How to Talk about Music … Without Sounding Like a Total Jerkass

How to Talk about Music … Without Sounding Like a Total Jerkass

There are two things no one cares to hear about but everyone always wants to share — their views on politics and their opinion on music. Because despite what you've said or heard, rap is music, so is opera, Toby Keith never sold out and they're called maracas, not chimichachas.

By Jesse Stern

Have you ever been in a conversation about music and thought to yourself, “Wow, that guy sounds like a total jerkass”? He had no idea what he was talking about, and yet he was trying to act all cool and superior? Did you end up trying to correct him, and sounding like a total jerkass yourself?

Having grown up in a musical family, and been around musicians for most of my life, I have heard a lot of people sound like total jerkasses while talking about music. I have even sounded like a total jerkass myself, on occasion. Why do people sound like total jerkasses talking about music? How can we avoid it? Well, to sum it all up, here are a few tips on …

How to Talk about Music … Without Sounding Like a Total Jerkass

Abraham Lincoln said, “It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” The idea here is that we sound like a total jerkass when we assume things, or when we talk about things that are out of our league.

Here are three examples:

1. I love all music, except _____

A lot of people claim to love all music except ____. Variations include, “_____ is not even music!” Usually, this blank is either country, rap, or opera.

First of all, let’s see this statement for what it is: a thinly veiled grab for the Cool Button. (Yes, there is a Cool Button.) You may think that all the cute girls will go crazy for you, with your tapered jeans and retro sneakers, flipping your hair out of your eyes while you state your strong opinion with a smirk and a sip of your lite beer. Yes, strong opinions can make people sound knowledgeable and worldly. Strong negative opinions can make people sound angsty. Brrrrrr.

Hating something as personal as a style of music is just a losing proposition. Okay, forget the Cool Button for a minute. Let’s say you truly dislike rap music (or country, or whatever). Why not see if you can learn something about yourself?

Pick a style of music that you hate and try the following:

1. Ask yourself what you don’t like about it.
2. Talk to someone who loves this style of music, and find out what they like about it.
3. Get this person to make you a mix, and listen to it for a few weeks.
4. Try to find at least one song from this style that you like.

Who knows – maybe you will open your mind a bit, and even make a friend.

2. What’s that instrument that goes byow byow wacka chicka?

Guys, in this modern world, there’s no excuse for us not to have some basic knowledge of music, and to share it with our girlfriends. Just kidding, girls. In the 21st century, everyone should know — and can easily learn to identify — the following, by sound and/or sight:

  • a guitar, clean, with a wah-wah pedal, with distortion, and the difference between an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar
  • a bass, the difference between a bass and a guitar, and the difference between an electric bass and an upright bass
  • drums, the various instruments on a drum set, and the difference between live and electronic drums
  • the difference between congas and bongos

If you have a friend who is a musician, take this a step further. Learn the difference between a Strat and a Tele, a P bass and a J bass, a crash cymbal and a ride cymbal. You get the idea. It’s fun, and you can really impress your friends (if you get it right), and make all of them look like total jerkasses!

It’s actually kind of fun, and once you get into it there’s a lot more to learn. There are different kinds of keyboards, drum machines, effects, and world instruments. All these are part of modern music. You can usually find out something by reading the album credits. Yes, album credits. If you are such a total jerkass that you never buy albums anymore, try it sometime. [Insert winky emoticon here.] Or you could look up the album credits online.

3. Is that your boyfriend’s guitar?

The ultimate jerkass move is to assume that someone is (or isn’t) in the band, based on their appearance. Three out of four black guys have experienced, while standing near the stage, an ignorant white person walking up and saying, “great job, are you the bass player?” He will usually laugh and say something like “No, I’m not a musician. I’m a crime-fighting superhero, but I love music.”

Same goes with female musicians. Variations on the “GJAYTBP” faux-pas include: “Is that your boyfriend’s guitar?”, “Are you the singer?”, and “Let me show you how to play that.”

Also, FYI, when you see Spanish guys playing acoustic guitars and singing with gravely voices, do NOT go up to them and say, “I just love flamingo music”. Musicians love to talk about what they do. If you don’t know anything about it, ask. Questions are a lot less jerkassy than assumptions. (By the way, it’s called Flamenco.)

Of course, these are just funny examples, to point out that many of us tend to judge people based on outward appearances, and we tend to let demographically targeted marketing campaigns tell us what kind of music we should listen to.

Our modern world is smaller and larger than it has ever been. We can talk to anyone, anywhere in the world. We can listen to so many different kinds of music, and learn so much about different people. Sadly, instead, we tend to get overwhelmed and stay in our own backyards, so to speak. We listen to the music we already like, and shut out music we don’t like without really giving it a chance.

If you really want to talk about music — or anything, for that matter — the best way to do it without sounding like a total jerkass is to learn as much as you can before you start talking. If you don’t know, ask. Sometimes, you can even sound clever when you ask the right questions.

Or, like Honest Abe, just shut up and listen.

  • jack

    Right on with asking someone who does like the genre to make you a mix. The problem with seemingly bad genres is that they often have the worst ambassadors. Not all hip hop sounds like Lil’ John. Not all country sounds like Keith Urban. Just like not all punk sounds like Green Day (arguably, no punk sounds like Green Day – wait, that made me sound like a total jerkass) and not all metal sounds like Slipknot. Quality – whether good or bad – is mutually exclusive of genre. If you like music on genre lines, you aren’t a music fan, you’re a zealot.

    Also, I think it’s really important to avoid hating something once it gets “too mainstream.” Good things get noticed. You don’t have to have been the first one or the only one to notice it for it to remain good. By disparaging anything with a little bit of popularity is both misanthropic and self-delusional. Like genre, fame is driven by a different engine than quality. You might get famous because you went viral on YouTube or you might get famous because you sold out and slept with a record executive or you might get famous because what you’re singing and how you’re singing it is exactly what your generation needs. It won’t make you uncool to like an artist that everyone else likes – changing your stance simply to avoid the mainstream is as trendy and false as tuning in to Top 40.
    .-= jack´s last blog ..Primer: 10 Questions with Alexandra Levit, Author of “They Don’t Teach Corporate in College” =-.

  • Jeff Barnett

    Jack, good point. Non-conformity in many contexts is just another form of conformity.

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  • James

    ha ha great article, like your writing style. People Will always hate some music
    .-= James´s last blog ..Tips on how to start a conversation with a Girl =-.

  • Katanagatari

    I’ve found that people who upload music and make their own stuff are the smartest and least douchey… that’s just my opinion, though.

  • Cameron Burke

    Using the word “jerkass” makes you sounds like a way bigger fuckhead than any of the people you describe.