Age And Artistic Taste–Discuss

Writing about the concept of music discovery, Tyler Hayes suggests that after a certain age, most people are pretty set in their music tastes and in terms of paying for recordings of music, are better served by buying and owning rather than “renting” the music from a service like Spotify.

He argues that technology currently does a poor job of creating an environment for music discovery.

The problem with Pandora is that it may replace the radio for some, or a lot of people, but there is no spark the same way when a friend says “Hey, you should check out this band, they’re great.” A computer can’t replace that, yet. There will be an app or site or service that does fix and solve discovery… But that isn’t now or even this year.

Music discovery should be a verb or an accident, through active looking or serendipitous stumbling, but it shouldn’t be paraded around only as a marketing term.

A number of thoughts that occurred to me as I read this. First was that idea that new music discovery tapers off after a certain age. There are studies that show that people often mature into an appreciation for classical music. But I wonder if the ground work for that appreciation isn’t laid when people are younger and attend live performances in general with their family and classmates.

Yeah, I know the arts for the kids discussion has been beaten to death. I am just suggesting that even though you turned out okay and appreciate art even though you had minimal exposure when you were younger, the general environment has greatly changed since then.

If you are in your 40s as I am, or older you and your parents watched many of the same television shows because that was all that was available. Even though I didn’t go to many Broadway shows in my youth, my mother would often play Fiddler on the Roof, Camelot and Godspell records. I would dance around singing the chorus of “If I Were A Rich Man” when I resented having to do chores.

Your parents had a fairly strong influence on your taste and you shared many of the same experiences. While it may have been to a lesser degree, you probably gravitated toward some of the same general arts genres your parents did as you got older. Even if you rebelled against sharing their aesthetic taste, you were still engaged by art to some degree.

I am not sure we can necessarily count on the same effect with the current generation. Lacking any exposure from any quarter, their tastes may solidify as they are and never include traditional/classical art forms as they mature.

I am open to hearing counter arguments, but if you are older than 30ish, be honest, are you as voracious a consumer of music/art as you were when you were younger or are your choices pretty much explorations along general lines you established in the past with some interesting, but not radical deviations?

Second thing I began to ponder was whether terms like audience/community engagement and discovery are largely marketing terms that are being used to add a little luster to the same general programs as before or if arts organizations have started making a more directed effort in these directions. This isn’t something I can opine upon even generally because I don’t have any really solid data. It is a good question to ask ourselves, though.

I do think that the thing arts organizations offer over any other entertainment form is the opportunity to experience the frisson of personal discovery. I love Tyler Hayes’ definition of musical discovery as “a verb or an accident, through active looking or serendipitous stumbling.”

You absolutely miss something when you try to experience it via a small screen or ear buds vs. going into a performance hall or gallery. Even if you don’t understand Dali, you have an experience standing in front of one of his wall sized works that you don’t by seeing a picture of it.

The challenge has always been trying to communicate that through media insufficient to the task without under or overselling it. The other part of the challenge is whether people will continue to value the seeking process.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


1 thought on “Age And Artistic Taste–Discuss”

  1. I would argue that Songza, Pandora, or even iTunes Genius have actually exposed me to much more music than I would have learned about years ago. When younger, I think that “more adventurous” actually equated to “buying more stuff I wasn’t sure I’d like”. I think that, while I am somewhat set in my ways in terms of broad genre or musical style, I have a much more expansive library because I have learned about different artists and had the opportunity to pick and choose particular tracks to purchase as a result of new technologies. While my audio library may not be as eclectic as it was when I was younger, I can say absolutely that the proportion of music that I regularly listen to to music that I purchased and listened to once or twice is higher than it was in my younger years.

    I think that the crux of the matter may be that I am taking full advantage of my free options before I make the investment, whereas a decade or two ago I would buy first and then slog through the tracks or songs that I didn’t much care for. If engagement activities offer a preview or taste of a work, that seems to be the closest that we can come to replicating this risk-free trial model. I guess the trick is that we have to communicate it in a small screen way (as you note), but make it compelling enough that people want to buy the whole “album”.


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