Life, Death and Music

The real talent of a popular musician cannot accurately be assessed until the musician has been dead for several generations, so that his or her fame does not interfere with honest assessment.

The issue at hand states that we cannot accurately assess a musician’s talent as long as he is alive, because we may be biased towards him based on his fame and popularity. However, I tend to disagree with this notion. People appreciate music for more than one reason. If the only reason of appreciation of music was who the composer is, then the assessment might have been biased. However, other reasons reduce this predilection and hence I believe that the fact whether he or she is living or dead or how many generations have passed since his or her death is not a reason based on which assessment should be done.

When we listen to music, sometimes we appreciate it without even knowing who the musician is. In such cases, we have already assessed the musician irrespective of his fame. In fact, a musician become famous because of the result of the assessment of his talent. If people did not like his or her music in the first place, he or she would never have been famous. If the fame that he or she has is in any other way apart from music, good or bad – for example, past criminal records or past success in another field – then that fame and the music are in two different places, and we must make it our responsibility to not intermingle both of them.

At this point, people might argue that in fact most musicians are assessed after their death. One might argue with the fact that Warner Bros productions dedicated an entire television channel to Michael Jackson shortly following his death, concluding that he was assessed after his death. However, this is not really right. The channel might have been the result of appreciation from before, and only serves as a dedication forum. Also we have no proof that the channel was proposed posthumously.

It should be made clear that appreciating music after one’s death is perfectly alright. However, that should not be the sole way, or the mandatory style. Whereas it is not wrong to assess a person after his death, it is also not correct to wait ‘until the musician has been dead for several generations’. The issue points out clearly that a musician cannot be assessed until he has been dead for ‘several generations’. However, there is a strong negative notion about this. Music styles are not always perennial. There have been paradigm shifts always, where different generations prefer different kinds of music. We see that all the time even at our homes. Whereas the older generation might have a predilection towards soft rock, children often like noisier music. When an entire population is shifting in its tastes, trying to assess older music is really a bad choice.

In fact, real talent is often judged during the lifetime of a musician. The music award ceremonies are a testimony to this. Assessing during the lifetime also helps the musician because it makes him realize his weak points, and the genres where he is likely to succeed more. We have often seen singers change their styles entirely, moving from Sufi to rock, and from underground to Bollywood, in search of fame once they were appreciated for their work. It also acts as an incentive to better work. Hence the above example acts as a proof that assessment should be done during the lifetime.

To end, I would say that it is the personal responsibility of the people who assess music to make sure they are not hindered by the popularity of the musician. They should make a disinterested judgment based on the music and solely on the music that the musician composes. In doing so, the real talent can be tested more accurately and passionately, and would result in better quality music at the end of the day.

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