Let me set the scene.
At this point, it is the late eighties and I am a young boy living in Palatka, Florida. As I mentioned previously, the classic rock station blasts hits from the 60’s & 70’s and R&B is on the rise, even garnering a station in Florida’s, at that time, packed FM band. Life was great, or at least, it seemed to be to a 9-year-old kid. At this point, I am only interested in music as background noise, something to destroy the silence. Go-karts, girls, and deviance was what interested me.
Even with my ignorance to what music would ultimately mean to me, I could inherently feel the rhythm. I started receiving formal musical instruction when I joined the middle school band. I had a background in percussion, my neighbor’s dad was a drummer, left-handed now that I think about it. I had dabbled in drums and banging on various objects, with various other objects, my entire life. However, it wasn't until I joined the band that my love for music was solidified.
I developed from concert percussion to kit drumming fairly quickly. Once I understood how music was timed, the rest was easy. Playing the drum kit opened me up to a variety of music. I played jazz, classic rock, early-metal and even some post-hardcore heavy metal. I’ve experimented with other varieties like pop and country but was bored quickly, the drum instrumentation is too boring, and people don’t like it when you’re throwing in fills in random spots. In my defense, I love fills.
I am still not the drummer I wish to be; I may never reach that goal. It doesn’t matter, I enjoy playing music and that’s my driving force. I would like to say that being a percussionist opened my mind to the broader aspects of music and it allows me to be a better judge, but this isn’t necessarily true. It’s more complicated than that, and yet, very simple.
You either love music for what it is and what it can be, or you simply don’t understand music’s true purpose. This isn’t to say that someone who doesn’t understand music can’t appreciate it. This is to say, that a person will have prejudices about any other style of music that is not their favorite. This is okay, everyone has a taste and preference. It’s those very prejudices that cause music to be as diverse as it is. This also creates a good music judge, coincidentally.
My tastes and preferences with music is part of my personality, however, they don’t define me. I enjoy a good metal tune. I like technical metal, preferably instrumentals. (Vocalists have a way of destroying an otherwise awesome song.) I’ve listened to the darkest death gutter metal you could, yet, I’m not in any way suicidal or a Satan worshiper. I don’t dress in all black, or sport a Mohawk, or engage in some other ridiculous means of self-promotion, but I am a consummate metal-head. On the opposite extreme, when I listen to classical music I sleep. Not because the music bores me, but because it has a story-like quality which eases my mind enough to allow me to sleep. I listen to ambient, spatial-style music to sleep, the method works so I’m just adjusting the variety to suit my life. Then there’s EDM or Dubstep/Trap/Techno/House, etc. There are so many variants, I’ll just stick with saying EDM. I’m not a fan of all styles of EDM, however, I can identify with them all. It is a drum machine and a synthesizer, after all. All this adds up to a smorgasbord of stuff, with some relation, and a lot of distinction.
Music is music though, no matter the style, it is all written relatively the same way. This is this key component that a true music aficionado understands. I wish everyone understood this; I think music has the ability to free minds and souls (if you believe in those creepy things). Anyone can write music, absolutely anyone! However, perspective being the fickle monster it is, some people will not understand or like it. This doesn’t mean it’s not music, it just means that it’s not universally pleasing. I think that being able to understand why music is important is crucial to being a good music judge.
My judgements are based on several key factors: musicianship, technical prowess, emotional connection, and the “mundane factor”. Musicianship is simply how well you play your instrument. I don’t care if you’re playing spoons, play them well and with passion. Technical prowess is probably the lowest weight judgement I give. I understand that not everyone is a virtuoso, so I do not require that extreme level of writing. I listen for the emotional connection; this can easily outweigh how simple or complex a piece of music is. Without that connection, music becomes a grouping of sounds that may or may not have a point. My most weighted judgement has to be the “mundane factor”. Is this something I have heard before? Is it the same four notes over and over into infinity? Is this just some run-of-the-mill song created to sell commercially? (That is one of my least favorite reasons people make music.)
Notice that in my judgement factors, "style" didn’t make the list. I don’t judge on style. I don’t personally like country or bluegrass; however, when reviewing a country/bluegrass song, I’ll analyze it just like I analyze all music; without my personal bias. This gives the artist a fair and equitable chance. The music is judged on the merit it presents. Is it a quality song by a quality musician/vocalist? Does it have a strong emotional connection with its intended audience and/or is it a technical piece showcasing the prowess of the artist? If the piece of music answers these questions in a positive manner, it gets a good score. While, I don’t judge writing but I can see correlations in the written arts and the musical arts when it comes to composition and emotion. It is either a good story, or it is not. Either way, somewhere out there, someone loves it.
For more information about the diversity of music and its many forms, I urge everyone to look up
TEDTalksX of Mark Applebaum: The Mad Scientist of Music.
Until next time, keep making art and trying to save the world one animal at a time.
\m/ >.< \m/