A Map of Musical Tastes

I spend a lot of my time reading through a couple of forums and on one of them a very interesting thing caught my eye — a topic asking for posters to share their “musical road map.” Users were asked to post a quick text sketch of their musical tastes from when they first realized that music was something they enjoyed to the present. The twisting, often contradicting narratives of taste were extremely cool to read. It was interesting to see how people evolved musically and what guided their specific tastes.

While the same thing can be done for virtually any form of entertainment (I’ve seen one for your favorite literary genre!) I find music to be the most interesting as for many people music is the “object” that best defines them at any one point in time.

I feel that my personal musical journey starts when I was a young lad, probably eleven or twelve. Maybe even younger than that though, as everything in that period of time seems like a blur. I used to listen to a pop radio station as a kid and generally picked up on whatever was playing. I didn’t really have a favorite at the time, I just like the sounds. My mother also was a big fan of club and dance music and frequently had some playing whenever she was doing some cleaning around the house — and I enjoyed that, too.

Most of my listening was pretty passive, however. I didn’t really go out of my way to listen to music nor did I really listen past anything that wasn’t in the background or on the radio. Then came one specific song on the radio — All Star, by Smash Mouth. For whatever reason I liked the song so much that I used some allowance money to buy Astro Lounge, the first CD I ever owned. I listened to that thing all the time, using it as background music wherever I went. While occasionally my mother would listen to something I’d like, I began to develop my own tastes in music. Gradually, I started to dislike most of the pop that I was hearing on the radio and I moved to a different station, Y100.

While the station is now extinct it used to be a paragon of a rock music radio station. They had a pretty diverse sound-scape that was dotted by all kinds of stuff. It was cool and as I’d started to grow toward my teenage years, I began to almost solely listen to the station. There was a small exception though…

Along this time Napster had come around and being that I was quite the internet-capable kid, I began using it. Whenever I’d hear something on the radio I’d go and download it at home. I remember burning my first CDs (and throwing songs on my first MP3 player — a Rio 32MB player) off of my computer and then listening to them as I took rides with my parents.

My tastes blossomed into what you would expect for a kid of my age. Limp Bizkit, The Offspring, Sum 41, various other pop-punk/rock bands and of course — Linkin Park. I loved Linkin Park (and I really do cringe as I write that) and latched on to them completely. While I made no connection to their lyrics, the down-tuned guitars overlaid with hints of electronica called to me. Embarrassingly, I went full gung-ho on the bandwagon. I was a 13 year old rebel without a cause. I used blue-gel in my hair and wore witty saying t-shirts, always keen to stop in the Hot Topic at the mall (before Hot Topic became cool… *cough*) and always willing to stand out just a tad. While I would eventually grow out of the phase, Linkin Park would still remain on my playlist for a little while longer.

As P2P file-sharing became more mainstream, my tastes slowly took a turn in the other direction. Napster (and the internet at large) let me search for bands I’d never heard on the radio. I heard newer Metallica on the radio and decided to listen to their old stuff — interesting I thought, but not for me. I remember passively finding a song by a band called In Flames called Zombie Inc and immediately grabbing my ears. Who could stand this stuff? It was then that I found a band completely by accident that would change my musical taste completely.

As I’ve always loved games, I used to play Jedi Knight series religiously. When browsing through a site one night I saw a video set to a song by an extremely underground (at the time) band. It spoke to me — musically it was awesome and set my imagination alight — and for the first time ever, I cared about the lyrics. I quickly went on a hunt to find out who it was that had caught my attention.

Machinae Supremacy. The song was called “Player One” and remains one of my favorite songs of all time. For a young kid who only ever listened to stuff that could be heard on the radio, Machinae was a radical departure. Here was a band headquartered in Northern Sweden that had created their own genre — SiD Metal — and then proceeded to release songs rogue-style on the internet. I quickly downloaded their entire discography off their site, immediately proclaiming their gospel to anyone who would listen. I suddenly had a favorite band I was proud of.

The band had a message board that was filled with all kinds of stuff — but most interesting to me was a thread with musical suggestions. I read the names of many bands that I’d never even heard of and I decided to listen to them all. The first to catch my ear was a band called Dragonforce (oh god, I know) — then Rhapsody (I KNOW). I loved their fast guitars and thundering drums — plus the singing didn’t hurt my ears! I was sold.

Then I saw another band listed that I had written off a year before — In Flames. Someone had specifically said that “Man Made God” was one of their favorite songs, so I headed off to download it… and was amazed. This song was a long instrumental and it was absolutely outstanding. I downloaded a few more songs, cautiously prodding them to see if I could extract any sort of listenability.

Then one day when I wasn’t paying attention my playlist skipped to Colony — an In Flames song with quite a bit of guttural screaming. I passively decided to listen to the whole thing and much to my surprise… I liked it. Cautious, I decided to pursue this new taste, careful to not offend my senses. I began to download songs by bands I found were like them — Soilwork, Opeth — and from there, expanded my tastes into the metal genre. I found bands like Kamelot, Nightrage, Katatonia — my collection started to expand and my playlist grew.

I was becoming a metal-head.

Though metal wasn’t the only genre I had begun to explore. Electronica was always something my parents had listened to and likewise I had taken an interest in it. While they stuck to dance and radio-friendly stuff, I decided to branch out a bit. I became a fan of trance and “chill” house, artists like Robert Miles also finding their way onto my playlist.

Though, it wasn’t all calm stuff. A friend of mine introduced me into happy hardcore and while I didn’t like it very much, it did pique my interest into another genre I would explore in the future — drum and bass.

As I reached my later high school years I began to become a pretty large In Flames fan — with Opeth not too far behind. I felt my tastes becoming more solidified and objective. Music turned from a subject I had a passive knowledge of to something I felt comfortable exploring with just about any company. Likewise, I began to explore into genres I thought I wouldn’t really like — finding out that some enjoyable stuff had been lurking there. I remember the first time I enjoyed a band like Meshuggah or Daath, something I would have probably found repulsive just years before.

I found that through metal, interestingly enough, I began to have a respect for just about every type of music. I had never been a fan of rap, but I gradually grew into underground stuff such as Aesop Rock and Jedi Mind Tricks. And who could forget VAST? A band whose self-titled album was loaded with the incredibly weird chanting and worldy sounds that would have offended my ears at one point in my life — but now were welcomed as a part of my daily soundtrack.

Throughout college I feel like my tastes have continued to evolve in pleasant ways. While I still feel mostly at home within the metal genre, my playlist is quite erratic. You will often find some dubstep followed immediately by melodeath or perhaps even some indie stuff. Likewise I love finding new music — even if I’m not very interested in a genre I’ll explore a few songs here and there just out of pure curiosity.

Which, by the way, is a great way to make friends with me — just share your music!

I sort of trailed off my original purpose here, but it made for a good self-discussion. Hopefully it gets some internal dialogue going within you! 🙂

2 thoughts on “A Map of Musical Tastes

  1. Excellent. EVERY DAY.

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