Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Chocolate Cake Theory


If you were to ask a room full of people to list their favorite food, chances are that a lot of them would choose chocolate cake. Chocolate cake is yummy stuff, and chocolate cake lovers exist in huge numbers. But, if you took anyone who said that chocolate cake was their all-time favorite food and you forced them to eat nothing but chocolate cake forever, they would not be very happy at all. Chocolate cake is only special because you don't eat it all the time. It tastes better than the other stuff you eat, but you don't want to stop eating the other stuff. If you did, chocolate cake would no longer be special. It would no longer taste "better" because it would simply be the only thing you ever taste. You need the variety of tastes in order to have some that you like more than others. You need choices so you can compare one taste to another. Eat something that tastes bad, then eat chocolate cake, and the chocolate cake will taste even better.

That same principle applies to music. My iPod is full of songs I totally love, and yet I can't stand to listen to them all the time. I like to hear something new and different. After all, there was once a time when I had not yet heard my favorite songs. There was a very special "first time" for each of my favorite songs. Listening to new songs gives me a chance to experience that great "first time" feeling again. I like that feeling! Besides, listening to my favorite songs all the time makes them seem less special. I don't want to ever get tired of my favorite songs, but I know I will if I hear them too often.

When you listen to MusicMaster Oldies, you WILL hear songs you hate. When you do, you're going to wonder, "Why does he play stuff like that?" If you think about chocolate cake, you'll know the reason. By mixing everything together I've created contrasts that make everything on MusicMaster Oldies more interesting. The "bad" songs sound even worse, but the "good" songs sound even better, and the "great" songs are really something special again.

Here's something else to consider. You may find this hard to believe, but some people do not like chocolate cake at all! In fact, I'll bet there are people in this world who absolutely hate chocolate cake! Now take any food you hate. For the sake of this discussion, let's pick on brussel sprouts. You may hate brussel sprouts, but there are people out there who absolutely love them. They might go so far as to say that brussel sprouts are their favorite food.

Likewise, those songs you hear on MusicMaster Oldies that you absolutely hate are probably someone else's favorite song! I know, that's really hard to believe, especially for some of the songs I play. It's hard to imagine anyone who would like them, and yet, there must be someone out there who does. Otherwise, how did they ever manage to get recorded in the first place?

Imagine a couple of kids who can't sing at all, but somehow they manage to cut a record. Chances are that anyone hearing that record would say it was terrible -- except those kids themselves, and maybe their mom and dad. For every song, no matter how awful it sounds to you, there must be someone out there who likes it.

Now, take that terrible song, listen all the way through to it, and follow it with one of your favorite songs. I'll bet that if you did this, your favorite song would sound even more special to you. It's like getting a drink of cool water after walking across the hot desert for hours.

There's another interesting way to look at these "bad" songs. Sometimes, the fact that they're "bad" actually makes them good! For example, when I hear a professional singer who is pretending to be a teenager singing a love song to his high school sweetheart, it sounds a bit phony to me. This is a problem I've had through the years with movies and plays. Real kids don't sound like that. If a real kid actually tried to sing a soft love song to his best girl, it would probably sound like the worst attempts on Karaoke Night. But it would also sound REAL. If she's in love, the girl he's singing to isn't going to pay any attention to the notes he misses or the nasal quality of his singing voice. No way! She's going to love the song!

Many people automatically reject certain musical styles. For example, I know some people who love hip hop or heavy metal who tell me they absolutely hate country songs. But I also know that there are a bunch of country songs I could play for them that they would actually find interesting. They might never love the genre of music, but there are probably songs within that genre that they could love. I'm probably weird. I love any kind of music that's played well. I love hearing songs with interesting lyrics, especially those that invoke strong emotions. Songs that take chances and surprise me are also welcome to my ears. I'm perfectly willing to listen to Iggy Pop or The Ramones in the same playlist as Enya or Frank Sinatra. I'd listen to Hank Williams followed by a Mozart concerto, followed by a doo-wop song from the 1950's, followed by Boston, followed by Savage Garden, followed by Groupo Limite. But that's just me, I guess. Still, if you came over to my house and I played these songs for you, you might like them too. And, if I told you something interesting about each song, you might like them even more.

So the next time you hear a "terrible" song on MusicMaster Oldies, try to listen all the way through. See if you can imagine anyone who might like that song. See if whatever makes it "bad" actually makes it seem more "real" to you. Then, when it's over, see if the song that follows doesn't sound a whole lot better than it would have without hearing the bad song first. You might just discover a whole new world of songs you never thought you'd ever like!


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