Why Does Musical Taste Change?
December 14, 2003 4:00 AM   Subscribe

Why does a person's musical taste keep changing? I'm suddenly listening to lot's of Paris Cafe music, the likes of Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker. How did that happen? Why do some people's tastes never seem to change?
posted by feelinglistless to Media & Arts (20 answers total)
As you get older and have listened to more music - and grown tired with it - you still tend to seek for new sensations, just as when you were young, rather than listen to the same old stuff, whether in its original or its recycled form. It's healthy, imo. Stagnating is the worst. The problem is that the music keeps getting weirder and weirder.

I'm 48 and I've been through at least four Roger McGuinn's guitar/Byrds revivals, nine Velvet Undergrounds, etc - and every time they come round again, I wish I could burn off my memory cells so I could enjoy them as much as the lucky young 'uns.

Fancy another Horlicks, feelinglistless? ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:53 AM on December 14, 2003

I don't know for everybody but for me it's that certain music will open up other genres for me. I used to listen solely to album oriented rock. Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd etc. I started listening to more Eric Clapton which opened up the blues for me. I'd heard blues prior to that but never really had any interest. I think there needs to be a bridge between things perhaps. Other genres opened up to me in the same way.

I still don't listen to rap or country (mostly a joke - but I don't enjoy them anyway except for a few isolated songs)
posted by substrate at 7:43 AM on December 14, 2003

I suppose it depends on what continues to inspire you.

As you grow older, so does your knowledge, wisdom, personal, physical and emotional needs.

Music has nutritional value, it's not a seperate controlled nor passive event. And as we all grow so do our needs, and often those needs remain with us as who we are, whereas just as often those needs manifest along with everything else in our lives.

And as Miguel points out, sometimes you simply grow tired of it, yet more-so not as much as grown into something else, as Sub suggests. The desire likely remains, but made room for something else.

I make my living playing music (not as a musician, but as radio jock), there is music for entertainment value and music for nutritional value. The entertainment is passive, the nutrition is essential, be it discovered when your 8, or 48.

Both Miguel and Sub are right. There's no wrong answer, rather opinion.
posted by bluedaniel at 7:49 AM on December 14, 2003

I think it's a sign that you genuinely love music as a part of your life. Not many people do.

For most people, music plays a social role. They like music when they're young because it's something they share with their friends, or because identifying with a particular type of music (and the fashion that goes with it) helps them to define who they are. When they get older, music becomes nostalgia, and they'll keep listening to the same kind of music in order to relive the memories of being young and sharing that music with thir friends.

For other people, music provides a background decor. When they get older, they find a style of music that they can put on to create a comfortable atmosphere, and they'll change about as often as they change their furniture or wallpaper.

Miguel is definitely right that it takes more work to find something new when you've already heard it before. I have some younger friends who are wildly enthusiastic about electroclash, and it took me a long time to understand that what they hear in it is actually a different music than what I hear when it filters through all the stuff in my head that I listened to in the 80s.

On the other hand, it's incredible how much more music there is to discover, once you realize that there's tons of history and five continents to explore, and that people are creating strange new hybrids every day.

In general, I think most people crave security and lose their desire for novelty as they get older, and I think that's the definition of getting old in your head. Whenever I still love anything in life enough to be actively seeking out discovery, I consider myself lucky.
posted by fuzz at 7:50 AM on December 14, 2003

Just yesterday, I (29) and my girlfriend (27) got nowhere fast when trying to determine why over the past month Pavement went from the off-our-radar position on our scale of musical taste to one-of-the-best-and-most-important-bands-ever position. Why the sudden warming to Pavement? Is there some biological clock of rock, tick tick ticking?

Do all like-minded individuals in their late twenties go through a Pavement phase? Has anyone mapped these phases out?
posted by tomharpel at 8:34 AM on December 14, 2003

It's different for everyone I'm sure, but I've had bands that I've kind of appreciated and ignored for years suddenly take the spotlight. For the last few months it's been Mudhoney for me. These days they sound less like the grunge of old and more like the neo-garage-rock of now, only a hell of a lot more convincing.

