Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In praise of narrowness.

When it comes to music, anyway.

My husband and I have pretty similar music tastes, which as I've said before was one of the things that attracted me to him.  I even agree with his position on the importance of genre for categorizing music.  The argument, and I think it is a good one, is that categorizing music is important because it helps you to find music you're going to like more quickly.  For someone who has recently taken to bitching about the lack of targeted advertising on Spotify (really, what part of me listening to Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys indicates I'm interested in the new Selena Gomez album? She's not even the right Selena.), the concept of genre still retains quite a bit of importance. Like I said in my last post on the subject, I like both kinds of music: country and western.  If I bring up Windows Media Player in the Start menu, Chris Knight's self-titled CD pops up twice.

So I'm all for genre, and subgenres for that matter. Especially when you have shitty catch-all genres like Americana. Oh, Americana, how I hate thee. KNBT out of New Braunfels is an Americana station and they will play Hayes Carll, Etta James, and Alabama Shakes all in a row. Now, I do happen to like all of those artists, but sonically speaking they do not go together.  Once you muddy the waters of genre by throwing anything in there, you might as well not have a method of categorization at all.

Which, when it comes down to it, is one of the reasons I dislike calling the modern Nashville sound country music at all. I'd wager that to most people my age and older, the words conjure thoughts of Hank Sr, Waylon Jennings, and George Strait. Now, those three men sound pretty different, but you can draw a line through sonic similarities. And, to be fair, you can draw a similar line through Eric Church, Brad Paisley, and Blake Shelton. You cannot, however, draw a line through Hank Sr to Eric Church, or even a new-New Traditionalist like Brad Paisley, not if you're being honest. (Sorry, Erik, he's still one of the country-est sounding dudes in Nashville, at least if you look at who's getting air play.) I'm not even certain you could draw a line between, say, Alan Jackson and Jason Aldean, and they're roughly contemporaries. However, you can draw a damn near straight line between Merle Haggard and the likes of Jason Boland, or Kris Kristofferson and Chris Knight (er, other than the name similarities). 

Seriously, which sounds more like a pair you'd hear on the same station, this:

and this:

or that first song and this:

Er, well, you should probably trust me on that one.  I wouldn't wish "Dirt Road Anthem" on anyone. I've only ever been forced to listen to it once, and it got Aldean on my list of people I wouldn't pee on to put out the fire.

So yeah, categorization is important when it comes to consumer goods. If you want to sell them anyway.  (Some time I will rant about how frustrating I find it to have Fantasy and Science Fiction so often lumped together.)

Now, here is where my husband and I really differ: he will still rant about the narrow-tastes accusation.  And honestly, I think that sort of concern over image only plays into the hands of the monogenre folks. "Only good music matters." Well, yeah, but odds are any two given people will find all of the same music good are just about nil. (Hell, my husband will wax happy about Rush, while I think Geddy Lee sounds like a squirrel on meth and find the band's subject matter alternately boring and tiresome.)  But "I like all sorts of music" only aids those who want to deemphasize genre boundaries, and when we come right down to it, most of us are really only fans of one or two genres of music.  To again use myself and my husband as examples: in the past few days I've listened to Bob Wills, Everclear, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, Steve Earle, and Fort Minor (a side project of the rapper from Linkin Park), but what have I bought recently? Well, Corb Lund (a gift for my husband which I fully intended to benefit from), Chris Knight and, well, Chris Knight.  Erik, on the other hand, may boast he owns Kelly Clarkson and Evanescence albums in addition to Merle Haggard and Iron Maiden, but every damn time I've opened his iPod lately to run it through the truck's speakers, I've had to navigate away from either Queensr├┐che or Accept, and with one exception (the Charlie Daniels Band compilation A Decade of Hits), the only country music the dude has bought in at least a year has been gifts for me.  Not broad at all, and I strongly suspect that most folks are like that--you may listen to, say, blues and jazz and country and prog metal and bluegrass and hip-hop, but when you go to buy stuff, you're buying only one or two of those genres.  And that's fine. But it's also why saying genre doesn't matter is silly--money tells the tale, and if advertisers want actual return on their money, they would do well to ignore the "just good music" nonsense and put in a little algorithm effort to try to tailor ads for a certain artist to people who might actually buy that person's products.


TinCan Assassin said...

Y'know, most modern Country sounds like the stuff I was trying to avoid when I started listening to Country back in High School...

Dave said...

I admit, I don't recognize most of the artists mentioned. What I do know is that ever since they have been playing KBUC on 92.5 around these parts, I've actually been listening and enjoying 80-90 percent of what I hear.

Some of the newer stuff they play on KJ97 or Y100 (in my wife's truck, not mine) may not make my ears catch on fire, but for the most part, it's all Bee Gees with a twang.

Sabra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I shall have to revisit the whole narrow tastes vis-a-vis genres bit at some point, after I roll the thoughts around my head and form them into something cogent and perhaps persuasive.

Anonymous said...

I shall have to revisit the whole narrow tastes vis-a-vis genres bit at some point, after I roll the thoughts around my head and form them into something cogent and perhaps persuasive.

peter said...

Why would you be standing on a paved road to sing about dirt roads?