Music Discovery Via Warriors MAP

Sierra is nearly twelve, which means she’s going through the same independent music discovery that many of us did when we began to develop our own taste and make our own choices.

I’ve been pushing for this for years, because I’m an overbearing dad who just wants his kids to respect his record collection, probably. Both Sierra and Isaac (who has just turned ten) have accounts through our Spotify Family subscription, and now that they understand the app I hoped they’d be on a magical music journey, branching from one song to the other, listening to the seeds I tried to plant when they were young and finding their own music.

July 2019: Music Discovery Via Warriors MAP

  • “Blame” — Air Traffic Controller
  • “Les Fleur” — 4hero (f/ Carina Andersson)
  • “The Story of My Life” — Astronautalis (f/ P.O.S.)
  • “Rock Co.Kane Flow” — De La Soul (f/ MF Doom)
  • “10th Planet” — Hot Snakes
  • “Blue Lips” — Regina Spector
  • “Ten Percent to the Ten Percent” — Cursive
  • “Punch and Judy” — Elliott Smith
  • “Gloria: In Excelsis Deo” — Patti Smith
  • “The Center Won’t Hold” — Sleater-Kinney
  • “Cat Black” — Ty Segall
  • “Doctor Worm” — They Might Be Giants
  • “Footsteps in the Dark Pts. 1&2” — The Isley Brothers
  • “MOOD 4 EVA” — Beyoncé (f/ JAY-Z, Childish Gambino)
  • “Old 45’s” — Chromeo
  • “Could Be the Moon” — Cub Country
  • “Here Comes the Sun” — The Beatles

But that doesn’t happen. That’s not how any of it happens.

As kids, we find music through our environment; through soundtracks, and through the radio, and through the backgrounds of our experiences. Some of those songs stuck because they were good and meaningful and some of them stuck (or were shunned) because of peer pressure and that grasping need to fit in. It wasn’t enough to be spun at home by our parents. We didn’t listen to what older people listened to — and if we did, we didn’t present it as our own.

It wasn’t ours. At a time when we all try to find ourselves, we can’t rely on our dad’s music to lead the way.

So the playlists I made them as babies started to fade into the past. I let go. I try (and sometimes fight) to play what I want, regardless of their moods or taste. I hope they figure out who they are through music, surely. But I’m not the one doing the leading anymore.

For Sierra, that path toward musical self-actualization was through a book series called Warriors, which is about clans of talking cats that … do cat things in the forest. They inhabit a world deep enough that the more dramatic scenes are re-created through something called a “Multi-Animatic Project,” or a “MAP,” in which a handful of animators take turns re-animating clan battles and deaths over a bed of popular music.

Which has led to several months worth of “Oh, Dad, have you heard this song? I heard it in a Warrior MAP.” It was endearing for a while, but it reached a point where I had to put my foot down. I had to fight back: who is Sierra to teach me about music, especially after ignoring my pleas for so many years? Who is she to demand that I take time out of my day to listen to, I dunno, songs that are vaguely about heartbreak but can also be inserted into the folklore of fighting cat clans?

So I made her a deal. I’ll listen to her music. But she’ll also listen to mine.

Which led to a collaborative playlist. I give her one song, and she gives me another — almost always a song she found in a Warrior MAP, though she also has threatened to put some songs from these YouTube storytime animators she now follows. I try very hard to keep a narrative going: her choice of Regina Spector’s “Blue Lips” was followed by my play on the title with The Long Winter’s “Blue Diamonds,” but the note was not caught. I tried to follow a Jasmine Thompson song with Kate Bush and was rebuffed.

But I keep trying. It’s a way for me to try to make gentle suggestions without being that overbearing dad. It’s a way for her to listen to new things without the stigma of a playlist that she outgrew two years ago. And, it’s a way for me to connect a bit. There are some songs I really like: “Blame” by Air Traffic Controller; “Did You Miss Me” by The Veronicas.

The joke, of course, is on me. She hasn’t been shunning my picks; on the contrary, you can see where much of her taste has been built on those songs I’d play in the car. Her playlists are still filled with They Might Be Giants and Weird Al, and she still perks up when Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots comes on. And, while I always imagined I had little to learn, the songs that Sierra puts on the playlist always seem to surprise me. They’re smart songs, filled with heart and passion, even if some of the artists she chooses come across a little too earnest. She’s a lyrics person, which means she tries to get people to stop and just listen to the words, man. Just like her dad. Just like I still do.

She loves music. Just like I do. She loves it, and is now embracing the vastness of the world’s collected works. I’m not proud of her for finding a path and chasing it, or for selecting music that I also like, or for anything that has to do with her taste. I’m proud of her for recognizing that taste and owning it. For being her own person. For liking what she likes.

A few weeks ago, Sierra asked me about my favorite song. I didn’t have an immediate answer. There are too many. I definitely have favorite songs from certain bands, and I definitely remember some of my favorite songs growing up — “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota,” or “Song About an Angel” — but I don’t have anything that is a definitive favorite.

So it wasn’t a song that popped into my head, but the memory of an afternoon about nine years go. The Beatles had officially released their music on iTunes, and I was busy making a playlist of the new mixes. “Here Comes the Sun” started playing, and when it ended, Sierra wanted it again.

So I played it again. And one more time: “Again.” Over and over, on repeat; a little dance, a three-year-old’s humming. “Again,” over and over, until the iTunes song counter was in the 30s. For an hour, it was the only song we listened to. I wasn’t even mad. I learned every moment of that song, every sound, every second. She loved it, and so did I.

In that moment, back in 2019, as the memory faded a bit, picking my favorite song was easy. But before I could say it, Sierra jumped in.

“I think my favorite song might actually be ‘Here Comes the Sun,’” Sierra said.

Yeah. It’s mine, too. And now It’s time to pick another song for the playlist.

This was lovingly handwritten on July 21st, 2019