Expanding Your Musical Tastes

Everyone has had the conversation. At least once.  The one where you ask someone, in a non-threatening attempt to get to know them better, what kind of music that they listen to. Easy enough right?  It is a question that reveals a little bit about the person asked, without getting too “personal”. It is a great tool to break the ice. How many times though, have you heard this as the response:

“Oh, I listen to everything.”

Maybe the first time you heard this answer, you believed the person, and probed a little deeper to understand what they meant by “everything”. Unfortunately, you, like the so many times I have, found out that this person did not, in fact, like “everything”, but liked a lot of a very limited pool of  music, and was resistant to anything outside the pool. You then sit there in awkward silence, trying to not seem pompous or uninterested. One time when I had one of these types of conversations, the emotion that swept over me was betrayal. This person just lied to me. I was all excited to talk about cool music, and they just lied to me.

Gets up and walks away…

It is an endearing trait through, to be enthralled with all of music’s many facets.  In truth, the people that say they like “everything” are simply saying that they like more than ONE thing, which is great.  There are a lot of people out there that don’t see the need to venture out of their “safe genre”, to not be defined by the one type of music that they listen to the most. So bravo to all of you “oh I like everything” people, there is hope for you.

Okay, I know, I am being a little sarcastic.  I am, however, trying to talk about a subject that is important to me.  I think that in this day and age, it is important to really try to be continuously expanding your musical threshold.  Music is such an amazing language we humans have adopted to speak to one another. It allows a timid man to speak of undying love through a microphone, and a frustrated heart to let go of the things that keep it hurting, and in doing so inspire others to do the same.  For these different messages and individuals, literally thousands of musical styles have sprung up to allow just about any artist to express how they feel, the way they want to express it.  Music, by its inception and practice, was never meant to be contained to one mode of execution.  The diversity of music that exists today is natural, and good.

As we have turned a corner in the music industry over the last few years with the introduction of the digital age and the “music like water” mentality, our ability to experience all these vast forms of expression through music is limitless.  With digital stores and online radio, a person’s location or culture can no longer withhold a person from experiencing new things, as it did in the past.  As we see Ipods get bigger, and more obscure artists become mainstay, so does the opportunity to be enriched and inspired through music.

I love that people refer to preferences in music as “tastes”, because it is very much like one’s experience with food. When we were young, there were no doubt foods that we either didn’t like, or didn’t think we liked. For me, I think it was mushrooms. As we got older, and our taste matured, our willingness to expand our palette also changed. Instead of frozen pizza everyday, maybe a well cooked pork loin or roasted salmon would do the trick. Instead of Koolaid, a fine wine is what brought comfort to our hearts. My wife and I now make dishes that solely feature mushrooms, I love those fungi. What I have found in my life is that I as I have grown up and tried new things, it has opened the door for other foods in my life that I now love. My affection for good sushi would not have been possible without my preference for fish and asian food proceeding it.

I am not telling you that you are some how “missing out” by not liking sushi.  More what I am trying to illustrate is that the journey discovery can take you on.  On the music side of this thinking, for most of my life I have sworn that I hated country music.  Despite living in Texas (we don’t all ride horses and wear cowboy hats, I promise), I couldn’t stand anything on CMT.  Even as I moved into college, I would say that I love most any music besides country.  Fast forward to last year, when I was working for FREEMAN AVW, an audio/visual company where most of my co-workers were good ‘ol boys. One day in the warehouse I was listening to one of my favorite albums of 2007, Dustin Kensrue‘s Please Come Home.  My co-worker, who only listened to country, remarked that I was finally listening to something good. I stopped and thought about that for a moment, and realized that I was indeed listening to, and enjoying, a form of country music. My wife and I talked about it, and we came up with scenario for how I had allowed the ONE genre I had always detested, into my heart.

