Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fandom-Based Music

"The way to know life is to love many things." - Vincent Van Gough

This post has been a long time coming, and now I finally have enough context for it to get my thoughts in order.

 I'm surrounded on all sides by various people and groups who are talking and asking about exactly why we like the things we like, or why a given thing is of good quality. I'm very sure it's obvious that I've been thinking about that a lot lately-- what with all of these book reviews and this post. Now, it's far too large of a topic to cover in one post, much less one  book, or even a dozen books, so I'm going to zero in on the phenomenon of fandom-based music.

I'm often given a hard time about the contents of my iPod-- how it's supposedly all wizard rock, or at the very least "nerdy" music. Over the weekend, I put together a playlist of all the songs I won't skip over when it comes up on Shuffle mode. There were about 100 of them. Only 17 were wizard rock, 50-60 (including those 17) could be considered nerdy (10 of which are all covers/duplicates/ different versions of each other), and another 20-ish are non-nerdy songs by nerdy artists. All in all, about 75% of my current bank of music is fandom-based. Why?

It's certainly not that most "normal" music is bad. It's just that fandom-music has a couple super-powers that the other stuff doesn't. There are three factors involved: Memories, Multitudes, and Music. (Yes, I came up with a cheesy alliteration just for you to groan at.)

"Normal" music has sentimental/nostalgic value as well, of course. The right words can transport you back to last week, last month, last year, or last decade. You can relive a few moments of your life. But you don't get to be a part of a fandom in a few moments
Take Harry Potter: there's the hours spent reading the books. There's the months spent anticipating the next one. There's the speculation about the upcoming sequel and seeing it on the big screen and the ever-so-familiar "I freaking want to go to Hogwarts." There's the sheer passion for the series, and fondness with which you remember the experience of reading them all for the first time. That's powerful stuff. The quality of the music doesn't matter as much as the mindset into which it puts you.

This ties in closely with the Memories. There's a community surrounding fandom-based music that you just can't find anywhere else. Not only do you have the connection with the material on which the fandom is based, but you share that connection in an intimate way.
Most people can relate to a love song, but that's a very individual memory. The entire world held their collective breath for the release of Deathly Hallows-- and we held our breath together. We all shared the enormous emotional experience of the series as a whole both in the in-book world and in the real one.
Half the fun of a wizard rock concert is the feeling of being a bunch of geeks geeking out together over a shared love through song and dance, and the same goes for any other group.

And here's the thing that fandom-based music has in common with "normal" music: the...well...the music. Either you like the sound and you like the lyrics/themes, or you don't. And despite what I've said above, the music itself does make a difference. 
Three years ago, I owned a grand total of 3 CDs: two by Tonks and the Aurors, and Jingle Spells 2. I listened to them all the time on repeat, because of the first two factors. After I expanded my collection, I stopped listening to those altogether. Pretty In Pink (and Green) by The Parselmouths, for instance, has the nostalgia factor, and it has the community factor, but I also legitimately like the music- separately from all of that.

So there's why only a quarter of my music is "normal" - it's got to be pretty darn good (or I at least have to connect with it a lot, regardless of objective quality) for it to stand a fighting chance against all of that predisposition.


  1. So I'd be interested to know what the other 25 songs are to see what they have in common with the Nerd Stuff.

    It's interesting to see what you like in music compared to what I like in music(I'd put this in a separate post but I don't think it needs to be) My problems with nerdrock are these:

    Cleverness: I love references in music, love them. But there's a cleverness in them. When The Gaslight Anthem use a Counting Crows chorus and change one word and TOTALLY change the meaning it's clever. You admire how they slipped that in. You study lyrics and see "Oh that line is about a Dickens novel." or "Oh this is a Springsteen song lyric". When someone sits down and say "Oh I'll write a song about Doctor Who" you can't really admire their cleverness. You can like the song and say "Hey I remember that episode" but you can't admire their cleverness for the song itself. There are of course exceptions. Draco and Harry is very clever because it takes the books and twist them a little, it shows intelligence while, to me, the average wrock song is just "Let's sing about Harry Potter!" and that, again to me, gets old really quickly.

    Emotion: I LOVE emotion in my music. Love it, love it, love it. And I don't think that most nerdrock singers/bands have/put a lot/any emotion/feeling into their songs. It's "Start A New House and It's Called Awesome" "I've Got A Broomstick that's better than yours" or "Sally Sparrow I wrote you a letter" There's no feeling, there's no emotion. It's just "Hey, We love this stuff! And we hope you do too"

    So those are my problems with nerdrock.

  2. Post about said 25 (more like 20, as I discovered today) songs to come. The main thing they have in common is that I discovered most of it through YouTube in some way shape or form. But we're talking about the songs themselves- not how I got them. (Does the Dr. Horrible soundtrack count as nerdy? I've been classifying it that way.)

    Cleverness- true. The overall appeal of wrock/trock isn't remotely about cleverness (although there is a certain less-sophisticated sort of cleverness involved when the Blibbering Humdingers play the "how many creative double entendres can we fit into one song" game, but that's different, of course). There are exceptions, of course. However, most of those songs aren't really about Harry Potter. The best tracks on my Parselmouths' album use Harry Potter as a medium through which to tell a story and convey emotion. It'd be easy enough to (musically) say the same thing without any HP references at all.

    As for emotion...you have a lot of examples on your side there, but there are exceptions. See aforementioned Parselmouths songs ("Heartbreaker," "We Belong Together," and "My Obsession") and this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2PebgASafQ.
    Sure, a lot of nerdy music is mainly "yay having fun writing about _______ and hopefully it's a good song too," but the stuff I (and probably most people) like best is the things we can connect to separately from the fandom. It's there- it's just sometimes difficult for "outsiders" (read with an ironic, self-mocking tone) to see past the "this is a song about Harry Potter" thing.

    And looking through my list...my most-played songs haven't achieved that status through fandom or topic-based loyalty (actually, only two are even "nerd rock" if you don't count Dr. Horrible). It's about emotion-based relatability. So that factor still makes a huge difference (at least for me).

  3. Oh, and I just realized-- yes, those Parselmouths titles sound rather creepy when juxtaposed together. Ha. The last two are misleading as to what the song's about.


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