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December 2023
Vol. 23, No. 3

Smoke Signals

What kind of Music Do You Listen to?

by Jeff BerkleyApril 2023

Remember that question? It’s something folks used to ask each other more often. What kind of music do I like? Why do I have to narrow it down to one? Are there “kinds” of music? What kind do I like?

I suppose in this case, “kind” means style or flavour. (I spell flavour and colour the British way cause the “u” makes them more flavourful and colourful) Anyway, sure there are styles of music and traditions that go back before modern pop music and radio. I love the diversity of music.

We live in an amazing time. The musical genres and styles have transcended each other in some ways. The way we listen to music has changed profoundly. No rules or cliques or Sharks-vs-Jets mentality at school and at shows. No more punks fighting mods and so on. The genres are mixing and mingling and we’re getting beautiful, multi-coloured hybrids!

FM radio came around in 1933, but it really started to catch on in the ’50s and became a source of freedom all over the world. DJ’s curated sets of music that took listeners on emotional journeys. One song led to another like classical movements. Genre wasn’t part of the discussion. They were making soup—combining flavours that mix on your pallet to create a new moment or a new compound flavour that was meant to edify your soul! In one music block, you could hear Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, Tiny Tim, and Thelonius Monk. (Oxford comma)

Then, darkness came over the land and clouds gathered. The age of the radio consultant came to pass. It was like cybernetics in baseball. Curation by numbers. “Moneyball radio!”

Music became about which gang you were in. It was organized into genres and fans became numbers to sell units, too. It’s how marketing works and I don’t think anyone maliciously meant to funnel us all in to pretty little categories.

I guess I hit high school when all of that was at its height. Kids at my school identified with the one style of music. They dressed that way, talked that way, styled everything about themselves to signal to everyone what kind of music they listened to. Not only that, they went out of their way to make sure not hear the other styles, because they were somehow an enemy. I’m not saying everybody was like that, but it definitely was a thing and there were all sorts of negative energy around that. Violence even.

All of it can be traced back to that question, what kind of music do you listen to? It became a fear-invoking question when someone would ask it in the halls of my high school. What if I say the wrong thing?

Jump to now.

Thankfully, one of the silver linings of the Internet is that those shackles of genre have been completely destroyed! No one cares anymore. The question has changed to do you like music? That answer is nearly always YES! Listen to whatever you feel. There’s so much out there for us to enjoy.

There is still danger out there. The streaming model isn’t going go to work forever. Streaming services don’t play fairly, financially, with artists yet. They may have to be made to pay for the music they sell by legislation. That’s a long way away. Also, algorithms are eventually going to funnel everything you listen to into one little pocket.

The good news is that you can train your algorithm. Maybe we can teach it to be open minded?

Lean into diversity!!! Listen to things you’ve never tried before. You’re gonna hear some things you don’t like but that’s what it’s about in some ways.

Question: What if you went to a show and there were three bands? Currently, you’re bound to see three bands or performers that are kind of close to each other in style. Americana, pop, jazz, metal, punk, rock; whatever it is, you’ll get three variations of the same genre.

What if you went to a show and there was an acoustic singer/songwriter, punk band, and jazz trio? What an amazing night that could be. What if you listened to a radio station or steered your streaming service into this idea? What an amazing world that could be! Shows could be curated in this way. The three flavours could magically complement each other and become an amazing soup. Fucking delicious!

What kind of music do I like? I just love magical music, don’t you?

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