My goal, in this article and in life, is to ultimately undermine any notion you have of music or art that is inherently or objectively good.
Rachele wrote an article about a year ago related to this – she basically said that her ears have been so washed over with noises, noises that have a lot of similarities to eachother and some unique qualities, and her judgement has been contrary to majority judgement often enough that she was questioning her own ability and power to judge them, as is necessary in radio-station-running life (I didn’t give it a full re-read, I’ll admit, but that about covers it). As the RPM and weird-other-things MD, I don’t have that job, which I’m pretty glad about, as I tasted it last term and felt totally unprepared. And sometimes, to be frank, I did turn to reviews and rankings if I was totally unsure of my own power to decide the WLFM-related fate of an album.
Especially at this school, with a conservatory, and a thousand hobby-musicians, and a billion bands, there are a gillion people who feel really very strongly about the music around them. That’s awesome, for sure. I’ve found myself feeling a little lackluster about it in my years here, mostly because my ADD ensures that I absolutely cannot have sounds around me if I want to successfully read geochemistry, and I spend most of my time reading geochemistry (must be why I don’t mind hanging around in the buried, cave-like inferno of the WLFM station, hehe). My radio show is really the only strongly devoted time I have to seeking out new music, sharing it with peers, etc. And certainly, I feel positively and negatively about some of it. I’ve fallen in love with bands who don’t sound a hell of a lot different from other bands that I don’t care about, and I never figured out why.
So, the only “why” I can muster is that it totally doesn’t mean anything or matter at all!
Honestly, I think my arguments for the complete subjectivity of music sprang out of wanting to subvert and annoy my friends. Boy, have I got some music-snob friends (<3). I’ve had some pretty good discussions that started with my jumping on someone about calling a song/artist “bad” just because I knew I could do pretty well in the argument. However, it also partly stems from my discovered-in-college-ethics-class love of hedonism. Exclusive valuation of pleasure and the absence of pain, where the pleasure it totally experiential to each involved person, there are no actual better or worse pleasures, and it is up to the judgment of each person affected. AKA you don’t know better than anyone else, just do what makes you feel good without making others feel worse. The third foundation of my argument is basically in just not-giving-a-shit; what do my preferences have to do with other human beings making music and having a career and living their lives? The answer is very little, if anything.
Of course I’ve found myself in hypocrisy of it since deciding that I was the ultimate musical utilitarian – if I like the music a lot, or am listening to music created by someone looking for feedback, etc, sure, I’ll call it “good” and genuinely mean it. What I try to avoid though, is ever calling something “bad”. At a school like ours, with people like ours, this most often comes up in relation to POP MUSIC~~*~~*~~. There are people that despise Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, just kindof on principle. It seems to transcend any actual distaste or disrespect for their music or accomplishments – you can tell when someone really, without any explicable justification, hates them. And frankly, this is always born completely of a superiority complex or a distaste for the people at large that are making J-Biebz successful, which is equally dumb (hating J-Biebz for his not-uncommon misogynistic quotes, on the other hand, is fine). I really like one or two of the Biebs’ songs, and I really don’t like others. I made myself give him a chance. It went alright. But then spotify published it to facebook because I forgot to turn on secret-mode.
Mostly I think that no one ever can rag on pop music in any objective sense because it IS popular – a lot of people have expressed their like of it, and the result is the song becoming popular. Great. I trust the judgment of those athletic, optimistic, 13-year-old girls running the capitalist music industry just as much as I trust the judgment of some 24-year-old dude with hip glasses who has heard a thousand times more songs than her. 13-year-old girls are awesome, and super smart and learning about the world and it’s great. Each song has a purpose and a place and an audience, so long as it makes someone happy, then we’re good! The world is grand!
This is where I get into the muckier water of completely unpopular bands – I have been basing the subjective valuation of music in whether myself or others like it. This seems to imply that music that is liked by a smaller audience has less value. As a utilitarian, that probably is the actual conclusion I have to draw, but the not-giving-a-shit side of me wants to disagree. The not-giving-a-shit side of me says that the creation is making the artist happy, and then I just feel bad that they’re not finding more audience support, and mostly it doesn’t matter and hopefully they’ll be alright. Or, going further, there really is no value at all (sounds harsh, but science).
Further, a problem of the modern music industry (well, and music throughout time), is that musical success is not very closely tied to the degree to which people actually find joy and value in that music (flawed capitalism! [I’m not literally ragging on all of capitalism here, just saying that it’s not a perfect market if there is not a close relationship between the demand and the market gains]). In a perfect world (market), every person would be able to listen to every artist, without any bias, and figure out how much they really like it and invest in it appropriately. Recently, the music world is such that artists can be a lot more successful with some luck – you can plaster your songs and band all over the internet as much as you want. I can’t even fathom what it was like to try to start a music career pre-internet. But, frankly, there are other aspects (which I hesitate to call “negative aspects”) that allow people to literally pay for musical success (Ark Music Factory). Then again, Ark Music Factory turns out a lot of music videos, and only a very few have seen popular success, so RBlack must have been doing something right.
Ark Music Factory is the thing that the music-objectifiers (that’s not quite the term I mean, what I really mean is “people who are sure that there is “good” and “bad” music and that they know the difference best”) hate the most. This is because of the nature of art. I don’t really know how to approach this, because I’m too much a scientific-skeptic (good ol’ geochemistry) to even understand the philosophy enough to explain it well. Basically it is the valuation of art/music that is made “genuinely”, out of “sincere emotions”, made to “express those emotions”, etc. Any music that is made TO BE POPULAR is bad. Music made FOR THE ARTIST, is good, but I don’t think it’s all that’s good? Any music made for monetary gain is bad. I’ve made a lot of art, and even a fair amount of music, and I still don’t understand this one, but those are my best guesses. These ideologies are supported more by artists/musicians than by the people that tend to consume (rather than create) the music and art. This is why paying to make music is devalued, this is why performing music that you didn’t write (and benefitting from it) is devalued, this is why “ungenuine”, “dumb” artists (lay off T-Swift and Lana or else) are insulted and devalued. However, these all depend on a notion of art that is very narrow, and that, I argue, is useless, unless you admit you can only decide whether to categorize something as “art” by interviewing the artist while they’re connected to a lie-detector about their true motivation and intentions. I’m fine with anything being “art”, any song, whatever. I’ve written songs that I rather like but am embarassed about, and I think that’s stupid. It doesn’t matter.
I have some “cool” favorite bands, but I’m never really sure when they’re cool or why, and it’s really all just confusing and I have become a bit of a hermit when it comes to musical discourse. I also have some “guilty pleasure” music tastes (mentioned above), but I hate that they’re “guilty” – the guilt is not related to their actual value, especially their value to me. I’m trying to make them less guilty – because, let’s be real, if there is such a thing as objectively good music, then there are few better examples than the whole TLC radio station on Pandora.
RPM MD, Webmaster, Promotions, Scheduling and other Organizational-Tasks-person; RLM of Artistic Expression House; Proud Geology Major, less proud probably Philosophy minor;