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What is it that makes good music?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Artist Discussion Goto page 1, 2  Next [all]
Author What is it that makes good music?
Wawiggler
You can say you don't like the Beatles but I'd suggest you would have to concede that they made good music. Likewise classical music may not be your thing but but the test of time results are in. People still want to hear Requiem over 200 years after Mozart penned it. Good music. Now before you all start scoffing about that being the million dollar question you all wish that you knew the answer to, or that its a a dash of magic or touch of the fae, if that's too big of a question....From time to time I suspect you all listen to new music, whether its skipping after five seconds on soundcloud or deciding to get the vinyl after streaming the album, whatever. At some point it resonates with you and you decide its good and you like it (or you don't). Even better, what are you trying to do with your music?
Hoping for your input, I've come to some rather cynical conclusions in my thinking I hope you can assuage me of. Or at the very least be an interesting topic.
Cheers.
(ps. I don't know the correct answer so have no ability to respond negatively to any response)
flo
Well, the correct answer is in your post, but maybe you don't see it:

It is a good composer / arranger.
Joe.
The listener being capable of disinterested contemplation.
Wawiggler
Thank you for your response. I'd be grateful if you could elaborate. I acknowledge a lack of appreciation of musical theory. If you could generalise?
Zube
Personal taste is... personal taste, and so many factors are at play determining this. I don't think there's any definitive universal answer for "good" or "bad" in the arts, and it becomes a dangerous game to apply those universal labels- I would have missed so many of my favorite records by not giving things a chance. My human brain, I just connect with whatever touches me emotionally. My music science brain however always enjoys good melodies, interesting arrangements, and excellent lyrics. There is definitely music I love that is one, but not the other, or both.

What are your cynical conclusions?

and what do you mean by the question, "what are you trying to do with your music" - are you talking about on an artistic level, or a business level?

Honestly I don't think about music in those terms. If I don't like something, I don't spend time to figure out why, as it is better spent somewhere else with something I do enjoy. A lot of people I know would argue the "good" of *all* the artists and genres you mention. So I'm curious what you're thinking here.

**edit** I do need to acknowledge, that when I do hear a song I don't like, I note the producer, the studio, and any significant gear used, so I don't encounter it again.
Wawiggler
I googled disinterested contemplation...... Good answer eek!
Joe.
Wawiggler wrote:
I googled disinterested contemplation...... Good answer eek!


It's one of the reasons Noise-artists exist, and their fans consider particular works to be good music.
Wawiggler
I acknowledge good is generally a subjective value based term. I'm not looking to define that so much as allow the diversity of responses. Sort of the same broad subject meaning different things to different people for different reasons. I'd hope not to appear rude and uncooperative if I were to hold back my thoughts. (in hope of not influencing or restricting the responses).?
Wawiggler
I really like your answer btw zube. You both score very well.
Wawiggler
Oh and artistic level is of much more interest than business...Wow. You note the producer, studio etc? Blacklist them for all time? Wow....... That seems heavy, and seems to imply a natural ability and no possibility of change or improvement. I.....admire your conviction.
Wawiggler
I guess I think the world is becoming a very noisy place but most people aren't saying anything. I'm afraid when someone does nobody will hear them. (I'm scared of becoming a bad listener)
Zube
Wawiggler wrote:
Oh and artistic level is of much more interest than business...Wow. You note the producer, studio etc? Blacklist them for all time? Wow....... That seems heavy, and seems to imply a natural ability and no possibility of change or improvement. I.....admire your conviction.


Thanks there Wawiggler. I understand not wanting to color people's responses.

No, I don't blacklist them for all time. But I definitely mentally note it, and I'll probably completely avoid producers whom I don't like, more than artists or studios. I guess without dissing anything specific, if I hear an R&B song and I think, "Wow, the bass sound is really corny," I might look up who played on that song, what type of amp/bass they use, so I don't do what they do or use what they use. The studio thing tends to be more of noticing that maybe multiple records I don't like, have been made in the same studio, by the same people. Sometimes you'll just not click with someone's recording style- they always compress too much, etc. Maybe every record from that producer in that studio has a room sound you despise. No point in giving a pop singer 100 more tries if you hated their first ten singles. It's kind of torturing yourself to do that, I guess.

There are definitely artists whom I really disliked on my first listen, but later on gave them another chance, heard other material, and they became some of my favorites. Everyone has a chance for improvement- sometimes they don't change but you do and see it a different way- but most of the time, people like what they like... regardless if it's a child prodigy or someone in their 70's who knows 2 chords.

