Q&A: A Letter from Anonymous

by M. Lewis Barker

I received an e-mail from an anonymous girl yesterday, with many questions about for me. I will post the e-mail, but with any responses/comments by me added in italics. Pay attention to that, otherwise the following will be confusing. Please read both parts. The italics don’t mean “skip this”.

Hello Lewis,
I like your blog. Not that you would take that as a compliment.   I followed several links trying to put a face with the name and consequently (stalker), read a few of your older posts. Which in turn, prompted my present post. 

You commented that music is the only thing that makes sense to you, and I get that. Difference is, I am not (by any stretch of the imagination) a musician.  I sing in my ward choir and with my ipod.  Dance is more my thing, though I don’t rightly know that I’ve ever been in a mosh pit.  I haven’t been on the music scene here in Provo, other than as the audience (that is all you need to be active in the scene).  I have to agree with one poster who claimed the genre is “boring” (she is referring to Martin’s comment on my post about folk) .  And I HATE saying that! I feel awful not loving and adoring the hard work of SO MANY artists!  The only reason I feel brave enough to say that is because you requested comments and discussion…and because I get to remain fairly anonymous.  (I wonder how you know that it is Provo’s favorite kind of music?)  Also, I am fascinated by people and what makes them tick, which is strange because I’m not really a people person.

If you read about the Provo music scene, or simply attend enough shows, one can plainly see that indie folk is the most common and most popular genre. That doesn’t mean that the majority of Provo’s music is folk, but it definitely is prominent.
You may begin to wonder if this post has a point.  (…wondering that myself, actually…)  However, I do have some questions.
What exactly is ’emo’ music?  Like, is there an actual definition for that?  I never would have grouped Nickleback there.  Why do you hate it?
Did I call Nickleback “emo”? They are most definitely not, but they are the most generic, mediocre piece of trash to ever record music. Emo is a rather broad term that has gone through a myriad of definitions. It used to be “emocore”, short for emotional hardcore, referring to bands like Rites of Spring and Fugazi whose sounds have all been eradicated by modern emocore like Fallout Boy and My Chemical Romance. Lighter emo falls closer to bands like Dashboard Confessional and Saves the Day. I have a difficult time explaining why I hate these genres, but I always have. They are grating on the ears and show a complete lack of musical knowledge, being more concerned with fashion and image than listenable music.And Indie?  punk?  do artists ever create something that blurs the lines between genres?  If they do, at what point do you decide that you hate it or like it?

