I enjoyed this podcast with Susan Rogers who’s new book This is What it Sounds Like digs into why we like the songs we like.

Susan unpacks the seven dimensions of music and how they show up along a varying spectrum in every song. She explains how everyone has an individualized taste for the configuration of these dimensions, and that how closely a particular song aligns with this pattern of sweet spots accounts for whether you like it or not.

Part of me is like awwww bummer my super hip brain what with all its complex and esoteric tastes and be distilled into a seven-spectrum graph?? But there is all sorts of nuance to this. This is just an interesting way to think about it all and perhaps deliver a bit of insight into who we are.

I do have a fear of my musical tastes atrophying to the point that I only like the old stuff and this new stuff is just insolent noise. It’s already happened to some degree, but fortunately, I’m hanging on by a thread discovering a handful of new-to-me artists each year still that do it for me and I get quite into.

My favorite of all this was Susan’s first spectrum that she talked about on the show, and one that is the least possible to apply science to: authenticity. That is, how authentic the sound of the music sounds to you. Unlike some of the other spectrums, this isn’t a two-sided thing where some people like authentic music and others like inauthentic music. Everybody likes authentic music. The weird thing is that what sounds authentic to me might not sound that way to you and vice versa. That’s what has stuck in my brain. Like I can imagine some real modern country lover’s brain going man that guy just rhymed trucks with fucks, that’s good down home authentic stuff where my brain goes that’s just silly trite manipulative inauthentic garbage. And that same fella thinking did that cityfella just sing “I’ve come to test the timbre of my heart”? because he’s just singing fake inauthentic jibberish that I bet he doesn’t even understand and me going now that’s beauty in music — that’s authentically tapping into your emotions and turning it into melody.



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4 responses to “Authenticity”

  1. A.J. Kandy says:

    You should read The Authenticity Hoax, which explores how we put cultural and financial cachet on so-called authenticity and how it distorts our worldview. (Also good, Potter’s previous book The Rebel Sell.)

    I think “authenticity” in music is a little harder to pin down. When you learn that your working-class heroes were really from privileged backgrounds, does it make their music less enjoyable or political stances less palatable? (Thinking of Joe Strummer, the ambassador’s son.)

    Modern pop is definitely going through a bland phase right now, and songwriting has become much less structured and technically deft; there’s fewer hooks, no strong melodies, and vocal technique is almost nonexistent. There’s no interest in making interesting music (except, of course, on the fringes).

    Maybe this is because everyone’s making it up at home vs working with producers and arrangers – who is the Quincy Jones / David Axelrod / George Martin of today?

    • Chris Coyier says:

      everyone’s making it up at home vs working with producers

      I think that’s exactly what is involved here. Maybe that “making it up at home” gives the music a feeling that resonates with people because it feels authentic to them. And if they worked with a glossy producer it might lose that. Just as one example.

  2. Jim Nielsen says:

    Lol your imaginary convo at the end is what I love about your writing Chris

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