This is my dissertation from the third year of my degree. Despite the fact I can pick enough holes in it to the point where there is no dissertation left, it was marked as a 1st, which I am very happy about. Any questions or comments, good or bad can be emailed to the address on the index page.
The Sociological Effects of Music on Human Expression
Although sound and music are biologically heard and received by the ear in the same way; the vibration of waves at varying frequencies and their reception by the ear canal (http://www.brainconnection.com, How We Hear, 28/10/02) they affect our consciousness in very different ways.
Sound, by definition is: “mere noise, without meaning or sense or distinguished by sense…to resound…to be audible”. (Chambers 20th Century Dictionary, p1291). Another interpretation of this may be that is it the raw material that speech, music and song are made of - the building blocks of communication. One definition of music is: “The art of expression in sound, in melody, in harmony, including both composition and execution…not mere noise”. (Chambers 20th Century Dictionary, p869). The essential aspects of music are pitch, melody, rhythm and volume. All of these play an important role in the result of a piece of music, and each can vary in their effect on the listener. Arguably, rhythm has the most dramatic effect on the human nervous system. Scientists have suggested a variety of reasons for why this may be, and almost all agree that it is connected to the heartbeat and to the cyclic functions of the body. Rhythm can also be a learning and remembering technique for individual sounds and an accessible way to connect one piece of information to another.
In our modern world it is not just dancers, musicians and artists whose actions are influenced by music and sound. Music is universally understood to often be the sum of more than its parts, and causes emotional and physical reactions from simply being heard. It is used in many aspects of society to persuade, to advertise, to heighten emotional tension, to increase learning skills, to identify social groups and to influence speed and muscle tension, for a few examples. The effects of music can be conscious, subconscious and unconscious. The power of music, over any other art form, to penetrate people’s emotions is a widely recognised fact. ‘Music listening… seems to encourage the release of endorphins, which in turn illicit emotional response’ (http://www.thepowerofmusic.co.uk, Neurological aspects of musical processing, accessed 23/10/02). Scientific studies that have investigated this theory came to conclusion that ‘Both hemispheres of the brain are involved because of the complexity of musical experiences which may involve auditory, visual, cognitive, affective and motor systems’ (http://www.thepowerofmusic.co.uk, Neurological aspects of musical processing, accessed 23/10/02).
Of the five senses, hearing connects us to the outside world more peripherally than any other sense and plays a large role in balance and directional shifts. Despite a general tendency in society to consciously rely on visual stimuli for information and also entertainment, a lot of information received and understood is either provided or enhanced by sound. This is a very predominant feature in television and film, and also in dance & theatre performance.
In television, one of the predominant and psychologically effective uses of music and sound is in advertising, yet this use of music often tries not to call attention upon itself as a separate entity. An advert is often a series of seemingly unrelated pictures. These pictures usually place the product in a more glamorous or exciting setting than it would probably be found, so an auditory explanation is usually needed to explain the actual function of the product. In addition to this, the huge range of remarkably similar products in many areas of the consumer market means that advertising companies need to ‘portray a particular style or image which elicits strong consumer allegiances’ (David Huron, http://www.music-cog.ohio-state.edu/Huron/ Publications/huron.advertising.text.html, Music in Advertising: An Analytic Paradigm, 17/12/02).
Social class, age and environment often influence the type of music that a member of the public (and therefore a consumer) listens to. As sound is impossible to be physically ‘shut off’ by the body, it is a highly effective way of attracting attention and engaging interest of the correct consumer market. Music’s role in society is not, however, simply as a marketing tool. It is, in its purest form, an influence over the creation of a variety of other art forms. However the mixing of art and society can lead to certain ‘watering down’ of the original artistic intention. For example, whilst the creation of film is undoubtedly an art form, it is generally created for mass consumption. It appeals to a much wider range of society and has much more of a connection with advertising and brand names than other forms of more ‘exclusive’ art.
Aside from the creation of music itself, dance, in all its forms, relies on music much more than any other form of art. From a dancer’s point of view at least, dance and music are inextricably intertwined. Every movement created creates a pattern or rhythm within itself and when it is linked with other movements – dance involves both space and time in its execution. From the creation to the learning to the performance ‘music has allied itself with the dance, an alliance natural and inescapable since rhythm is a vital element common to both’ (Láng, 1941, p1002). Despite the fact that sound and music affects our minds and our bodies unconsciously in everyday life, outside of the world of dance, and other similar physical activities, few people, when placed in a social situation feel comfortable moving to music in public. The growth of advertising and mass electronic media has given people more ideals that they feel compelled to live up to, and many people feel uncomfortable performing what is essentially a natural biological impulse. This syndrome is more common in westernised society than anywhere else, possibly because of the sophistication of the technology-producing chart and popular music. Debatably, it has evolved past involving the human spirit within its creation. Globalisation and the seizing of music by people using it for profit is a western symptom of our consumerist society. The increasing blurring between the boundaries of why people create music can and has had serious consequences for the artists involved. In a society where art can be bought, motives will always be brought into question.
