Listen to Cool Music: Letters to a Teenage Girl

Seriously, listen to anything except the Top 40 stuff your friends are listening to. I’m not telling you to never listen to it, but you should cultivate a taste for other kinds of music for lots of good reasons you probably wouldn’t think.

My musical taste varied wildly as a teenager. I grew up in the ‘90s, and about halfway through that decade, some of the best music of all time was made. But only for a period of a couple of years, and then music on the radio sucked again. I didn’t know then that there was a such thing as independent music (i.e., music not played on mainstream radio), so I went backwards in time looking for music I liked.

My search led me initially to classic rock, mostly of the Southern rock persuasion, thanks to my childhood and my parents’ tastes. In my early teen years, I discovered jazz thanks to the iconic teenage movie Clueless, in which one of the characters references Billie Holiday. I started listening to her, which led me to Ella Fitzgerald, who in turn led to Louie Armstrong, and on to Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie and through most of the iconic jazz musicians and singers.

At some point in high school, the cool people I had become friends with (thanks to my taste in jazz) introduced me to independent music, like Belle & Sebastian and Braid.

Music might seem like a trivial thing for me to be giving you advice on, but music has been a huge part of my life. It’s soothed me when I was sad, calmed me when I was near the edge, propelled me through long nights of studying as well as countless miles of road, and lifted my spirits when I felt the most alone. Your taste in music is critical to your growth as a person.

Older People Will Respect You

My taste in jazz had an interesting side effect: When adults found out I listened to jazz music voluntarily and that I actually enjoyed it, they looked at me in a different light. Simply by branching out into a different kind of music, it was implied that I wasn’t like other teenagers, that I was somehow more mature. It was as if it hadn’t dawned on them that a teenager could like the same kind of music that they did. They started swapping CDs with me and recommending new artists for me to check out. It was pretty cool to have conversations with people older than me and to feel like I was telling them new things.

You Become More Interesting

Having a varied taste in music gives you a layer of complexity that your friends who only listen to the popular stuff on the radio won’t have. And that complexity makes you more interested to other people. “Oh, you listen to _______? I’ve never heard of them. What are they like?” Knowing about things that other people don’t know about makes you more interesting also.

It Gives You Something in Common With Other Cool, Interesting People

If someone else does listen to the same music you do, it’s like instant friendship. The more esoteric the music, the more instant the friendship. Even being interested in learning more about different kinds of music will draw you into a new circle of friends. The people from my teenage years who were most influential in molding me as a person, were people who either shared a common love of music or introduced me to a new band or type of music.

As an example, one of my fondest is memories is of the first time I heard Chet Baker. I was in a small bookstore when “My Funny Valentine” came on. His voice sliced through the air like a hot knife through butter. I asked the bookstore owner who it was, and we became friends. He guided me to the books who would shape my adventures through my early twenties, and who I am today. By hanging out in the bookstore, I met the people who would become some of my best friends.

It Opens the Doors to Opportunities

When I started listening to jazz, I began to pick out the sounds of the bass and fell in love with it. I quit my guitar lessons, and started bass guitar lessons. The next year I ended up in my high school’s jazz band, playing bass, which might sound dorky but it wasn’t. Playing the bass on stage and jamming out with the other kids on the weekends gave me some serious street cred, and continues to impress even today. I mean, it sounds cool, right? I used to play jazz bass. Cool.

When I got to college, even my limited knowledge of independent music landed me an opportunity that would turn out to shape my entire life’s career. I became a DJ and staff director at my college’s radio station. Thanks to good music, I got to run a radio station, DJ at clubs, and hang out with touring bands all through college. When I graduated, my degree didn’t mean much to employers. My experience at the radio station, however, landed me a job at a magazine, which led me to a job at a newspaper, which led me to marketing and owning my social media business today. Who knew?

So much of life is about who you know, and that ‘whole good music leading to hanging with cool people’ thing will lead you to some pretty cool opportunities.

You Will Be More Creative & Motivated

Good music should inspire you to be better, go faster, dream bigger, keep going, trust yourself, love deeper, be happier. You should be able to put on a pair of headphones, find the right song, and feel whatever you need to feel at that moment. Good music does that. Having that tool can help you get through hard times, train harder physically, concentrate better on studying, and sort through confusing thoughts. Being able to do those things will put light-years ahead of your peers, and heck, most adults too.

Music Gives Your Life a Soundtrack

Here’s another cool thing about getting into cool music as a teenager: you can turn on a song when you’re older, and instantly be transported back to the time period in your life when you were listening to it. Chet Baker takes me back to that bookstore and the days when I was discovering who I was, and Braid takes me back to the cafe I loved where the barista gave me a mixed tape with them on it. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to be able to listen to a song, and remember what I was feeling when I first listened to it. I feel so strongly about creating a soundtrack to your life, I wrote about it here.

Good music gives your life scope and context. I can guarantee your life will be better in ways you never thought. Keep an open mind and listen to some new things. You’ll thank me.

This post is part of a series called Letters to a Teenage Girl. Read the intro and other posts from the series here.

4 Responses to “Listen to Cool Music: Letters to a Teenage Girl”

  1. Scott Asai says:

    Interesting metaphor Holly. It’s similar to trying different foods. The more different varieties we are exposed to, the more open minded we become. It can help us become more sensitive to a different culture or generation. Enough of my sidetrack, music can bring a different dimension to life especially because it heightens more of our senses!

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Holly Hoffman and Stephanie Mayne. Stephanie Mayne said: StephMayneRSS Listen to Cool Music: Letters to a Teenage Girl: Seriously, listen to anything except the Top 40 s… [...]

  3. Great advice! Even as an adult I have friends who will only listen to what’s on the radio and I find that sad. Music has a way of touching your soul and meeting your current emotional needs, no matter what they are.

    Having a teenage son, it’s interesting to see his taste develop and to expose him to bands that his friends would never have heard of.

    I’m so glad I found your blog today. Keep up the great posts!

  4. I am looking for wayback machine to go back to 80′s. I want to go to some good rock or metal concert :)

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