  • My first musical obsession was with MC Hammer as a kid
  • Hammer allowed me to love hip-hop into my teens
  • Hip-hop allowed me to love electronic music
  • Electronic music allowed my to love it’s mash up with metal, called industrial music
  • From industrial, I began to love nu-metal bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit
  • I always enjoyed the more brutal parts of both of those bands, so when I was 16 I began to explore the metal/hardcore scene
  • From the hardcore scene sprang its more melodic cousin, post-hardcore, which feature former members of hardcore bands doing more progressive rock music
  • The mellow, acoustic offspring of post-hardcore is a style called emo, which (at least when it began) was mainly composed of one person and a guitar
  • Seeking out more substantial subject matter than I was getting from emo, I began to explore variations on folk music, such as Iron & Wine and The Swell Season
  • Most of those indie-folk artists use a wide variety of instruments that I began to really enjoy, such as the banjo
  • I then moved on to folk-country (without knowing it), because I thought I was listening to indie-folk with more twang to it.
  • Hence, Dustin Kensrue Dustin Kensrue
  • To take it one step further, I now love blue-grass music; the metal of country music.

I only illustrate this journey because I want to point out a few things. One is that despite finding new forms of music, I have never given up on past favorites. I still listen to a lot of hip-hop, electronica, and hardcore.  Finding new things through those genres didn’t require me to give them up, just to incorporate them in to a larger field of vision.  The second is that the journey was joyous.  I can go back and listen to old things in a new light and be completely surprised.  I can now walk into a room with the soundtrack from O’ Brother, Where Art Thou playing and not want to throw the stereo through the window.  As this journey continues, I find that there was a lot that I have missed along the way, and so there is always something “new” for me to listen to, even if the song is 20 years old.

As we come in to the summer season, music festivals will begin to open their doors to the public.  Places like SXSW, Cornerstone, and ACL fest allow people to be surrounded by music for long periods of time, most of which they have never heard.  To walk through these unique settings and never expand your musical understanding will only rob you of a truly amazing experience. I cant tell you what it was like to watch mewithoutYou for the first time without ever hearing them before. Or see Jason Upton sound check his music before the opening night of a camp he was leading.

It may seem hard and frustrating at first, but allowing yourself to have broad musical tastes only creates joy and enrichment in your life.  On The One21 Music, we are constantly throwing new music in your face, artists we know that you may have never heard of before. We want you to take a chance.  My prayer is that you are able to hear something that you never thought you would like and it touch your heart. Through that discovery you were able to experience a whole new world of music that has been hidden from you, and now it is the only thing you want to listen to.  The other aspect is the ability to see the workings of music you don’t fully understand. It is really cool to be able to hear what sounded like noise before and realize it is no different than the music you have always loved and respected.

Don’t believe me? I can with all confidence compare The Chariot to The Who.  Ask me…

So, what kind of music do you listen to?


  1. I have been there so many times, and it does feel like a betrayal…especially to me, who really does like (at least a little) of everything…

    From my FB profile:

    Virgin Black, Stavesacre, Burning Airlines, Radiohead, Project 86, Zao, Thrice, Celldweller, mewithoutYou, John Butler Trio, Cat Empire, Mute Math, Praxis, The Grateful Dead, The Mars Volta, King Crimson, World’s End Girlfriend, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Snake The Cross The Crown, Frodus, Raft Of Dead Monkeys, Ninety Pound Wuss, Suffering & The Hideous Thieves, Gatsby’s American Dream, The Fall Of Troy, History (Invades), Richard Swift, Starflyer 59, many many more

  2. ian says:

    Wow, havent heard the name Ninety Pund Wuss in a long time…

    and I love The Snake The Cross The Crown

  3. E. Andrew says:

    I love Iron & Wine more than I love cake … and I REALLY love cake. I can’t recant as band-specifc a musical taste history, but it went something like this:

