Why Taste Matters
In this piece, Brandon Miranda explores the nebulous and often overlooked topic of good taste as it relates to music production, why it matters, and what can actively be done to enhance it.
Guest post by Brandon Miranda of Soundfly’s Flypaper
Across the vast plethora of “How To” blogs, videos, and tutorials out there with regards to music production, the topic of “artistic taste” is rarely covered. And yet, I have had multiple teachers and mentors explain to me that taste is the most important quality an artist can develop.
But what exactly is taste? Why is it important to artists? Can good taste trump technical ability? And lastly, what practices can be applied to enhance our tastes?
Let’s talk about it.
After completing one of my first major jobs as a music producer, the team that hired me told me: “We probably could have hired someone with more technical knowledge, but it was our shared tastes that lead us to bring you on.” We all connected over a shared love for emotive, lo-fi inspired music, and, because I was drawn to those same influences, I was hired despite being in an early stage as a producer.
It was my informed and confident expression of my tastes that opened that particular door. Taste is our intuitive connection to our aesthetic preferences. It’s the energy that draws us to the art and activities we love.
An artist is a curator of their personal taste.
The creative cycle often follows this order: an initial inspiration sparked by a single experience, followed by a process where that inspiration is combined with and filtered through an artist’s preferences and then molded into a final creation. The end product is the result of weaving together inspirational moments with personal experiences and artistic preferences. The quality and authenticity of that piece is fully dependent on the quality and authenticity of the creative palette it drew from. That creative palette is made from our tastes.
Archetypes of taste are all around us, and they unfold often through cross-disciplinary connections; from the video-game inspired music of Deadmau5, to lo-fi hip hop’s close ties to Japanese Anime and Manga. It is clear that personal experiences influence creative decisions, with those decisions tying directly back to the interests and passions of the creator.
We in fact call these archetypal creatives “tastemakers” — artistic influencers with such tuned conviction in their aesthetic preferences, that they’re able to successfully build creative authority from those aesthetics alone. The art and media that tastemakers consume subconsciously becomes the framework for their creative processes, and ends up manifesting as distinguishing factors of their art.
Taste is not universal, but we can transmit our tastes into creative works that reach beyond its original boundaries, by nurturing and molding it into something new.
Just like we feed our bodies with healthy food, our tastes rely heavily on absorbing quality art. I vividly remember a guitar masterclass in which our guest instructor shared: “If we consume beauty, then beauty will come out. If we only consume garbage, well…”
As artists, it is agreeable that we want “beauty” (however we choose to define beauty) to reflect in our work. The quality of our art is only as good as the quality of the media we consume.
In fact, curation in practice can take many forms.
It can look like regular playlisting, referencing, giving thanks in liner notes, transcribing solos and charts from other artists. You can even consider the extramusical activities you do in your personal life — like travel, exercise, or meditation — to be a form of curating. For myself, creating (and regularly updating) a Lifelong References Playlist has become one of my favorite ways to continually develop my aesthetic framework.
That’s pretty easy. Just create a playlist of songs you love and know you can listen to repeatedly. This could be your “stranded on a desert island” playlist, so it is crucial you make a collection of songs that you’re truly inspired by. Going back to childhood favorites can be a great starting point for this exercise. After a few passes through the entire playlist, you should feel comfortable with your song selections knowing that you can always add or remove songs in the future.
This playlist will become your special creative space, your musical meditation before you start your day. You can visit this place anytime right before you make music or prepare for a concert. And I strongly encourage you to keep this playlist hidden (treat it like your secret weapon for developing your personal style).
Your goal is to immerse yourself in your favorite music each time you sit to listen.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “On Nick Cave’s 9 Primary Bedevilments of Creativity.”
Now here’s another exercise. Pull out a notebook and start a “taste journal.” Take notes on how each song makes you feel and why, noting changes in texture/arrangement, instrumentation, mix decisions, and the songwriting choices. The act of writing your analyses down will force your ears to deeply tune into your music.
The more “active” you can get about your listening, the more you will learn about your favorite music and why you are attracted to it. You will begin to make better informed decisions on the music you enjoy and your taste will begin to deepen and evolve. And this doesn’t have to only include music — feel free to bring your taste journal along to films, museums, restaurants, tourist attractions, etc.
This practice will subconsciously enhance the standards in which you create and your authentic style will begin to emerge from it over time.
I often encourage my mixing students to apply this practice and build a playlist of mix references, taking a break from their work to just listen. They are always astounded by how much their mixes improve after changing the way they listen to their favorite music. There are no YouTube tutorials, classrooms, or books that can help you develop your taste the way active listening to your inspirations can.
As artists, we have the power to curate all of our experiences, selectively choosing what we fill our lives with and actively pulling from influences outside of our artistic disciplines. The act of combining seemingly disparate sources of inspiration will only further the uniqueness of our creative styles. The internal work of refining our tastes will expand our art from the deepest foundations and will begin to reflect itself in our work.
The greatest breakthroughs often come from the artists with the most authentic creative voices. Ultimately, it isn’t the musicians with the best vocal abilities and or production skills that make these kinds of societal impacts. It is the artists with the most defined styles that emerge to the top; these are the few that become tastemakers.