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Thread: What Role Does "Skill" Play When Evaluating Music?

  1. #106
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hammeredklavier View Post
    Do you honestly think average modern pop music listeners today go through millions, or just hundreds of song-writers or singers to separate the chaff from the wheat and decide for themselves their favorite artists and favorite songs? They don't. Most of them are content listening only to stuff that gets played on the radio and that's the only stuff that corporate companies and broadcasting companies make investment on. I'll go re-read your old argument debunking those videos, but I remember that I was not convinced by it. Rather I think you haven't addressed the points raised in the videos fully. I'm still not convinced how modern pop music requires talent to write and how it can inspire future generations.
    First, way to completely ignore my post that corrected many of your factual errors.

    Second, I don't know what the "average pop music listener today" does. The landscape of how people consume pop music has changed drastically from the days when radio dominated what was heard. These days, sites like YouTube, where people are recommended music based on what they've already searched for/listened to, is as much a factor as anything. Someone like Justin Bieber became a star on YouTube long before he was a pop megastar. Same for Billie Eilish and Lana Del Rey. YouTube is very much a grassroots approach to music promotion because if people like what they hear then they'll share it with others, and if people keep liking/sharing then it becomes a "viral sensation." There's little room for labels/corporations to dictate what people hear or don't hear on such streaming platforms. Even with someone like Taylor Swift, she was having tremendous success long before she was being heavily promoted. Her first album, that spawned several hits, was released by a small, independent label called Big Machine, and it was people calling into radio stations requesting her songs that helped promote her. She made the success of that label, not the other way around (and literally everyone who worked there would say the same thing).

    As for the rest, the proof that pop music requires talent is in the pudding. There's millions of people trying to be successful in that field, and there's only a few that are actually doing it. It's not easy writing hits, no matter how much promotion one has from labels, and the people making the big bucks are those that are able to consistently do it.

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  3. #107
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveM View Post
    Heaven forbid anyone would do a little research before formulating broad opinions based on nothing more than ‘I think so.’ There is no doubt that these days so much of the pop music high on the charts are created for stars such as Taylor Swift using a formula almost guaranteed to produce the desired results.
    Yes, heaven forbid anyone do a little research or they might learn things like the fact that there is no music "created for Taylor Swift" (she writes her own stuff), or that the notion that there's some "formula for chart success" is complete and utter nonsense.

    Quote Originally Posted by DaveM View Post
    And while I’m at it, I can’t imagine anyone posting with a straight face something as frivolous and baseless as ‘
    ‘Much of that isn’t, IMO, skill, it's putting yourself in a position to allow inspiration to hit and being ready to record it when it does.’
    And while I'm at it, I can't imagine anyone posting with a straight face something as frivolous and baseless as stating something's frivolous and baseless without actually responding to it.

    Also, why did you ignore mikeh375 who said the same thing I did, just in much greater detail? What Role Does "Skill" Play When Evaluating Music?
    Last edited by Eva Yojimbo; Sep-27-2019 at 00:41.

  4. #108
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    She’s a fine songwriter in her chosen genre, which you obviously don’t appreciate, even if she also does songs by others, including Martin... It’s called a fact-checking even if you don’t care for her music in another of your toxic attacks on anything that you don’t care for or understand... She has written her own songs, including an entire album.
    As far as I know, she's never done a song "by" anyone else. Martin has spoken of her collaboration with Swift, saying that she comes in with completed lyrics/melodies and he mostly just helps with the production. Her first collaborator, Liz Rose, said the same thing: "(My sessions with Swift were) some of the easiest I've ever done. Basically, I was just her editor. She'd write about what happened in school that day. She had such a clear vision of what she was trying to say. And she'd come in with the most incredible hooks."

    For those actually familiar with both Swift and Martin I actually think it's pretty easy and obvious to hear what impact he had on her work. Stuff like the marching-band rhythm and horns of Shake it Off are classic Martin-isms; but the same could be said for other producers/co-writers she's worked with like Jack Antonoff, who also has a pretty identifiable production style. Let's also not forget that even George Martin is often considered "the fifth Beatle." Producers do have a lot of influence over the artists they work with, especially when those artists are receptive to outside input.

