“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, 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.

Pandora

The Pandora Team http://www.pandora.com/

32 thoughts on ““I just write the kind of music I want to hear on my car stereo.”

  1. “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,…

  2. 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!

  3. 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 …

  4. 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.

  5. 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.)

  6. 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…

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. The musicians, and not the scenesters, want to hear the music they want to hear, regardless of who may have made it… but there are millions of real musicians who nonetheless don’t totally empathize with Rob Thomas here.
    The problem isn’t a battle between the big corporate labels and the valiant independent labels, though it can be seen that way.
    If artists on, say, Yep Roc and Alternative Tentacles shared the airwaves equally with artists on Epic and Capitol, there would still be backlashes against popular musicians.
    …the problem is that some musicians have incredible opportunities — fully paid studio time… advanced editing equipment… support structures… agents and managers… radio exposure… advertising… promotional tie-ins… the ability to make the music they want to hear and get it to people who might want to hear it — that have traditionally been unavailable to any but the luckiest musicians. They are lucky that someone else liked something in their music enough to become a patron of it.
    Most people are pleased with most of the music that’s presented to them — thanks in part to the radio programmers using listening research of the type this site does. Unfortunately, this means that most people don’t value a creative impulse to explore the vast, fantastic realm of music in search of other things to enjoy.
    Why should they? I don’t say this sarcastically. Why should we have to look for music we like if other people are looking for us? I really don’t know. I don’t hate the music on the radio. I hate the commercials, and I hate that ClearChannel, purportedly a communications company, don’t seem to care what it is they communicate as long as they’re making money… but I don’t think the music is fundamentally bad.
    I’d like to think that there is something inherently good in seeking out music that I personally love, perhaps writing it, and not just waiting to be shown it. I don’t know that it’s not a waste of time… I hope that I will come to hear music worth the effort and inquiry.
    If I had a shot at actually hearing on my car stereo the kind of music I want to hear on my car stereo, I would have no hard feelings towards Rob Thomas or other similarly lucky musicians. As it is, I’m torn.

  11. I’ve been an in the closet Matchbox 20 for a long time. I always thought they got a bad rap, perhaps it was the image that the record company sold, but their music is great. I think that with many groups overexposure causes them to become uncool and that could well be the case with these guys, who knows.
    I absolutely love Pandora, my ipod collects alot of dust since I found you guys. Thank you so much!

  12. Pandora is such a turn on for the musician and the lisener alike. One can even get tibets of information about the music they love or hate, and end the end get a deeper appreciation for it all. congrats are in order.. ;) truly an influence for this musician..

  13. PURE GENIUS keep it up if more you guys should really think about how to get it in peoples car and you would make how should i say this “A KILLING”

  14. Just wanted to say how much I’m enjoying Pandora! I found it today via the BBC Radio Two ‘Website of the The Day’ feature and within a short time I’ve become hooked! The clarity of the music reception is really good and I love the thumbs up or down feature on the music being played. Keep up the good work, and thank you!
    Andrea

  15. Pandora is one of the most brilliant discoverys I’ve made for quite a while. The quality of the software is unmatched – I’ve been listening for about 2 hours now and have only come across 3 or 4 songs that I didn’t like. I think that the focus of the software is exactly right and frees people from the parts of music production that don’t really matter allowing them to concentrate onthe music.
    I’m also quite surprised at the range of and artists that I’d never heard before. I usually think of myself as having looked into the areas of music that I like quite thoroughly but more than 75% of what is offered is totally new to me.
    Clear two hours of your day and sit down with Pandora – you won’t want to disconnect ever again.

  16. As a producer, I can safely say that anything Rob Thomas churns out is gold. Making music is not easy. In fact, to write solid tunes, one must not only know the sound they’re after, but they must also be in touch with their own feelings. Personally, I don’t like Matchbox 20, never have. But it’s not because the music is poorly written or mass produced. It’s because the emotion it conveys is “I’m a horny teenager punk” which is fine! It’s not me but music is not all about writing for your audience. When people say music speaks to them, they’re really saying that the emotion the soundwaves coming from the speakers conveys is along the lines of what they’re feeling at that moment. So if you’re sad, a great blues track really hits the spot, or if you’re pissed a nice Rammstein or Fear Factory will do. It’s all subjective and it’s all about the interpretation of the music. If you don’t like Rob Thomas because you look at everyone else and see that they think he’s uncool, then you are the uncool one. How does the music “move” you? That’s the question.

  17. I too would like to offer kudos for your work. It is quite simply, brilliant!
    It’s very refreshing to listen to what I like rather than what the most popular DJ deems is best. Sattelite came close but nothing compared to this! The human race is becoming nothing better than sheep. Following blindly that which their shepherd deems acceptable. We need a few more wolves to restore strength to the herd and promote thinking for themselves.

  18. Here, Here, Jay. I’m stealing that last line: “If you don’t like Rob Thomas because you look at everyone else and see that they think he’s uncool, then you are the uncool one”
    At one point we even debated whether the songs should be anonymous (at least initially), just to give the artists a fresh listen each time…
    Thanks for the comment. Cheers. Tim (Founder)

  19. awwww….this article made me feel all warm and fuzzy
    i’ve loved matchbox twenty since fourth grade and i’m sick of people thinking they know better than me just cuz they have a pair of dickies and an indie hair cut that they can’t even pull off. its nice and all that you have a scholarly grasp of the official hipster’s list of acceptable bands to listen to, but that doesn’t mean you know shit about music
    and, incedently, modest mouse continues to rock, sudden (justified) popularity be damned.

  20. Intrigued by the title of this blog, I investigated further. I had no idea who Matchbox 20 were, but I recognised Rob Thomas from his collaberations with Carlos Santana, someone else who – it could be said -sold out to commercialism, but nevertheless has made a massive contribution to music over several decades, an opinion I have that is often the butt of many jokes among friends. So I visited The Matchbox Twenty web site, and its not really what I like to listen to, but I have heard many bands like this and I can appreciate the skill and talent involved when producing this style of music. I never take down music that I don’t like, it’s all a matter of personal opinion and taste. Wouldn’t it be a terrible world if we all liked the same things, sooo boring. Anyway, I’m sure Mr Thomas will get over it, and continue to please his many fans.
    I agree with Tim Westergren. Popularity be damned! Listen to what makes you happy.
    About Pandora… A friend told me about you guys last week, and i’ve not stopped listening since! I put you to the test yesterday by searching for a duo caled The DIning Rooms from Milan, Italy. ‘Sorry we can’t find anything from the Dining Rooms but we’ll check it out’. Next day three songs from Dining Rooms. Superb! This is a fantastic idea, and I love the way it is not genre dependent.

  21. What a delightful, well-written piece by Tim…the last paragraph sounds like an anthem for Pandora…i suddenly felt like running his thought up a flag pole and getting everyone to salute!
    Sharon

  22. I feel like a caveman that just discovered fire. I’ve been listening since yesterday and I can’t stop. Finally I’m not bopped around from the Linkin Park pit to the Jewel lounge to the John Mayer cafe. There are actually scores of musicians out there playing incredible music and they aren’t being pimped by a corporation! Imagine that. And now a piece of technology is able to comb my musical taste buds and play songs I didn’t even know I liked. Oh the irony.
    Do you need investors?????

  23. I never take down music that I don’t like, it’s all a matter of personal opinion and taste. Wouldn’t it be a terrible world if we all liked the same things, sooo boring. Anyway, I’m sure Mr Thomas will get over it, and continue to please his many fans.

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