I had quite the awesome and inspirational realization today that I thought I would share. In sharing in this format, I have realized that it gives me an opportunity to spend time away from work and other activities to dive into a thought or a topic of some sort that intrigues me. In presenting my curiosity to others by way of blog, it forces me to actually ponder over something long enough to make a cohesive thought in order to present it to someone else. And have it actually make sense. Rather than pointless I wonders and whatifs, I try to look at something and come to some type of conclusion, because why not? It’s always interesting to look at a topic and wonder about how it is a certain way. But more on all that later.
I was at the college radio station I work at today, and by this point, the entire campus has emptied out and all student DJs have left. There’s still the occasional community DJ that comes in, but for the most part I’m in the station myself. With the exec board gone as well, I have to cover some of their duties to keep the station running full-time over the summer, at least till the summer intern starts in a few weeks. So, I grabbed the mail for the first time and saw that it had been quite a bit since the Music Directors had gotten it. As a result, there was an entire mailtray box full of CD submissions. I then checked the history of the Heavy Rotation albums we currently have up, and realized it hasn’t changed in about 2 weeks. Therefore, I figured taking over the Music Director role of updating the heavy rotation binder for the few community DJs that use them, but mainly to update the automation system. Upon opening all of the envelopes, I found myself facing over 20 albums. This might be more intense than I had originally anticipated.
But hey, I love music and I certainly love listening to albums, right? So I took on the challenge to review as many as possible.
Upon digitizing them all while taking care of other tasks at work (with 20+ albums at an average of 45 minutes each since we get a combo of EPs & LPs) I decided it best to not charge the station for my time reviewing, and simply review on account of being a casual but informative critic. I wanted to actually learn the albums.
So, where to start?
I thought about going through by genre, but realized I might get stuck on one genre kick and only review a very small minority of the submissions based on style alone. I didn’t think that would be a fair and open approach to adding to the Heavy Rotation Binder. As a result, I fell back on one of my absolute favorite ways to decide on new music.
I wouldn’t look up any information that wasn’t presented to me by the physical album. This means artwork, name, album title, song names, song length (if applicable), track count, press release (if applicable), and any linear notes I happened to casually notice. Nothing but the pure presentation of the album in a physical format.
And I realized why I don’t do this as often as I used to.
With working multiple jobs and having a variety of side projects going on, I haven’t had much time to simply relax and just purely listen to new music, giving the album the attention it needs. My preferred way of the starting the process of listening and learning a new album is beginning with the format and the way the album is presented to me. Usually physical format (preference of mine), is first noticed, and outside any information gathered there, one can approach listening to the album in a very unbiased way. In specific, unbiased based on genre and style of the music. A fresh, clean slate with little expectations about the actual sound of the music.
I decided I would tackle as many of the music submissions taking this perspective.
I grabbed a small bag full of the CDs when I left work, and picked 3 to choose from in the car. I looked at track count, because that was important to me (it’s an hour drive from the station and I didn’t want to listen to an EP). I picked the two album covers I liked the most, and then realized that I knew one was a rap/hip-hop album because I had looked up something on it earlier on a whim. For my first listen, I picked the other album. I threw it in, and didn’t even look at the title.
It was Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – Dereconstructed.
The review of the album will be coming in a later post.
While listening to the album, my mind wander a bit, thinking about how one must a professional music critic. I came to the conclusion that it had to do with knowing a subject so intensely well, that they can properly describe an album with understandable references to other albums, and create an accurate portrayal of an album for someone who has not heard it before. At least, those are my preferred reviews to read. But at the root of it, it was the fact that someone had studied and learned the topic of music and albums enough to discuss it with others. They had also listened enough to question aspects of the music, such as where the musicians had acquired a particular style, or what they had listened to that influenced this, and so on. Ideas and concepts that may never be fully answered, but looking for evidence and suggesting to the suggestible listener possible solutions to theories and ideas.
And I had a thought to myself. I think the wording in my head went a little something like this:
“That’s some academia shit right there.”
And it hit me. It was. That’s what music history is, that’s what music theory is. That’s what English is. That’s what history is. The only difference between the professional academics that study these things and the casual enthusiast is that the professionals became so informed about their field that they could contribute it back to the community in a constructive way. The smartest about cars designs the best cars. The best electrician wires buildings the best. The more learned scientists comes to the most daring conclusions. The most fielded album listener portrays music in a recognizable way.
These people had found something that was their passion and found a method in which to support themselves, live their lives, and have an awesome career doing what they love. It was really inspirational. It wasn’t fully a concept that hit me strongly before because I occasionally take for granted that all of the things I do in my life to support myself, make myself grow, and expand my professional self is through music. I’m, for lack of a better choice of words and because it’s also a very relieving (if cliché) way to say it, a success story. I found my passion at a young age and am already at a point where it’s what I do to sustain myself.
This is why I find myself here now. If I wasn’t as gungho about this Featured Artist thing in my spare time before, I inspired myself to do it more. I love records and listening to them brought me here. I love talking about them, discussing them, and exploring them and I can do all of that here. So, I’m going to try to keep up with these reviews. I might only keep them up with the ones I like and explore a little deeper, but I will be exploring them nonetheless.
But at the heart of all of this, I think the real point is to not ever let anyone tell you that you cannot do something you love. You can truly set your mind out to do something, but you must be as familiar with your subject as you possibly can. Not merely the technical facts, but all aspects of your field. The people you deal with, the nuisances of the gear you use, the set up of different rooms, are all different things you might need to take into consideration to do your task the best it can be done and those are things not learned from books. Experience. It can be done. I love making records. I was told in my freshman recording class that the chances of us graduating and ACTUALLY making records was slim to zero. Ask any alumni of my program. Not many of them are actually making records. They used what they learned in the program and are applying it (or trying to) in areas that interest them the most. But I’m making records. Yes, I got lucky and ended up where I am. But I wasn’t going to stop till I found my in and I won’t let go till I die.
You can do anything you want to, you just have to want to work for it.