  5. #109
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hammeredklavier View Post
    Let's say the industry and media promote the songs Roomie create instantly or the Jon Lajoie songs (which I posted earlier) and people are "forced" to listen to them on the radio instead of stuff like Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber. Would people be like "WTF is this stuff? Get Swift and Bieber back on the radio!"

    I think the sole reason for Roomie and Lajoie's lack of popularity is their lack of exposure to the public. If they're given the same chances as Swift and Bieber, they'll make better and more interesting songs, get more popularity and love from the public.
    This is a nice theory, but history (and practice) has shown differently. There have been a ton of acts that were groomed to be successes and given all the promotion and backing in the world and failed because the public just don't like their music. Further, labels and artists have no reason to play favorites with songwriters. If a songwriter submits a song and the label/artist likes it, they're not going to turn it down just because it's from some unknown. There was a time, after all, when nobody knew who the hell Max Martin was. Likewise, if Martin's songs started flopping then labels/artists wouldn't be so keen on hiring/working with him. As far as music goes, you don't get closer to an objective meritocracy than a genre that's measured by financial success.

    Quote Originally Posted by hammeredklavier View Post
    Search for any videos with titles like "pop music sucks" and look at the best comments in those videos, have you ever wondered why people are so critical about pop music these days? You can keep encouraging this "gradual death of pop" all you want. It almost looks as if you enjoy watching it die.
    I don't wonder, I know: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/10/o...ite-songs.html

    Basically, most people's* musical tastes are formed in adolescence when the chemicals their brains are producing perceive everything related to the formation of their identity to be extremely important, and this includes music. The vast majority of casual music listeners end up loving whatever music they loved as a teenager, and then proceed to complain about the music of the next generations. This phenomenon has been consistently observed throughout history in regards to all music. You can find contemporary reviews bashing Elvish, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, pretty much any artist you can think of.

    So if you agree with this: “Pop music is just terrible! It’s crass and degenerate and everything wrong with capitalist society, just feeding on the stupidity of the masses”

    You're basically Theodor Adorno, but he was writing about jazz in the 40s, rather than pop.

    *By "most people" I'm excluding those for whom music becomes a passion and are open to finding new, great music long past their teen years.

  6. #110
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    It's a different ball game and hits are highly organized team efforts. Here's a fascinating article on how hits are made.
    It depends on the hits, but I'm not sure why people look on the information in that article as scandalous or a "charade." The prioritization of the artist/songwriter was largely an invention of the 60s with the popularity of Dylan and The Beatles. Before then, it was standard that artists/singers and songwriters were separate entities, each appreciated on their own merits. Much of today's pop (not all of it, though) just a return to that pre-60s paradigm, with the addition that producers, who are often the songwriters, are just as crucial in the overall effort.

    Also, the information of who writes the songs is freely available to anyone who bothers to read liner notes or look up the songs on Wikipedia or any other site. It's not like this information is hidden or hushed. I've known about Martin, eg, since as far back as The Backstreet Boys. Over the years I've often even played a game where I've tried to pick his (and others') songs out on the radio/online before knowing who wrote a song. I actually think it's interesting to hear how artists' sounds are influenced by such things. With someone like Swift it's typically just a refinement of what she was already doing; other times an artist never produces an individual identity because they're totally dictated and dominated by their songwriters/producers (this is Ariana Grande's problem; she sounds like whomever is writing/producing for her).

  7. #111
    Senior Member DaveM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eva Yojimbo View Post
    Yes, heaven forbid anyone do a little research or they might learn things like the fact that there is no music "created for Taylor Swift" (she writes her own stuff), or that the notion that there's some "formula for chart success" is complete and utter nonsense.
    Do some research yourself. When Taylor Swift started out, she wrote her own songs, but with success, she now gets a lot of help. She gets credit for many of the songs on albums, but she is being assisted on many, if not all of them. This is the way it works with many famous singer-songwriters now who are touring and putting out albums.

    https://modernmusicmaker.com/blog/wh...or-swift-songs
    Last edited by DaveM; Sep-27-2019 at 01:59.

