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Opinion

Musical taste requires no analysis or routine

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February 5, 2009

Conversations and interactions I’ve had with my peers during my 4 million years as an undergrad have left me with an unsettled feeling toward the state of music.

On one hand, the state of music production has never thrived quite like it is right now. The abundance of personal computers, the wide availability of professional-grade recording and mixing software and the advent of online music distribution-namely Web sites like MySpace, YouTube and others-have all combined to make music easy and cheap to create.

This has opened the door to all sorts of motivated, amateur musicians, giving them an opportunity to practice and share their craft.

However, there is a part of me that is dismayed by the way many my age approach the simple enjoyment of music. One useless debate that continually irks me is that of “mainstream versus independent” music. It’s ridiculous how often I hear the phrase “Oh, I don’t listen to mainstream music; I only like obscure, independent artists.”

This ideology is, no offense, incredible in its small-mindedness. With one fell swoop, these unfortunate souls have completely sliced themselves off from an entire cross-section of music. Being “mainstream” or “independent” doesn’t make an artist or a song any better or worse.

Music is, at the simplest level, an appealing arrangement of sound and rhythm that should speak to the listener in some way. That’s it. In an ideal world, music would be enjoyed with a mindset that is free from the silly cultural connotations of “mainstream versus independent.”

This goes for genres of music as well. I used to think I hated rap and I would tell people as much. But in recent years I’ve developed a love for hip-hop-I just had to open my ears enough to take it seriously. For me, it was the same with country music.

I once foolishly discounted the entire genre until I explored it enough to find the acoustic pleasures of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, the classic ‘40s twang of Hank Williams and a whole selection of ancient Appalachian bluegrass, folk and American roots music. Again, because a song or an artist is categorized into a certain genre doesn’t give any real indication of its quality or value as enjoyable music.

One silly new genre that has unfortunately muddled things in the current culture is that of “indie rock.” This genre was originally influenced by rock bands that actually did work independently but now much of what we call “indie rock” is just as corporatized and mainstream as anything else on the radio.

Again, this doesn’t make the music in question either good or bad, but can we at least stop calling everything indie rock? When so many “indie bands” eventually sign onto major labels anyway, it just seems to lose its meaning.

To clarify my own tastes, I have to say I do appreciate an artist who can create musical magic without the limitations of a corporate label. A fantastic example of this is my own very favorite musician, Tom Waits.

Truly an “indie” artist, Waits has denied the easy path to fame and fortune and instead-even after creating nearly 30 successful albums over his 40-year career and winning two Grammy Awards-chooses to spend his time living a simple, private life miles from the limelight.

Another admittance: I do realize the unfortunate truth of the matter-there certainly is quite an egregious quantity of terrible, horrible music on the radio. Believe me, I know. But I argue that it doesn’t necessarily make the word “mainstream” an obscene phrase.

Ideally, music should stand alone and should be enjoyed for how it makes you feel when you listen to it. People have had this tendency to get far too wrapped up in the details of music that shouldn’t really matter.

The name of a genre or the status of a record label contract shouldn’t keep you from enjoying good music when you hear it. Now go forth and explore with open ears, there’s a lot of good music out there and it’s just waiting for you to discover it.

Joe Hager is a student at UW-River Falls.