Theory & Business

The Art of Music That Sucks

What should you say when confronted with challenging sounds?


By Ethan James Young

“Oh my. Whoops. That was off. Ugh. Why are they even playing?”


If you are an avid musician or music listener, you are bound to have thought or said this before – whether you have listened to someone at a local open mic, found something that you didn’t like online, or maybe as you’ve practiced your own instrument. Let’s face it. Sometimes music sucks. And when music does suck, we often feel “aurally attacked” and left frozen not knowing what to do about it.

What makes it more difficult is when a loved one or friend has made some low quality music. One time, I was hanging out at a friend’s house talking about music and art and somebody brought up how their friend’s music didn’t sound good. Like everyone else when confronted with unusual music, he felt uncomfortable and was trying to figure out what he should say to his friend. I’ve thought about this several times since he has brought it up. 

What should we do about music that sucks?

Short Answer


Long Answer

There are several reasons why music does and should suck.

Music has to suck before it gets good. One of the professors at UVU (shout out to Owen Peterson) plays this short 2 minute video by Ira Glass for many ambitious students who are still recognizing and navigating the art of suck.


Progress will often seem slow for many who are creative. I’ve had my own experiences with slow progress (I’m thinking about the first cringey song that I wrote in high school – yuck). As music listeners, we are simply observing the product of where the creator is at the point in time when their work is created. We don’t see the whole story. Anyone who publicly shares their music, no matter how good it is, is bravely taking a risk. Giving unsolicited feedback will usually do more harm than good.

But even if someone is not necessarily developing their talents and ability, sometimes music sucking can be a good thing. For comedic purposes, Jon Benjamin (the voice actor from Bob’s Burgers) created a Jazz album. You might be thinking, “I didn’t think he could play piano,” and you’d be right because the name of the album is Well, I should have. . .* with the subtitle learned how to play piano.

Sometimes music can suck for experimental purposes. This causes us to ask the question, “Is art even supposed to be good?” or “what are the limits of music?” If you want a real challenge, I’d recommend listening to the defining experimental rock record Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band.


Sometimes music can suck for stylistic purposes. Le Country Club, when talking about unusual music, recommended listening to The Brave Little Abacus to me. The best way I could probably describe it is lofi Emo/Grunge. It is not for everyone. With a shallow listen, it could be easily seen as music that sucks. Upon a deeper listen you start understanding that the band does have talent, and each choice was artistically deliberate. 

Overall, music is very subjective. I can look at the various tastes, talents, and purposes of music and see that no one is coming from the same place when creating or listening, giving us a wide variety of experiences. And even if music wasn’t subjective, let music suck! I’d rather have something interesting to talk/gossip about than be bored by pure perfection. I’m happy to listen to music that sucks.

Honorable Mention of Suck

I have listened to a few songs by The Shaggs. They have an interesting history as a band. Despite that, I absolutely do not understand their music, yet they have a cult following. Some have coined them with the phrase “Better than the Beatles.” Kind of shows you how subjective music can be.


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