  8. #112
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveM View Post
    Do some research yourself. When Taylor Swift started out, she wrote her own songs, but with success, she now gets a lot of help. She gets credit for many of the songs on albums, but she is being assisted on many, if not all of them. This the way it works with many famous singer-songwriters now who are touring and putting out albums.

    https://modernmusicmaker.com/blog/wh...or-swift-songs
    First, you had originally said music was "created for Taylor Swift." That was the claim I was disputing. I obviously know she collaborates as I've discussed it previously, so your "she gets a lot of help" sounds like a desperate attempt at moving the goalposts.

    Second, what does "gets a lot of help" mean? Max Martin said she came to him with the lyrics and melodies, he just helped with production (Liz Rose said the same thing, but with "editing" replacing "production"). Is this "a lot of help?" How is that any different from what George Martin did with The Beatles? That article provides no new information I didn't already have by looking at the writing credits on her songs (and then looking those people up on Wikipedia). This in no way tells us how much each contributed. I'm going off quotes from those involved, as well as videos and audio clips that have actually documented her writing/production process, which tells us much more than writing credits.

    For those actually interested in facts rather than their preconceived biases:




    To avoid flooding the board with videos, you can also look up "Taylor Swift making of a song" on YouTube and there are pretty good documents of how many of the songs on Reputation were written. I'll post one just as an example:


    I like this because you can clearly see who's responsible for what. If this video is indicative of their relationship, I think it shows that Swift is at least 70-80% responsible for the final product. Even with the stuff that Martin actually writes, like the keyboard riff, it required Swift saying "I like that" before it made it into the song. This is basically Swift playing the role that a director might on a film.

    This isn't the way it works for all other pop artists, of course. Martin has definitely written songs, by himself, that he's then sold to labels and artists where the artists had very little, if any, creative input.
    Last edited by Eva Yojimbo; Sep-27-2019 at 02:29.

  9. #113
    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    An interesting example: Here’s a song with words and music by my daughter-in-law. Visual track by my son. But the producer made it into something that sounds exciting and polished. Brazilian house music, more or less.



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  11. #114
    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eva Yojimbo View Post
    I'll post one just as an example:


    I like this because you can clearly see who's responsible for what. If this video is indicative of their relationship, I think it shows that Swift is at least 70-80% responsible for the final product. Even with the stuff that Martin actually writes, like the keyboard riff, it required Swift saying "I like that" before it made it into the song. This is basically Swift playing the role that a director might on a film.

    This isn't the way it works for all other pop artists, of course. Martin has definitely written songs, by himself, that he's then sold to labels and artists where the artists had very little, if any, creative input.
    This video proves more how banal the musical material is to me. This kind of Pop music is all in the production to make it sound more interesting.
    Last edited by Phil loves classical; Sep-27-2019 at 02:30.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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  13. #115
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    This video proves more how banal the musical material is to me. This kind of Pop music is all in the production to make it sound more interesting.
    Different strokes. I still like the vocal hook despite the simplicity. Yes, production makes a big difference, but the production is part of the writing and creative process (even artistry). We can blame The Beatles for their influence in turning the studio into a musical instrument in itself. Even beyond that, pop music has always had "sound" as a crucial aspect of its presentation as that's often how genres and sub-genres form; not based on underlying musical material, but how it's rendered sonically. I'd also argue that matching sound (in the production) to lyrics and melody is a skill (or perhaps "art") in itself, one I find Swift is better at than most contemporaries (or even predecessors).
    Last edited by Eva Yojimbo; Sep-27-2019 at 03:02.

