I’ve wondered for a long time — why do I like some musical pieces, but not others? There are several things that I care about in music, which may or may not have a significant impact. Since quite a few other people seem to look for them as well, I’ll inspect all of them here. I would like to note that these are all my personal thoughts and reactions, and should not be taken as any gospel truth about these qualities — after all, different people have different things they look for: Different preferences for what they listen to.
The first aspect of music that I’ve considered is how formulaic it is. We can see this in articles such as this, where music is manufactured. Formulas aren’t a deciding factor, though. After all, much of dance music and rock is formulaic. Even much of classical music has formulas to it — harmonies, chord progressions, even melodies to a certain extent are all mathematical and formulaic. My own music has been formulaic in the past. Clearly this isn’t the answer to why some music is more appealing than others.
Creativity is another idea. It’s more of a significant factor, as generally I like music that’s more creative. That said, everything is a remix. Truly creative, innovative, and bold ideas are a thing of the past except on very rare occasions. So, perhaps this could be distilled to “something uncommon”. This might be true to an extent, but there’s a sweet spot — if it’s too ‘creative’ it falls into the realm of Statement Art: Art made to make a statement about the nature of art rather than to actually be artistic. (…I hate statement art.) At the same time, I like plenty of decently generic songs which have less creativity in them. If they’re too generic and repetitive, they aren’t interesting because they have minimal effort put into them. We might be getting a little closer to the mark here, though.
Genre. The mess of names that we group and herd music into, inefficient as they are. (I need to write about this someday.) I favor some genres, of course. Noise music, most pop music, most country and EDM music — it doesn’t interest me. This may have something to do with creativity and originality, but there is plenty of trip-hop, classical, glitch, IDM, and ambient music which I don’t like… and I certainly do like some EDM and pop. This might be something which causes general leaning toward or against a piece, but it is far from any kind of deciding factor.
Perhaps the amount of effort and/or skill in making it? This is certainly getting close, as I severely dislike music with minimal effort. I also can’t say that I like music made by someone with no skill at it (though I can at least appreciate the effort — and I prefer a song with effort in it rather than one which was made by someone talented who didn’t bother to try). I tend to dislike music that is poor in terms of writing or sound quality. As someone aspiring to mix and master music, I’m particularly sensitive to these kinds of issues in music, as well.
But I think one of the most important pieces to music is heart. “What is heart?” is hard to put a finger on. The way I thought of it before the term of “heart” was presented to me is this: This quality to music comes about when the artist cares deeply for their music. When they put themselves into the music and nurture it to become the best music it can be — that’s when this quality appears.
Heart is important.
It is what causes music to live. It appears in many genres, from metal, to ambient, to pop, to glitch. It appears in jazz-hop and trip-hop, 8-bit jazz and accordian tango, electro swing and orchestral.
For some reason, I’ve found that only some people can hear this quality in music — some have a much harder time of it. For anyone reading, do you hear it? By comparison, can you hear how it is lacking in the vast majority of music?
I have no intention of saying that most artists don’t care about their music — but those who nurture it and love their music rather than trying to push it into some kind of organized box that it doesn’t fit in… they seem to make the best music to me.
As one final statement, I leave this piece — it has gotten through the most to people who don’t seem to hear the heart of music well. If you don’t know what I’ve been talking about and I’ve seemed pretentious up until now, try listening to this. Perhaps you’ll hear it.