Music & myth: Historical development
The effects of music and sound on humanity have been notable in many forms. Music has been used to tell stories, change moods, identify cultures, create both unity and division, enhance learning and inspire movement throughout history. It has been used to conscious and subconscious effect, leaving impressions and evoking memories that can be re-lived and revisited throughout their lifetime.
The incredibly influential power of music has been demonstrated in legend and myth by stories such as The Pied Piper of Hamlin (Browning, 1843) and the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice (Origin Unknown, reproduced in Bulfinch, 1979). The tale of Orpheus tells the story of how he plays his lute and his voice to charm ‘fellow mortals, wild beasts…[even] trees and rocks’ (Bulfinch, 1979, p218). Using his powers of musical persuasion, he enters the underworld to rescue Eurydice, and his song is lyrically significant in creating the setting and the drama; I implore you by these abodes full of terror, these realms of silence and uncreated things, unite again the thread of Eurydice’s life’ (Bulfinch, 1979, p220). The distinction between the ‘terror of silence’ and emphasis on ‘the tender strains [that made] the very ghosts shed tears’ (Bulfinch, 1979, p220) highlights the music as a positive, uplifting force against the bleakness of silence.
In contrast, the story of The Pied Piper of Hamlin is a very chilling interpretation of the use of music to control. The result of this tale is that the children leave their parents and their homes to disappear into the mountains and their unknown fate, under the spell of the Piper melodies. The metaphor of music’s ability to ‘persuade and control in arousing and heightening the desired emotional effect’ (Loh Chih Hui, http://www.thecore.nus.edu/arts/ usar02/bhterm.html, Modernising the Orpheus Myth: Music’s Power to Persuade and Control in Today’s Technological Context, 17/12/02) is evident in its potentially destructive form. Whereas the myth of Orpheus is romantically tragic, this tale leaves the reader uneasy and frightened, and whilst it is unfathomable that music could really have this severe an effect on humans, it is ultimately still believable that it can infiltrate the mind in an almost mystical fashion. It may be notable that all of the children of the story disappear ‘save two: one blind, the other dumb or lame’ (Room, 1959, p910) as indication of differing musical influence on an already sensory challenged mind.
Music & Human Development:
The benefits of musical interaction through childhood all the way into adulthood and old age may come down to one simple fact – ‘Most living organisms not only produce sound but respond to it’ (Beranek, 1962, p13). It is one of the most highly effective forms of communication, as it can express feelings, thoughts and mood without (always) requiring previous knowledge and understanding. With increased social conditioning, however, sound and music can come to enhance learning, knowledge and sensitivity in every day life. The success of music lies in its accessibility on both a personal and a group level, with or without associated understanding of the mechanics of the musical compositional form. It is used from culture to culture with varying roles and significance, in commercial, educational and social roles. Its creation and effect is both scientific and artistic, as it can be constructed and tailor-made to have a specific effect, or created from love and passion to appeal to the appreciative and emotionally artistic nature of human understanding.
Sound, in its most common human-developed form is speech and its development and beginnings. As newborns, we first begin to distinguish rhythm, pitch and volume to identify persons around us. To very young children, before an understanding of language is formed, the role of speech has a much more musical quality in their perception of it. Emotions are conveyed from mother to child via tone of voice, often in a comforting, soothing manner, and this reflects on the child’s first speech; ‘ “cooing”, a quiet, pleasant, repetitive vocalisation’ (http://www.childdevelopmentinfo.com /disorders/communication_in_autism.shtml, Communication in Autism, 28/10/02). Despite the lack of language, babies often rely on sound to communicate, to the extent that hand-held machines have been developed to recognise differing tones in a baby’s cry, and identify reasons and appropriate needs.
Even before a baby is born, there is evidence to suggest that the appropriate music can stimulate and enhance neurological development. One study focused on the effect of music on unborn children. After the babies were born, their development was monitored during their first six months. The study found ‘The exposed group were significantly more advanced in gross and fine motor activities, linguistic development, some aspects of somato-sensory co-ordination and in some cognitive behaviours.’ (www.thepowerofmusic.co.uk/application.htm) The style of music, the frequency and the duration are not specified. The use of violin suggests classical music, and a talented violinist can produce very emotionally charged and intricately balanced melodies. The sound of a well-played violin is recognised by most to be sweet and harmonious, so the assumption is that the listening experience was supposed to be pleasant for both mother and baby.
One highly controversial scientific exploration into music and development was that of the Mozart Effect. It was first discovered and explored by Gordon Shaw, a physicist at the University of California. He and Francis Raucher, ‘a former concert cellist and an expert on cognitive development’ (http://www.skepdic.com/mozart.html, the Mozart Effect, 17/12/02). It concentrated on the theory that listening to Mozart could have temporarily positive effects on the brain’s ability to reason and process information. This idea is not specific to Mozart. The link between body and mind that music provides can influence a variety of reactions. ‘Whether we like it or not, our bodies respond to music, slower music decreases the heart rate, whereas faster music increases our heart rate’ (http://www.ufa.org.uk/music.html, University of the First Age – Music and Learning, 24/10/02). A slower heart rate automatically promotes a more relaxed state. Specifically making the decision to listen to music may also help the brain to focus and concentrate. Mozart’s music will encourage this further, as the lack of drum beat (the music used was the Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major) and the gentle rise and fall of melody promotes a serene atmosphere.
