Judging Music

When talking about music one often comes across terms like “awesome”, “great”, “mindblowing”, “total s#!t”… you know what I’m talking about. While these terms mostly describe personal feelings about music or a show or even a complete band, it is hard for the recipient of these comments to get a clear picture of what the other person is actually talking about.
Music itself – I’m not speaking of instrumental or vocal skill – is not subject to a measurable variable. It is mostly about feelings you associate with the whole vibe of a song or a musician or a whole concert.

Let me give you a brief example: In your childhood and teenager years you surely came across a lot of songs. And to some you might have had your first kiss or you listened to it, while something special happened in your life. The song might be the worst song in the world, but you have connected the worst song in the world with something special and it gained quality – for you.

These thoughts about judging music  were aroused to me again, after we as a band were the judges of a band contest @ UNMAAD 2011 in IIM Bangalore. And I actually found it pretty hard to give away points for specified criteria. Some of these criteria were “Quality of Original Composition”, others were “Overall Impression”, etc. These criteria were a good guideline and were thought out well by the organizers, but I got the feeling that they still missed out, that music is not measurable in points. I sure get the point that in a competition you somehow have to find a way to compare performances. And for a comparison you need measurement parameters. And if there are none, you have to find some or the way you want the performances to be judged.

For me, music is free. It is an art not a competition. And art is about discussion, it is about controversy, it is revolutionary – it MUST be connected to feelings. Anthropologists and historics have discovered that any society that seriously neglects arts would not only thrive but they may eventually vanish. I don’t want to speak of ending societies, but generally speaking, music as an art adds a lot of quality to our life. I deliberately speak in a quality type of criterion “a lot”, because there is no measurement of life quality.
This addition in quality for me comes in two ways: listening to music and making music yourself. Both ways are benefiting because both ways are a kind of interaction and sharing is involved. And what is life without interaction and sharing. Sharing thoughts and feelings in lyrics and in song structures – or even further a corporate experience of a live performance, as part of the stage or the audience – it is about a connection.

Now try to add a competition part to this wonderful ideal of connection. It is impossible. How can one judge the feelings, the connection, the whole experience of a band and their impact on other people? It will always be a very personal opinion and it will never say anything about a constructed non existent impartial quality of a musician which states that one is superior to another.
This exactly is where the beauty of music comes in. The elusiveness of music. When you are writing a song, you can’t say if it touches anybody else except you – when you listen to a song and you are touched, you never know if it touches anybody else other than you.

And with this in mind: Who are we to judge music other than for ourselves?

PS: I know these pics have nothing to do with the blog, I just found them on my harddrive…

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