I’ve been thinking alot lately about the music ‘cool’ factor. What makes one artist ‘legit’ and another a ‘sellout’; one artist a ‘serious’ musician, another a ‘phony’? Why are people sometimes embarrassed about their music tastes? Fiona Apple’s “Tidal” was a masterpiece, but so was “Saturday Night Fever” and Celine Dion’s recording of “My Hear Will Go On.” Cat Stevens is a great songwriter, but so are Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond. So why are they treated so differently? As a practicing musician for many years I came to really appreciate what it takes to write a good song. From the ‘simple’ pop diddy, to the intricate rock opera. I have a deep respect for anyone who is able capture some kind of sound that resonates with an audience, however small. It’s incredibly difficult, and while some songs just don’t appeal to me, I’ll never knock the effort. And if an artist can sell millions of records, that’s nothing but goodness as far as I’m concerned.
I read a great article a few months back written by Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty (GQ Magazine, June 2005). He and his bandmates have apparently become something of a lightning rod for critics. It’s a very personal, honest article and a must read for anyone who cares about music. He talks about the bewilderment of being shunned in social settings and being the subject of constant ridicule in the general media, all because for some reason he’s found himself on the wrong side of cool:
“It’s not easy being in Matchbox Twenty. That’s the part of life that most people don’t know anything about – that when you turn on the TV and there’s someone making fun of people, they could be making fun of you. Whenever that happens I grip my seat and get that familiar dread, that ‘oh shit am I going to be part of that’ dread…”
The vulnerability of his response to being called a ‘watered down sellout’ reads in stark contrast to the vitriol directed towards him by so many people, none of whom had even met him: “I just write the kind of music I want to hear on my car stereo.”
I sometimes wonder what would happen if all music was published anonymously… Maybe with Pandora we can start a new trend of ignoring artist labels and shining the spotlight back on the music.

