Imagine you’re at a five-star restaurant. You’ve ordered a steak, and it’s cooked to perfection. It just might be the best steak you’ve ever eaten. As you head out the door, your friend mentions that this restaurant uses a microwave to cook all its food. You’re shocked and say, “A microwave? What a rip off! I’m never coming back here.” You were just served a jaw-dropping dinner, and now you’re complaining. It’s a silly analogy, but this is how we’re treating music, and we need to stop.
What sets music apart from other modes of expression is the same characteristic that encourages snobbery: an unconscious appreciation for music. This causes those of us who study or create music to assume that the general population, with their underdeveloped knowledge of the subject, must have inferior tastes.
I understand the excitement you feel as a music student when you recognize concepts from your theory class present in a song. I do that too, and it’s fun, but it doesn’t make us special. People who don’t know the difference between a major chord and a half note also get chills from an awesome key change. They enjoy it just as much as you did when you heard it. It’s easy to fall into that trap and assume that people with no formal music education cannot relate to a song as deeply as you can. However, it’s not just musical knowledge that can make us snobs. Arbitrary standards that dictate how music should be made may be even bigger culprits.
Katy Perry didn’t write any of her hits, but they’re still great songs. The Temptations didn’t write “My Girl” either, but that doesn’t take anything away from the song. Still, you can find many self-proclaimed music lovers who would balk at a comparison between the two. Don’t bother telling them that modern pop has not really changed throughout the years. It’s still a bunch of big corporations finding the best songwriters, performers, and producers and putting them together to churn out hits.
“How you can say that? Those hits are soulless, shallow, mass-produced pseudo-art. There’s no integrity.” You are wrong again. Consider the case with photography. Some pictures are undeniably art. Some aren’t skillfully taken but are fun to look at. Does this mean they belong in the trash? Of course not. I’m not telling you to like or dislike anything but to appreciate this music for what it is: a collaboration between many talented people who are creating a song that’s fun and easy to listen to. What’s wrong with that?
Frankly, there’s only one thing that should determine your judgment of a piece of music: Do you enjoy listening to it? I know it sounds too simple, but let me explain. Everyone appreciates different aspects of music, but none of those characteristics is inherently important. The true importance lies in the listener’s reaction to the music.
Feel free to disagree. Keep your head high, and reassure yourself that your theory classes or your hours of research to find unique, obscure bands have given you some enlightened understanding. In the end, what matters is the amazing sensation of a melody that resonates so deeply that you feel like it’s actually a part of you, or a rhythm that gets under your skin and forces you to dance. You can’t teach those things in a class. Fortunately, you don’t need to — it’s a quality inherent in all of us.
Lucas is a member of the class of 2014.