Sell Your Taste, Not Your Guess-Work

Hugh Richardson
20 min readFeb 25, 2015

I have a confession to make: I love watching musicians argue about music. I find it fascinating to listen to the different opinions that people have, and I really can’t think of a single musician I’ve met who hasn’t, at some point, been tempted into a debate along the lines of: “Jaco Pastorius is the best bass player ever” or “Pat Metheny is the greatest guitar player of all time”. These kinds of statements are usually met with a fierce response like: “How can you say that? If you put Jaco on the Slipknot gig, there’s no way he would sound good”. Frustratingly, even though both sides are usually adamant that they are totally correct, the debate normally finishes with all the participants willing to accept the viewpoint that “music is all just personal preference. Who are we to say what’s good and bad anyway? Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Is this really true, though? I love debating and I love genuine analysis of music and musicians, but for these reasons I have always found the claim that all music can only ever be subjective to be a frustrating and lazy claim to make. In the middle of a heated debate like the one above, it feels lazy simply to accept that the answer of “music is just personal preference” is somehow the last word in any musical debate. In short, I think it’s a cop out. It has got me thinking, though. Is there such a thing as an objectively good or bad musician? But more importantly, from the perspective of a working musician, is it possible for us to be objectively good or bad as musicians?

Getting Started

I feel the place to start is the question of whether there even is such a thing as objectivity in music. Suppose I have this maths problem to solve: 2 + 2 = ? Objectively, the correct answer is 4. Given the laws of mathematics, there is no alternative: 2 + 2 just does equal 4; any other answer is simply objectively incorrect; no other answer is possible. Here, then, the laws of mathematics allow us to judge objectively whether any given answer to our problem is correct or incorrect. The laws of mathematics make it impossible for the answer to the problem to be anything other than 4. They ensure that it can’t be simply a matter of opinion whether a given answer to the problem is correct. If, in my opinion, the answer to the problem is 19, then, given then laws of mathematics, my…

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Hugh Richardson

This blog is about my musical experiences working as a bass player, composer, arranger and teacher in London and what I feel they have taught me so far. Enjoy!