Angry Amateur

Tonight, while driving home from a St. Patrick’s Day party, I started flipping radio stations. One station, which is definitely aimed at people at least ten years younger than me, was playing dance music put together by a DJ.

There are lots of kinds of dance music, so let me clarify. This was pop music and rock music, but with a very synthetic beat underneath it, and the music was often mixed with another song or faded into another song while keeping the same beat. (Here’s one of my favorite mash-up examples: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZBuYbKgvQI)

I’ve heard this particular program and DJ before. I’ve never managed to listen for more than 10 minutes.

The problem is that this DJ only understands two things: one, what songs are already popular, and two, how to set them to the same speed and sync up their downbeats.

What he does NOT understand is that simply having the same speed and downbeat doesn’t necessarily mean the two songs should be mixed or faded. And I’m not just talking about the lyrics (although I maintain that a song about Columbine really should not lead into “Shot through the heart and you’re to blame” unless you’re aiming for gallows humor, and I’m not sure this DJ has the intelligence for that). I’m talking about simple things like what key the song is in.

If the first song is in the key of C and the second song is in the key of F#, it’s not going to sound good to go from one to the other.

You might be able to get away with it if all you’re doing is fading from one to the other… but mixing them together provides all sorts of awful dissonance. And yes, I know, most of the people who are listening to this are only listeningforthe beat as they plan on dancing up a storm and probably drinking a ton, too… but there are easily accessed programs out there that will actually adjust the pitch of a song as well. It’s not hard to do. It’s nothing but the cheapest laziness.

And that makes me angry. This guy clearly makes money doing this. Maybe not much, but some. And he’s barely, barely even trying.

I feel the same way when watching many commercials, or reading many best-selling books. Why do we reward poor work?

And then I start thinking about every job I’ve ever had. There have clearly been incompetent people in every workplace I’ve been in. We reward poor work there, too, as many of these people become virtually institutionalized and never get fired.

(I assume that somewhere out there is a remarkably incompetent brain surgeon. He may be smarter than 95% of people out there, but just really suck as a neurosurgeon.)

I love the idea of a meritocracy, other than the fact that I think there are lots of us who would be good at things given the right equipment or opportunity or support. Heck, maybe even the DJ that I listened to today just hasn’t had the opportunity to put together the songlist that he would prefer — maybe his producers tell him what songs to play, and maybe even in what order.

(I doubt it.)

But when I hear things like his program, I’m just reminded that our culture treats most skills as fungible. In a nation that prides itself on individuality, we sure do like to turn everything into cheap knock-offs of everything else.

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5 Responses to Angry Amateur

  1. John R. says:

    George Carlin had a bit in one of his books about “Somewhere in the world is the world’s worst doctor. And what’s truly terrifying is that someone has an appointment with him tomorrow morning.”

  2. not adding anything insightful, just saying if you like good mashups i REALLY ask you to listen to this Girl Talk album, it’s free and fun. http://illegal-art.net/allday/

  3. Tom n Cristy says:

    I know exactly what you mean! When I was a kid, I thought everything in the world had to have “professionals” who made sure things were done according to some mysterious set of standards. I was shocked when I got out there and saw misspelled and grammatically incorrect signs and evidence of poor workmanship on things people rely on daily to be safe. Blew my mind. My pet peeve is horribly edited novels. I sometimes want to go into editing just so I’ll know there are books I can read that won’t have typos everywhere.

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