The problem with these theories is that scientifically, it is impossible to produce consistent results. Culture, mood and situation provoke different emotional responses. The changing nature of human existence means that no emotion is fixable and able to be exactly reproduced, even in the same person. Because music is the result of a single person’s reaction to an experience or feeling, the variety of responses can be as many as the number of people that hear it. The nature of music is that it expresses emotions and responses that cannot be fully captured in words. For this reason, it can be ultimately highly useful in child development. Before we have the vocabulary or the maturity to express ourselves verbally, we still have a full range of senses that crave stimulation. It is the tone of voice/sound/music that conveys a huge part of the message.
Music & messages: Case Study – Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
Much in the same genre as Orwell’s 1984, Brave New World was scathing dystopian science fiction. It provided a glimpse at a future society, evolved from our own, where people’s thoughts, feelings and social place were pre-defined. Free speech could not really exist because there was so little opportunity for free thought. Whereas 1984 looked at a society controlled by fear, Huxley’s creation controlled through reward. The use of sound and aural stimulation is highly important theme throughout. In his later commentary on the book, ‘Brave New World Revisited’, Huxley is very much preoccupied by the incredibly influential powers that aurally delivered messages can have on the psyche.
‘Music as propaganda’ is a theme used throughout the novel. One of the most sinister of Huxley’s interpretation on the power of voice and sound over human consciousness is that of ‘Hypnopaedia’. It worked on the principals that the sleeping mind, like the hypnotic state leaves the brain more susceptible to suggestion. Huxley’s Hypnopaedia preached moral, not intellectual teachings, on the grounds that the mind was only successfully susceptible to ‘the kind of words that require no analysis for their comprehension, but can be swallowed whole by the sleeping brain’ (Huxley, 1959, p132). The method of delivery was also significant, in the form of an under-pillow speaker in a ‘soft but very distinct voice’ (Huxley, 1932, p23). The softness appeals because it is gentle and non-invasive to the brain. In this dystopian world, there is no existence or sense of family, so the significance of a ‘distinct’ voice is that it provides familiarity, and therefore comfort and reassurance.
Another aspect of the effectiveness of Hypnopaedia and its success at social conditioning was the use of repetition, and the intensity at which it was done; ‘“They’ll have that (a simple morally conditioning message) repeated forty or fifty times before they wake; and then again on Thursday, and again on Saturday. A hundred and twenty times three times a week for thirty months”’ (Huxley, 1932, p24). This was perhaps Huxley’s extreme prediction of how higher society can pressure the masses into believing whatever is force-fed to them. It also signifies how repetition and a sense of familiarity warms people to a certain system of thought. In our present society, these are techniques employed to a lesser level by our advertising media. Many television adverts use popular music and are shown throughout the day for a number of weeks. Research shows that if a person feels a familiarity with a product, they are more likely to be drawn into choosing it over an unknown product.
From a different perspective, Brave New World’s Hypnopaedia appeals to the brain in a similar way to our commercial Pop music - Unchallenging, repetitive and appealing to our emotions rather than our intelligence. Topics used in Pop songs generally do not require analysis or intellectual understanding to be enjoyed, in short – ‘can be swallowed whole by the sleeping (or in this case subconscious) brain’ (Huxley, 1959, p132).
One of Huxley’s highly effective tools to help create a sense of reality and believability is his use of childhood rhymes. Throughout our childhood, nursery rhymes and playground chants are passed on by word of mouth, as a rite of passage. Their ‘sing-along’ quality, teamed with the repetitiveness of the chant makes them easy to remember and entertaining to do. Huxley uses this to challenge the reader into reconsidering the social norm. The traditional rhyme of
is ‘updated’ and translated to
In the novel, the idea of the parent is obsolete, and has been replaced with what has become their ‘normal’ form of reproduction. ‘Decanting’ is Brave New World’s term for their system of growing all babies in bottles, so that their genetic future can be decided by society. The importance of song as ritual and almost unconscious in the understanding of the words is an important part of all childhood development, from nursery rhymes, to Christmas and birthday songs.
There are many more uses of music, sound and song in the creation of Huxley’s tale – music to persuade, to control and to manipulate. But despite this abundance of noise designed to pacify and restore social order, it is an emotionally unchallenged society. The rhymes are simple, delivered by machines and designed to create particular impulses. It is not to enhance creativity but to stifle it. These people do not feel the need to create as they are conditioned to appreciate all they receive and nothing more. The epitome of this is summarised by ‘The Controller’, the only person with full knowledge of the world before – what we would understand as ‘our world’;
‘But they (the songs) don’t mean anything.’...‘They mean themselves; they mean a lot of agreeable sensations to the audience.’ (Huxley, 1932, p201)
Huxley & propaganda
Just seven years after Brave New World was published, the Second World War broke out, and Huxley began to realise the accuracy of his predictions of the effects of aural propaganda. One of the policies of his ‘fictitious’ society was to provide as much group-based interaction as possible and to discourage solidarity. The theory behind this was that an individual has a greater ability to reason and philosophise then when part of a group. Reading and rational debate cannot be done in huge groups, and also inhibit the likelihood of blind trust in a higher power, be it religious or political. Crowd mentality can be irrational, impulsive and easily influenced. In the same strain of thought, this was why Huxley (and notably, Hitler) saw advantages in using music and sound to persuade and control, in preference to the written word. Music and the delivery of speech (sound) have the most dramatic effect in a crowd situation. The instinct of the masses to ‘belong’ can be greatly enhanced by a feeling of interaction and clear communication between speaker and recipients.
