Does Musical Taste Matter?

I read Chuck Klosterman’s column in Esquire, which sometimes rambles on but sometimes tackles some interesting everyday paradox. And a couple months back, he postulated that musical taste generally doesn’t really mean anything about you. The reason is that we don’t really know why we like what we like.

As a thought experiment, I wonder how much do I know about my own taste in music. Certainly, there’s some music that I grew up with, that was in the zeitgeist, that I was handed unquestioned. But then there’s another category of music that I sought out because I wanted to expand my taste and hear things that other people recommended. And finally, there’s music that I didn’t seek out but that I didn’t grow up with either…music that as a “professional” I have to deal with and process and understand regardless of if I like it or if it matters to anyone else.

He illustrates a point that I’ve encountered many times, namely when you ask someone what they like they tend to say “everything.” As strictly a rhetorical device, I imagine this means two things: 1. They don’t really listen to enough variety to get rid of insecurity about hanging their hat on a single genre. 2. They listen to basically anything that is put in front of them.

Okay, that sounds really negative (and I often say “everything” too)…but here’s the catch, by Klosterman’s argument it wouldn’t really matter anyway what you listened to. In other words, the enjoyment of certain music doesn’t hinge on liking musical ideas, it hinges on liking the extramusical ideas like hanging out with friends, dancing, watching TV, etc. Musical taste, rather than a reflection of aural sensitivity, is often just an extension of other things we do in life. This is especially true for people who don’t have the time to sit down and truly examine what makes their clock tick in terms of music…they go with the flow and listen to “everything” i.e. what comes naturally in their lifestyle.

Perhaps the other reason musical taste doesn’t really matter is that everyone truly does listen to everything. In other words, you can easily turn to another radio station, download some unknown genre of music, and experiment. People don’t just listen to R&B, hip hop, ambient, country, folk, indie, pop, etc. exclusively…they mix and match according to their moods and their social situations. Often I find that most people have at least one classical piece or artist that they can truly profess to enjoying even though they find the genre as a whole daunting.

Just a ramble…thoughts anyone?

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