damage like tinnitus. Regardless of whether you’re listening at home, in the car or on the go, set yourself up for the richest listening experience possible.

2. Make it an event
If ever I see on my calendar that I’m going to have the house to myself on a particular night I’ll often plan ahead and pull together a bunch of CDs to listen to and order in some Indian food or pizza. I turn up the volume, read the album liner notes, check out the artwork and really take it all in. I love it. Especially for new music I like to set aside time like this to really give the music my full attention and enjoy the whole experience. If it’s an album I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, sometimes I’ll wait until I get a chance to have one of my music evenings before I even listen to it. By the way, all my CDs are imported and available on my phone, computer and TV but I still love to hold a CD booklet in my hands on occasions like this (but that’s just me). You know it's probably only a matter of time before I get back into vinyl for a real "tactile" listening experience. The other time I plan ahead for listening is driving. For example, all the places that look after my guitars and amps are a long way from home so before I set off, I get my driving music sorted and make a real trip of it – pun intended.

3. Variety is the spice of life
I love rock. I could listen to it for years (I have!) and still want more. The thing is, after a while of just listening to the same genre or artist or album, no matter how great, I find myself craving something different. That’s when I’m glad I also love pop, jazz, blues, heavy rock, folk, country and more. By having such a wide range of styles in my music collection to choose from, it’s rare I get bored or uninspired. Sometimes my need for variety has led me to genres or artists that I never would have thought I’d be into – which brings me to my next point.

4. Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it
I’ve been as guilty of this as anybody else. It’s the old “don’t judge a book by its cover” adage. Well don’t make a judgement about an artist's music by the album artwork, the genre they’re associated with, the clothes they wear or anything else but the music. It’s so easy to do. A teenage male who’s into classic rock may say, “Katy Perry sucks”. How do you know? Have you actually heard the Katy Perry album or are you basing your position on the few bars of a single you heard on a TV ad and the way she looked? Now if you’ve actually taken the time to check her music out and you decide it’s not for you, fine. To be honest and fair, our initial impressions about artists usually tend to be what they are because of our previous experiences with what we assume are similar artists – and they’re usually accurate. But… I have artists in my collection I absolutely love that I didn’t give the time of day for a long time because of my initial impression. Once I actually heard a song all the way through or saw them perform live on TV or read about their songwriting process or whatever, I saw a different side that made me curious enough to want to check out more and I’m glad I did. Those kinds of discoveries and attitude changers are rare but rewarding.

The same thing goes for genres. As a kid I just wasn’t into jazz. It didn’t excite me or spark my imagination like rock so I gave it a wide berth. After a while, I heard more and more of my favourite rock guitar players talking about jazz musicians and the way they’d inspired and equipped them. Again, I was curious enough to dig deeper and check the genre out. That was years ago and my love of jazz continues to grow. Some of my favourite albums over the past 2 or 3 years are jazz and as a guitar player, listening to jazz has definitely added another dimension to my own playing. When I was younger and avoided the genre, I think it’s just that I didn’t get it. On that note…

5. Give it time
Some styles or artists (or even songs) don’t grab us immediately and often we dismiss them. But some things take time. As I said, I’ve got music in my collection that wouldn’t be there if I’d followed my initial instincts. Now I’m not saying that we should all listen to everything and dislike nothing otherwise we’re shallow listeners – that would be stupid. Some things you’ll give a little time only to find it just confirms your initial instincts – that you really don’t like it – and that’s fine. But if you come across something you don’t know much about, give it a go. Give it time. Sometimes you may just stumble onto something precious.

One way to help yourself “get it” is to research the artist or genre. YouTube, social media, artist and music retail sites, industry magazines, Wikipedia and streaming services are a great way to educate yourself about artists and genres that are new to you. Another great way to dip your toe in the water is to go all retro and borrow some CDs from your local library and see what you like – nothing lost right?

Well I hope that gives you some ideas on how to get more out of your current music library as well as how to grow it with material that’s new and exciting for you. I wonder what we’ll stumble upon next?

Happy listening.