Hitler had a great understanding of how mass-media communication and crowd speaking could sway and define opinion. He treated the masses with utter contempt, seeing them as a single entity, and therefore ‘herd-like’. In what Huxley coined as ‘herd-poisoning’ (Huxley, 1959, p61), Hitler composed his own system of propaganda delivery – ‘Only constant repetition will finally succeed in imprinting an idea upon the memory of a crowd’ (Hitler, quoted in Huxley, 1959, p63). Once assembled in a crowd, the individual is immediately subdued; he can become disorientated and loses the power to be heard as an individual. Therefore, it is in the speaker’s best interests to be loud and charismatic. The frustration created from the inability for a person within the crowd to express their own voice can be pacified by the provision of an overpowering and unifying sound – the main speaker.
Part of Hitler’s success as a propagandist was his realisation of the effects of en-mass delivery of sound to unify groups of people. Sound is far more effective than writing because it can encourage a more emotional response. It is an idea employed by institutions that cannot always rely on ‘the truth’ and logical reasoning to state their case. A prime example of this is in religion; an institution built on music, hymns and ceremonial chanting. ‘Amongst the masses instinct is supreme, and from instinct comes faith…’ (Hitler, quoted in Huxley, 1959, p63). Much like religion, politics also benefits from appealing to emotion and morals because it is arguments based on opinion of facts rather than actual indisputable facts.
The corruption of mass media can lead to music and sound being used to persuade on these emotional grounds in many aspects of our lives today. From hymns, war and marching chants, to seemingly less sinister advertising jingles and background ‘muzak’, the effects of sound on human consciousness is far reaching, with serious consequences.
Music & Advertising
With the growth of technology and mass media, we now live in a sound and music filled environment. It is added as background music, in television & radio advertising and film (with the aim of subconscious influence), or foreground music, in dance & theatre performance (to consciously influence the listener and listener’s reactions).
Music in advertising is used in preference to silence or mere speech because it distracts from a potentially more mundane reality. It engages a new interest and psychological connection by turning the presentation into a form of entertainment. As David Huron points out in his essay Music in Advertising: An Analytic Paradigm
The origins of music in advertising lie in vaudeville, where ‘music served to candy coat a narrative sales pitch…and render the music less of an unwanted intrusion’ (David Huron, http://www.music-cog.ohio-state.edu/Huron/ Publications/huron.advertising.text.html, Music in Advertising: An Analytic Paradigm, 17/12/02). This technique has been expanded and developed into the present day through media advertising. Here it has many roles – it provides a smooth linking of images, can provide meaning to these images, and can make the product easier to remember.
Although advertising music is often chosen to appeal to a certain group, due to the centralising and globalising of advertising agencies, marketing departments have to appeal to an increasingly impossibly large group of very different individuals. Music is helpful in drawing attention, but advertisers want to attract the correct market with this technique. Often, instead of playing music that the whole group would actually listen to, because this is impossible, it is much more universally effective to find music that conveys a ‘feeling’, by playing on our preconceptions that certain types of music have already established. It is generally assumed, for example, that gentle, classical music will appeal to an older generation, and that rock music will convey a feeling of youth and aggression.
As Helmholtz observed, ‘the eye has a great advantage over the ear in being able to survey a large extent of surface at the same moment’ (Helmholtz, 1954, p28). The advantage in the use of music for advertisers is that while the eye can take in a variety of information simultaneously, the ear cannot perform this function with the same success. Therefore, a ‘catchy’ tune will be retained in the forefront of the brain much more than yet another mass of colours and pictures in our already visually animated society.
The use of song can help to enforce the musical effect. If a product is being sung about, it can immediately appeal to the viewer because it can be recreated not only in their memory but through speech as well. The use of song helps to spread the words of the product even further and can reassure a positive affirmation as ‘real’ people and not just faceless advertising companies are recommending it. A good example of this technique is the Christmas Coca-Cola advert. Aurally, the advert begins with a chorus of singers repeating the line “Holidays are coming, holidays are coming…” on a single note. The repetition evokes feeling of anticipation in both delivery and wording. The word ‘holiday’ is one with very positive connotations to the public: those of freedom and relaxation. As the use of the single note changes into a more complex melody, only now do the singers begin to mention the product. The music reaches its climax and ending with the words “…Always Coca-Cola”, using a series of notes and melody used on other Coca-Cola commercials, providing a sense of familiarity along with completion. The final note of this line (and of the advert) is lower than the rest of the notes in this melody, giving a feeling of resolution and satisfaction – we have received what we were promised through the earlier anticipation. By promising something through the build-up of expectation and bringing in the product only at the moment of climax, the product has become the answer and solution to the expectancy.
