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Picture 4.pngCompetitive Eating?
It’s hard to judge music, but I have to. It’s a necessary part of things for me. As those of you who have read my previous posts (here, here or here, for example) know, to be consistent when doing so may be impossible.
When I’m writing my own songs or making records, it’s at least possible to be definitive. I just have to do stuff that I believe in. Not easy, but possible. As Pandora’s music curator, though, it’s a whole different thing. I have to maintain a sense of aesthetics in general; a sense of musical quality that goes beyond my own opinions and tastes.
It’s a narrow path to walk.
On one side there is a kind of musical moralism which says: “this is good and that is bad; and therefore you should listen to this and not that.” On the other side is what you might call musical sociopathy, with its relativistic axiom: “there is no such thing as musical quality; everything is equally good.”
I don’t relate to either of those points of view at all, and I don’t want to.
Top Chef
Happily, though, I’ve found a strategy that is just imprecise enough to filter out esoteric pitfalls while allowing for some ideas to get through: I talk about music as if it’s food.


In my next post I’ll get into some of the specific ways I indulge in this intellectual costume party. Today it’s just about a mix tape and a general principle.
Food Groups and Pyramids
Some foods are high in sugar but probably won’t get you through a day in the mines. Other kinds of foods are not too tasty, but your internal organs really like them. And any kind of food is probably bad for you if it’s all you ever eat.
Is the same true for music? Picture 5.jpg
Lots of the time, if people get mad and say that popular music is bad music, they are really upset by how much of that music people are listening to. I mean, everyone likes a piece of candy now and then, right? But there’s candy and then there’s candy. If you have some every so often, lovely. But if candy is all that’s available, then some people might get sick of it (there’d be some happy kids though, at least while they still had teeth).
All Things in Moderation, Including Moderation
I bet we can all agree that, food-wise, a balanced diet is a good thing. This week’s theory is that the same thing holds for music.
Like any balanced diet, the one I’m serving up contains meats, vegetables, tv dinners, cakes, chocolate-covered insects, wine, fast food, gourmet experiments, regional cuisine, ripple, crumpets, juice, astronaut food, water, vitamins, chemicals, delicacies, gross reality show eating-challenge food, and of course, candy.
I’ll look forward to hearing how the station strikes you, and writing about it next time.
—Michael
(music curator)

Comments

  1. Tony
    November 11, 2009 at 8:38am
    I'm going to go against the tide here and disagree with the food analogy. Our bodies require a variety of vitamins, minerals and food groups to remain healthy. I believe it's completely possible for someone to listen to one style of music and have a completely "healthy" musical life (ie eating only candy and remaining healthy.) A lot of us would be utterly bored with such a musical "diet" but as long as the person listening is getting what they want out of their experience who am I to say it isn't "healthy." On that note I do like a fair amount of variety in my music but as others have said there are styles I'm completely happy without. My iPod has been the second greatest single musical tool since I started using it. I almost always listen on shuffle mode and love the way all of the music I love flows by my in random fashion. It's really cool to have a sequence including Sonic Youth, a song from the Mary Poppins soundtrack, a surf guitar instrumental, the Lindsay Lohan song I love and then great noise from The Pixies all come together. Pandora is the greatest tool for me. I never would have guessed that I'd love a Lindsay Lohan song until it came up on one of my Pandora stations. I have a blind spot for most top 40 artists, but now I know I like music from a number of them in addition to the obscure bands I also continue to love. Pandora has provided me with a larger musical buffet from which to choose.
    Reply
  2. Chris Gilroy
    November 13, 2009 at 11:42am
    Nice! I find the whole Pandora movement - yes, I said MOVEMENT, absolutely fascinating. I personally listen to a wide variety - I'm a very "mainstream" kinda guy but its not all I want to hear. Along with my staple of radio-friendly Alt Rock, some Electro indie and such, I like to throw in some Classical, Stadium Operatic Rock (Queen, Muse), Country, Oldies (Sam Cook, the king and tons of classic love songs), Blues and Spanish guitar! Pandora is SMART and such a cool tool. I'm in an unsigned band myself (Axium), and pending an approved submission people worldwide who want to hear the specific kind of music we make will have access to our music - and thats makes it a fantastic selling tool as well.
    Reply
  3. Zach
    November 15, 2009 at 9:20pm
    I was literally just thinking of comparing music to food yesterday. This fantastic article goes much deeper than my thoughts did.
    Reply
  4. Kevin Seal
    November 18, 2009 at 2:09pm
    Tony wrote: >> I'm going to go against the tide here and disagree with the food analogy. Our bodies require a variety of vitamins, minerals and food groups to remain healthy. I believe it's completely possible for someone to listen to one style of music and have a completely "healthy" musical life (ie eating only candy and remaining healthy.) I see your point, Tony Toni Tone. Personally, I'm trying to avoid eating pork, beef and chicken, so Bacon isn't generally in my desired food pyramid. But I think what MZ was getting at -- correct me if I'm wrong, Michael -- is that we need a variety of foodstuffs to keep our souls engaged. It's up to YOU what variety entails. You may only love jazz, and that may be healthy for you to limit your food intake to just jazz... but if that's the case, at least give yourself variety within that universe. If you limit yourself to Miles Davis, that's not healthy. Explore some Ornette Coleman or Stan Getz, or even better, some of today's young lions like Brad Mehldau or Joshua Redman. Dig?
    Reply

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