Why Music Matters and Why The Haters Don't
Flashback to middle school. I'm riding the bus on early, hazy mornings, leaning my head against the window and mouthing along to "Alone" by Heart blaring out of my Walkman into my headphones. Nothing's harder than being 11 years old but at least I've got melodramatic 80s songs to keep me company.
High school comes next. I lock myself in my room to lay sprawled out on the bed listening to Transit, etching angsty lyrics into the wall by my pillow. On the days I feel heavy, weighed down by growing up, Frightened Rabbit sings me through it.
College sneaks up on me. We've got ABBA and Kesha and Danity Kane on an endless blasting loop until we get busted for noise complaints from the girls down the hall. We're floundering in gen-eds and drinking too many jell-o shots, but chart-topping pop makes every day a party.
We all have soundtracks to our lives. We all go through phases characterized by dusty CD cases, cracked iPod shuffles, PCs compromised by shady LimeWire downloads. Can you see the way music takes us by the hand and urges us forward? Can you see the way it helps us keep our feet on the ground but our heads in the sky? Can you see the way it makes us better people?
Music matters. The haters don't. Let me tell you why.
Art is subjective. The truth is that yes, art takes skill! It takes talent! It takes hard work! But it also takes guts. It changes people. It gives people a voice. It makes people feel. That's why we do what we do at The Music Mermaid -- we work hard every day to make sure musicians are getting the props they deserve. We're not changing the world here. We're not even changing minds. But if we get just three people to click play and spend a few minutes listening to a stranger's sonic debut, we're doing our jobs.
Because music is so far-reaching, so remarkably unifying, a college kid in their dorm room making beats at 4 A.M. can have the same impact on a Soundcloud user surfing the site as Beyoncé's impact has had on millions of women across the world. It's fascinating. It's also why Lil Wayne's raps mean as much to a kid in his hometown of New Orleans as Beethoven's symphonies mean to a young German pianist.
The music blogs and radio charts and award shows tell us who emerges victorious each week, each month, each year. They tell us whose technique is worthy of our ears and which songs deserve a smash of the replay button. The truth, though, is that you can listen to whatever the hell you want. If today's thumping, twinkling pop anthems aren't your thing, no biggie -- you get to listen to so much more. Not a huge fan of rollicking country confessions? Good thing there are exactly 1,263 other genres to test out. Maybe death metal doesn't make your heart sing -- don't focus on that. Focus on the fact that something else does.
What I'm trying to say is this: the triumphs of music -- how it unites communities, heals wounds, inspires art, moves the world forward -- are far more important than its shortcomings. There are no benefits to wrangling negative energy, belittling the work of fellow artists, trivializing the things people enjoy. Trust me.
When I was younger, I was convinced it was cool to bash Justin Bieber's cloying pop bops, preferring instead my own sophisticated blend of Aly & AJ breakup anthems and Tupac freestyles. I'd carefully cultivated a facade meant to impress the masses, when in reality I was as guilty as any (btw, let's all agree to retire the term "guilty pleasures" -- we shouldn't feel guilty for listening to what we like). It was embarrassing. I feel grimy about it, and I'm always trying to be better so that I can give artists the respect they deserve. Let's be real! There's nothing cool about trying to be cool. Nobody cares. We're all united by music, not by its sub-categories, but by it as a whole. Remember that.
In case you're not convinced that musicians -- of all kinds -- deserve your respect, let's break it down.
Music is a commitment. It takes time to learn how to play an instrument, to use your voice, to book gigs, to perform at those gigs, to record, to round up a team, to design merch, to sell that merch. There's not enough time in the world for musicians to accomplish what they want with their craft, so all attempts are crucial. It's a big deal. Give credit where credit is due.
Music is a minefield. Beyond just time and effort, the industry is over-saturated with fellow acts trying to pave their own way. We're all well aware of this, but then there's people like shitty teenage me who put actual effort into disparaging artists! It's scary to be an artist of any kind -- the scorn is real. There are people who will hurt you, who will tell you your music sucks, who will make enough heinous (and unsolicited) remarks that you'll start doubting your art. This is a bullshit inevitability, one so misguided that sometimes it's worth a laugh, but not always. The haters don't matter, but they exist. Bummer.
Music is a safe haven. For many musicians -- I'd venture to say for most -- their art is a dialogue. A way of protecting themselves against pain or even a way of opening themselves up to it. It takes moxie to dig deep into yourself, pull out your guts, and write songs about the viscera, but musicians do it every single day, sometimes with aplomb and sometimes with apprehension. Whether or not you like what they've made, this "mining of the soul" (a revelation made by Seth Avett in the documentary May It Last) deserves a level of respect.
You don't have to like what your coworker Martin is listening to these days or what the high school girl in front of you at Starbucks has streaming through her earbuds. You only have to like what you like. Share it with the world or keep it to yourself. Be proud of the music you love. Put down your pitchforks (uh, maybe even Pitchfork, too) and pour your soul into supporting music, not shaming it.
This one's for you, Nickelback fans. Don't let the haters get you down.