Quality in music means three things to me- Quality in the instrumentation, quality of lyrical content, and songwriter’s intent- was this song made for a reason other than just to make money, and who was the target audience? While “quality” in something as intangible as music can really only be a matter of opinion, there is some degree to which that’s just not true. Like a painting can be universally known as “quality” work, so too can music. My problem with music in general and especially radioplay is an absolute lack of quality; Meaningless, repetitive lyrics over poorly-constructed “music,” usually entirely made up of synth and drum machines. And let’s not forget that the lyrics are “sung” by some camera-whore idiot who can’t actually sing and has to be auto-tuned. I have absolutely no respect for “artists” who use auto-tune (and literally most “artists” do use some voice pitch-correcting software; this definitely includes country singers. It’s just a matter of to what degree it’s used; when done correctly, it’s not noticeable).
Quality of lyrics means that I automatically dislike 99% of all rap. The lyrics are all the same, the backing tracks are minimal, there’s really no thought put into it other than “I’m going to become a rapper so I can get signed and become rich. I choose rap because I have no talent, but if I spend a week writing a ‘song’ and practicing rapping it quickly, it won’t be a problem.” Rap, to me, is the epitome of lazy writing and talentless idiots just trying to make an easy buck. There are exceptions of course; Professor Green is a British rapper, and while not all his songs are quality in lyrics, most of them are (not to mention that there seems to be thought put into the instrumental accompanyment in songs in which his backing tracks are original). Dan Bull is another rapper I like; not my favorite musically, but lyrically he stands for something, he doesn’t just rap about “Fuck bitches Get money.” Country is another genre I generally hate lyrically, though again, there are exceptions.
A lot of people like country in general, but many country fans will tell you how shitty country has become and how old country is the only real country. I agree. Country radio doesn’t play country music anymore, it plays pop with twangy guitars and imbred accents. This is a genre where quality in music is a huge debate. There are pretty much no exceptions to country music having real string instruments (guitars always, banjo and fiddle sometimes, etc.), though lately there have been plenty of “country” songs that use obvious drum machines. Rule of thumb- if a drum track doesn’t sound human, it isn’t.
Quality in music I think will always be a huge debate in pretty much any genre besides pop. I don’t think there are many people who would try to argue the merits of Lady Gaga or Ke$ha’s music. Sure, you might like the song, but really think about the music, how much effort was put into it, and it’s intent- was it created just to sell? There will always be exceptions, but not many. However, in less mainstream genres like country, rock, metal, etc, you pretty much have to ask these questions on a song-by-song basis. Plenty of rock and metal fans will be quick to say an artist or band has “sold out,” that they’ve decided to adhere to the label and producer’s demands in order to make more money. This argument is usually unfounded and most often irrelevant. If they’ve signed a contract, they’ve agreed to certain terms which may or may not include changing some of their content to reach more fans. Any band that stands by their decision not to ever do this, or not to ever replace a member, most likely better already have a few albums out before they think of signing.
Music theory students can explain in detail why Danny Elfman’s soundtrack to The Nightmare Before Christmas is poorly/lazily written, from a music theory standpoint. To most of us though, this seems like quality writing. This is where quality and opinion mesh/clash, and to really decide or debate this you have to look at everything; music, lyrics, and intent. I realize that from a theory stantpoint, the whole soundtrack followed basic rules and really didn’t seem all that creative to a theory student. But I am not, nor have ever been, a student of music theory. I’d say this comes down to intent- the music was written for a family film, and more specifically, the target audience was largely children. I’ll let that debate continue elsewhere, but you see my point.
I will never defend Justin Bieber’s music, unless you’re comparing it to the Black Eyed Peas (actually, anything Will.I.Am has ever touched). Sure, they may be and/or may have been the biggest pop group in the world, but their music is poorly written garbage and they don’t even pretend to sing. Justin Bieber’s music isn’t much better, and most of it isn’t written by him, but at least he sings. This of course is like finding two turds on the ground and trying to figure out which one smells better. Just stay away. But, like every election as long as I’ve been alive, we’re comparing the lesser of two evils here.
Back to quality of lyrics; 90% of pretty much all songs ever written in any genre are about love/sex (this is not an exact statistic, but close enough). While there are plenty of ways to be creative with this, I think most writers are lazy. I haven’t heard a song on the radio in years that made me think about something other than how shitty the lyrics were. Nymphetamine by Cradle Of Filth is musically great (in my opinion), using keyboards to enhance the overall musical sound and style of the song. Lyrically, it’s a love song, pretty cleverly written in my opinion given the context of the band and genre (think Gothic death metal). Nightwish uses full symphony orchestras and choirs backing up their recordings. Their writer has an understanding of music and music writing pretty much unmatched anywhere in the world outside of jazz and classical writers. Like I’ve said, everything’s been done lyrically, your song really won’t be that original, but do it in a clever way (no, not like Flo Rida’s Whistle- that’s fucking stupid); stand out from all the posers and gold-diggers.
I don’t think I can go on without this turning into just my opinion on different artists and genres, but I hope you understand my point, and if anyone would like to add to this or debate it, please do. 🙂