The natural virtuoso thing vs. learned skills, I find we don't hear many super learned players outside of classical and jazz worlds anymore. There are of course lots of exceptions (not many 2010-today though.) The city I live in is full of musical virtuosos, and it definitely creates an environment where music becomes more of a sport and popularity contest; personal competition, rather than actual sharing of art. It creates a lot of sameness to the musical scene, a real stifling of real, actual creativity. When everyone can play at an incredible level, it's not as special anymore, so only the truly once in a lifetime amazing players stand out.

It's not enjoyable to give, say, George Thorogood a 25th chance if you hate what he does the 1st 24 times. Then again maybe on side 2 of one record there's a jam you've never heard, and you love it. That's why I love terrestrial radio and talking to others- artists get second chances a lot more vs. what happens when you use a curated-by-you app.

What are you trying to do with music: this is a very complex question, I think a lot of people are trying to do a number of things with their music, all at the same time, be it to express their inner feelings, to exercise their mental, physical, or technical musical muscles, maybe to meet other people, even to make a living, or find romantic love. Often for some of the young folks, to pass a class or get a degree! I don't think any of those motives are "bad" - they only might become bad when someone pursues them without thought, or consideration for others, or by pretending they aren't the real main motivations. I think everyone at some point wants to meet people, or pay the rent, or impress their peers via their talent- no matter what they'll publicly admit.

I definitely fall more into the "express inner emotions" and "meet other people" group- I'm going to write and record and do these things regardless of the other reasons, as I always have since I was young, and I share them publicly to make human connections to the world around me. I definitely don't turn down checks or opportunities, though hihi There was a time in my early 20s when I would have had to put a check next to each one of the reasons that I listed, if I am being brutally honest with myself...

Wawiggler wrote:
In hindsight I definately should have called the thread why you like the music that you like. and given we seem to have stalled.....I concede that given my lack of research this can only be a negative reflection of me......I guess i belive my appreciation of music to be extremely prejudiced and the result of preconditioning. I feel damned to only ever edge briefly away to slight variations of what I already like. It is my fear that I would dismiss a work of genius due to not being ready to hear it......Don't hate me. I'm trying to broaden my horizon. I am gaining an appreciation of different genres and even learning to like....Its just, I guess, I haven't found much music lately that has connected with me I guess......And there are whole oceans of it....



I hear you on this. It can be really hard to "break the box".

I think this section of the forum is REALLY great for breaking the box. I like to type into the search engine names of artists I like, and there's always at least one or two threads here that give me an entire afternoon of new stuff to try.

Why do I like the music I like: a combination of my past experiences, my current experience, and how the music makes me feel at that given time. Those factors are as close to a logical explanation I can give as to why I like what I like.