I think the cruel irony of MP3 players is, by the time you have the disposable income to plunk down for one, you're already getting tired of all your music.
posted by furiousthought at 9:11 AM on December 14, 2003

I think at least some of it is related to educating your ears - the more music you listen to (intelligently), the more accessible other music becomes to you. I also think music sounds different under different circumstances (both things which make the music actually sound different, like speakers, and things which make the music feel different, like situations, and life stages), sometimes it takes hearing something under the "ideal" conditions (either for the music, the music as you relate to it, or something else) to appreciate it.
posted by biscotti at 9:59 AM on December 14, 2003

fuzz, that was a great post.

I totally agree with Miguel on wishing I could return to the feeling new music inspires - when I discover something new that I really like, it can be euphoric, but it's so hard to find new stuff that really hits the spot. Usually I don't realize how good something is until I've played it a few times, when I start really noticing the complexity and beauty of it. But then after it's played a couple dozen times, even if you can tell it's good, it just doesn't have the same exhilarating power. I still love listening to the familiar music too, though.

I loved Pavement back when, and funnily enough, went through a little "rediscovery" period this summer, where I realized I hadn't just loved them because of the time / place / scene / whatever, but because they really are good.

I don't feel like my tastes change, exactly - usually when i go back and listen to what I loved in high school, I still think it's good, but I want new stuff, too. In fact, if anyone has suggestions for me (scroll down for music preferences)... I'm definitely open to jazz and classical suggestions; a lot of the indie rock I go for is instrumental (godspeed, mogwai, matmos, tortoise, etc) and any band with violin/ orchestral instruments has a good chance with me.
posted by mdn at 10:35 AM on December 14, 2003

I think that a shift in musical taste has two steps:

1) A "breakthrough" song/artist. A track or group from another genre/form that clicks for you, even within your current musical paradigm. (eg: for oldstyle country, "I Dream A Highway," by Gillian Welch; for mainstream hip-hop, OutKast's "Hey Ya" [obviously], Beyonce's "Crazy in Love," or Panjabi MC [feat. Jay-Z] "Beware of the Boys".) This track may not epitomize the orthodoxy of the genre, but it's a gateway introduces you into the sort rewards that this genre offers.

2) A conscious choice to explore the new paradigm. It takes some effort to learn the 'language' of a different genre - be it the twang of country, to sheer intensity of metal, the verbal play and urban rootedness of mainstream hip-hop. You need to commit to giving the genre a chance, accept that you won't like all of it, and be careful that you don't dismiss something off-hand because it doesn't meet your old values.

mdn: check out Rachel's, The Books, and explosions in the sky, obviously, if you haven't heard them... but other suggestions are Volapuk, Bach (esp. the cello suites), Gorecki, Arvo Part, and yes, Beethoven (turn up the symphonies loud)...

re: Pavement. Most middle-class rockers go through an indie-rock phase, I think. Thankfully, most of them do grow out of it (that is, don't remain convinced that it's the 'end-all' for good music). If you've discovered them this late, chances are there's no danger of you becoming ghettoized within the indie world! Rejoice!
posted by Marquis at 11:38 AM on December 14, 2003

I'm always listening for a particular sound. For example this month I want to hear something that mixes Keith Moon-style bashing with layered phasing druggy keyboards and a kind of popping French-pop 60's bass. It has to be precisely this.

The sound I want is invariably hard to find and by the time I stumble across it, I seem to have always moved onto wanting something else. So while listening to new sounds is sometimes ecstatic, as mdn says, the reality is never as sweet as I imagined it.
posted by dydecker at 11:53 AM on December 14, 2003

Response by poster: So do the people whose tastes never seem to change have closed minds?
posted by feelinglistless at 11:53 AM on December 14, 2003

So do the people whose tastes never seem to change have closed minds?

Yes and no, imho. They're not necessarily ignoring the good music out there (as it may not conform to their current musical values, and thus seem bad), but they're certainly not trying to broaden their horizons in any meaningful sense - and are missing out.
posted by Marquis at 11:58 AM on December 14, 2003

Some people are just not interested in music. My dad has a beautiful stereo system worth thousands of dollars and six CDs (of which two are Xmas tunes). He once sat me down and tried to help me understand that Queen was the best band ever.

I've had more than a few Japanese Salarymen tell me they hate music. How can you hate music?

