Your taste – a talent or a trap?

For some time I have had the thought that one’s unique taste and love for music is a fundamental talent. When we compose and combine, make choices and pick sounds we love – often intuitively – we express our unique view and take. All as a result of our taste.

I enjoy that thought, and I’m not so quick to give up on it. Although I’m open to other perspectives. That’s why I found it interesting to listen to Brian Eno talking to Rick Rubin yesterday on the Broken Record podcast. Eno’s view on taste, or at least one perspective on taste, seemed to be that taste limits us or causes us to repeat ourselves.

I’m not so sure these two different views on taste are in conflict. Maybe they can both be true. If anyone finds it interesting too I’d be happy to hear your opinion.


I think I would agree to either, especially if I imagine them coming up in different conversations. Even if I can’t offer some sort of general framework to relate them, it’s easy enough to say that they are both common experiences.

The other thing that comes to my mind with this question is the ‘adult narrowing of the mind’ idea from David Lynch (and probably others).

I try to address this with my own thinking in a few ways:

  • I make continual effort to avoid thinking of my taste as the only interesting way. In other words - there’s always a number of paths and all those paths are interesting for different reasons.
  • I always try to be aware of the difference between a decision by rote and a creative impulse. Sometimes that means re-listening and making sure I stay creatively engaged (this is where the glucose is spent :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:)
  • I try to be aware that ‘my taste’ is a snapshot of a journey, and to continue the journey I need to keep my ears and mind open.
  • Bonus: sometimes I do something way off to the left just for fun. That is usually really enjoyable and should probably do more of it :slight_smile:

From here, I feel it’s easier to generate and commit to creative decisions without becoming stale (in my mind) or rigid (when faced with alternative ideas).


Interesting, I may have to listen to this podcast episode.

I mean absolutely no shade when I say this, but I wonder if Brian Eno is speaking from his own experience here. There’s at least a hint of “pot kettle black” that I can detect, in any case. An artist so in thrall to his own (admittedly cool) tastes and ideas that he ended up repeating himself over and over. A prime example (in my mind! others will disagree) of an experimental artist who used to be a fearless, restless explorer but then settled into a particular mode he liked and rarely deviated from it. Nothing wrong with that, of course (especially when you’re the godfather of ambient, right), but for my own practice it’s more of a cautionary tale than something worth celebrating. I settle into these kinds of grooves all too easily, and they scare me. I’d rather keep moving without anchor points.

By the way: whenever the topic of taste comes up, I have to recommend Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey To The End of Taste, by Carl Wilson. I’m sure many here are already familiar with it, or its ideas in any case, but it just about broke my head open when I read it in my 20s. I had to admit that it had my number, and it forced me to really think about the ways in which my cool-chasing music snobbishness was really just a form of class anxiety and striving (among other things).


Interesting ideas @encephalitislethargi & @naxuu - it’s true that no one is immune to it; but it also seems reasonable to say that repetition (or stricter adhesion to ‘taste’) can’t be cast as a negative thing either.

Can think of plenty examples where only minimal variation in a creative idea over time (in music, and otherwise) have produced wonderful things.

Seems to converge to a fairly clear matter of preference, no? :slight_smile: As much as musical goals are related to personal or social ideas/attachments, it’s easy to imagine we all end up in very different positions. I try to stay on the open ended side of things simply because I work with a lot of different musicians and styles. If I didn’t do production / engineering, maybe I’d be less open?


Another perspective on the “taste leads to repetition” argument may be to think about it in the context of developing one’s own sound/style?

Certain musicians, I think, are instantly identifiable from their sound and that’s applauded.

Tangentially thinking also of one of Eno’s Oblique Strategies, “Repetition is a form of a change”…


This is true, but the nice thing about taste is that it evolves over time. And this is something you often see in great well-established artists (both in the visual arts and music): the pursuit of a particular idea (sometimes only emerging in retrospect) that matures through trial and error in works over time.


Taste for consumption and taste for production can also be important distinctions here. The music I like listening to is not always the music I like making. A part of this is my lack of talent, in that I’m not always capable of making the music that I like listening to.

Being able to arrive at “your sound” can’t be understated. I’ve only had that feeling fleetingly and am in the process of finding a new one. Many people would love to be comfortable in that sense- that they have the ability to make things they like. They have a kind of mastery in that process, genre of general musical realm.

