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Surprise, internet: I judge people based on their taste in music. It’s a habit I developed from being a stat-whore on last.fm. I find it refreshing when I stumble across someone who listens to exciting music I’ve never heard before, and I find it annoying when I meet someone who listens to exactly the same music as others. It eludes me why someone would commit themselves to listening to one or two genres, much less only the members of that genre who get played on the radio. And yet as I look through dozens of music profiles, I find cookie-cut playlist after cookie-cut playlist, and I ask “why?”

Is there some reason that liberal arts girls in college always have The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Of Montreal, and Belle and Sebastian as favorite artists? It feels as though I’m just looking at the same person over and over again. I know that those artists are not technically the same genre, but damn it all, they are in spirit. People are not required to listen to them as a package, but it’s all I ever see. Likewise, I don’t get the guys my age who listen only to the bands that composed my original last.fm chart back in high school. Yeah, there was a time when I only listened to hard rock/nu-metal – my chart was Disturbed, System of a Down, Linkin Park, Korn, Sevendust, etc. What happened is that I developed a taste for other music, and my chart no longer is a showcase of 90’s-00’s hard rock bands. However, there are people who are in their 20’s and feel like it defines them somehow to listen to only this kind of music.

And then you’ve got your metalheads, some of which actually do make an attempt to branch out, but most of which have the default Gorgoroth/Behemoth/Dimmu Borgir/Burzum selection. Always humorous to me are the F-150 rednecks who are willing to listen to teenage girls like Taylor Swift just because it’s “country”. And how every raver has to have Daft Punk and Deadmau5. Give me a break, Americans. Is it really so hard to say “wow, I only listen to one kind of music, maybe I should try something new”?

Some words of advice when you do: if you try hip-hop, Lupe Fiasco alone doesn’t count; if you try metal, power metal doesn’t count; if you try electronic, anything that sounds like LMFAO does not count; if you try modern rock, Radiohead and Muse don’t count; pop doesn’t count. Stop copying and pasting your entire taste in music from your peers. Listen to something you haven’t heard about, for once. It will improve you as a listener, and it might change your taste in music completely.

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12 thoughts on “On getting locked into a genre

  1. I came from exactly the same musical background. There was I time where pretty much all I would listen to was nu-metal. Linkin Park was my favourite band and I followed them pratically religiously. Nowadays I still listen to my favourite every now and then but its not the only think I have on my iPod. Im much more eclectic with my choice in music.I think as you grow older two things happen. For one you mature and become less likely to become pigeon-holed by peer pressure. This means your taste in music naturally ends up becoming more mature and varied. However, unless youre really in to music (and not everyone is), you also tend to become less dependent on music. Eventually you get stuck in a so called ‘time warp’ and when you actually do feel like listening to music – you return to the old favourites you grew up on that give you a kind of nostalgia. This ultimately has an effect on record sales and what is played on the radio.Young people dont just listen to music for the sake of listening to music. They listen to it to fit in. Its like beer. Young people drink it to get drunk at parties, fit in socially and possibly get laid. Its not till they’re older that they become a wine or whiskey connoisseur. Thats why they cookie cut themselves. They dont want to listen to listen to the next avante-garde-post-modernian-glitch-gospelcore thats ground-breakingly complex because its not gonna get them any brownie points with their friends and they cant dance to it at parties. And even when they do decide to branch out its only so they can look all ‘cultured and stuff’ in front of their peers. Thats why rock listeners always include ‘The Beatles’ or hip-hop lovers ‘Gill Scott Heron’ even though they’ve only heard like one song – once.In short, most people dont like music. Most people aren’t passionate about it. They’ll only consume it for the purpose of fitting in, and when they do they pick the sweetest thing their immature pallet can handle. And then when they get older they’ll spend their time doing more important things – like paying child support or mowing lawn.

