The Good Music Taste Guide

GEORGE OSBORN provides a guide to broadening your musical horizons in the coming year

Beatles Davis Django Dylan Elvis Jay-Z Music Taste

Well it’s the start of a fresh year, one that they call 2010, apparently. With 2009 lying literally days behind us, we all start that bizarre ritual of New Years’ Resolutions and try as hard as we can to change an aspect of ourselves. However as it requires dedication, commitment and painstaking effort in most cases, we say fuck it and watch repeats of University Challenge on Iplayer. But what happens if you decide that you do want to change something and really want to stick to your guns? What happens, for example, if you decide that you really want to broaden your horizons and cultural understanding? Where can you go for help?

This guide is intended to offer a helping hand to anyone who wants this year to be defined by their willingness to try new music. The title of the article hopefully will have drawn in a fair number of people who think that I was about to embark on a massive list of you must listen to this/don’t listen to that etc which they would gleefully take upon as an opportunity to rib me. But sorry, that’s not what I’m aiming to do. Unlike my pessimistic feature writing colleagues, I’m hoping that you can keep your goddamn new year’s resolutions but what I really hope for most is that this guide lets you continue to enjoy the music that you like but perhaps have your ears opened to new bands or genres. So here begins the five steps to getting your music taste broadened without a huge hassle and (hopefully) with massive enjoyment.

1) Pick a band, listen to their influences

The first step then is to find a band or an album that you really like listening to and doing a bit of research about them to find out why their music sounds like it does. By doing so, you stand a fantastic chance of finding bands or musicians that will have a bit of something that you like in the albums that they make. A great example of this is the Beatles. There is absolutely loads of stuff around telling you who they were influenced by and by taking a few moments to read up can help you get up to speed with a lot of styles quickly. George Harrison learnt a few Django Reinhardt songs when he first picked up a guitar, Bob Dylan greatly influenced Lennon and all the band members enjoyed the music of Elvis Presley in their earlier days. With a tiny bit of research, you can alert yourself to a whole new spectrum of styles with very little effort and once you listen to those recordings you can start spotting similarities in other bands and broaden further.

2) Find friendly help

You’ve made your initial step away from a band you like but it is likely that after this you’ll hit a bit of a brick wall, namely where do I go after these bands if I know nothing about music. The easiest way to get past this is by getting for a leg up from someone in the know and again this is pretty easy to do. Firstly, talk to your mates as everyone is at least once removed from a friend who is a music nutter and once in the company of said nutter they normally can push you onwards towards a band similar to something you like. Secondly, try talking to staff in a local specialty music shop. Their knowledge is normally very sound and broad and although these shops are dying out, they are worth hunting down (Fopp is a highly credible alternative). Lastly, try finding online music review sites and set up your RSS feed so you get reviews directly to your phone/computer. For sites such as Pitchfork or Metacritic, you can gain a great amount of information and detail with very little hassle and it comes straight to your inbox, a very useful touchstone for what is good and bad.

3) Read “Best of” charts

But even with a lot of help, it can be easy to be lead into an album that is very niche and not even that great. If that happens it’s ok, you can’t learn what is good until you know what isn’t, but to ensure some sense of quality control find End of Year round ups on the web and give them a glance over. The best example, the Planet Sound top 50, unfortunately met its demise this year but other lists still exist and they stay up for a considerable length of time allowing you to track back lots of high quality albums from bygone years. What’s even better is that albums generally get cheaper with age and timing your buying spree to a sale means that you can go and grab between 6 and 10 good CDs for £30, which is both prudent and useful. “Best of” charts are very easy shopping lists providing you with band names, album names and usually very useful descriptions so when used wisely they are absolutely priceless.

4) Try something that intrigues you

If you’ve done the first few steps, then your taste will be broadening out well. But the problem with the method above is that it doesn’t really expand you into things you haven’t heard before. This is where you need to use your own initiative and decide what you really want to listen to. Maybe you’ve listened to classical music and decide jazz is your thing or you are an indie kid wanting to bring in some rap, but whatever you want to try and listen to now is the right moment to do it. Find an album that is considered a “classic” in the genre (maybe, as examples, for jazz Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue or rap Jay-Z’s The Blueprint) and use the steps above again to broaden outwards if you like what you try. If you aren’t sure that you will like it, shop around for a bargain classic so that if you do decide it isn’t for you then no harm is done. If you do like it though, you can then rave about how much of a bargain it was to your mates and gain another feather for the cap.

5) Form opinions on everything you listen to

And this is probably the most important step of all: being opinionated. After you listen to something make sure you form an opinion on it. Even if the opinion is “it’s alright” or merely you think of an album “it needs to be listened to more” making an opinion is the thing that matters most. Music tastes are ultimately very personal, even if some peoples may look generic, so forming some sort of attachment to the music you listen to enriches the experience greatly. It also means that when you get into an inevitable music discussion you can hear a band name in passing, express an opinion on them or maybe hear about an artist that someone recommends as better or worse. Being able to talk about music is the best way to find new things to try out and having opinions will help this too.

In terms of a five step guide then, there is probably a lot more to say about how to expand your tastes and there may be fantastic ways to do that which I haven’t even touched upon. Heck, even I’m not perfect I know this. But this guide is more about finding out what sounds good to you and stepping outside of your comfort zone from time to time. This guide isn’t intended to answer a question about what is good music but instead to get you asking a hell of a lot more about music and if even one person feels a tiny bit inspired then that’s fantastic. If it doesn’t, I might have to make a new year’s resolution to stop writing shit. 

Think you’ve got the talent, drive, determination and knowledge to write for the music section of the Tab? Or are you just an opinionated fuck who considers themselves a music authority despite what your “mates” might think? Then get in touch with me at [email protected] and jump into the world of music reviewing.