Visually, the product itself is not given so much attention, however. The name appears on lorries carrying the Coca-Cola, but the emphasis is on an idyllic Christmas scene, with snowy hills, Christmas trees and families sitting warm and comfy in their homes. The musical advertising techniques employed create the association with the images by entering the viewers’ consciousness’ at the same moment, forging links between these previously unrelated objects.
This advert has been repeated in an unchanged form in the build-up to Christmas over several years, so the music is supplemented by the association of a happy time of year. Significantly, it is also being related to a time of year when the public increases it’s spending, especially on food and drink products.
Music & Shopping
In Western society it is arguable that almost all music we listen to (outside of our own music collections) in everyday life is for advertising means. Television and commercial radio are our two main forms of mass communication, and even if the music played is not advertising another product, it remains as an advertisement for itself. In youth culture especially, the vast majority of radio stations focused on this group play exclusively commercially successful tunes, and much of the focus is on ‘Top 40’ songs – songs decided by sales figures. In reality, the music is advertising the radio station itself, increasing the ratings by attempting to appeal to the largest number of people possible. Unfortunately, it is impossible for the radio station to have a play list that all the listeners will like all of the time, so their best option is to have a varied enough play list that all of the listeners will like some of the time.
Maybe it is due to this sacrificing of specific tastes and opting towards a more general ‘spreading’ of taste that has led to music becoming commonplace in retail shops. Here, music is not to be listened to, for listenings sake. Instead, marketing departs have realised that music can help the consumer to ‘energise and relax’ (http://www.ufa.org.uk/music.html, University of the First Age – Music and Learning, 24/10/02). In a more energised and relaxed state, and therefore a happier state, people are
• Likely to spend more
• Begin to create a mental connection between shopping and good moods, encouraging future visits.
Our current ‘happiness through shopping’ is clearly demonstrated through what has been dubbed by the modern media as ‘retail therapy’. And whilst music is not the main reason for a shopper to visit a particular store, the use of music to create an optimum buying environment where the consumer feels comfortable and accepted is all part of the experience.
Playing commercial music in young ‘trendy’ clothing shops is an example of a technique used widely in television advertising; defining the target audience. Young, fashionable music is most likely to be the choice of people that want to appear young and fashionable themselves. Linking a clothing style with a type of music helps people to decide what style and subculture they belong to, or would like to belong to. As Frith points out, ‘Pop music is created…for a large audience and is marketed accordingly by the record industry’ (Frith, 1981, p6).
Unlike other forms of music, Pop is not created to cater to the tastes of a more culturally defined listener. It is specifically designed to appeal to the largest number of people by embracing a style of composition & performance that is inoffensive by nature, usually in the form of a simple and repetitive tune. Because musical barriers and perceptions are not challenged or confronted, it is rarely taken seriously as an art form. This in itself can prove to be advantageous (to retailers and advertisers especially) because it much easier to mentally ‘switch off’ from. Shoppers with more refined and sophisticated musical tastes can put the musical intrusion to the back of their consciousness, while the fans of Pop can listen to it without it interrupting their shopping routine.
Personal research demonstrated that the majority of stores that used Pop as a dominant musical backdrop were clothing shops, ranging from teen-wear, ladies and men’s clothing shops to sportswear shops. Bookshops and newsagents, for examples, rarely used music at all, or played it at a considerably lower level. The conclusions drawn from this were that, on a regular basis, clothes are amongst the most frequently bought non-essential items. Pop music is likely to appeal to fashion-conscious people because both products are aimed at a consumer-driver market. Newsagents do not need a soundtrack for their customers because newspapers, bread and milk do not need to be advertised to the same extent, or turned into objects of desire, they are daily necessities.
Clothes, very much like music, define part of our public identities. The type of clothing sold in the shops that played current chart music was affordable, fashionable and likely to quickly go in and out of style. This purposefully short shelf life is because ‘the record industry depends on constant consumer turnover and therefore exploits the notions of fashion and obsolescence to keep people buying’ (Frith, 1981, p8). Here, the clothes, like the music are appealing to a trend and the subculture they define is one of constantly shifting and changing ideas. It is the lack of definition and the seizing and discarding of a continuous stream of styles that defines the nature of pop subculture itself.
Music & the definition of subcultures
Belonging to a subculture, especially for teenagers and young adults can be a pathway to finding a form of personal expression within the safety of a larger group with pre-set outlines of ideas and style. Specific ways of dressing and music tastes are ways that younger people demonstrate developing personal tastes, ideas and ways of behaving.