Thanks for this thread, it's something I haven't really thought about. I've always thought more about it in the "producer's chair": what other people like and why, not about myself! Sorry for the long reply! You made me think a lot about this...
cheers
ignacio
Very subjective, but who doesn't like the Beatles? smile
ignacio
Very subjective, but who doesn't like the Beatles? smile
Wawiggler
I greatly appreciate your words and you sharing them. I imagine that if you are as thoughtful and open as this professionally, your probably very successful.
ps I hope you find a timbre, great modules by a great guy SlayerBadger!
milkshake
Good music is uncompromised transference of emotions through sound.
ngarjuna
If music is generally sound organized over time then music which is "good" will reflect patterns of organization (or disorganization in some cases) that resonate with one's experiences. Since people have vastly different personal experiences (and contexts by which they understand and judge those experiences) there is considerable variation from person to person in terms of resonance; which can make it hard to be any less general about the subject.
Wawiggler
It is my suggestion that perhaps (for the most part) this resonance is like pavlovs dogs. Bells good buzzer no. Why do we spend so much time making a snare sound like a snare? Did you ever get an album where the song that you liked immediately you can now no longer listen to, its the song that initially you thought the worst (took the longest to come to appreciate) that has held your affection? I once put on a cd single on the way to work I was excited about, the passenger demanded that I turn it off, that it was the worst song he had heard in his life. 4 mths later after commercial radio had flogged it to death wanted to turn it up all the time...(I was sick of it by then). Whether he acquired the taste like aclimatising to a hot bath or needed to be told that it was good is beside the point. "The search for Sugar Man" posed some interesting questions for me (beyond the way popular music is distributed and accepted by the mainstream) One minute I'm listenening to prodigy next minute(figuratively to old man) I'm listening to factory floor. Play that on a road trip and see how many tracks you get through until someone wants to skip to something else. You like chili you start putting it on everything, next minute drowning food in it, you like that but you wouldn't recommend that everyone should do that. This world is overun by people talking about their opinions. I like this , me too, cool, lets be friends. Maybe your like me and have zero interest in that but I think people have lost sight of the fact that buried in these opinions are facts. You can sit back and suggest that there are many ways to skin a cat (whats good really mean? - depends on the person), I'm no expert but I reckon that there is probably a best way (to skin a cat) and if it were my business I'd be awfully keen to learn it. I'm more than willing to believe that I'm wrong but it is my hope that there is something to music that affects us beyond our preferences and in spite of our prejudices. Ie a write or wrong (fact) that is beyond opinion. Based on my lurkings in this forum I feel grossly unqualified to hazard a guess but lately I feel I've lost my way, striving for the illusive tambre of a sound thats all my own, but I fear I've been worshipping a false idol. My love of electronic music has brought me to strange genres that I have come to appreciate deeply but .....I'm missing the love.....(sadly I don't dance but I think I get it). This technology has afforded unprecedented surgical precision to timing. Call me crazy if I believe rythym affects us on deeper level than we are aware of. PITCH. It is time for the next level of melody, harmony, counterpoint. PLEASE I'm begging any manufacturer.....we all know the magic of two oscillators in unison - or mildly off - or wherever. AM I a fool to dream of something better than buffered mults into adders/offsetts. I'm not even talking about 432 and just tunings (although the Anunnaki seem likely to me). Yes I'm excited about the utune - only hope its mildy simpler than the uscale. Imagine two 1v/oct outputs on a sequencer with precision offset. (digitise it twice for all I care). Rock solid oscillators (again digital - hell make it a sample for all I care) ...oh and a good frequency counter...please wake us from this offtune midi driven multitracking nightmare we find ourselves in. If you won't do it for the magic, I'm pretty sure there is some money to be made. Won't someone please think of the children?
I've rambled. In summary chocolate or strawberry icecream - opinion
Well done steak - your doing it wrong thats not an opinion (I'm vegan now btw meat is murder)
Choose to believe in good Music
ngarjuna
Wawiggler wrote:
It is my suggestion that perhaps (for the most part) this resonance is like pavlovs dogs. Bells good buzzer no. Why do we spend so much time making a snare sound like a snare? Did you ever get an album where the song that you liked immediately you can now no longer listen to, its the song that initially you thought the worst (took the longest to come to appreciate) that has held your affection? I once put on a cd single on the way to work I was excited about, the passenger demanded that I turn it off, that it was the worst song he had heard in his life. 4 mths later after commercial radio had flogged it to death wanted to turn it up all the time...(I was sick of it by then). Whether he acquired the taste like aclimatising to a hot bath or needed to be told that it was good is beside the point. "The search for Sugar Man" posed some interesting questions for me (beyond the way popular music is distributed and accepted by the mainstream) One minute I'm listenening to prodigy next minute(figuratively to old man) I'm listening to factory floor. Play that on a road trip and see how many tracks you get through until someone wants to skip to something else. You like chili you start putting it on everything, next minute drowning food in it, you like that but you wouldn't recommend that everyone should do that. This world is overun by people talking about their opinions. I like this , me too, cool, lets be friends. Maybe your like me and have zero interest in that but I think people have lost sight of the fact that buried in these opinions are facts. You can sit back and suggest that there are many ways to skin a cat (whats good really mean? - depends on the person), I'm no expert but I reckon that there is probably a best way (to skin a cat) and if it were my business I'd be awfully keen to learn it. I'm more than willing to believe that I'm wrong but it is my hope that there is something to music that affects us beyond our preferences and in spite of our prejudices. Ie a write or wrong (fact) that is beyond opinion. Based on my lurkings in this forum I feel grossly unqualified to hazard a guess but lately I feel I've lost my way, striving for the illusive tambre of a sound thats all my own, but I fear I've been worshipping a false idol. My love of electronic music has brought me to strange genres that I have come to appreciate deeply but .....I'm missing the love.....(sadly I don't dance but I think I get it). This technology has afforded unprecedented surgical precision to timing. Call me crazy if I believe rythym affects us on deeper level than we are aware of. PITCH. It is time for the next level of melody, harmony, counterpoint. PLEASE I'm begging any manufacturer.....we all know the magic of two oscillators in unison - or mildly off - or wherever. AM I a fool to dream of something better than buffered mults into adders/offsetts. I'm not even talking about 432 and just tunings (although the Anunnaki seem likely to me). Yes I'm excited about the utune - only hope its mildy simpler than the uscale. Imagine two 1v/oct outputs on a sequencer with precision offset. (digitise it twice for all I care). Rock solid oscillators (again digital - hell make it a sample for all I care) ...oh and a good frequency counter...please wake us from this offtune midi driven multitracking nightmare we find ourselves in. If you won't do it for the magic, I'm pretty sure there is some money to be made. Won't someone please think of the children?
I've rambled. In summary chocolate or strawberry icecream - opinion
Well done steak - your doing it wrong thats not an opinion (I'm vegan now btw meat is murder)
Choose to believe in good Music

It is common to apply labels to one's sensibilities such as "normal" or "universal" or "not an opinion" but that's really just flattery and confirmation bias. There will always be lots of other people who share similar contexts to yours but, likewise, there will always be plenty who don't. There's just no realistic indication anywhere that one preference is inherently superior to another.
Wawiggler
So the quality level of music is entirely subjective?
ngarjuna
Wawiggler wrote:
So the quality level of music is entirely subjective?