Comments

  1. What I Write Is What I See
    November 02, 2005 at 2:46am
    "I just write the kind of music I want to hear on my car stereo." Pandora: "I just write the kind of music I want to hear on my car stereo.": I've been thinking alot lately about the music 'cool' factor. What makes one artist 'legit' and another a 'sellout'; one artist a 'serious' musician,...
    Reply
  2. Peiying
    November 02, 2005 at 4:18am
    I Came from HK but in Australia,I registed today and I was touch deeply by this great work you guy's have been done!!And also the Introduction WROTE BY TIM!! So so AMAZING....YOU GUYS ARE MAD and SOOOO Passionate!!Music is the greatest gift across naions across race get into everyone's heart~I'm so glad I found this amazing gift in here! Cheers!
    Reply
  3. Dave’s World
    November 02, 2005 at 10:18am
    Only Two Kinds of Music The great Duke Ellington once said that there are only two kinds of music, good music and bad. That theme is explored a bit in a great article on the Pandora site. The article was the subject of agreement on at least one other blog. It really does ...
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  4. Teee
    November 08, 2005 at 7:33pm
    Haven't read the article, but it's really hard to be sympathetic to someone who's gone and become a slave to the whole let's write some formulaic tripe and promote the hell out of it system of commercial music - and then whines when everybody doesn't love him. Maybe the whole "just writing something I want to hear in my car stereo" kind of thinking is the problem. Music isn't necessarily about complex tonal patterns and layers of instrumentation - it's also about expression and artistry. Bob Dylan 's popularity didn't come about from operatic prowess. I'm sure I haven't said anything anyone doesn't know, I just feel that I had to say it, because I find the hate against Rob Thomas funny - mostly because I haven't (and presumably never will) become a commercial music success in any way shape or form, and he has, so he is therefore worthy of the hate directed to him by those of us who harbour deep wishes to be rock stars but know they lack talent. It should be written in the constitution or something.
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  5. Dave
    November 09, 2005 at 5:50pm
    One of the things I've noticed that seems to be common among musicians is a real appreciation for any kind of music. It's not necessarily that musicians seek to be influenced by anybody, but if you ask the guys in, say, Turing Machine whether or not they can see how Benny Goodman was great, I imagine they'd all say yes. So now imagine you're Rob Thomas. You don't dislike any music - you get chills listening to Public Enemy just as much as Sun Ra. And suddenly people are thinking you're cr*p, something you'd never say about another musician. It's got to be really strange. And as far as saying Thomas is somebody who's decided to write "formulaic tripe," remember what Barry Manilow said about his music, something along the lines of "I know it's cheesy, but I can't help it, it's just what I write." So here's a question: if Rob Thomas is writing sincere-but-bland music, is that better than the Sex Pistols, who were originally a cynical, commercial enterprise? (Not that I'd know a Matchbox 20 song if I heard one, just giving the guy the benefit of the doubt.)
    Reply
  6. Mike
    November 11, 2005 at 5:14am
    As a musician, this is an issue that has bugged me for many years. There is a desire to appeal to people, but to avoid appealing to the lowest common denominator. It's very difficult to maintain an effective productive focus when these different factors tug you in so many different directions, and it also doesn't help that half the time you write something and think "so and so would love this!" only to play 'so and so' a collection of tunes and for them to pick up on something else entirely. And if you're trying to pander to people's tastes, you (well, I, certainly) tend to make muddled or overpowering tracks that aim to cover too many bases simultaneously, that seem to sound good (because you've listened to it 1000 times, so you understand it), but are met with blank expressions or well-meaning but ultimately frustrating conflicting constructive criticism. I read a really good book "If you want to write" by Brenda Ueland, who makes a brilliant case for the "I just write the kind of music I want to hear on my car stereo" approach to the creative process. Or as Mike D from the Beastie Boys puts it "Be true to yourself and you will never fall". Since I began to subscribe to this ethos, I have been amazed by the wide and positive response to the tracks I have produced - the sounds I like, however discordant or unsymmetrical, are being lapped up, because when I put the tracks together I did it whilst saying I want to make music that _I_ will want to listen to. We're taught that we should 'write for a target audience', but really you should write with yourself as the audience; when a musician (or artist of any kind) has a high degree of trust in him- or herself, then so will others, and they can be very productive, true to themselves, and possibly even make a bit of cash on the way...
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  7. Scott
    November 11, 2005 at 5:28am
    Well, let's be honest here, Rob Thomas does write commercial, formulaic music, but at least it's not Smashmouth. I just found Pandora today via del.icio.us and I have to give you guys major credit! When I typed in Elbow (not expecting to get any results) you delivered - pretty much hit the nail on the head.
    Reply
  8. Music
    November 15, 2005 at 12:54am
    Mayor's aggressive new group herds country music awards to New York
    Reply
  9. sean
    November 15, 2005 at 9:00pm
    Trying to dissect the reasons why some artists are cool and why some are uncool from a music quality point of view is a bit flawed not wrong but simply examining erroneous factors. Sure we as humans find songs and artists that move us, stimulate us, excite us, etc. Other than those visceral factors humans use music and artists as badges to convey to others who they are and what they stand for. Many times artists and there works fall out of favor and become uncool when they become too mass appeal for the badge wearer to successfully use them to establish themselves as a true individual. Of course this varies greatly depending on what subgroups you are trying to impress. The tolerance for pop music varies greatly in mass culture than it does with say the indy crowd. It's only natural and in fact primal. Artists like Death Cab for Cutie, The Subways, We are Scientists, She Wants Revenge , the Living Things, Aqualung and a host of artists can start out as cool and hip when they are relatively unknown, but after they are embraced by the music mags, promoted by the record companies, cuddled by the masses and then ultimately support by the mass appeal then the artists cred takes on an unmanageable life of it's own. When Death Cab wasn't found on any radio station anywhere you could say that they were a pure offering. Now Alternative radio stations and magazines across the nation and around the world tout there wears, concert venues that feature this band are now beginning to bulge with eager concert goers who now love this band. This is the apex of the Death cab for Cutie movement. Soon, very soon this band will be featured on Adult Contemporary music stations everywhere simply because of the texture of the music and its popularity in the afore mentioned radio stations, magazines and concert venues. You can't impress potential sex partners or your piers with bands that you embrace if they're featured on your mom's favorite radio station. Bands/artists have no control over who will embrace their work. They recorded pure unblemished music in the studio. Other than a potential few marketing dollars and early adopters they have no control of who will embrace their work. It's only a matter of time before they are shunned for being sell-outs through no fault of their own. And so it goes. Your mileage may vary. This product includes FET and exchange. See your dealer for details.
    Reply
  10. Ick of the East
    November 17, 2005 at 7:36am
    I was turned on to Pandora a few days ago in a motorcycle forum, of all places. I don't know how to define cool and uncool music, but there is no question that this is one of the coolest Internet aplications ever. I don't think I've ever heard music stream at this level of fidelity. Kudos all around. And around again. Sing it Ella! It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing! ================================= I understand the difficulty in classifying Classical music,if you are trying to do it as you do with other genres. So why not just give the user a selection of broad categories? The Spinner program used to do this. PLAY A CLASSICAL STATION Ancient Medieval Renaissance Baroque etc.etc.etc. Forget about choosing favorite performers, and focus on the genre. The user can then refine his station with likes and dislikes. It is too big of a hole and it must be filled somehow. But I'm sure you've been thinking about it longer than I have. Good luck. Oh, sing it Billie! Ick Bangkok
    Reply

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