On the first day of 2021, I committed to listening to an album a day, every day, for a year.
The original goal was to gain a broader sense of music so that I could improve as a musician.
What I didn’t foresee was that the ritual would not only fuel my artistic work, but also become a crucial anchor in my life.
Here is what I learned:
1. Having a daily ritual is transformative.
Maintaining one consistent habit each day establishes stability in your life. When things are uncertain, it feels good to know that each day you have a fixed task. It becomes meditative.
Daily rituals also help you get sh*t done. Small gains add up to big results (thank you, James Clear). If the end goal is monstrous, like writing your first novel, you might quickly become overwhelmed and quit. But if you commit to the ritual of writing three pages a day for 365 days, you will end the year with 1,095 pages. The odds are pretty high that within those pages exists your novel.
So chip away at it, day by day, and notice that not only does the goal become attainable, but also, you feel a sense of purpose by actively and consistently working towards it.
2. You hear the music as the artist intended.
Music is storytelling. By listening to an album sequentially, you are not only honoring the artist’s creative intention, but you are also getting a deeper sense of who the artist is and what they have to say. You experience the intended flow of the music.
You can also find hidden gem tracks that take your breath away. Listening to an album in its entirety also forces you to become a more mindful participant, rather than a passive observer. As you listen, you practice paying attention (see: stanza #4).
3. Music has the ability to help us understand who we are.
Great music gives us a glimpse into someone’s soul. To me, there are few things more profound than experiencing those moments when a musician is expressing something you know to be deeply true but you’ve never heard articulated in that way before. In these moments, we are given the chance to see things differently. We bring this new perspective back into our lives as we return to ourselves. We expand.
4. Enjoying other people’s music sparks your own creativity.
Actively listening to musicians play the music you love helps your music-making improve.
When I first heard Haim’s “Women in Music Pt. III” album, I was so inspired that I pulled apart a few of the songs and recreated my own versions of them. I wanted to understand what they were doing and how they were doing it. It taught me a lot about songwriting.
It’s impossible to create art while running on an empty tank. Yes, that means getting rest, spending time with people that inspire you, meditating. But it also means consuming art. Artistic energy can come from anywhere – self-help books do a lot to inspire my songwriting.
Dig around a bit. Listen to other artists, go to museums, attend a play. Pay attention and fill that tank, baby.
5. Music is a powerful unifier.
When I started this ritual, it came up a lot in casual conversation. With my friends, with other artists, with strangers, with the barista at my local coffee shop (shout out to Eric @ Oslo!). Not only did it make for a great conversation starter, but learning what music people liked helped me understand them better. It also provided me with tons of album recommendations.
Great music creates communion. Listening to a musician tell the truth of what it’s like to be alive, especially when surrounded by others, gives us a sense that we’re not alone. This I believe is sacred.
I encourage you to create your own daily ritual and see how it changes you.
It could be anything. My mom does the NYT crossword. My dad swims laps. My mentor writes in her 5-minute journal.
Pick something you enjoy. Even better, pick something you can build on. Day by day, you might not notice the change. But months or years later, you’ll see the transformation.
I’ve enjoyed my album ritual so much that I’ve continued it beyond 2021. If you have a recommendation, I’d love to hear it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Album I’m Currently Listening To: St. Vincent’s “Daddy’s Home”
Lyric I’m Currently Thinking About: “So I try to say goodbye my friend / I’d like to leave you with something warm / Cause never have I been a blue calm sea / I have always been a storm” –Fleetwood Mac