Ignore Ignorance

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Posts Tagged ‘instruments’

They Don’t Want Music

Posted by Brandon McKoy on October 21, 2009

Recently a friend sent me a link to Party & Bullshit in the USA, the Miley Cyrus / Notorious B.I.G mash-up song, proclaiming that it was “incredible.” I’ll let you decide for yourself whether or not the song deserves to be held in such high regard; personally I think Biggie is rolling around in his grave waiting for someone to say his name three times so that he can temporarily come back to life and put a cap in the ass of whoever created it.

After listening and letting my buddy know how much I really hated the song, and by extension all things Miley Cyrus, we got into a pretty deep conversation about music tastes, appreciation, and the role of radio. When I mentioned how much I liked the new Raekwon album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. II (one which many hip-hop heads think is better than Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3) my buddy said, “not everyone can be into super underground shit.” …at this point my head almost “asploded” as some would say. Raekwon isn’t even close to underground rap, anyone who has any decent grasp of the genre knows his name and his reputation. On the website Metacritic.com (which compiles reviews and ratings from all over the place and combines them into an average score, with 100 being the highest), Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. II is listed with a score of 89. Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 has a score of 65. Underground music barely has any potential to get recognized, let alone outscore an album by arguably the best rapper of all-time. But I digress…let me get to the real reason why I started writing this.

There is a Huh-UUUGGEEEE difference between the music tastes of people who simply listen to/enjoy music, and those who play/have played an instrument (this includes singing, not trying to segregate or discriminate here).

That’s not a particularly surprising or sensational statement, and I think a lot of people agree with it, but the reason for this is really troubling to me. Sure, people who play instruments are going to naturally have a deeper appreciation for music since they have at least some base understanding of how it works and is constructed. I can play drums, bass, and piano, but enjoy drums the most. When I listen to songs my ear immediately tunes itself to the drum track before anything else, it’s an automated behavior. That’s probably not going to happen for anyone who hasn’t played an instrument, so right off the bat it’s easy to see why people who have played instruments have a deeper appreciation for the music they listen to.

The level of appreciation someone has is going to affect the diversity and variety of music they listen to. Remember the kid that almost made my head “asplode?” Well during the course of our conversation I discovered that he had “1,000 to 1,500 songs” on his computer. That many songs comes down to about 60 albums worth of music (using 15 songs per album as the average)…that’s barely anything at all! According to my Last.fm page I’ve listened to 1,389 artists…let alone songs. I said to my friend that the difference between he and I was the whole playing a musical instrument thing, and that kids who did play instruments had a greater diversity in taste. His retort was that “if you know what you like, what is the problem?” That’s just it though, how do you know what you like if you don’t make the effort to listen to different things. When I was a wee-child (not as long ago as it seems) I absolutely hated watching my mother eat her favorite food, lobster. It was disgustingly abhorrent to me that someone would crack open a poor lifeless animal and gouge out its insides, simply for selfish personal satisfaction. Then one day, my mother made me try a piece of her lobster tail…and my favorite food for the past five years has been lobster. One can’t really know what they like if they keep experiencing the same thing over and over. My buddy said that 1,500 songs is plenty and you don’t end up listening to the same thing over and over….I just yelled at him.

At this point my snide remarks and berating got to my friend and he called me a music snob. I get it, I definitely do feel that I have a really great perspective on music. I don’t discriminate, I listen to anything and everything I can get my hands onto, even death metal thanks to my college roommate Steve. But who’s the real music snob here? Someone who’s open to anything and everything with open arms, or someone who thinks they already know what they like and isn’t really willing to go out and listen to different things?

I previously mentioned Last.fm, which I consider to be a Godsend of a website that tracks all of the music you listen to on iTunes, Winamp, your iPod/iPhone, the Last.fm website itself, and 78 other gadgets/mediums. You then have your own profile where you can view all of the songs and artists you have listened to in a pretty sweet layout. You also get your own personal library radio stream which is based on the statistics of your listening habits. You can sort these stats for the last 7 days, 3 months, 6 months, year, and all-time. There are even apps out there that will create little artistic pictures for you of your musical tastes, such as a collage of your most listened to artists that you can use as a desktop wallpaper. You can add your friends and look at what they’re listening to, join groups, and track the tour dates of your favorite artists. It also suggests artists you might like based on your listening habits. Simply put, I think Last.fm is awesome-o.

A lot of the people I know who play/played instruments use Last.fm. A lot of the people I know who listen to music for pleasure/enjoyment use Pandora. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain Pandora considering it’s popularity, but just in case: Pandora is a music streaming platform that creates playlists and stations based on the artists you enter. Kind of like the personal library stream that Last.fm has, except it relies on a self-report of your tastes instead of statistical tracking. It’s pretty good, but it’s no Last.fm.

All in all, I have to say that I’m pretty happy that people are at least listening to music on platforms that encourage them to discover something else they may like. These services along with mp3 players have made the radio a non-entity for a lot of people. I can’t remember the last time that I listened to the radio and enjoyed it. Has anyone ever heard a song last longer than 3 minutes and 30 seconds on top 100 radio? Sure, you have your classic rock stations or your old school R&B; stations which play lengthy songs in their en
tirety, but I’m talking about current radio. Everything is tailored to an ADD, 10-second attention span, twitter & facebook updates every half an hour, kind of generation that writes something off as crap if they don’t like it in the first few moments. What happened to listening to something all the way through before you formed an opinion on it?

Some of the good bands that I’ve been listening to lately (and Last.fm will confirm this, so very convenient) are Passion Pit, Raekwon, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I have never heard any of them on the radio (maybe Gold Lion by YYY’s once…ONCE). Why? Because their songs take more than a couple of minutes to play out and be fully appreciated. Who do I hear all the time on Z100 though: Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, etc., etc. I get it Z100, D.O.A. is a pretty good song, but when you played it almost every half hour for 3 weeks straight and one of the lyrics is, “this ain’t for Z100, ye told me to kill y’all to keep it 100,” you look stupid.

Popular radio doesn’t care about providing the public with good tunes that’ll do more than just make your head bop. They don’t wanna expand your horizons. They just want the dollar bills. No, I’m not naïve, I know it’s a business, but I do have a problem with people who base their music tastes on what the radio plays. In a previous post I commented on the mainstream news media, saying, “all it’s doing is reinforcing your current opinion, not challenging it.” Well that’s what “popular” music radio is. It plays something that you won’t necessarily hate, and doesn’t play it long enough for you to form a proper opinion of it. They just keep force-feeding people whatever financially benefits them and the industry the most. Music is more than a techno beat with uninspired lyrics thrown on top of it. Music has the power to do so many things; it can challenge, sadden, and inspire you. It can pick you up from the bottom of the pit and give you the confidence to take on any obstruction you may face. It can humble you and make you appreciate the many little things that you take for granted every single day. The radio doesn’t care about that, and listeners don’t seem to mind ’cause they just want to bop their heads. They don’t want music.

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Listening to: The Black Eyed Peas – They Don’t Want Music (feat. James Brown)
via FoxyTunes

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