The majority of artists blur genres. Indie is an even broader term than Emo, so I suggest using Wikipedia to look more up about these genres. I don’t pick which music I like based on the genre it falls under. Nearly any genre is capable of producing good music that I can enjoy (except, of course, Emo). I generally find myself disliking music if it is just plain bad or completely unoriginal.
I enjoyed reading through the list of artists that have influenced you. (This can be found at my old blog.)  I knew three of them.  I had heard of about seven (ok, it was more like 20 after the re-read). I know a guy who works with another guy whose hobby is collecting music and artists.  This guy has hard drives FULL of music and is planning on getting his own “server” to hold it all.  He has enough music to listen to for 60 years continuous -not listening to the same song twice!!!  And I seriously doubt that he knows any of the bands here in Provo, only 12 of which were listed in just your post.
I seriously cannot contemplate how so much music gets made.  There are only so many notes in a scale!  It’s like contemplating the space-time continuum!  Mind-boggling.  And you and others want to make more?  Something new?  Fascinating! 
Well I make music for two reasons: So I can have the kind of music I would want to listen to, and because writing and performing is incredibly fun. Sure, there are only 11 notes in our Western scales, but there are only 6 colors in the rainbow, and yet people continue to make art.
Perhaps it is the lack of “musician” in myself, but I don’t think I really understand how all this works.  It’s like knowing something is missing, but not “what”. 
Why are all you people writing music?  How/Why does it make sense to you?  I want to understand! (Your 2009 vivacity posts explains this some…I think it would be a great article to repost on this blog, very beautifully written.) But why should you be your own favorite band? Do you artists love everything that drips off your own fingers?   How do you determine when you are settling for mediocrity?  Who is the judge of that?  You? the audience?  What happens when you and the audience disagree?  And what the heck are “we, the audience” supposed to do when you call us a tough crowd? Are you there to ‘Wow’ us, or is it the other way around?  Do we get a warning “when we need to be nice”? Do we crush a little of you each time that we don’t swoon away?  Or are you all cool with not being “well-known”?
I mentioned why I write music in my last response. Music makes so much sense to me because it exists in that perfect space between our brain’s right and left hemispheres. It is both intellectual and emotional. It gets in your head and stays there all day. It fills your chest and uplifts the spirit.I want to be in my own favorite band even if that is incredibly difficult and I’m nowhere near that level right now. When I write a song, it isn’t for anybody else, but for me. If I personally don’t love it, then I don’t play it. But I also play in a band and let others help me make the songs better. Being in a band isn’t about compromising your music or your vision nor is it controlling others and making them do what you want to do, but about working together to make something better than you could as an individual. My favorite feeling in the world is when a song comes together. It has never been about satisfying my ego, but about trying to make something new that also doesn’t suck.That may sound like I am disrespecting the audience, but that is not my intention. I do not make music with the goal of fame, success, or having anyone else like it. But I know that if I write the best songs I can and put out a great performance, an audience will naturally form. I absolutely love it when others appreciate the work that we have done, but I make music for the sake of music. It’s not the best in the world, and we definitely need to collaborate and practice more, but I love it. If other people don’t like it, that’s their opinion and I don’t mind. I listen to music that the majority of people dislike or haven’t heard, so I expect the same with my own.

If you are playing music with the express intent of getting famous or rich, then I can guarantee that you’re not writing good music.
I’m not a lady gaga fan, but I’ve heard her music and actually like some of it.  Is she something that you would consider ‘original’?  Is she copycatting someone else?  She definitely gets noticed.  Is she doing it for the money, or for the love of music or for the love of something else? 
There is absolutely nothing original about Lady Gaga’s music. She just dressed really weird and says outlandish things so people think of her as an “artist”. Her music is not bad – she writes catchy tunes and is a talented musician, but it is pop for the lowest common denominator.
Is it truly “originality” that is of value? (Brandon Sanderson has an interesting view on that in the final chapter of his book “the Way of Kings”.)

This is a little vague, but I personally value originality over other skills. I would rather kind of suck and be original than use my talent to bring nothing new to the table. Originality stems from understanding and learning what came before, then breaking the rules. It is very difficult to be original without being talented, and it marks a true artist in my eyes. Know your heritage and your history, learn from it and even imitate successes, but know where to break the mold.
I’ve often been teased because I have a very specific playlist that I listen to over and over and over. Granted, I like what I like, but I feel that my list requirements are high.  I like a lot of music, but only a few make it to my playlist.  The music has to move me every time I hear it. And I usually have to hear a song about 5 times before I can decide whether it is worth it to me to keep.    Though every once in a while there comes a gem….
I have a friend who seems to listen to new music like breathing.  Song in, song out, song in, song out, song in….  I don’t know how he does it.  How can you remember what ones you like and what ones you didn’t?  And why does he do that?  Does it make sense to him?  And you?

I don’t do this. I find something I like and listen to it a lot. I listen to music as I walk to and from campus, as I work on art projects, and even now as I type this. (Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Ghost”. Fantastic song.) I have to listen to an album multiple times until I start to really fall in love with it. The only time I listen to a lot of new artists at once is using Pandora, and if a song really stands out, I procure more from the artist.

That is one of the most difficult parts of this for me.  I personally don’t have TIME to listen to all that music out there. To sort through it ALL. I’d like to.  I guess some people do, and some people don’t.  Hmmmmm.