    My older brother introduced to the lesser heard side of Christian music back in the early and mid nineties. Tooth and Nail was a big help then as an alternative to The Newsboys, DC Talk and Audio Adrenaline (whose early albums I still love). To go back even further, The Newsboys were brought to my attention by the Blaine Bartel (then Carmen Licardello, if memory serves me) hosted “Fire By Night” video series that my youth pastor parents let us watch way back when. Before that it was mostly Carmen, actually, a fact which I don’t admit readily. Anyways, we were only allowed to listen to Christian music back in the day, although Cat Stevens slipped in somewhere around 1997 and wasn’t immediately expelled from our tape players for some reason. As I mentioned, my brother had his ear to the alternate side of Christian music, so I was introduced to the Martin brother’s Starflyer 59 and Joy Electric early on. Attending a few concerts here and there and a Christian music festival every now and then also helped introduce new tunes. I never got in to any of the secular music that was popular in my teens (the 90′s). When we moved in 1998, my dad, now a full-time pastor, was the one who opened the floodgates to all kinds of music, Christian or otherwise. Thank God that Al Gore took it upon himself to create the Internet. Napster was my introduction to classic rock and the music of my Dad’s youth. Then it all snowballed. I still favored softer tunes, but got into some of the Solid State offerings as well. Never listened to any Hip Hop along the way though and I still don’t. That and almost all country music are still no where to be found on my mp3 player. And that’s the short version…

    I should have just posted my FB music:

    MARK GORMLEY, Iron and Wine, The Raconteurs, Bodies of Water, Dr. Dog, Bon Iver, Portishead, Andrew Bird, Lovedrug, Fiction Family, Devotchka, Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova, Doug Burr, John 5, Conor Oberst, Iron and Wine, Damien Rice, Tarkio, Band of Horses, Phil Keaggy, Psapp, Man Man, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, Leonard Cohen, The Editors, The Clientelle, Spoon, Death Cab for Cutie, Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky, The Decemberists, Colin Meloy, The Almost, Pink Floyds, Daft Punk, They Sang As They Slew, Eels, Joy Electric, Furthermore, Roper, The Elms, Devendra Banhart, Ryan Adams, John Davis, Summer at Shatter Creek, Grandaddy, Tom Waits, Cheyenne, Gregorian Chant, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, The Loving Spoonful, Grassroots, Bob Dylan, Grand Funk Railroad, Half Handed Cloud, The MacCabees, Grand Ole Party, The Walkmen, Cold War Kids, Of Montreal, The Out Circuit, Arkade, My Spacecoaster, Arctic Monkeys, Daniel Johnston, Furthermore, Brian Lee & his Orchestra, (morse), Joe Granger, Daft Punk, The Myriad, Anathallo, Preson Phillips, Fleet Foxes, Frederic Freaking Chopin and others.

    tl;dr – I like music. Not exactly a little bit of everything, but kind of close.

  4. ian says:

    when you say cake, do you mean the band or the desert?

    and man, you love Daft Punk…

    you are going to love us, because we have a free Anathallo album going up this week..

  5. E. Andrew says:

    I am what doctor’s refer to as a “gentleman of significant stature” and what famous hip hopper Fiddy Cents might call a “fat kid”, therefore my love is for cake is of the dessert variety. However, I like the band as well because they appeal to my love for girls who wear both short skirts and long jackets.

    Free Anathallo? I’m in. I’ll be forever grateful for the free Brian Lee and His Orchestra album. I’ve listened those mp3′s approximately 4 million times each. Additionally, they’re only two hours from me (in Nashville), greatly increasing the possibility of me seeing them live.

    Just realized I had Furthermore in there twice, also. I guess I just dig that Christian, old school hippity hop more than I had realized. I add to that list every now. I guess I need to read it more closely next time…

  6. Michael says:

    i’ve been there. when talking to musicians who claims they love every kind of music but hate it when Cherryholmes is playing in the resto bar…….

    OT: in the Philippines, Casting Crowns’ Who Am I is a massive mainstream hits here in the Philippines. i dunno if the guys ffrom the band even know

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