Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Does, or should, your taste in music express your personality?

Penelope Trunk has a couple wry observations about how people perceive your taste in music:

[1.] People judge other people by their playlists. (Which is why Ramones t-shirts outsell Ramones albums ten to one.) . . .

[2. P]eople have positive impressions of people who like jazz. This is surprising to me because people do not have positive judgments toward blog posts that are like jazz—complicated and difficult.
Her link on the "people who like jazz" sentence talks about a 2008 study of how musical taste is correlated with personality. Over 30,000 subjects were asked questions to reveal their personality traits and their opinions of about 100 music genres. One of the researchers explained how the findings defied stereotypes:
"One of the most surprising things is the similarities between fans of classical music and heavy metal. They're both creative and at ease but not outgoing.

"The general public has held a stereotype of heavy metal fans being suicidally depressed and of being a danger to themselves and society in general. But they are quite delicate things."
Back to Penelope Trunk -- she says she wants to choose her playlists to have more "focus":
I like to think that I know myself well enough to present a consistent and insightful portrait of myself. And when Eva, from Songza, emailed me to see if I’d put together a playlist that they could use on their music streaming site, I said sure. . . .

When I sent my song list to Eva I asked her to analyze me. I said, “I bet you read song lists like I read resumes, so can you tell me what you see?”

She said she usually doesn’t see such a wide a range of songs on one list.

On a resume, lack of focus is bad. And in a life, doing many different things at once is bad.
But one of the great things about listening to music is that it's not like making a resume: you don't have to worry about the impression you're making on anyone else. There are many situations in life where you can't afford to simply "be true to yourself" (as we were talking about the other day). Choosing what music to listen to is not one of those situations.

I'll repeat what I've said before, paraphrased from Ben Folds:
You should choose the music you listen to entirely based on what you want to listen to, regardless of whether it's a reflection of your personality.
There's no need to worry about whether the person who likes Bach can also like Pantera.* Like whatever you like, and everything else will fall into place.

* I decided to link to Pantera's song "I'm Broken" because the title reminded me of the researcher's comment that metal fans are "delicate things."


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

People often love music that's the opposite of their lives. The songs fulfill a longing for what the listener doesn't have, but has heard about. In the pre-Beatles era, teenagers in old-style gangs (rumbles, bicycle chains, switchblades) used to stand on the corner singing romantic doo-wop about their "babies." (Actually, they often did have "babies," but they didn't have the lives of sweetness and ease the songs implied.) Nowadays, suburban white teenagers living completely safe, privileged lives blast hip-hop from the SUVs their daddies bought them. Thus, young men who are "delicate things" try to toughen themselves with heavy metal.

LemmusLemmus said...

"Jazz" is so wide a category as to be useless. Glenn Miller's and John Zorn's music have very little in common: Miller's is more like Vivaldi's or Phil Collins's, Zorn's is more like Stockhausen's or Sonic Youth's.