These people exist. They are just interested in different things I suppose.
posted by dydecker at 12:15 PM on December 14, 2003

feelinglistless: If you like the paris cabaret stuff, may I suggest Pink Martini, a Portland Oregon band with a modern take on that sound.

If you stay within the same genre you are opting for familiarity over risk and exploration. This is natural for most people I think.

At the risk of the analogy falling apart, I'm going to suggest that music is so personal that it parallels how we make and maintain friendships. Some people have a close circle of friends and are happy to stay within that circle. At the other extreme are others who thrive on meeting new people, exploring what new personalities have to offer...

Somewhere between these two extremes is where most of us exist - huddling in blankets of security with occasional forays into the external and unknown world. A new person who stimulates in a new way can be exciting, thrilling and we want to know more, listen more - like that newly discovered track that we play over and over obsessively.

But its hard for something new to become something old and treasured - to get the status of an old friend. Its more than just being attractive at first, its also the ability to engage us at a more complex level and tie in at a deeper part of a psyche, one that can only be accessed with time.

Our closest friend, like our most initimate music, is most likely from an earlier stage of our life.
posted by vacapinta at 12:22 PM on December 14, 2003

Second Pink Martini.

I was wondering about something like this recently, and I think that some of us, at least (music-haters apart) seek out music that combines some mixture of pattern we understand with surprise. I was listening to a Cuban folk song recently: it was quite melodic, but the melody took turns that I couldn't have anticipated based on my history of music listening. I have a book on sociobiology; the chapter titled Joy is about learning, and makes the point that when something is just novel enough to force us to work a little at getting it is when we learn best, and feel happy. I think there's something analogous with music. I don't want all of my music to challenge me--I have plenty of familiar favorites--but I enjoy hearing new stuff.

Some music--Sonny Rollins, for example--is just noise to me. And some--Boston, for example--is completely hackneyed. There's a wide sweet spot in between.
posted by adamrice at 1:50 PM on December 14, 2003

tomharpel: It's funny that you say that, because I'm 29 and I just took my Pavement CDs down to the used record store and traded them in for some Wanda Jackson, Stanley Brothers, and Gene Vincent.

posted by keswick at 3:16 PM on December 14, 2003

The way you hear things changes as you age. What might sound good at a young age, will sound shrill to an older person not necessarily only because of a generation gap, but also because of the way your ears work.

Having played in a band with the same 3 people for more than 2 years (in band years, that's alot), it's mazing how different in taste we've become, While I move closer towards simple soft pop songs, and groups like Yo La Tengo, others in my band move towards the crazy shronk of Les Savy Fav.
posted by drezdn at 4:30 PM on December 14, 2003

mdn: Sigur Ros
posted by urban greeting at 4:44 AM on December 15, 2003

I listen to music so differently than many of you here--and yet listen constantly and am always seeking out new things that I will like (not new merely for the sake of being new). It's fascinating to me to read the perspectives presented in this thread, some of which I can't relate to at all (the social aspect of musical taste that fuzz discusses, for example) yet which are obviously true for many. I think there is a lot more to this question than we can begin to touch on here, but it's a great question.
posted by rushmc at 7:06 AM on December 15, 2003

The more music you already know, the more music you can "get into." A lot of jazz is inaccessible until you have listened to and understood its "prerequisites." Similarly for classical, I think. Rock, well, you're soaking in it, so it's hard to tell. But can you really "get" electronica without having heard Kraftwerk and maybe '80s Tangerine Dream?

And there's also the music you heard when you were growing up, even if you hated it then. Eventually its familiarity will become comforting. I never in a million years thought I'd have any country CDs whatsoever; it's my dad's favorite kind of music, and it was symbolic of all the ways I didn't want to be like him. When I grew up enough to get past that, I started to realize that some of that stuff was really good. I'm not sure where my love for '70s pop comes from (someone got me into Rundgren about ten years ago, but I liked Rundgren because that sound resonated for me) but something about that style of songwriting just gets inside my head. Even new music in that style gets me (e.g. the Bacharach/Costello album). But it wasn't something that really grabbed me until my late '20s or early '30s even though I'd been hearing it all my life.
posted by kindall at 8:53 AM on December 15, 2003

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