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Hi! I’m Dave from

This week I wanted to address people who claim that “it’s all about the music.”

You know, the kind of guys who, when presented with an artist that has a strong image will immediately discount the music, regardless of how much they enjoy it, purely based on the fact that they’ve put effort into their image, saying something like “They’re trying too hard, they should just focus on their songs; it’s all about the music, man.”

And then will proceed to go to their favourite clothes store to dress up their exterior in an attempt to attract more attention to themselves.

Time for a thought experiment.

I call this one [insert bastardised scientific theory name to do with multiple universes or images]

So we’ve got this cat, who has just released a hip hop album.

Two dudes are watching the cat’s music video on TV and agree “This is a pretty good song, that cat is talented.”

Later on, the dudes are listening to the song on its own and have a pleasant enough experience listening to it.

Now let’s transition to a parallel universe in which everything is the same, except the cat had decided to put a bit more effort into his visuals. Taking note of said visual aspect, dude #1 happens to mention “Wow, that cat is cool, I wish I was as cool as that cat!” but dude #2 gets thoroughly indignant, saying “This is terrible, it’s just some cat trying too hard, it totally ruins the integrity of the music.”

but as dude #1 listens to the song later, he has that cool image mentally associated with that cool beat. As such, he has a stronger emotional response to the song and enjoys it more.

Now in our third and final parallel universe, as dude #1 watches the video, dude #2 picks up a magazine and is shocked to find out that “That cat killed a guy.”

All of a sudden this cat’s music seems much more intense, and as he listens later, Dude #1 is filled with a sense of horrified amazement at the actions of the feline emcee, resulting in an even stronger emotional attachment to the song than in either of the previous two parallel universes.

If by getting into the story and visuals you find more enjoyment from the music, what’s wrong with it? And unlike things like politics and religion, no-one gets hurt if you suspend belief with musical imagery! Well, except the guy that cat murdered.

Think about when a song reminds you of a person because you used to listen to it with them, or when you are reminded of a holiday because you heard that song on the radio during that trip – it’s the same principle of an outside influence giving you a more intense emotional attachment to the song, but people don’t say that “ruins the integrity of the music.” If the artist wants to utilise imagery to enhance their music in that way, why shouldn’t they?

In some cases, image does take precedence. I imagine Marylin Manson wouldn’t be where he is today if he decided to dress in his favourite pair of jeans and novelty T-Shirt – the intense image he has created around his music makes it feel even more exciting, like that music is an insight into his warped style.

Another example that I find fascinating is the air of mystery some artists create – Daft Punk, Deadmau5, those kinds of artists, with their masked image – it inspires people to talk about the artist and again, the music becomes more exciting because if you are willing to suspend belief, you can almost imagine that a pair of robots or a zombie rodent from the internet has created them.

Then there’s the “authenticity” that the “it’s all about the music” crowd advocate – the artist that made the music entirely on their own. Ironically, this is an image itself whether intentional or not; if these people listen to an artist thinking “this is so cool, they did this entirely themselves!” BAM- they’re allowing something other than the music colour their appreciation.

But that’s okay! Our brains naturally associate images and ideas with sounds; we’re psychologically wired for it. This is why you’ll remember the alphabet to the tune of twinkle twinkle little star, why people over the age of 22 will associate this sound with a combination of nostalgia and frustration (modem sound), and why when people hear this *wind chimes/harp* it feels perfectly natural to see this image *fairy* but perhaps not this image *something inappropriate*

One way to think about it, if you hear this *seaside wave sound* you’ll probably end up thinking of something like this *beach* – the sound itself isn’t interesting, but the image it triggers is. Someone who lived at the top of a mountain their whole life who had never seen the sea would wonder why the hell you were enjoying listening to that noise – the mental imagery can play a huge part in your appreciation of sound.

What I’m getting at is that if you’re actively trying to ignore your ability to associate imagery with music, it is a huge wasted opportunity to feel even stronger emotions when you listen to songs.