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  2. I never get around to saying it, but I actually think that’s the problem with music. I don’t blame the record companies for producing terrible music. They’re going to do what makes money. I blame the people that listen to it, and then proceed to have arguments with me about how “taste in music is subjective.”It is subjective… if you’re listening to actual music. What really gets to me is actually the first group I labeled out: the hipster college chicks. The problem with them is that they’ll actually go as far as to judge others on their taste in music, when they’re really only listening to the same thing over and over. I’ve tried really hard to get into folk. I’ve done Bob Dylan, I’ve done my man Tom Morello, I’ve done Sufjan Stevens, Mumford and Sons… it just fails to hold my interest for more than an album at a time.It’s not just a “me” thing, either. Folk is not a remarkably complex style of music. it just isn’t. You get your acoustic instruments together and you sing about “the war”. And it’s not like the hipsters are listening to a diverse blend, either. If they’re going to pretend to like music, they could change it up for my sanity.

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  3. I think thats half the problem. For the hipsters its not about the music – its about the lifestyle – the image they’re trying to convey. Thats why you dont see many emo kids anymore. Its not in vogue. The few you do still see are the actual emos who are passionate about emo music.In my last comment I said most people dont like music. I take that back. Most people do like music. But I do strongly believe that most people aren’t ‘passionate’ about music. I remember I had a mate and from England and all he’d listen to was indie rock. I tried showing him other styles of music but he just couldnt get into it – wouldnt give it the time of day. When I asked him why he said “When it comes to music – you need it – I don’t. My passion is travel”.And there in lies the problem. Most people choose music to match their lifestyle instead of matching their lifestyle to suit their music. For another example – I have absolutely no passion for cars. I drive a Subaru Impreza and everything is stock standard. The real car connoisseur would blame people like me for the reason why the majority of commercial sports cars today are cheaply built, mass produced and gutless but have a shiny exterior. And yes when I bought the car it was for purely aesthetic reasons. And because I wanted to fit in with my peers who all boasted V8s and FWD’s optimized to peak performance. At the end of day though – I dont care. A car to me is just something to get you from A to B. And hold a seriously expensive sound system :). And thats all music is to most people. Just something to keep the ears occupied while getting on with one of life’s other passions.

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  4. I actually do like cars, and am a big Top Gear fan (and there is some great music on that show, btw), but I can’t afford any of the super nice cars I’d want. What’s important to me is simply PURSUING the best. If you watch movies, try to watch good ones; if you watch TV, try to watch good shows; if you listen to music, try to listen to good bands, etc.If I can help myself, I’ll try to make my next post here about something positive, whenever that may be. Maybe something will piss me off in the meanwhile. I’ve been listening to a lot of music that I’m enjoying, so I’ll try to think of something in the next couple weeks.

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  5. Check out this linkwriteeditrepeat.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/oh-i-only-listen-to-rock-rap-is-not-real-music/Btw your spam filter is stopping me haha

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  6. With respect to the spam filter, are you saying it won’t let you post hyperlinks, or it won’t let you post at all? I didn’t actually know there was a spam filter, but I could see them not letting links go through.As for that person’s blog post: I agree that people should listen to all kinds of music, and that is, of course, what THIS blog post was about. You’re not really getting the most out of music if you’re only going to listen to one kind (and that kind is inherently uncreative).What I don’t agree with is her decision to grant pop music the status of “real”. Synthetic music, as she calls it, is bad, and the reason it is bad is because it is “manufactured,” not “created.” She cites blockbuster movies without pointing out that most of them are truly awful – as is pop music. They are not creative, they are meticulously crafted to maximize profits by appealing to those who do not care to find better.Yes, it might be real music, but it is real music founded on tired melodies, tired beats, tired lyrics, and an arbitrarily selected pop idol-of-the-year. It’s not bad because the radio plays it, it’s bad because there’s nothing meaningful in its composition. To me, it really fails to be art at that point. I think the people that listen to pop a lot just don’t actually LIKE music that much. And I wouldn’t hold it against anyone if they told me I wasn’t a food connoisseur because I eat at McDonald’s a lot.

