As musicians, we know what we like and we know what we don’t like. For as many bands/artists that we love and cherish, there are just as many that we avoid like an audible plague. For instance, if you welded a pair of headphones to my skull and blasted any Nick Cave song in existence on repeat for the rest of my life, I’d die a happy man. On the other hand, if you put me in a room with Greta Van Fleet playing at even the lowest possible volume, I’m finding the closest window to plunge myself through, regardless of how tall the building is.
Inspiration is key, and without the musicians we look up to, nothing would inspire our art or prompt us to follow our dreams. A funny thing happens when we fall in love with music – we develop a rigorous moral code. Each person has some sort of sacred standard attached to what they’re willing to listen to/create and, alternatively, what they are absolutely NOT willing to listen to/create. It’s a standard we’re dead set against ever violating, and I’m certainly no exception. But no matter how many times I get called a snob or uptight, I stand by what I like and despise what I don’t. That’s just how I am. Maybe you can sympathize.
Even so, I’ve learned the precious value of throwing my pride to the wayside at times. I’ve written songs I otherwise wouldn’t let within a mile of my eardrums. I’ve attended shows of musical acts that I really don’t like. I’ve even performed with some of those acts at times. Reason being that I have learned as much from exposing myself to what I appall as I have from immersing myself in what I love, and I highly recommend that you do the same.
So let’s say you, as a blues guru, meet a pop-country musician on the Muze app. Before you pass them up, consider what you could learn from just having a conversation with that person. Odds are they are at good at something you are totally oblivious to; something worth applying to your own craft. You could probably extend some expertise to them in turn.
Here’s a few ways in which you can use what you dislike to augment what you love.
Listen To Songs You Hate
I know, I know. It’s an ugly concept, but there’s value in it. If you absolutely abhor Nickelback and would rather snort glass shards than endure half a second of their music, all the more reason to listen to one of their albums from front to back. Wouldn’t it be worth your time to thoroughly understand why you hate them? Pay attention to the cheesy lyrics. Take in the cliché riffs. Let every detail of what makes them sound miserable to you sink into the entire landscape of your psyche.
Two major things can come of this:
- You become more aware of what to avoid so you don’t inadvertently make the same mistakes, or
- If you’re truly being objective, you might recognize the value in what makes them popular and learn how to filter it through your own prism of creativity.
No matter how much you hate a certain band, there’s something effective in their construct that probably isn’t in yours – especially if they’re a wildly successful band like Nickelback. Don’t deprive your brain of food for thought, even if the food tastes bitter.
Write Music You Hate
Does it seem like I’m twisting the knife yet? Good. Growing is painful, so take it all in while it still hurts. Let’s say you loathe pop music and have blacklisted the entire Top 40 roster. For much of the same reasons that you should listen to that music from time to time, you should also go out of your way to write some of it. If you run into a pop musician on Muze, don’t miss the opportunity to schedule a co-writing date with them. Despite my personal aversion to pop music, I can comfortably say that certain antics that go into creating it have actually been useful to me in making my own music.
Plus, if you can do something so much better than your nemesis, then why not prove it? You may find that you’ve underestimated someone else’s process. There are clever little things that other genres employ (for instance, pop country is supremely adept at incorporating tactful word play into its lyrics) that can actually distinguish your own approach from other musicians within your creative niche if applied correctly.
Attend Shows You Hate
If you’re a country artist who prefers to keep hip hop and rap music at an arms length, it could benefit you to attend the next rap show in your area. Of course you want to associate with people who make similar music as you, but what about cross-over fans/collaborators who like both country and rap? Odds are you will encounter someone at that show who notices you standing out in the crowd, and their curiosity could prompt them to approach you and furthermore check out your songs.
It’s also a good opportunity to observe the showmanship and general presentation of the person on stage. That way, you get an idea of contrast, comparison, and a heightened awareness of what excites different kinds of audiences. You’d be surprised how often similarities can be established between one type of performer and another.
Play With Acts You Otherwise Wouldn't
If I had a dime for every time I got on stage in downtown Nashville and played “Fishin’ in the Dark” for a crowd who has probably never even heard of Nick Cave, I’d have almost as much money as I actually got paid to play those gigs. Case in point, there’s money in it. Unless you’d prefer to flip burgers or wash cars to support your music career, this is a viable and pragmatic option depending on how much live music is booked in your area.
A lot of those people, like yourself, are also trying to create something different from what they are playing on that stage alongside you in that moment. When it comes to writing their original music and building a personal brand, there’s a good chance you’ll find someone much like yourself in an unexpected place.
This doesn’t just apply to cover songs either. One of my closest friends is currently writing/performing a type of music that I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to listen to (though he’s quite good-check out Bennett Keenan on Instagram for links to his music), but I was more than happy to play bass for him when he asked.
Someone else’s prospective success could be a precursor to your own, and you’ll get some solid networking done in the process.
Much of these tips, like the ones I’ve presented in the past, are geared toward cutting your teeth and growing in unexpected ways. Whether it’s learning from others’ mistakes or eradicating your own, you have to expose yourself to the music you dislike. As Michael Corleone once said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Believe it or not, there’s often very little difference between the two in the world of music.