Well let's hypothetically remove the subject. Let's present the first NKOTB album on one hand and Steely Dan's Aja on the other...or Bach vs. Rebecca Black...or whatever you imagine to be a really tragic imbalance of talent and sensibility...to a rock. What do you believe the net difference would be in the experience between the two 1) for the rock [let's say a non-sentient subject for the sake of argument] and 2) in general?

So yeah I would say qualitative judgments on art are entirely subjective. That's not to say that there aren't interesting patterns and trends worth noting; but I don't think those are absolute in nature, I think they are the result of commonalities in our experiences.
commodorejohn
Wawiggler wrote:
So the quality level of music is entirely subjective?

Nah. But it is, in a pretty fundamental way, ineffable.

I mean, I fundamentally think of music (and I include as "music" things like musique concrète and ambient soundscapey stuff, for the purposes of this discussion) as having these key components:
  • Progression. This is the way the piece changes over time - introducing new elements to a previous pattern, changing existing ones up, or taking off in entirely new directions altogether.
  • Pacing. This is closely related to the above, but has more to do with how changes in pace and energy create tension that "draws" the listener through the different sections. Rhythm is commonly a large part of this, though in some styles it's more implied than stated.
  • Timbre. The actual sonic character of the parts or the whole. The many ways in which mere sound can slither past our eardrums and get right into our brain and be music. This seems to frequently be kinda neglected in more formal music analysis, but I count it anyway since music has to be heard through an instrument at some point (unless you're Lord Vetinari.)
  • Catchiness. Sometimes it's a melody. Sometimes it's a rhythm. Sometimes it's one particular point where there's this really neat sound that crops up somewhere in the mix. But any good piece has something that really catches the listener's attention and makes them think holy shit, that was cool and keeps coming back to them later in the day/week/lifetime.

But here's the thing: I can list those fundamental aspects. I can analyze the way different pieces exhibit them. But I can't explain them. I can't tell you why Chris Squire's bass tones are wonderful, what makes that goddamn riff from "My Sharona" infectious enough that I enjoy the song in spite of finding it disturbingly sleazy, or how Paul McCartney pulls off such miracles of progression and pacing that he can literally stitch together random scraps of material and create that terrific mini-suite on side two of Abbey Road that couldn't sound more natural if it'd been deliberately written that way. People more articulate than me can analyze and categorize things from a music-theory standpoint, but that's not a why either.

In the end, music just can't be pinned down with absolute certainty. That doesn't mean that it's all purely subjective and we only find things good or bad because they coincidentally tickle our brains a certain way - I don't believe that for a minute. But it's too primal and fundamental to be empirically mapped out - which is also why it can't be satisfactorily mechanized. Music is music.
ignatius
the right frequencies and rhythms
sparood
Atmosphere, energy & tension. Sometimes melody.
Wawiggler
ngarjuna I'm not sure I fully grasp your rock analogy but this does speak to my thoughts in a way.... I guess the heart of my intention of this post was my concern that too much of my appreciation (and current lack thereof) is the result of my experience (prejudice? - not the right word but close)...and I'm afraid perhaps even coloured by what other people think is good. And I don't mean what is popular - although there is no doubt an art in appealing to the masses particularly when done sans sex appeal (NKOTB or the female artists that wanna appear scantily dressed - good entertainment but perhaps subsidising the musical content?) I'm getting off track (where I think I might be with music). Say at a wine contest the judges can get together and even though they might like white wine better can to an extent agree with each other decide what is the best red in whatever category. There are prizes awarded for paintings. Probably highly contentious but they could probably all easily agree that the crayon drawing some kid left behind isn't it. Your probably thinking stop overthinking it and just like whatever you like and it doesn't matter whether what i like is actually good or not but my concern is. I am liking the wine that the judges said was the best - while it may well be, I'm not fully appreciating it...that sounds dumb even to me....I am hoping to develop my ear and understanding so I can listen to (and make) music that isn't just a slight variation of what came before. Last years model but with a clock on it......I hope I'm making some sense and not being too pretentious. I probably am asking the ineffable...Great word and response commodorejohn (I had to google it btw) but I am stoked to have learned it and from all of the responses everyone has made.
Many many thanks to all
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