What Do You Really Mean When You Talk About “Your Music?”

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Accruing music can come in many forms, but easily one of the most lasting ways that one can begin listening to new music is through a friend. Music propagates through sharing and only really becomes prolific when people begin hearing it from multiple different sources. No one comes into this world hard-wired to prefer any specific type of music, so there is some point of convergence when one is first exposed to music in general. Ultimately, individual taste is curated through independent experience, and experience is intimately tied to those with whom we surround ourselves.

As people age and develop preferences for specific artists or genres, sharing music seems to become a right of passage. Music is meant to be played, experienced, and enjoyed, and there is an incredible amount of social settings – whether it is a large gathering or a smaller group of people hanging out – where music becomes weaved into the social fabric. For my purposes, I will be exploring the latter – mostly situations where an individual intentionally shares music with another person or a small group of people.

Nine times out of ten when someone shows me music, it doesn’t stick. Either I don’t see the same artistic value of the music or it doesn’t strike me in the same way that it did to the friend that showed me. Yet, that one time out of ten when it does affect me, it takes on a whole new significance that can lead to finding a completely new artist or even developing a new taste in different genres.

One of the clearest instances of this happening to me was in high school. I had many friends in the jazz program with each one having a very tailored taste within the vast repertoire of jazz and classical music. Despite my interest in mostly classic and independent rock, throughout those four years, I gathered some of the most well known classics of the genre – specifically some of Mile Davis’ greatest hits such as Birth of the Cool and Kind of Blue as well as some more experimental works from artists like Weather Report and John McLaughlin.

Now, in this specific example to what extent can I share this music and claim it as “my music”, or, more specifically, music that I consider within my personal preference? Despite my limited knowledge of music theory and jazz music as a whole, I can really appreciate this music for its aesthetic value and artistic ingenuity. I hesitate to really consider it “my music,” yet I have a decent amount of jazz recordings in my library and if you asked someone that I showed this music to, they would probably assume that I am “into jazz.”

This example really plays into the incredible subjectivity that encompasses the modern concept of music and a media library. This is clearly illustrated by talking to anyone you know about their taste in music: everyone is absolutely sure that they have the best taste in music and often view others as not having as great of a taste as themselves.

The entire experience of creating, analyzing, sharing, and understanding music is built on a presupposition of subjectivity. At a certain level, not a single person can come to understand why I enjoy the music that I listen to – they would have to relive the entirety of my experiences, know and understand the people that showed me this music, and completely understand the context in which my musical palate developed.

Yet, all around us it seems that this fact is entirely false. Music has always retained a cultural supremacy where entire groups of people can organize themselves around a common artist or genre. Music seems to be one of the most communal institutions that mankind has ever developed. A single excursion to one of the hundreds of music festivals that pop up over the summer highlights the bond that seems to be powered solely by music.

What is clearly taken away by looking at how music is shared and experience is that it forms a core foundation of a listener’s identity. When people share music, there is this implicit sense that that person is sharing part of himself or herself that they deem worthy to share. No one is going to show others music that they don’t enjoy or that they don’t find significant – they are going to show their best music, the songs and artists that impact them the most and that they feel best represent some quality that they see in themselves.

Along these lines, every time someone shows another person something, there is always this lingering hope that that other person will grab on to that music in the same way that they themselves did, and really let it impact them in a meaningful way. Music is meant to be experienced both in solitude and as a part of a larger community, and that transition really seems to exemplify the process of honing in on a taste and developing a true sense of musical identity.

“My music” or “my taste in music” is really nothing more than my perceived sense of identity in relation to others that also listen to music. Each person I interact with could see my taste in music as radically different depending on what social situation we’re in or how I have shared music with him or her in the past. The point at which music becomes, in a sense, “mine,” really depends on how it impacts me at a very fundamental level.

There really is no concrete moment when this transition occurs, but the foundation really rests on how the listener lets music impact them and how the ultimately end up sharing music with others. I may not consider jazz as an element of “my music”, but those friends that shared it with me have left an impact that doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon.

What We ThinkTom Bonan