Defining groups of people by music taste is a frequently demonstrated practice in our society; specialist music shops, the links between clothes shops and music styles, and very importantly, night clubs and bars. Here, there is a unity created between people with similar tastes coming together to drink, socialise and dance. The use of alcohol and dim lighting can act as a relaxant to inhibitions, providing the ideal environment for people to feel free to express themselves. As Frith remarks,
Early adulthood is a significant time for realising and exploring sexuality, which can often be one of the most confusing developments for people of this age. That night clubs are usually filled with younger people follows hand-in-hand with a tendency of uncertainty and inhibition in the discovery of sexuality. It is a natural human trait to look for a mate who has shared interests and ideologies. The night club atmosphere can become a parade of sexuality; music and style tastes (indicators of interests) become linked with the perception of the body in a potentially sexual form. There are few other places in western society where such a blatant view of sexuality can be performed within a relatively safe and non-judgemental environment.
However, not all teen and youth-based subcultures are defined by the nature of how they broadcast their sexuality. Subcultures are more than just a means to finding a mate. They can also form from political and social beliefs and mutual feelings of separation from mainstream culture. One such example is that of the Punk rebellion of the 70s, up to the growth of Punk Rock in the 90s and today.
Despite its various influences, some hailed Punk as a reaction to what people saw as the superficiality and commercialism of Pop and even Rock music. Whilst the artificiality of Pop was blatant (a simple backing track accompanied by a singer repeating clichéd phrases written by an unseen individual), the rebellion against Rock was a less obvious choice. The music was noisier (excess noise being a sign of musical rebellion), the topics were more risqué and the musicians often wrote and performed the tracks themselves. However, the performers and especially the lead singers became famous for their looks and charisma, and the lifestyle was as notorious as the music.
The ‘shock factor’ was a large part of what was seen as ‘Rock’s rebellion’. But it is questionable if it really was a rebellion at all. The ‘Rock stars’ still became sex symbols, made mass-produced music and the shock factor was a marketing tool in itself: listeners of Rock were able to live the lifestyle through the music, without ever having the rebel or shock themselves. The Rock phenomenon is a contradiction in terms, as Frith remarks;
Punk was a very different type of opposing stance to either of these subcultures. There was no hint of sexuality or good looks to entice people to the music. It stood for a very different set of values – those of politics and real social issues. Also, from a financial perspective, Rock and Punk were very different. Rock stars were depicted living a life of excess, and alcohol, drugs and women were all part of an expensive lifestyle to uphold the rebellious image of Rock. To this day, ‘Punk Star’ is not a phrase in itself. This is probably because Punk was a music by the people, for the people. The bands were rarely conventionally attractive, well-presented or technically talented musicians. In fact, it was usually the reverse. Punk’s ‘anti-image’ scruffiness, in both clothes and music was its appeal. The idea that anyone could find a voice and use it stood apart from the untouchable glamour and refined production methods of other youth-marketed music genres.
Punk appealed to an area of society that other types had music had not. The young working class were not usually a target audience. They had little exposure to culture and were supposed to have little understanding of it. Whilst becoming a Rock star was a pipe dream to most, ‘punk music was authentically the product of small-scale, independent record and distribution companies…its message was that anyone could do it.’ (Frith, 1981, p159).
Musically, Punk was very simple in creation. It was identifiable by the use of few chords, harsh guitars and fast but simple & repetitive drumming. The overall effect was immediate, raw and angry. Lyrically also, the understanding was immediate; the ‘art’ of Punk was the lack of art used in its composition. The lyrics did not contain subtle messages or metaphors. Rock music, whilst controversial, was perhaps not so ‘honest’ in delivery. A prime example of this was The Rolling Stones track Mother’s Little Helper (The Rolling Stones, 1966, Aftermath). This track dealt with drug use in quite a biting, sarcastic tone, but without ever mentioning the actual subject. This is a technique used by rock musicians to this day, disguising serious, disturbing issues in concealed lyrics and pretty melodies. In The Las There She Goes, (The Las, Self-Titled, 1990) the chorus lines are
The use of rhyme and personification covers up a song that is actually about heroin abuse. Once this is known, the song takes on a much darker tone, but it is written so that without prior knowledge, the song is ineffectual and inoffensive. The easily shocked, such as children, could listen to this song and not question it. In comparison, a song such as Anarchy in the U.K. (Sex Pistols, Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols, 1977) by the Sex Pistols with ‘God save the Queen, the fascist regime’ as its opening line is much more blatant and confrontational in its message.
The Obtaining of Music
Music, especially popular music, like so much of westernised society, has become a commodity as well as an artistic creation. Artists are sometimes prepared to compromise their integrity for profit, because ‘art is something that has to be sold’ (Marilyn Manson, on MTV News, 21/4/03). This statement was made in lieu of Manson withdrawing and replacing the cover of his new album, on the grounds that it was too shocking for public release. Even music designed to be shocking has to conform if it is to enter the realms of popular culture. And once a product has entered the public domain, like most mass-appeal products, people want it for the lowest price possible.
Popular music is mostly bought in the form of CD singles and albums. (It is also available on cassette and vinyl but these tend to appeal to the avid music collector, rather than the everyday buyer.) CD singles are an important tool for popular, youth-appealing artists. They enable the public to ‘preview’ the subsequent albums, without the extra cost. For the record companies, exposure in the national Singles Chart, a weekly list of the top selling singles, can increase the price of the record and guarantees increased air play.