And while I’ve seen people continually strive for that, I’ve also seen people who have it anguish and feel stuck. It’s own kind of frustrating artistic dilemma. Grass is always greener, careful what you wish for, and all that.

But usually that process is pretty natural. You do something for a while, it gets boring once you’ve done it for so long, and the itch comes to change. Tastes change naturally.

I’m with @naxuu on this one. But perhaps I might say “Physician, heal thyself”.

Its interesting to hear someone say, “Your tastes should change”. To put it bluntly: why? If people like what they like, why should they actively dismantle that? I think there are good reasons to challenge your own taste, and it can be a good meditation. And of course, if you are a commercial artist this advice may make more practical sense. But this inherent assumption that we always must be changing and evolving and growing and expanding is simply its own kind of taste.

Enos advice here can be good and is perhaps balm to those that are in a similar situation as he is. But this does strike me as someone who has a problem prescribing their cure to everyone they meet, regardless of others actual situation. Not just in music but in life, it isn’t unusual for me to see when people are stuck in a rut, they get excited to tell everyone how they should be mixing things up, going here and there, doing this and that.

You should expand your taste when you are losing joy, not because Brian Eno told you to. If you’re happy with your taste, live a life and enjoy it. Most likely it will change on its own eventually anyways. Savor it while it lasts.


You can only like something you’ve tried.


I think about this alot, especially in the context of music education. Like you can teach someone how to make music but how do you teach good taste if its something you just have due to circumstances?

And that begs the question…

what is taste?

Are tastes just likes vs dislikes? But then taste can also be developed? That interests me. Like learning to appreciate/notice the finer, subtler aspects in things rather than preferences for this or that. Off-course that may inevitably lead to one liking/identifying with this or that but could there be a way around it? And would it still be “your taste” if that were case? would it serve the same purpose? what could that purpose then be?

A lot of questions.


I think the entire idea of “good taste” is pretty elitist.

One thing I got from reading The Rest is Noise recently was that a lot of “high class” composers were borrowing ideas from “low class” folk music and trying to hide it.

Also who defines “good taste”? And especially when dealing with children how do you avoid it devolving into racism and classism? Why tell kids jazz is “good” and mainstream hip hop is “bad”, for instance, when jazz musicians were viewed very similar to rappers in the past.

Historically it seems like making music “real art” or “good” mostly comes down to making it “white” from Elvis to Macklemore to blackface minstrel show musicians trying to “class up” the banjo back in the day.

In my opinion the only thing that matters is if you get joy out of the music you listen to. If you like it then you have good taste whether you agree with Robert Christgau or go to the opera or read the liner notes or not.


When I was a small child I had a long list of foods i felt were yucky and would not eat. As an adult that same list is quite short. Many of those things were acquired tastes. I’m glad I have acquired them. I would be impoverished of experience and less open to newness had I not.

I prefer to think of taste as a thing that expands over time to include new experiences. I try not to personally identify with some small subset of that.

That being said, my identity as a musician necessarily draws from a subset of all the music I can appreciate, for the simple fact of my lack of experience playing specific instruments, or using specific approaches to music theory and practice. It takes a lot more to learn how to play a music than to simply listen to it. Because I am able to compare my larger listening taste to my smaller musical output, it becomes possible for me to see that subset of what I am both able and willing to play as “my sound”. And because I arrived at that notion through great effort, I am more likely to identify with it.


All other things equal, it’s better to like things than not. I have to remind myself this!


I have to listen to that podcast, but part of Eno’s talent is being a provocateur. For me, the act of making electronic music and field recordings has informed my taste, more than the other way around. I love the Ira Glass take on on making a good creative product–it starts with “killer taste” that informs the quality level of the art you produce. Not the content, but the quality, so you can recognize when what you’re making isn’t at the same level and keep iterating your process.


Idno seems you missed the whole idea behind the post which was to question what is taste and is it still a personal taste if you move past the like/ dislike identification. Literally nothing to do with class.

In fact on considering the question some more I feel like part of what taste is, is being able to make distinctions

I don’t think I did miss the entire idea but I’d be happy to discuss why you think so if you think it’s important.

