Dug up this article my friend wrote ages ago on music taste:
Sounds like you've been studying culture critic Matthew Arnold (his "hoch kulture" ), and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (and his Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste). I'm a media major, so I studied this stuff back in college years ago. Bourdieu argues that aesthetic taste is a way of distinguishing a class of people, and you can see this reflected literally in musically-based subcultures. One of his other ideas is the "culture capital", meaning the range (or "economy" ) of your knowledge in these arts.
Yes, I do believe in a "good taste". And I believe having a higher "culture capital", means that you are much more able to select your choices. Many of the Gaian Music Forum regs here, have extremely differing tastes, genres in which we "specialize", and we acknowledge our taste differences. The majority of us have shared our stuff with each other regardless, and it's raised our "culture capital". In that regards, my taste isn't better than theirs or vice versa, because in a sense, we have a fair enough range of knowledge to what exists out there. The difference is in what areas we particularly decide to dive in. Ultimately, in that way, to me, an "authentic" taste means it is backed by your "culture capital".
In regards to music, all the superficial stuff like fashion and controversy is just fluff, and yeah -- as music, that is what I am ultimately going to judge. I do not believe in "higher" or "lower" class art or music, in that traditional sense of aristocracy. It's stupid that the Grammys is seen as high class when they pull the same ass major label artists up every year, a great deal of which are hardly innovative. This idea of "taste" is mass fed to the audience for sales. And a good example of Matthew Arnold's idea of "Culture as a prison house of language" theory -- in which they choose what and what not to show you. That's why their nominations in "heavy metal", hip-hop, alt rock, electronic dance, and so on, usually stink.
In anycase! Personal taste, in my opinion, is discovered and built through exploration. The more you know, the more authentic your favored "style" is. Perhaps a better analogy might be if you think about culture [capital] in terms of language. Imagine three people (one French, one German and one English) going into a shop in France (the "dominant culture", in this respect, would be French). The French person can speak the language. The German knows some French (enough to get by). The English person knows no French. Each of the above has a stock of cultural capital (in this analogy, their knowledge of languages) which they then proceed to spend by trying to buy things:
The French person does this quickly and efficiently - the shopkeeper understands this person perfectly. The German takes longer to express him / herself and may not be able to buy everything they want. The shopkeeper has a problem understanding but with a bit of time and patience business is transacted amicably. The English person - after much shouting, pointing and general gesticulation - succeeds in buying some basic things (or leaves the shop without being able to buy anything because the shopkeeper could not understand). For the shopkeeper, this customer is difficult to serve because they do not "speak the same language". The French person is equivalent to the Upper class child. The German person is equivalent to the Middle class child. The English person is equivalent to the Working class child. You can apply this to the knowledge of music styles. Keep in mind, I have thrown this theory out WITHOUT YET connecting it to the concept of "good taste" (as this can be applied to other ideas, like business as per the ex.). When I do apply it to "good taste", I believe that the more genres you know about, the more "authentic" your taste is, in having built up your confidence to it.
Somebody who has more WILL and PASSION to listen to 4 newly experienced artists everyday (with consideration to newly experienced genres) -- probably has more to say (and thus more "taste", literally) than a kid with the same few artist/songs on repeat, who tries 2 new artists a week, and diverges from his usual genre taste only once a few months. Let's look at the word "taste" through definition. What we are discussing is a preference of an aesthetic phenomenon. As a word, it also means a functional sense of the tongue, and also means firsthand "experience", that is implied with intent to later build on (or reject, through further experience). I think it's all rather correlated, but the more you know, the more likely you are to craft your taste. Like I said earlier, I ultimately judge by music. It's OK if you want to be a follower and fanatic, but that ultimately does not serve to craft your music taste.
Your example about a guy knowing "10000 bands" is flawed. Yes, that person could know a ****load of bands and not know much in a certain area. So? Let me use the language example again -- you can know French, English, German, Chinese, and Japanese fluently -- but your "culture capital" finds its limits when you know some Danish, Russian, Korean, and Spanish. And you become completely SOL with any other language. Still, his linguist range is quite impressive, with much further potential.
Music is just like that - there's a lot out there, after all. Taste is constantly built. A music enthusiast constantly digs; and ****, some of us Regs make fun of each other for our tastes... we hate the taste of some each other. Some of us can't get into harsh noise, Cameron hates almost everything (but I notice he's challenged himself to try Sonic Youth and Merzbow before), some of us love Lady Gaga. But our explorations has only served to make aware of our options, and proven our confidence in our niches. I sometimes say, some people don't really know what they actually like, because they don't know what else is out there yet.
"Culture capital" is a range of knowledge everyone achieves differently. It is nothing concrete, but rather, something with intense personality that helps define an individual.
Ultimately, some people find the experience of discovering and listening to music much more important than others. Even major label music industries know that (and market accordingly)... in one of my classes, media economic research has shown someone who buys Sheryl Crow albums, tend to buy music about twice a year (usually at Best Buy)... compared to someone who buys some artsy-punk act (who'd likely frequent a record shop as Amoeba). The way they absorb music is drastically different. The former probably has other things to do that are more "important" than music. I have a friend who gives two ****s about music at all, knows absolutely nothing about it -- he instead, likes movies... he has a wider "culture capital" to that than I do. He likes going to dance clubs though, but has no clue what he's listening to. As much as a nihilistic as I am, I ultimately do not agree that "taste" is just "different" and "so be it." This concept, to me, rejects the concept of aesthetics as a philosophy (which it has been considered as so, since the ancient Greeks), and dumbs down music by practically saying that it is not significantly important, except to the individual at hand, which I say, is rather isolating. I would argue this ideal lessens the cultural influence of music. In contrast, through the "culture capital" notion, the concept of "good taste" becomes more socially and (sub-)culturally agreeable, while a foundation of knowledge leaves it rather open-ended enough and mutually respectable.