Here are some recommendations and steps in the Art of Building a Relationship with An Album. Of course, this is for someone who wants to build these relationships, if you want something beyond just surface enjoyment from your music. If you want to build a deep bond, create lasting impacts, and delve deep in appreciation, this is for you. It will take work and effort.
There is a reason certain albums have the “classic” label. Choose albums that are highly reviewed and show up at the top of lists. Even if in the end, you find out that this album is not for you, at least you’ve been exposed to an important album historically.
One : Really Listen
This first step requires uninterrupted time, put aside, free from distractions. That means putting away the phone, tablet, or computer. It requires a decent set of headphones or sound system. Sit down in a comfortable position, relax, and have a good drink at your side and some snacks. Put on the music and allow it to wash over you. Let it take you away. Really listen to it. Feel it. Allow it to have a hold on you. Reading the lyrics along with the songs can help. Try to keep your critical voice from coming to a quick gut-reaction decision on the music’s merit. Acknowledge your reaction but don’t set it in stone. Try to understand what the artist is trying to convey and say. If you find yourself getting distracted and your attention on other things, try to bring your focus back to the music. It might take some practice if your not use to this way of focused listening. Many people are only used to listening to music when they are doing other things, working, playing video games, reading, or on the web, etc. Which is fine. But it is a totally different experience to really listen.
Two : Listen Repeatedly
Depending on initial enjoyment or lack of, listen to this album again sooner than later. If you loved it, play it all the time. If it is challenging to you, don’t just put it aside and never try it again. You need to allow your brain to create connections that it didn’t have previously. After a few initial listens, take a few weeks break, and then come back to the album, and amazingly, you will find yourself remembering certain passages, certain feelings and emotions. Pick out the portions that speak to you. It might be that certain line, guitar riff, or bass groove at the end of song six. Repeat this process many times until the album opens up to you.
Three : Explore
Don’t be afraid to study the album. Much like dating someone, you need to get to know this album better if you want a strong relationship. Check out interviews from the artist. Look up definitions of unfamiliar words in the lyrics. Check out historical facts or references from the songs. Familiarizing yourself on the band and its history gives the album context. Scrutinize the album cover and other artwork in the booklet. Check out any music videos for the album. Why is this album adored by so many? Was it a first in a certain genre or style or sound? You can go as deep as you want to. Knowing more about the music and the artist who made it will help you appreciate it more.
Four : Enjoy its faults
There is no such thing as a perfect album. And that’s awesome! Just like with people, we all have our flaws and that’s what makes you, you. That’s what makes us human after all. Embrace the album’s mistakes and weaknesses. Is the production not what you are used to? By repeated listens, and understanding why it sounds like that, you might find it has a certain warmth and originality that the best expensive productions delivered today do not have. Is that voice problematic at first for you? Give it time. Perhaps it will grow on you. Are the lyrics cheesy as all hell? Maybe you can look past it and focus on something else the album does strongly.
As an example of an album I built a relationship with, after reading reviews on Opeth’s album Deliverance in 2002, I decided to give it a try. Boy was I in for a surprise! I was not familiar with harsh vocals or death metal. But I did like progressive elements and experimentation. I sat down with my headphones and listened uninterrupted. And I hated it. I couldn’t get past the vocals. And those songs were so goddamn long. I didn’t get it. But I wanted to. So I listened to it again. And again. And again. I forced myself to listen. I would put it on at night before I fell asleep. It intrigued me. I picked out parts I admired, like the clean singing, acoustic guitar parts, melodic lines, songwriting, and lyrics. Eventually another album took my attention. But I came back to Deliverance a few weeks later and was shocked by how much I took to it. I remembered how the songs went and the vocals began to feel more comfortable to me. So I listened to it even more. Until I absolutely loved it. It started my journey of listening to more extreme genres of metal. It holds a special place in my heart. To this day, when I put it on, it’s like embracing a lover and remembering why I love music in the first place.
The availability and ease for music consumption today is awesome. It gives us so many choices. But it comes with some danger. The danger of not giving an artist their due, by really listening to them. I know I’m going to take my own advice and try to build deeper relationships with the albums I love, or maybe don’t love on initial hearing. It’s totally worth it. A connection is built that merely a casual passing listen can never accommodate. Take the time to build those relationships and albums can open up to you in beautiful ways.
Feel free to comment, make observations, suggestions, or tell stories of your relationships with loved albums in the comment section below.