Don’t even try to listen to everything. Find what you like and love it.
Mr. Foster…either I didn’t get your sarcasm, or your marbles are shaped differently than mine.  You write music that you want people to come and listen to, but make comments like “anything that gets rid of people is ok with me”?  It seems like $10 would be a good thing then.  It deterred you.

I don’t think people get Steven’s humor.

I’ll tell you what bugs the crap out of me.  Teen-age bands.  And their teenage crowds that come because teenage social networking overshadows any organization I know of.  And I don’t say this as a slam on teenagers (which they will probably take it as anyway…ha ha ha). But it is all a huge popularity contest.
I could be wrong, but it would totally floor me to have evidence that all those teenagers that come to the various shows– know the lyrics by heart, to the songs “their band” is playing.  I honestly do not believe they are there for the music.  They are there because so and so is going to be there too.  (Please, go tell all your friends.)  So much awesome potential and so little life-knowledge and wisdom. It is a vote for your ‘friend’, not the music.    I’ve never seen so much wasted inertia. OH, wait a minute, Justin Beiber seems to have clued into it…  Muse appreciates it as well, I’m sure.  And I can appreciate friendship.  (don’t even get me started on Hannah Montana…..HOW did that happen?)  (I know, I know. I can argue against myself here, too.)

While I agree with your points, I also disagree with the sentiment of these last couple paragraphs. The majority of teenagers like crappy music, but so do most adults. I absolutely love playing to a teenage crowd because they really get into the music. It’s us college kids who deem ourselves too cool for that. I listen to a lot of the same music I did as a teenager and my band even plays a few songs that I wrote when I was 16-17. But I also went to all the local shows and almost every band in town was awful. But it was a fun social activity, but not about the music. I will not begrudge the teenagers their music or their social activities, and plenty of them like some good stuff. If all our fans were teenagers, I would be quite content.

In the end, we all know absolutely the music speaks for itself.  But still, I think the Provo music scene is barely alive, for how many artists we have.  Maybe I just keep missing all the good nights.  Maybe I’m too old. If only I had more time!  (one of the biggest reasons I enjoy your blog!)  I love the idea of a house show, though the one I did go to….well, I enjoyed it even if I felt wildly out of place.  (is there a certain way to go about having a house show?)

I often hear that the Provo music scene is “dying”, despite the high number of artists and bands we have here. Some people will say that it has never been more alive, and I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. I go to a lot of shows, and I see the same people at these shows. The scene suffers from too much monotony and too many big egos. With the success of Neon Trees and Joshua James, many people have inflated the scene’s own sense of worth. Yeah, we’ve got a band who got on Kidz Bop and someone only known in the folk scene. Big deal. Provo isn’t Seattle or Omaha. Egos will kill the scene, nothing else.

Keep writing. Write your music for YOU and if you love it…LOVE IT! If others love it, they’ll tell people.  And if I don’t love it, someone else will, even if it is only your mom.  The top spots on my playlist are occupied by artists I’m sure you’ve never heard of, because like you, they are small-town.  But their songs rock my world and transport me off of it on a daily basis.…like strands of color and waves of texture curling up a blind man’s spine.  I couldn’t live without them.

This right here. You understand what it’s about, Ms. Anonymous.
I’ll be listening for your gems…  what do you recommend? 
Just a girl next door

Thank you for the e-mail! I really enjoyed reading it. I suggest the incredibly popular Arcade Fireto you because they are a band that anyone can love. As someone who has listened to a lot of music in a lot of genres and studied its history and theory for years, I can say that they write the best music today, being influenced by a variety of genres while remaining unique and relevant. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Broken Social Scene but they are not as accessible.That’s the end of her e-mail, but check out some great shows this week. My friends in Empiratesare playing at Velour Wednesday night with some other great bands! There’s a secret house show on Thursday with Courtney Marie Andrews who recently played with Jimmy Eat World on Conan. That same night features a wonderful, very energetic lineup at Velour. And I’ll be playing with Chance Lewis and Tasha Kofford at Pig Pen (Pleasant Grove High) this Saturday night.


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