Anyone who knows me knows full well how much time, love, and bandwidth I continually devote to new music. I was lucky enough to be raised by parents with cool, un-parenty tastes in music; my mum listened to a lot of classical and world music while to this day I still thank my dad for raising me on late ’70s British punk and the new wave movement of the ’80s. Since moving to Canada I’ve made a concerted effort to stay on top of the music scene in the UK. I listen to BBC Radio 1 religiously from the moment I wake, throughout the work day and into the evening. I check the tracklistings and research the bands’ back catalogues and am a member of various online music communities. I buy iron-on transfers so I can make my own Kaiser Chiefs t-shirts. I had to buy a new hard drive because I filled one entirely with music.
So I guess you could say I’m a bit of a music snob. But do I really want to fall into that category? I think personally there’s two kinds of music snobs: the Music Aficionado, and the Music Know-It-All. I’d like to think I fall under the former. One of my favourite things in the whole world is to introduce someone to something new and wonderful, and have them fall just as in love with it as I am. I love sharing good music and seeing it appreciated as much as it should be. Sure, I’ll admit adamant refusal to voluntarily listen to anything played on Hot 103, Much Music, and yes I have been guilty of “oh I downloaded that MONTHS ago” moments. But I think the dividing line between MA and MKIA is defined by openness to new music.
I’d like to think I was open to new music. I make sure to schedule myself enough time to listen to Colin Murray’s “Best in New Music and Alternative Classics” show throughout the week and Huw Stephens’ “Introducing” show. I even contemplated naming my first born after Zane Lowe for introducing me to countless artists and albums that have played a large part in shaping my life in the last few years. But if someone I know sends me a song, I’ll give it a listen and I’d like to think I’d be as open to enthusiasm about it as if it were the track’s first airing on an obscure BBC radio show. This is where the Music Know It All differs. They claim to be open to “anything of quality” but have a predisposed upturned nose to anything they didn’t personally “discover” themselves.
I found a set of rules on some website, the Seven Rules Of Being A Music Snob.
1. Music Snobs always admit they are music snobs.
When music is all you have, you’d better live it up. Announcing your snobitude can be done with subtle phrases like (start writing these down), “Have you heard the new Preston School Of Industry record?” “Popul Vuh sounded way better live” or “James Brown? Give me a break! The real soul man was Solomon Burke.” If you’re not into subtleties then simply announce how many records you own (it must exceed at least 500, but heads won’t turn until you surpass 1000, and you must mention all rare, out-of-print ones) or wear a band shirt.
(Personal verdict: GUILTY. I did it just thirty seconds ago!)
2. Music Snobs dress the part
This doesn’t necessarily mean wearing a band shirt, but if you do it has to be an obscure band. Those Offspring, Tool, and Metallica shirts you can easily find at any Virgin Megastore do not count; in fact they only hurt your snob status. Your ultra-rare John Cale shirt will either have to be found by fluke at a thrift store or made by you via an iron-on label. You don’t have to wear a band shirt though because there is an alternative: dress like your favourite artist. The most popular and time-tested looks are the Elvis Costello (tight clothes, thick-rimmed glasses, receding hairline), the Neil Young (ragged/dirty clothes, rats nest hair, whiny voice), or the Ani Difranco (beads, beads, beads). So now you can walk the music geek walk but can you talk the music geek talk?
(Personal verdict: Refer to home-made Kaiser Chiefs t-shirt)
3. When in doubt, Music Snobs hate
You’re in the middle of a heated discussion about just how underrated Ron Sexsmith is when someone dares to draw a comparison to Howie Beck. Howie Beck? You’ve never heard of him, but don’t let the other snobs know. Your safest best is to label the unknown artist as “pretentious” or “a sellout” or “a hack” and then just lean back and grin like you know something that they don’t. The hate card is a safe card to play because music geeks pretty much hate everything.
(Personal verdict: NOT GUILTY. This is what separates the two kinds of snob here!)
4. Music Snobs never like the popular stuff
Beatles fan? Not anymore. You’d be better off listening to The Smiths and all the snobs would approve. Pink Floyd isn’t snobby enough for the true elitist, so listen to Can instead (also note: Can is a band, not a can). If Radiohead is your drug of choice then get off and get plugged in to Sigur Ros instead. Their name sounds snobbier and therefore the band is snobbier. Listening to a popular band is like telling the world that you’re only a wannabe music snob and the golden rule of snobbery is that “if it sells, it smells.” You have to find the music that never sells.
(Personal verdict: GUILTY)
5. Music Snobs always like music everyone else hates
First of all, some clarity is needed here. Everyone hates John Tesh, Celine Dion, and Wham! but so do music snobs. Snobs like the stuff that normal people don’t know they hate, but would hate if they ever heard it (which they probably won’t). Pere Ubu, Crass, Joy Division, Tom Waits (post-Swordfishtrombones), Frank Zappa, and the later works of John Coltrane all fit under this category. (Also note: it never hurts to name-drop a classical composer that no one else has heard of by this stage of the game. The unwritten rule is that the composer must be less-known than Franz Joseph Haydn) If you can utter the phrase “sure The Modern Dance was an important record, but Dub Housing was much more groundbreaking and experimental” then you’re on your way to working up the Music Elitist rank.
(Personal verdict: Guilty)
6. There is a Music Snob hierarchy
On the low end of the music food chain (although they are definitely still snob worthy) are clerks at mainstream music stores. They’re well attuned to hating popular music because they’re around it all day, but their exposure to the juicy rare stuff is limited to their private time only. Next up to bat are clerks are used/rare record stores. They make less money then the pervious group so they get extra points for dedication. They laugh at you when you try to trade in your old Eagles records and exclusively play stuff like The Birthday Party, Howard Tate, and Pharoah Sanders over the store stereo system. One tier higher you’ll find indy music critics (critics for Rolling Stone or Blender don’t count, of course). They take their love of music to the extreme by writing about it. It’s one thing to psycho-analyze every Joe Jackson album, but it’s another thing to write about it and make it official. What about DJs? They don’t count, unless you consider college DJs, which are the next level of snobbery. They take pride in playing The Cure b-sides when every other station can’t get enough of Justin Timberlake. At the top of the heap are indy record store owners. They don’t own the store to make money, they own it for the constant influx of music. They’re also the masters of rule #7.
(Personal verdict: This is my point exactly. I think this rule should be summed up with “Music Snobs always think they know more about music than you do.” To which I willingly admit complete and utter hypocrisy; I am 100% guilty but absolutely hate this about other Music Snobs :))
7. Music Snobs always like the ‘snob album’ and the ‘snob song’
Sure, London Calling by The Clash is a good album and snobs enjoy it, but to call it their favourite Clash album would be too easy. The self-titled Clash album is a little more underappreciated and slightly less popular and therefore is the ‘snob album.’ Pavement songs like “Stereo” and “Cut Your Hair” are good songs, but every snob knows them. That’s why a song like “Saganaw” off the Pacific Trim EP would be the ‘snob song.’ If you’ve never heard that song, just say you don’t like it because it’s too pretentious. Now you’re catching on!
So there you have it, 7 easy rules to live (or bullshit) by to enter the elite kingdom of the music snob. When you’re 10 pounds underweight (or 40 pounds overweight – there’s no in between) and classifying your favourite records by genres you make up, like “Blonde Joke Jazz” and “Electronicountry” then you know you’re well on your way to snob status.