Eman Laerton and I have spent so much time talking about Bad Music, that we get this question all the time.
This morning, I received a firm request to answer it.
First, I’ll give an Abstract philosophical answer, in two parts:
1.) Good Music combines as many Musical Elements as possible and uses them in a creative way. The Elements of music are generally accepted to be things like Melody, Harmony, Rhythm, Tempo, Dynamics, Pitch, Duration, Texture, Form, and Timbre. Music Appreciation 101. I believe that if you throw a bucket of ice water in the face of each of those at tell them to get to work, you have a chance at making Good Music.
2.) Good Music conveys a story or meaning beyond those mere Elements.
I’ve found that’s a pretty Objective way to measure it. You can argue with that all you want, but I don’t think these tools were invented to be abandoned.
Oh, you want a Subjective answer? OK.
Here’s something more Concrete, based on those Abstractions. This is my personal list of favorite rock / pop albums (in no order other than the first entry being where it belongs)…
1.) Steve Vai – Passion & Warfare
2.) System of a Down – Mezmerize / Hypnotize
3.) They Might Be Giants – Flood
4.) Victims Family – White Bread Blues
5.) Mr. Bungle – Disco Volante
6.) Kevin Gilbert – The Shaming of the True
7.) Ani DiFranco – Little Plastic Castles
8.) Devin Townsend – Infinity
9.) Ween – Pure Guava
10.) Nomeansno – Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy?
Each of those albums has a “thing” to them that connects the pieces together. I’ve listened to each of them on repeat, feeling as if I’m pulled into a unique creative universe. They have strong character, and don’t sound to me like a bunch of songs were stuck together. They have variety and duality in their Elements. Fast-slow, loud-soft, funny-serious, long-short, big-small, complex-simple. A good album intimidates me and teases me, and I hear new things each time I listen. I get the feeling that there is always more going on that I don’t hear — maybe I’m seeing just a snapshot, or there are deep roots growing below the surface, or the album is talking about me behind my back somewhere. Who knows? It’s Seduction.
There are other candidates that could go on this list, but according to the rules, I could only pick ten that meant the most to me. You might notice that only one of those albums was released in the past 15 years. That’s because music doesn’t mean as much to me as it did when I was in my teens and twenties.
I don’t go out looking for good music anymore. For the past year, I haven’t listened to much of anything other than screenwriting podcasts… and the occasional Classical KUSC. (So please, no more technical-death-fantasy-epic-metal videos.)
When we discover music, we form a relationship with it based on Context — where we are at the time, what we’ve heard previously, what we’re ready to hear. Some music serves a temporary purpose for us, comes and goes. Some music sticks around and deserves contemplation, and it can seem to grow along with us.
As you’re developing as a musician, it’s easy to get caught up in taking things apart and focusing on only the Elements. I’ve been guilty of that, and much of the music I’ve listened to (and thought I really loved) turned out to be just an Exercise. So don’t ever forget what the personal meaning is for you.
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