The Thursday Thesis – 2/5/2019
Humans are funny little creatures.
This is not news, by the way – it’s a stone-cold fact.
Give a human one thing and he’ll immediately want the opposite, give her what she said wanted and it will immediately change.
Bit of a bugger isn’t it?
And here’s the thing: everything is a continuum with us. Somewhere between extreme X and extreme Y we’ll settle...but not for long. The overwhelming impression is restlessness and a need for change, accompanied by an infuriating need for sameness and familiarity.
When we experience too much sameness we say that we are bored, that everything is routine and life is dull.
Give us too much change and we feel out of control and insecure, that we are stressed and scared.
The minute we have too much of one or the other we react by trying to create more of what we were trying to get away from!
Infuriating, but oh-so-human.
And this change-versus-boredom pattern shows up in music, too. We like music to be sufficiently similar to everything else we’ve ever heard that it’s familiar and relatable; whilst at the same time needing it to be different enough to be interesting.
You hear this all the time, when people say “Ooh, that reminds me of that old song by so-and-so...” or “All their songs sound the same...”
There’s a reason for the similarity between songs: if a band or “artist” (pretentious terminology alert) suddenly switch genres or styles, their audience has a WTF moment and there’s uproar. Such reinvention is a risky strategy for a performer or a brand – having built an audience by being one thing, there’s a real danger of alienating that audience by suddenly becoming something else.
Fans want their favourite acts to produce more of the same, but new versions of it.
Every band or performer has their little quirk, their stylistic wrinkle on things; this is what their audience unconsciously identifies and resonates with.
And every song has this continuum, too: verses establish the basic idea, but after a couple of verses we begin to want something new... that’s where the chorus comes in, to disrupt the pattern and change things...but now we begin to want more of the original verse idea, don’t we?
Pretty soon, we’ll tire of the verse/chorus pattern, too – so that’s an opportunity for a guitar solo or a breakdown section, a “middle 8” that takes the music in a different direction.
It’s fractal, as the same pattern emerges across all of life: sameness versus change.
Do you recognise the pattern in your own life, just like I see it writ large in mine?
Sameness keeps me comfortable, but too much of it and I’m bored rigid: massive change is scary and uncomfortable. Somewhere between the two extremes I find a tolerable compromise – and immediately begin to destabilise it.
Infuriating, or what?!
© Neil Cowmeadow 2019
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