I was specifically responding to your thoughts on how to teach “good taste” which whether you meant it to or not (I assume not) is a topic which is definitely rooted in racism and classism, at least in the United States. I’m not versed in all other cultures so maybe it is different elsewhere.

I’m all for people expanding their own personal palette including flavors that aren’t tasty right away. I’m just anti educating others on a predefined idea of “good art”.

What even is “good taste”? Who defines “good”?

None of this is directed directly at you even though I am responded to you. I just think you’re started a conversation which is part of a much larger cultural history.


yet another thought-provoking thread on Lines! :raised_hands:
…y’all make it too difficult for me to just lurk :joy:

real quick interjection about some confusion, first…

:point_up: i didn’t realize it at first, but now upon rereading carefully, i can see here that @mystasea might not actually be saying there’s any absolute measure of ‘good taste’, since it’s always biased by ‘circumstances’.
i appreciate that observation: there’s no absolute definition of ‘good or bad’, since everything is biased by an individual’s circumstances(it wasn’t obvious in the way it was worded, different people’s circumstances will cause them to taste that wording differently, but i see it that way now(correct me if i’m wrong)).

and aside from that, here’s just my own individual take on the original idea of the thread in regards to ‘taste being a talent or a trap’:
taste seems most refined as we grow into patterns(ego is another pattern, it can trap us into a myopic sense of taste, not necessarily because we always like going down one specific avenue, but sometimes also because all the other darkest alleyways can be too scary). when i was a kid, only had the taste for candy, so i never liked alcohol aside from brandy, cherry, and cider, then grew into all forms of it from there… and then a decade ago, developed gluten-intolerance, so i was almost heartbroken i couldn’t drink most beer anymore, but then i developed more of a taste for Japanese sake :yum: and the driest at room temperature so i can enjoy the malt taste of the koji, and savor the bouquet of various flora nuanced within the fermented rice(Kenbishi at room temp is my favorite)

talent can be informed by taste, but true talent would probably break free from it often, because talent is innate(not that you have to be born with it, but it’s more a pattern of the heart and soul than the mind - intrinsic to one’s being). when you’re guided by talent, as opposed to taste, everything and nothing is like ‘dark energy’ to you: the farthest reaches of the unknown shall still feel attractive, whether you have taste for it or not, so long as your talent craves more intrinsic understanding of itself, and so it will if it’s of the truest and deepest in nature.

random thought: i have the deepest respect for ninjutsu, but alas, too scared and weak to acquire the physical strength and daring involved, and too brash and reckless to remain invisible enough for the purposes of infiltration, yet somehow, i’m not so sad to hold this taste for it, without any talent being born thereof, whatsoever
:man_cartwheeling: :dash:


Yes @rajaTheResidentAlien thanks for clearing that up…I should have tried to make that statement a little clearer grammatically. I think it definitely threw @G4B3 off what I was trying to say(nothing to do with teaching good taste). I imagined I were Michael from V-sauce with that opening statement and suddenly emerging from under the screen saying…but what is taste?

Anyway to elaborate my thoughts a bit, when someone says: oh you have a fine taste in so & so…could be whatever right…wine, instant noodles, movies, analog synths etc…what makes you a connoisseur is your ability to notice and categorise the subtle distinctions which may go beyond your average whomever…but that does not mean you just go picking the best stuff rated 5 stars and consider yourself a man of “fine taste”. No its the perceptive ability to pull from all throughout spectrum…and creating your own personal cohesive multi layered multi faceted accumulation. Fine taste is one of ever widening and adventurous variety but being able to pull it all together and make it a story…such a person could never be trapped nor limited by it…probably

I hope i’m getting my point across somewhat…just coming up with it as I go so opinions on it are changing


Eno’s taste didn’t keep him from making some pretty terrible video “paintings” in the 00’s which gave him the confidence to keep it going into his touch screen interfaces :grimacing:


Now that I get what you meant I actually think we’re on the same page. I still don’t like the entire idea of “good taste” in general but I totally agree that broadening one’s palette, and ability to discern why they like something is commendable.


yeah for sure the whole idea of good taste is pretty arbitrary and elitist…I should know i definitely was on that side of things for a long time…didnt get me where i wanted tho so now in that unlearning/relearning process…