Ninety Percent of Music

I was talking to God about music this week. I listen to a lot of music, some of it new, some of it old, some of it really old. I’ve never been one of those people that say they don’t make any good music anymore, although there are times when I find it tempting.

The thing is that Sturgeon’s Law applies. Theodore Sturgeon, one of the greatest science fiction writer’s to ever put words on a page, famously coined the notion that ninety percent of everything is crud, and it applies to music as much as to anything. When I was younger, I somehow had more time to sift through looking for that ten percent that’s worthwhile, but not so much anymore. Now God made a point of telling me that my ten percent is not the same as someone else’s ten percent. In music, possibly even more than in most art forms, there’s a lot of room for personal quirks of taste. But even allowing for that it just seems to me that there’s a lot of stuff that comes out that really no one should consider good, but it still sells.

After thinking about that for a minute, God told me that for a lot of people it’s more important that it be new than that it be good. It’s not that they don’t care if it’s good, they’d certainly prefer that everything new was good, but not everyone listens to music the way that I do. I tend to soak up music not like a sponge, but like a tree. I need the music to soak into my ground first before I start taking it into my soul. I put music on in the background and get familiar with it. Eventually, after I’ve listened to it a number of times, it’ll start to break through and I’ll start to really notice it. For a lot of music, that’s the point where I’ll decide that it’s neither here nor there, it’s music that I don’t mind listening to, but I’m not going to seek it out. For other music, it’ll have grown on me and I’ll start to pay attention to it. And some music, by the time I notice it, it’s because it’s started to annoy me.

Now that being how I listen to music, I want the music to be good. But some people, some people listen to the music, maybe not necessarily more consciously but more actively. For those people, they get in just a few listens everything they’re going to get out of it. They don’t need to keep listening to it, looking for angles and facets that they didn’t notice before. They need new music if they’re going to find anything new and the journey is more important than the destination, so for them, new is more important than good.

Of course, some people just put on music because it’s fashionable, they have no real taste of their own, they just want to listen to something and anything will do. For those people ninety percent of everything is just fine. Not that they won’t deny that, with every bone in their body.

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