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  7. Yeah the spam filters doing its job 🙂 oh and by the way. I enjoy a good argument about music so I hope you never take any of my opinions personally. I think its good to talk to people with different views on music. It helps me better myself as a musician.Ok lets be clear about something first. What the writer of that blog refers to as ‘synthetic’ music, I take to mean electronic music and all its related subgenres. If thats what you take it to mean then I believe it is a fallacy to say that it is ‘manufactured’.

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  8. What I understand ‘manufactured’ to be is more of a mindset of the producer. Music which has been manufactured has no heart or soul. Its purely out there to serve a purpose or make money. Having said that another artist can then take that song and pour their heart and soul into it and make it art. Which I believe is how the majority of pop music works today. The problem is, where as before pop artists would work soulful lyrics and melodies into the song provided for them, today they are getting song writers and auto tuning their voice to the point where the term artist is no longer relevant. They are merely a product. Or a celebrity.Now getting back to ‘Synthetic music’. I believe any style of music can be ‘manufactured’. The majority of the stuff coming from American Idol is ‘manufactured’. The style can be anything, rock, hip-hop,edm, whatever. But I dont dislike pop music. I’ll get back to that soon.

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  9. A little background on myself. I’m a producer and produce mainly EDM styles. Ive tried my hand at everything: hip hop, electrohouse, trance, dubstep, glitch,downtempo, etc. And I like to that I’m creating music, not manufacturing it. I spend alot of time thinking about the melodies and tunes as well as the groove and rhythm. Its my art. Having said that I did manufacture a song once. A friend of mine who raps had trouble making beats. So I manufactured a song for him. I still put a little bit of my soul into it though… I have a penchant for brooding moody piano solos which I like to add to most of my songs.. kind of a signature. So even then it was totally manufactured… I still put some creative vigour into it. Hell I didnt even get paid for it. Just did it coz I enjoy making music. But it is all synthetic music though….I also play guitar and was heavily into the rock/grunge/metal/numetal scene before I got more seriously into electronic music. Back then I called all electronic music ‘techno’ and believed ‘techno’ was easy to make and not real music. Boy was I wrong. This is the difference between ‘real’ music and ‘synthetic’ music. In real music you spend years learning your instrument until its like an extension of your body. And then you bring that skill into a band and produce ‘real’ music. In ‘synthetic’ music you spend several years learning about production. You learn about compressors, equaliser, limiters, saturators. You have to master over 50 synthesizers, meticulously tweaking each one till you get the most out of it. You have to be involved in every stage of the process and even after you have mastered all that, you still have to be artistic about it.I also used to think like you when it came to pop music. That was until I began DJing. Then pop music takes on a completely new meaning. Love it or hate it, the hooks of pop songs are going to form the soundtrack of most peoples lives. And as a DJ you capitalise on that. I frequently will mash and remix songs that blend the hooks of top 40 songs with more underground styles. And it gets people dancing without even realising that they are dancing to someone they have never heard of. Pop music serves its purpose.But I wouldnt be hating on pop music in itself. Id be hating on the celebrities that pose in front of them. Take Britney Spears for example. Does she make her own music? No. Does she write her own lyrics? No. Is the voice we are hearing hers? No, its autotuned. Do we get to hear her for real at concerts? No, she lip syncs? Can she dance? Yes. Whoopdy freaking doo. As far as im concerned Britney is merely a marketer. She gets 30 other real musicians, gets them to make music for her and then brands her name over the top of a product. I despise her.But the producers she uses are actually pretty decent. Take Max Martin or Dr Luke for example. They are really decent producers who make money from what they do because they are good at it. When I hear pop music I dont even care about who is singing anymore. Today is the age of the producer. And the quicker you realise that the quicker you will realise that pop music is not all bad music. Read up on Dr Luke’s bio, he would listen to bad music over and over, if there was a guitar part he admired, so he could figure out what the guitar player was doing right. And that is where he succeeds. He views music not only from an artistic view point, but from a scientific one as well. Its important to view music from both angles. It helps better you as a musician.