It is usually music designed to appeal to teenagers that is available in Single format. Record industry executives understand that young people can be an easily persuaded and not very discerning audience. They are also the group with a tendency towards cheap impulse purchases. Due to financial restrictions they cannot always be relied on to buy an entire album, especially if they don’t know what they are receiving for their money. There are legal ways to listen to popular music without paying for it, such as listening to the radio, or music channels available on satellite and cable television. However, the listener has no say over what is played when, and they are subjected to a bombardment of advertising and other various distractions.
The first way that people found a way of owning a piece of music without paying for it was with the home-recordable cassette tape. Individual songs, entire albums or self-done compilations could be recorded from a pre-recorded cassette (or later, a CD). Copying became an important tool for more than just chart music – it was a way for people to spread the word about underground bands and increase fan bases. The major problem with this ‘revolution’ was that it was illegal. The taping of music, without the artists’ permission is an infringement of copyright laws, and the artists and executives behind them did not directly gain any financial benefits. Unfortunately for them, it was impossible to make or keep any sort of a record about who bought and taped what.
With the growth of technology, cassette tapes are slowly on their way to becoming obsolete. People have found new ways to evade paying for music.
Currently, the two main ways to purchase a CD are the traditional way, from a high-street store, or more recently, from internet-based shopping. Internet stores, such as www.amazon.com have the advantage of being able to provide lower prices, as they are delivered straight from the warehouse. In addition to this, it is a forum that can benefit both buyer and seller, by providing recommendations for similar CDs and adverts for other products. The internet has also been able to overcome the problem of not being able to hear the album before purchase. Many websites provide sound clips, and official artists sites can play the entire album in the background, if they so wish. Nevertheless, the increasing availability of ‘CD burning’ technology (copying music to and from CD) has found a new way to exchange free music. This time, it came in the guise of ‘Napster’.
Case Study: Napster
Napster was invented in 1999, by 19 year old Shawn Fenning. It was a program that could be downloaded without charge from www.napster.com and users entered into a free MP3 exchange. MP3s are compressed music files and only take up an average of 6MB. This makes them easy to store in computer memory and also relatively quick to download, depending on connection speed. Another advantage for MP3 traders was that they could be obtained and copied, or ‘ripped’ from copyrighted CDs.
Napster traded free music for almost a year before the huge backlash came to the attention of the media. The existence and continued use of Napster brought moral considerations into question. The ethics of owning entire albums for free were highly questionable and record companies and musicians picked up on this. The first band to launch a lawsuit against Napster was Metallica, an American heavy metal band, and their business associates, Creeping Death Music. It ended with Napster paying them a cash settlement (http://www.mtv.com/news/, MTV.com – News – Metallica, Dre Settle With A Wounded Napster, 13/4/03), but as a result, Metallica came under heavy criticism.
The two sides of the argument produced fierce debate in the music world. It also highlighted the differing ways that musicians viewed their fan bases and musical input. Metallica had taken it from a business-like point of view, going as far as to deliver ‘a list of more than 300,000 user names to Napster…and asked the company to terminate the accounts of users who were trading copyrighted Metallica material’ (http://www.mtv.com/news/, MTV.com – News – Metallica’s Anti-Napster Crusade Inspires Backlash, accessed 13/4/03). Other bands viewed the issue from an alternative perspective, with artists and groups coming out in favour of fans listening to their music any way possible. Limp Bizkit, another America metal group went to the other extreme of ‘coming up with a Napster-promoted tour, that let fans into shows free of admission charges’ (David Carter, http://nova.bsuvc.bsu.edu/~dmcarter /techno.html#biblo, Napster, accessed 13/4/03).Despite support from some artists, the music industry, notably the Record Industry Association of America became convinced that Napster was the reason ‘that shipments of CD singles fell by 39% [in 2000]’ (http://www.theneworleanschannel.com/technology/502947/detail.html, The NewOrleansChannel.com – Technology – Data: Napster Hurts Record Sales, accessed 13/4/03). Napster was finally shut down by a bankruptcy court on 9th April, 2002.
Each side of the debate, the one that opened it, and the one that shut it down had a valid argument. It had the effect of helping musicians to consider their impetus for making music – money or artistic drive. Metallica were fiercely criticised by fans and press alike for almost single-handedly brining Napster down. They emerged looking as if they were out for maximum profit, when they released a statement during the trial declaring;
This statement was released to ‘prove’ that fans were not turning against the band, however many people took it from another angle. As the statement was released as they were suing Napster and legally banning 300,000 of their fans from using it, their motives were called into question and many dismissed them as greedy.
Reasons For Creating Music?
It is not hard to understand why people enjoy making their love of music into a full time job, but turning music into a marketable product in a consumerist system means that profit can become a more important factor than the artistic output. Pop music was designed for this – music made to be popular, with fast turnover and a wide range of merchandise available. The outcry against Metallica had been so strong possibly because the group that had started out as a serious, underground local band were now treating the delivery of their music like a corporate business & like a carefully designed Pop group.
