I found an interesting article called Why Americans Hate Jazz that sums up a lot of what I find wrong with the way people listen to music. The author makes some interesting points on how most people (Americans in particular) only listen to the lyrics of a song, and not the actual music. This is something I’ve noticed myself, and as a musician I find quite infuriating. He even talks about something I’ve experienced countless times, and that is playing your own music for friends and family only to have them talk while the music is playing. (You cannot listen if you are talking. This is one of my biggest pet-peeves. If I’m playing something for you, I want you to listen to it. This even makes me mad when I’m playing music from other artists that I want someone to hear.)
Yesterday we (Call it Karma<) were rehearsing and talking about some of the reviews we’ve gotten for one of our songs over at Garageband.com. The song in question is Secret. Even though the song was well liked, many of the people said that it gets repetitive, referring to the bridge, where Erin repeats “I’ve got a secret that I cannot say” with variations on the way she sings the phrase. I felt that this was because most people do not understand the concept of the voice as an instrument, and were missing the point of the bridge. Erin’s voice is just another instrument at that point in the song, and she’s improvising on a musical phrase, with Paul’s trumpet line playing around what she’s doing. It’s a give and take (call and answer) between two instruments, one of which happens to be the human voice. Most people simply don’t get that, because they are only listening to the lyrics and not the music.
I guess this is why certain styles of music only appeal to some people (musicians in particular). The author of the article mentions specifically Jazz, but you could easily make the same case for Jam Bands and Progressive Rock. People don’t really “get” these styles of music, because the lyrics tend to take a back seat to the music, and they demand attention from the audience. Of course a 10 minute improvisation is not going to make sense to some one who doesn’t actively listen to what the musicians are doing.