Music still a vehicle for social change

Published on July 31, 2011 by

So let’s be honest here: Music has a large impact on social change and vice versa. It’s interesting to look at music from a sociological aspect. Is music a reflection of a social shift or does music push social shifts onto people?

For many people, music is an essential part of life that often provides the backdrop — or soundtrack — to important changes or stages within their life. Think back to the social movement of the 1960s, in which several poets formed a community, later known as the Beat Generation.

Folk and protest music carried the movement forward, and as the music changed, the hippie generation blossomed. Music played such a large part in the message, changing people’s lives; people will tell you it was because of different artists who were involved in different issues. In fact, it has been said one great rock show can change the world!

Timothy Leary became famous — or infamous, depending on one’s point of view — for the saying, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” The slogan was meant to encourage people to take drugs, focus on spiritual growth and escape from standard ways of thinking. When some kids got fed up with the hippie movement in San Francisco and the political system in London, punk rock emerged, thanks to inspirational bands such as Black Flag, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, The Clash and The Ramones. That cleared the path for the emergence of modern rock.

We can’t forget about 1980s metal bands and disco music. In the ’90s, Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam led a nice grunge era followed by some very angst-filled emo music. Now thanks to the digital age we have what we call independent music.

Like other music movements in the past, the independent music movement is interesting because of the impact musicians have on social activism. In general, people find a way of connecting to music and then connecting to a community that shares similar values. Most music fans are extremely loyal and influenced by their favorite artists. There is an opportunity to say a lot when a lot of people will listen.

Musicians take inspirations from literature, history, political issues, education, social activism, the community and real world issues and incorporate messages into their art. Artists are then able to convey ideas and emotions through live performances. Ideas can be transformed into short influential speeches, lyrics, song sounds, video clips and images and various alternatives that inspire at every level of culture.

Artists gather attention from fans and deliver an energy that can influence personal values and relays a message that individuals really can make a difference, one step at a time. And, now more than ever before, people are really responding to the music’s message rather than to its entertainment value.

This concept in itself is the music movement of our generation. And where does that take us, folks? Back to the hippie movement, when individuals focused on an honest expression of the spiritual self.

Here is where the social movement of our generation gets sticky. Music is being appreciated more for raw talent and less for popularity. But is music really being appreciated for its value or have the tables turned to a point where fans appreciate bands that no one has ever heard of because … no one has ever heard of the band. Does that appreciation give the fan an edge in the “hipper-than-thou” category for being the first to discover a new sound? What becomes more important: the music or being able to claim the title of hipster?

To some extent, the ability to find music online has made bands more autonomous and independent. There is a large underground movement of musicians who can get their names out there without the big-label contract by creating a presence on social networking sites such as Facebook and My Space.

Fans can share music with their friends on the computer, which creates a large fan base all over the world. This can be a great way to share music for both artists and fans.

Another advantage of the digital era is that the Internet gives major record labels the ability to look at smaller bands. Bands just have to promote their own demos. Groups can put their music up on the Internet for free and hope people pay attention.
There is a huge indie following right now.

In general, technology allows for both advantages and disadvantages in the music industry. Downloading music attracts the majority of people because it is so convenient. Only a small percentage of people still buy CDs.

In the past, music was more about being in the right place at the right time. Now it can be consumed at any time because it’s free. However, within this system, how can an artist make a living?

It’s hard to tell where the music industry is going because people are downloading music so much now that a hard copy no longer seems necessary and is harder to find.

As CDs disappear from shops and the reason for music stores disintegrates, it’s likely that it will become difficult even to find brick and mortar music stores in the near future. Is this digital phenomenon good for our community?

If some songs are being downloaded at around 99 cents per song, where is the money actually going? How do changes in the music industry effect social activism? What role does music have on social change both in regard to the music industry and in general? And lastly, are concept albums still appreciated?

The evolution of the technology has been revolutionary in all different industries, not just the music industry, and it’s an important to think about how it’s going to change our society.

Well, as Bob Dylan would say, “The times they are a changing!”