Do You Like the Music or the Musician?

Music and the artist who created it aren’t the same thing.

While it’s true that the musicians poured themselves into the music, at the point of being made into the form of a recording, their connection ends.  The music will take on its own persona, its own life, linked but separate from the artist.  As a musicmaker myself, I can tell you that once a song is written, from there on it feels just like any other song written by anybody else.  I still have to learn how to sing or play it, just like learning to play a cover.  If I’m recording it I make arrangements and production decisions, I may even change melodies and words, but again that process is no different if I were recording someone else’s song.

Since the artist and the art are two separate things, it’s not uncommon that you connect to one or the other, but not both.  For this reason I don’t always wish to meet or dream of being friends with musicians who created some of my favorite music.  Scott Weiland, for example, is a brilliant singer and lyricist, and since we have a similar vocal range I find myself singing along to him a lot.  I love how he can change his vocal timbre from song to song.  But from what I’ve read and seen he was not the nicest person — some of the stories about how he treated his fans (I don’t believe everything I read online, but still) have me recoil in disgust.

Steve Vai, on the other hand, is a person I adore.  He’s smart, articulate and insightful, I think if he and I were to sit down and talk we’ll have a rollicking good time.  But his music, I only like some of them.  I think they are all very well-made music, I can appreciate that.  But does it match my taste?

The offering of a musician is music, so you don’t have to like the musicians to enjoy the music.  That said, it’s also a lesson in finding a common ground.  If you relate to or appreciate a piece of music, then you just found something in common with the person/people who made it.  You don’t have to like the musician, but you can appreciate the bits of themselves that they put into that music you enjoy.

But sometimes the stars align and you enjoy the music and adore the people who made it.  When that happens I’m elevated to a new height of fandom.  Most of my favorite acts become my favorites because the musicians, the music, and I all connect in my mind.  Despite my criticism of their recent output, I still appreciate U2 as people.  The guys in Toad the Wet Sprocket seem rather shy so I’d have to get to know them a little, but I feel like they are my friends.  The men in King’s X are class act.  And I watch every interview and read every article about the girls in SHEL because I think they are awesome people.  (A sidebar there is that I do take a completely unwarranted pride in their success simply because they are homeschooled sisters.  My wife and I homeschool our children.  Though I am also aware that this middle-aged man geeking over a group of 20-something young women may come across a bit creepy.  I’m still trying to make peace with that notion.)

So if you are a musician, it’s important to express who you are outside of your music.  Don’t sit back behind the wall that says “I let the music do the talking.”  You’re missing out on an opportunity to win some loyal fans, and make great, personal connection, by not sharing more of yourself outside your music.  A need for privacy is understandable and is to be respected and honored, but as a musicmaker it’s also useful to know that it’s just as valid for people to like you as much or more than the music you make.  You can intentionally stump out such possibilities, but to what end?  I believe it’s far more fascinating to delve into this dichotomy, accept it for what it is and let it play out.

And if you are a music fan, think about which entity you’re fan of — the music, the musician, or both?  Of course there’s nothing wrong with appreciating just one or the other, and that’s reason enough to support their musicmaking.  But don’t assume that if you like the music you’ll like the musician, because that’s a brittle proposition.  Just enjoy the parts that you actually enjoy, and don’t project that expectation elsewhere.  It’s OK to enjoy music by people you don’t particularly appreciate.

The world is a fascinating, complex place and there are many nuances like this, where if you sit and think about something, you discover new truths.  Music is awesome and musicmaking is a critically important endeavor, both for individuals and for societies.  Appreciate what you enjoy, don’t get worked up over what you don’t, and keep searching for more common grounds, more things that resonate deeply with you.  Then you feel less lonely, less disconnected, and enjoy your life more.