  14. #116
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    I feel like this thread has really gotten away from the topic at hand (I never planned on having to mount a defense for Taylor Swift!), so let me bring it back by offering an example from a different medium I feel addresses some of my concerns. Others have done similar things with painting, but I'm more familiar with poetry having actually studied it. So here's William Carlos Williams's Red Wheelbarrow:

    so much depends
    upon

    a red wheel
    barrow

    glazed with rain
    water

    beside the white
    chickens
    At first it would be hard to define where the skill is in this, despite the fact that it's been so anthologized and is one of the more famous poems of the 20th century. In my own study one of the assignments was analyzing this poem, and while I don't have my original I copied some aspects of it elsewhere. Here's what I had to say (sorry if it reads rough as it was taken from a discussion of form in free verse):
    Here, “barrow” and “water” transform the words that came before–not “wheel” but “wheelbarrow,” not “rain” but “rain water”. This is contrasted with the first two lines whose break/followup is predictable, as “upon” would logically follow the phrase “so much depends.” So the first two lines give us a sense of predictability, of sureness at the natural order of things. This is immediately destroyed in the next two “stanzas,” while the final doesn’t even pretend towards predictability as we have no way of knowing what might follow “white,” as it’s clearly an adjective unlike wheel and rain. Even the scattershot rhythm keeps trying to find the meter, a predictable “home” that it never can quite achieve. So you do have this tremendous balance of sameness and pattern on one level (each second line is one word, two syllables, each opening line is three words, that only modulates between four and three syllables), but unpredictability and “imperfection” on another...

    One thing that makes WCW’s poem so extraordinary is its compressed bathos that doesn’t make itself obvious. Those first two opening lines have a grand, ominous quality about them. “So much depends/ upon,” so the reader thinks “wow, whatever follows is going to be monumentally important since SO MUCH depends on it.” The next line starts to fulfill this promise, “a red wheel.” Now that’s an interesting image as wheels ARE important, and red makes us think of blood and urgency and all kinds of things. Maybe we’re going to get one of Blake’s wheels that drive the universe. But, no, it’s just a red wheelbarrow. Well, that’s an odd thing for so much to depend on… maybe we’ll find out why it’s so crucial. But, no again, all we get is more information about it, that it’s “glazed with rain / water,” that it’s “beside the white / chickens.” Every subsequent stanza, instead of expanding outward to something grandly important, like the opening lines make us think, contracts inwards towards more and smaller details. The final stanza goes outward a little, but only to tell us that it’s surrounded by chickens, which couldn’t a less important thing for something that so much depends on.
    Now, it would be possible for me to take this analysis--which is mostly of objective facts about the poem, despite a few instances of interpretation of tone via those objective features--and say that WCW was "skillful" in composing it, as if all of this is what he had thought about and intended... but maybe it wasn't? Maybe all this is is me finding patterns in chaos, or maybe WCW was just interested in experimenting with a form that relied on word count (3/1) and the other elements were just accidents. I'm not saying that's the case, I'm saying I/we can't know.

    This is not to say we can't ever reasonably infer that skill was involved. I think of instances where many artists in all genres have tried to do things and failed while a few succeeded. In those cases, I think most of the time the difference is largely due to skill, though we can also pick out instances where it's not (or not entirely). I've offered the examples of writing melodies. Can skill be used to sculpt melodies after the "inspired" moment where the melody hits your mind? Yes; but can we distinguish which is more important between the initial inspiration and the skillful sculpting afterward? This is the difficulty. It's not a dismissal of skill, it's a recognition that many important things that we value in the arts can't be reduced to skill alone. The degree is what's to be debated.

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    Senior Member DaveM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eva Yojimbo View Post
    .. I'd also argue that matching sound (in the production) to lyrics and melody is a skill (or perhaps "art") in itself, one I find Swift is better at than most contemporaries (or even predecessors).
    Oh now, matching sound to lyrics and melody is a skill, but melody ‘relies more on ephemeral inspiration than any cultivated skill.’ You really don’t have any consistent views on these subjects do you. It’s all about arguing for the sake of arguing (as you’ve already admitted you have no problem with).

    Quote Originally Posted by Eva Yojimbo View Post
    Among my concerns is that I think the kind of skill that's objectively quantifiable, the simple ability of a composer to do whatever it is that can be done, means very little in the final evaluation of music; while the final impact that creation has on listeners means a great deal, and it's very easy for listeners to project our feelings of greatness onto the "skill" of the composer. I also feel like many elements within music, like melody, rely far more on ephemeral inspiration than any cultivated skill.

