music is life, music is breath, music is us

The Importance of Musical Life in the Study of Music in Society

The study of the sociology of music is complex, as it must consider numerous areas of society to complete its research. Through this post I will attempt to show, through in-depth examples and analysis, how the subject of musical life is an integral component to the study of the sociology of music. My hope is to shed more light on the idea that studying music as it functions in society is a multifaceted concept that requires many angles of analysis.

Musical life, in its core essence, is the various existing entities that lead to music’s creation in a society, as well as the circulation of said music to the public. This is a broad reaching category that has many examples. One such example could be record labels like Atlantic Records or Nonesuch Records. In both of the instances of these record companies, they are responsible for signing artists that they feel will reach the most people (i.e. make the most profit). They then attempt to mold the artist (or artists) in their raw form to become as successful as possible when presented to the general public. They will give a list of goals to the producer of the artist(s) in an attempt to produce a record that they feel will be most financially advantageous to the company (especially important for both parties as the record company will spend a great deal of money producing the record, and the artist(s) must also make music that sells if they do not wish to be dropped by the label). Eventually the music is made and committed to CD form as well as mp3 format to be sold on entities such as ITunes, and also marketed on free services (with advertisements) such as Spotify and Pandora. It is then up to the record label to market the finished product through radio, television, billboards, bus stops, internet banners on websites such as Youtube, and any other viable method of advertisement in today’s modern society. If the advertisements are effective, the general public will generate revenue for the record company through album sales (or at the very least individual purchasing of the songs in mp3 format). The public will continue to consume the music through concerts of the particular artist in question, and pending if they like that artist, will share the musical experience with others. This, in turn, will bring the musical life full circle as the general public is now the one responsible for circulating the music.

The question remains, however, why this is important to the study of music in society. The answer is quite complex, but ultimately it boils down to the fact that the study of musical life gives the most layered answers as to the manner with which music functions in society. The study of musical life assumes that music and society interact in a multifaceted manner, making sociology of music a multidimensional field of study. It requires the researcher to look at both the macro and micro level of musical interaction and production in society. Every group of people must be considered, whether it is age group, gender, ethnic background, or even political affiliation as numerous artists (such as Green Day or U2) hold to a specific set of ideals that are likely to be expressed by the listener.  It must consider the state of the music industry which is constantly shifting due to both advances in technology as well as the various trends among the public. What is meant by this is that both musical styles favored by the public must be considered (such as the popularity of disco in 1970’s America and new wave in 1980’s America), as well as technological trends (such as the gradual decline of CD sales in favor of mp3 format via the Apple Corporation’s ITunes).

The final result of the inclusion of musical life in the sociological study of music is a more well-rounded body of research. It allows to the sociologist to see music as it functions in society on numerous levels, as well as present work that allows music researchers of all disciplines to see various trends and draw their own conclusions based on the research. For music historians, it will allow them to compare current trends in a respective society to those in the past, and present their own conjecture to the academic community as to the specific correlation between the findings. In the case of ethnomusicologists, the findings of the musical life integrated research will allow them to see how various cultures throughout the world are reacting to various trends, and perhaps present findings on how they feel such cultures will progress. No matter what the discipline, every type of academic studying music’s function in their respective fields will benefit from the sociological study of musical life.

The sociology of music is a complex field of study that requires the researcher to consider multiple factors to create cogent findings. Without the inclusion of musical life in the aforementioned research, it would be impossible to produce such thorough findings. Each component of musical life, from the factors that create the music to the factors that allow for the consumption of said music, is essential to sociological research for music. As the field of the sociology of music progresses, it is essential to continue to include musical life in the research of the future. Only if this occurs will the academic world of music see a deeper understanding of how music functions in a respective society.

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2 responses

  1. While in graduate school, I did a research paper on people who make music mixed tapes (CDs or mp3 mixes), and it was fascinating to see what lengths folks would go through to pick just the right songs to capture a particular theme or mood. Some of my interviewees also made these elaborate CD covers for their mixes. It was quite interesting. I agree that the study of music and music culture is quite important to understanding ourselves.

    October 17, 2012 at 11:46 pm

  2. Sounds like awesome work, what did you study in grad school?

    October 18, 2012 at 3:57 am

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