Hating on Pop Music

I did three majors in college, finally arriving at a Jazz Studies degree. Before that I spent time as a percussion performance major and a music education major. All three areas of learning did a lot of good for me but there was one pattern throughout those communities that I just never understood.

Hating on Pop music.

A lot of people insisted on the “musical stupidity” of the general public. They didn’t come to the wind ensemble concerts because they weren’t smart enough for the music. Alternative music education curriculums meant dumbing down music ed. “They can learn that in a garage band,” they’d say.

I’ve always found this kind of silly. I don’t think music serves the same purpose for all listeners. I just don’t understand how that idea isn’t more intuitive for professional musicians (especially educators).

Some people want their ears challenged. Some people want to hear a super flashy saxophone solo. Some people just want good ol’ four on the floor. Some people want something to help them survive their awful commute to and from the gut wrenching job that they really don’t care about. Are we so egotistical as to call people who just want comfort music “musically stupid?”

I’ve got just two things to say about this.

First, this is not about musical intelligence. I think this might really be about our jealousy. Having great ideas and challenging ourselves should pay better. Why is it that Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” is taking all the recognition but my super adventurous 17 piece Hip Hop/Reggae/Polka/Jazz/Alternative/Heavy Metal/Fusion band (with 3 bass players and a kazoo) hasn’t taken off yet?

Dude. I don’t know. I’m not crazy about that either.

I do know the solution isn’t alienatating our audience with petty name calling.

Our expectations for audiences need to be realistic. We can’t expect niche genres to get the same respect as accessible genres. That’s silly and maybe a bit infantile.

Here are three alternatives to that attitude.

1. Find ways to be accessible and artful instead forcing ourselves to choose between the two. Examples include Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and of course Snarky Puppy.

2. Do a better job of reaching our niche instead of complaining that people outside our niche aren’t buying. Again, I wish we found this to be more intuitive.

3. Don’t change anything and face the consequences. Maybe the way you’re doing things is too central to your identity or too precious to be changed. That’s fine, just don’t expect any changes. You’ve heard of Einstein’s definition of insanity by now right?

Secondly I think we should reevaluate the way we think of ourselves as musicians. I consider myself a healer more than anything else. If you take a minute to consider *why* people listen to music, sometimes it comes down to wanting to be healed of some kind of internal malady.

Maybe a bad day at work, a break up with a significant other or just being tired.

Or maybe it’s not an internal malady, but simply filling in the time or curing boredom. Or going somewhere where there will be music to create the opportunity to build relationships and community.

Either way, its serving a purpose. Emphasis on serving. Most of our work is working as a servant. Maybe if we were willing to think of ourselves as servants and healers instead of high and lofty artists we’d enjoy our opportunities to play music more.

Yes, I know that’s unattractive.

Being a willing servant is so incredibly unattractive to us in Western society. When we’re put in positions of serving we whine, moan, complain, kick, and scream about it. This behavior actually just makes us more miserable, why not modify our outlook?

Thinking of things this way is the kind of thing that keeps me a happy drummer. I want to be a great servant to whoever I’m playing with and to the audience. I love being a great servant.

It’s time for us to stop hating on pop music and start loving our opportunities to heal and serve.


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