  16. #118
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveM View Post
    Oh now, matching sound to lyrics and melody is a skill, but melody ‘relies more on ephemeral inspiration than any cultivated skill.’ You really don’t have any consistent views on these subjects do you. It’s all about arguing for the sake of arguing (as you’ve already admitted you have no problem with).
    A melody can just hit your mind, and so can a production idea; but putting them together would seem to necessitate a conscious choice, would it not?

    You accuse me of not having any "consistent views on these subjects" like it's a bad thing. I'm open to having my mind changed. In the meantime I'm arguing to figure out what my mind is. Is that not more admirable than beginning with your mind made up and refusing to be moved by evidence or good arguments to the contrary?

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    Senior Member Strange Magic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eva Yojimbo View Post
    You accuse me of not having any "consistent views on these subjects" like it's a bad thing. I'm open to having my mind changed. In the meantime I'm arguing to figure out what my mind is. Is that not more admirable than beginning with your mind made up and refusing to be moved by evidence or good arguments to the contrary?
    Actually that is one of the benefits and utilities and fun aspects of posting on TC. It's a form of working out in one's mind the outlines and limits and structures of one's own thinking--hammering away at one's notions like a blacksmith at the forge or shaping like a potter at the wheel. Ideas are reinforced, or found wanting or in need of strengthening here and there.
    Last edited by Strange Magic; Sep-27-2019 at 03:39.

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  19. #120
    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eva Yojimbo View Post
    I feel like this thread has really gotten away from the topic at hand (I never planned on having to mount a defense for Taylor Swift!), so let me bring it back by offering an example from a different medium I feel addresses some of my concerns. Others have done similar things with painting, but I'm more familiar with poetry having actually studied it. So here's William Carlos Williams's Red Wheelbarrow:

    At first it would be hard to define where the skill is in this, despite the fact that it's been so anthologized and is one of the more famous poems of the 20th century. In my own study one of the assignments was analyzing this poem, and while I don't have my original I copied some aspects of it elsewhere. Here's what I had to say (sorry if it reads rough as it was taken from a discussion of form in free verse): Now, it would be possible for me to take this analysis--which is mostly of objective facts about the poem, despite a few instances of interpretation of tone via those objective features--and say that WCW was "skillful" in composing it, as if all of this is what he had thought about and intended... but maybe it wasn't? Maybe all this is is me finding patterns in chaos, or maybe WCW was just interested in experimenting with a form that relied on word count (3/1) and the other elements were just accidents. I'm not saying that's the case, I'm saying I/we can't know.

    This is not to say we can't ever reasonably infer that skill was involved. I think of instances where many artists in all genres have tried to do things and failed while a few succeeded. In those cases, I think most of the time the difference is largely due to skill, though we can also pick out instances where it's not (or not entirely). I've offered the examples of writing melodies. Can skill be used to sculpt melodies after the "inspired" moment where the melody hits your mind? Yes; but can we distinguish which is more important between the initial inspiration and the skillful sculpting afterward? This is the difficulty. It's not a dismissal of skill, it's a recognition that many important things that we value in the arts can't be reduced to skill alone. The degree is what's to be debated.
    Skill in Classical Poetry is more obvious than in Modernist (or especially Postmodern) poetry, anyone can string a few words together and attach some kind of meaning. Its construction may not so apparent with so many variables. Analogy in music is skill in tonal music is much more apparent than in serial music. In chance/aleatoric music, the skill required is clearly less. Same applies to a Rembrandt compared with abstract painting, no matter what kind of meanings may be associated with the latter. I say it takes more skill to express a clear idea or theme than to leave something in ambiguity. I see some skill in the WCW poem (to me the meaning is clear), but not the extent of say John Keats.

    I like the imagery of the red wheel barrow poem, not just painting a picture of a farm, but also expressing the importance of the wheel barrow (that fact it's red is just a detail) to the livelihood of the farmer/gardener, in so few words. That takes skill. I also have some of WCW's translations of Classical Chinese poetry. It is the same sort of concept / technique.
    Last edited by Phil loves classical; Sep-27-2019 at 04:28.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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