So try and open yourself up to the over-the-top braggadocio of popular hip hop, the futuristic imagery of a lot of electronic dance music, or the pristine-perfect production values associated with pop. If you don’t immediately discount the culture associated with the music, you might find you enjoy it in an entirely different way.

Those are my thoughts, what do you think when it comes to music and image? Whether you’re pro or anti-image, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

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Cheers for watching, and have a nice day!


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10 Responses to “It’s all about the music.”

  1. Most often, I try to give the music a thorough listen/assessment before considering or being influenced by an artist’s “image” per se, though admittedly in some cases that may not even be realistically possible in today’s media-driven age. One recent example of how image effected my opinion of an artist came when I read about Kanye West dating Kim Kardashian; I despise her so intensely that I vowed to never buy another peice of work by KW! (Though I’m not sure how likely it would’ve been otherwise). I thought it was a funny example, and I assure you I’ll stay true to my word :D

  2. I grew up on Music and image. I mean, i was a heavy KISS Fan before i even heard a tune of them…how’s that possible you might think. Well, having an older brother and some youth magazines helpded the trick…Anyway. I agree very much that a tune is, be it cheesy as hell, can be attached to you forever (i remember when i started dating my wife, she was living in another city, me driving home on the M-Way and listening to “Die perfekte Welle” i instantly started crying [German readers may understand])…anywway, where was i…right…so the overall appearance is connected to the tune (me typing this whatching the ESC…partially…poor UK this year…). But what i despise is the kind of sell out where the artist (may it be performing or writing) becomes an object…Sorry but perfume? Clothing? etc…This has clearly nothing to do with the mentioned sensation one has listening and enjoying a tune and i often wonder if the sky is really the limit. Lost my thread here…never mind…peace out…;-)

  3. For the most part, I agree with your logic. I do think, though, that in the end, I have to like the music on its own before the image of the artist can come into play. If I don’t like the music, it doesn’t matter what else is part of the package. So in that way, it has to be all about the music BEFORE it can be about the image. I hope I got my point across okay. :)

  4. Its all in the brains. Our brain is made so that it can combine the information of sounds and visuals. reconise if they are pleasant or not and store that information. Both can give you a endorfine boost or not. If they are both pleasant you wil experince them both more intense.
    It can also work against each other, if the visual is unpleasant but the sound is cool, then it just depents on witch one is stronger.

  5. I always read your blogs and think they are very interesting, last week I came across this American boyband called Midnight Red they are amazing, very talented group they can all actually sing and dance, their music is produced by RedOne, please check them out

  6. I think that it is good to have an association with an artist’s image and their music, but to an extent. For example I may listen to a song and like for a long while, but then I will see the music video for this song. The images displayed in the music video will now be remembered every time I listen to said song. This can be good or bad depending on how I felt about the video. If the video was bosstastic, it makes me like the song a tad more. If the video was creepy and flat out weird, I may listen to it less or stop listening to it all together. Another point worth mentioning is that certain groups after obtaining an image will continue writing songs for the revenue it provides. Rage Against The Machine (RATM) was originally a very liberal group that devoted their songs and lyrics to very real problems in the world. However now that they are back together (most of them anyway) they are making a new album and touring just for the business of it. Tom Morello, their original guitarist, left the band because he believed that they weren’t in it for the right purpose.

  7. What you’re talking about is how the brain mentally associates images with sounds. But it also goes the other way around. Many people will hear sounds when they see images. Freaky, huh?

  8. Hi dave, Have been a huge fan of this site for a long time now. it has always been a great place to get some new ideas and inspiration for my reason productions. I have noticed recently however, that you don’t do so much of the tutorials these days. instead your last few posts have really just been rants about what annoys you in the music industry. would absolutely love to see a return to some of that 7 day song goodness.

  9. You make a pretty big leap from ‘image of the artist’ to ‘image in general’. Music triggers images in my head (or used to when I was younger) that directly reflected the music itself. I miss this. I think the intended image by the artist (his or her physical appearance etc.) has taken up all the image space in my head that used to intensify my musical enjoyment.

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