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  10. Yeah, see, I wasn’t actually referring to electronic music when I said synthetic. I was referring to pop music specifically. I agree with your take on electronic music, and since it is composing more than half of what I’m listening to these days, I do think it does a good job conveying emotion.Because I agree with almost all of your paragraphs, I will just address the last two. I recognize that behind every pop artist is a pop producer. The reason I don’t approve of that is the “science” of it. They’re taking the things that work from various songs not because it was musically relevant, but because they KNOW that such a hook or such a melody is guaranteed to make them money. Then they just put 2+2 together into a song and give it to Kesha or Britney.When I think of applying some science to music, I very much attribute it to electronic artists/DJs who mix something I HAVEN’T heard before, rather than the pop guys who mix things specifically to recreate what everyone already likes. Since you mentioned pop mixes, I happen to enjoy those a lot. There is a guy on youtube named djearworm who makes one each year for the top 20 artists or something, and I like how he links together the lack of creativity in each song (and that can only be blamed on pop producers) into a new, much more intelligent work.You might have noticed that I created two songs of my own a while back on my blog (when I had more free time). I don’t know to what extent I achieved it, but my goal with those two songs was not to compose the soundtrack for most people’s lives, but rather to create what I was hearing in my head. Now of course, I had no idea what I was doing, so I used like one built-in synth over and over, but I felt like I accomplished something creative, rather than doing some “ok, I am going to use the I V VI IV progression because everyone likes that, and I will make sure that not too many things are happening at once, because people prefer simple.” So, without really getting into whether or not I did a good job, I feel like you and I had the same philosophy in making our music. It wasn’t about doing something as textbook as possible so that everyone would like it, it was about an investment of ourselves into art. A lot of rock artists, electronic artists, classical artists, etc. succeed at this very same thing. I don’t feel like any pop artists do. The closest it gets is when you have a pop artist that became famous on a whim, so they hadn’t “sold out” yet, per se.

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  11. Well I guess at the end of the day pop producers have a job to do and unfortunately they are largely restricted by the tastes and selection of the pop artist as well as current trends in music. I’m sure plenty a pop producer has felt one time or another that they were being restricted musically, but the flip side is that they get paid to do what they enjoy and it at least affords them the opportunity to ever so subtly change the landscape of music. How much of that happens really depends on the producer and what their motives are. Im guessing that there are also a fair share of pop producers that are purely driven by money and view it not as an ‘artist’ or a ‘scientist’ but as a ‘salesman’ purely interested in big bucks.

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  12. Its hard to tell what their motives are but sometimes I do hear pop music which employs some interesting out of the box musical techniques and I feel both the producer and the artist get a nod in that instance. The producer for daring to explore new musical territories at the risk of losing the contract, an the artist for having an open mind to being a trend-setter and not a follower.I think in practice you need to be a combination of all three ‘mindsets’ to varying degrees if you are going to be making pop music… if we take pop in the context of ‘popular music’. If you are happy making weird, surreal indie-jazz-baroque music that nobody but you and a select few in bulgaria enjoy then continue viewing it from an artists point of view. If you enjoy making 246 bmp glitchtechcorestep music or long winded 9/7 beat math-metal that only a few college professors and metalheads then by all means view it from a scientist point of view. And if you just wanna make money but have no respect from anyone – become a salesman.When I was younger I used to enjoy making websites and made some for a few friends. I decided to have a go at doing it for a job. And you know what? I hated it. At the end of the day I felt like I had no artistic control and that I was merely a tool in the clients hand. So I gave up on that and I have resisted pursuing music as a career purely for that reason. However if someone was paying me millions of dollars to produce generic pop music which takes me only a few hours to make in ableton live… to hell with art… id give them what they want, save the best tunes for myself and ride of the pop artists exposure. I imagine this is the mentality of most pop producers.

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