Iron Fisted Laws of Music

The first rule of music is that it is mysterious. The second is that it is practical. If these seem to be in conflict, yes, that is true.

You don’t know how it works. Completely strange things can happen.

But only within the boundaries set by money. The best sounds ever don’t exist without funding. If nobody pays the bill to hear a tree falling in the forest, it makes no difference whether it makes a sound.


Take Nick Drake’s mother Molly. She was an excellent musician who was a total unknown. We can only hear her music because she had a child who became a celebrity. Her child’s celebrity flowed from his distinctive musical identity, a unique style which was heavily derivative of hers.


You can’t make sense of the music from the outside. Fans have definite taste except when they don’t. Why did purist fans of garage punk and synth pop fall in love with Hildegard Von Bingen and Henryk Górecki?

Because they felt like it.

Curators don’t make music, musicians do. Fans will find an acceptable rationale for any music they like.


Yet money needs no rationale.

If it makes money for radio, a song will be played. If it is played it is heard. If it is heard it is copied into new songs.

Musical influence is a Darwinian process. Where biological evolution relies on gene copying over generations, musical influence relies on musicians copying from one another. Ugly and stupid ideas can be reused just fine. The only thing the source of an idea relies on is to be heard in the first place, and the only thing it takes to get heard is to satisfy somebody’s economic priorities.

The songs that get played on the radio are the ones that sound good between ads. There is no larger meaning to this. It is a purely physical thing.

Molly Drake’s music was no good for ads. Nick Drake’s music was. I know this because I first heard “Pink Moon” in an ad. That is not a value judgement. It is not a point about art.