However, the defence of Metallica had strong moral ground. The band had worked hard for years to establish a reputation and a wide fan base and deserved their dues. Napster had not asked permission to ‘give’ out any of the music, from any of the artists on the sharing program. If a band/artist works hard and creates their own music, they should be entitled to the means in which it is released. In the case of Napster, if a fan obtained an as yet unreleased track, it could be downloaded by thousands, before the artist was ready for it to be heard.
Napster highlighted the difference between the music fan and the musician. The fan wants the music any way possible and in a variety of versions (first recordings, remixes, live performances etc.), and the musician wants their creation to be heard once it has been mastered and mixed and on their own terms. The effect of music on human expression in this case had negative consequences. It emphasised how music in the commercial sector can cause greed on both the sides of the fan and the artist. The advertising campaigns have worked – people want the music, and will go to technically illegal lengths to obtain it at the expense of the creators. Maybe the blame here is not for the artists themselves, but rather for the record companies, and marketing & advertising executives.
The extensive use of music in our society had made different genres synonymous with particular systems of thought. The revolutionary powers of music are soon overtaken and exploited by the music ‘machine. For every small producer and record company, there is a much larger corporation willing to take over it and shape the musicians into conforming to the changing musical fashion and fad of the moment.
The majority of music that people come into contact with on a regular basis is on T.V. or the radio, which can shape people’s ideas through associating the music with a particular target audience and often a particular product. It is not unusual for specific bands/artists to sponsor and promote a product in return for a large sum of money, such as Britney Speares and Pepsi. This is a clear example of using a role model of a target group to make the product appear fashionable and desirable.
Music can work by itself, directly stimulating just the aural sense, such as in radio, but, as an advertising tool, it works most effectively when combined with other sense stimulants. The obvious example of this is television, where advertisers have the advantages of being able to add light & colour and moving images. Products can be placed in completely irrelevant locations, surrounded by unnatural but enticing backgrounds. The use of speech can inform viewers of the facts, but music and song can be used effectively to place phrases and ideas about the product that are designed to linger in the viewers’ consciousness. It is not coincidental that song lyrics are often more like poetry than regular speech. The distractions of rhythm and melody allow expression that would sound insincere in mere words, but become believable when teamed with a corresponding art form.
Music and sound have infiltrated society on many levels, from sinister use in propaganda to simple listening pleasure. As an essential mechanism to active participation on a completely functional level, our actions and emotional responses are greatly influenced by what we hear.
The experience of listening comes from such an early age that even before we are born, the connections we make with sound can affect our feelings towards them before we can even begin to understand them. What began as an investigation into individual reactions to music and sound, resulted in placing our responses in a sociological context. This was because sound, in itself, penetrates all hearing consciousness, forming groups of opinion and ways of coming together in similar thought. Unlike the written word, which is a generally individual experience sound can’t help but involve itself in all that surrounds it. Group rituals almost always employ sound as a unifying force between those it involves. Examples of this can be seen in churches, the singing of National Anthems at many public events, and birthday and Christmas celebrations. Music does not even need specific meanings to be enjoyed as such. In western society, from dance halls to our modern day nightclubs, we can see people gravitate towards each other, based on musical tastes. In these situations, it is usually the emotions and brain’s chemical responses from how people relate to the sound that lead them to move and interact in specific ways.
In the same chain of thought, the images and ideas that society encourages us with specific music styles are used to exploit our feelings towards products and people. Capitalist society is dependent on consumption, and it is in rival companies’ best interests to make their own products more appeal than almost identical alternatives. In doing this, advertisers have learned that they can either use established music, promoting both artist and product, or music that is created for this specific cause. Creating music specifically for an advert can almost be considered an art form in itself. Incorporating a simple yet enjoyable and memorable tune that plays on public perception with appropriate musical structure (crescendos, diminuendos etc.) can increase the desirability of merchandise. It is notable that it is in the seller’s interest to place the tune in an octave that mimics that of human speech. They have identified the human love of song and the enjoyment of singing with others, and so provide entertainment as well as information. Entertainment with the provision of information is not exclusive to advertising, however. In educational situations, such as in chanting times tables, are all part of a musical learning experience.
The scientific discovery that the mind and body can connect with sound to such an extent that it can actually affect the pulse has been an important and useful one. Music has been created to induce almost any mood, either a fast beat to speed up the heart and stimulate adrenaline, or with a slow or non-existent beat to calm and relax. As Brave New World demonstrated, the tone and quality of sound, including voice, can leave a lifelong mental imprint. The other factor in this lasting impression is that of repetition, until the ‘outside’ sound becomes synonymous with the unconscious, and forms an intrinsic new part of the mind. It is this that is probably why music has its worldwide appeal. It can be internal and personal, or uniting and widespread. Everyone can and does participate in music, whether it is creating, listening, or simply singing or humming a tune. From an entire orchestra to a single whisper, memories, new ideas and a whole spectrum of feelings can be roused. We can close our eyes to escape from the visual world, but even in silence we can hear breathing and the heartbeat, keeping the sense of rhythm that marks the progression of time.
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