An Exercise in Listening

Have you ever been asked what sort of music you like.  I’m sure you have.  Maybe it was social small talk, an online conversation, or a first date; but if you’re like me, that question tends to create a bit of an internal dilemma.  You see, I like all sorts of music, but I don’t love many…I really only love a small fraction.  Which struck me as interesting after reading the latest chapter of Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.  He explains that while we are generally very good at identifying what we like (even with just fractional data); we are generally bad at articulating “why”.  Ask someone whether they prefer Coke or Pepsi and they’ll instantly rattle off an answer.  However, ask them to describe in detail why they prefer one over the other and the same person who initially exhibited confidence will likely digress into indecision and vagary.

So I ask myself “Why?”.  Why…exactly…do I bump certain music from the “like” into the “love” category?  What are the common factors that, when combined, create what I consider to be a great piece of music.  So, digging into my subconscious as much as possible, here’s my best crack at it.

Unique vocals – I’m a sucker for a voice that’s immediately recognizable.  If there’s any qualitative justice, Xenia, from NBC’s The Voice, will be the next teenage mega-star.  INCREDIBLE raw vocal talent – and perfectly unique.

Belivability – I need a sense that the singer totally buys what they’re selling.  That’s hard to pull off with stupid/crappy/juvenile/cheap lyrics.  If I’m able to personalize it – all the better.

Lift – at some point the song has to have a WOW moment.  Think: 2nd verse of Say, by John Mayer – 3rd verse of Hillsongs Forever Reign – the ending of Feeling Good by Michael Buble

Hooky Melody – there has to be a line/tune in the song that IMMEDIATELY connects with me – something I like to sing or hum as I’m driving down the road.  Hip-hop is full of ridiculously hooky melodies, although often without substance.

Groove – not necessarily a beat (although I consider myself a pretty accomplished “drivers seat dancer”), but something that connects to my internal rhythm – it makes my head nod and my arms move – internally, I’m tearing up the dance floor.  For me, Red Red Wine by UB40 is a classic groove song.

Lyrically Sophisticated – not high-brow, but something with purpose, meaning, and some creativity.  I mentioned hip-hop, and while it has great beats and hooky melodies, it often SERIOUSLY lacks in the lyrical department.  Before The Throne by Shane & Shane, and almost anything by Jason Mraz are perfect examples of great lyrics.

That pretty much covers it.  I can’t think of any song I “love” that doesn’t have at least 4 of these.  On a side note, I feel incredibly introspective right now…

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