If marketing music is about creating an image with which individuals can identify — and that seems to be the case — then are emotions something that can be bought, sold and consumed, thrown out, commercialized and conveyed through marketing industries?
Is that really what human emotions come down to? A simple trend? Perhaps it’s broader than that.
There are different kinds of music. Some types, such as Brittany Spears and other pop artists, are manipulated by marketing machines. Other types of music are more grassroots, mellow and untouched by commercialism, such as the Grateful Dead or music generated at festivals such as the Gathering of the Vibes, held annually in Bridgeport’s Seaside Park. Some music comes from various cultures, traditional dances or monumental life stages.
All music evolves and paves the road for inspiring a new generation. For example, the punk movement grew out of the hippie generation. Musical artists then initiate future merchandise, which spawns the Next Best Thing to Have.
The film, “The Merchants of Cool,” documents how music is marketed toward people, specifically adolescents. Teenagers — who want to be cool, want to be heard, are impressionable and have the cash — are Corporate America’s dream. MTV, Madison Avenue and Hollywood all market images with which youth can identify, perpetuating a culture filled with consumerism. “The Merchants of Cool” takes a hard look at the world of buying, selling and hunting for “cool.”
For this movie, researchers conducted several surveys and focus groups looking for the “next big thing” that will grab the attention of their prey. “But are they simply reflecting teen desires or have they begun to manufacture those desires in a bid to secure this lucrative market? And have they gone too far in their attempts to reach the hearts — and wallets — of America’s youth?” ask the documentary’s makers.
An interesting book, “Growth Fetish,” demonstrates how emotions do play a role in influencing economic decision-making. It’s mainly about economics, politics and discussing the high that people receive from spending money.
To sum it up, people have become so materialistic that they buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, just to impress other people and to fortify their fetish. Why do we do this to ourselves? Does it have to do with hunting for “cool” (cool being self-esteem comprising material worth)? Ha! Put a price tag on self-esteem! What does music have to do with the hunt for “cool” and how does it affect self-esteem?
Maybe it’s bigger than the marketing industry, and marketing is only a small part of the picture. If so, what is it about music that makes people feel so alive (aside from being “cool”) besides the rich cultural identity, tradition and history? Maybe it’s rooted in culture. What is it about music that binds groups together? Does it have to do with the environment in which a person is raised? Does it have to do with individuals sharing similar experiences in life? What about frequencies and sound waves in instrumental music? Could there be a meditational aspect? Does music appeal to certain ages?
It is common for people to have preferences for favorite artists. Why do people like certain genres of music and not others? Do we identify with music? Could it be that artists have a knack for addressing certain emotions that may be difficult for people to communicate? And by doing so, the outlet of expression creates a community in which individuals feel less alone in the world, in return, feeding off each other’s energies and allowing us all to be part of something bigger, perhaps spiritually?
Even though music can be mass marketed, the merchandise only covers the outer appearance. What is crucial about music is what each individual draws from the experience, the fundamental importance being what strikes a chord in the inner self, the transcendental experience onto cloud nine.
These transcendental experiences happen in different ways for different people through different music at different times. For some, it may be a very personal experience; for others it might be exciting to go to live performances. For some it could be creating music; for others it might be supporting a musician you care about, such as a friend or family member.
Sometimes music can be a source for focus, success or achievement, played in the background to score the day’s activities. For example, music is often played while a person completes a task or assignment, or while they exercise. Music often accompanies travelers on a long road trip or journey through life. It is the sound in the background instead of silence, or, for that matter, to drown out something that a person just does not want to hear.
Some people may find it therapeutic to blare music while taking a long drive with no destination and then watch the sunset with someone special. Everyone knows the image of cruising down the highway in Los Angeles, blaring those tunes that turn your soul into a lead foot that simply won’t turn around, won’t look back, windows down, hot air blowing pages out the window and the dog’s head hanging out the side, verified by the rearview mirror.
It is the song that a person plays over and over to identify an emotion that life has granted with the hand he or she is dealt. It is the song that has so much sentimental value that it perfectly rekindles a sensation, triggers a nostalgic memory engraved in a person’s brain. The sensation of missing someone so much, so deeply, so hard, that your heart begins to hurt because you can imagine their sweet scent, or their smiling face or that cackle after a witty joke that puts a smile on your face.
It is capturing a moment of time in the palm of your hand. It is counting down the days of your favorite band’s debut album release date until, at last, the day finally arrives. It is singing at the top of your lungs, really poorly, into a hairbrush, the lyrics that you know far to well of your favorite 1980s band with your family members.
For many, listening to music is like being part of something bigger, something better, and songs can be used as a tool for communication. It’s a ticket to freedom, like the scene in a movie called “The Shawshank Redemption,” when Andy Dufresne plays classical music through a microphone in a prison and says something to the effect of, “Forget that there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone … That there’s something inside that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours … Those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”
No matter who it is, whether it’s the creators or the avid fans, music equates spiritual freedom. It’s grabbing a moment of bliss and holding it in the palm of your hand for infinite time.
Musical performances are memorable experiences for audiences and an outlet for creative expression for the musicians. At festivals everyone looks so wild and free. Some of us enjoy going to live concerts and music festivals because when we are surrounded by that environment we enter that state of freedom, a state of complete euphoria.
It may come as a surprise to some people that all these strangers from various locations, and of various backgrounds and crazy life stories congregate for similar reasons, those reasons being to scream the same heartfelt lyrics, to dress like a weirdo and maybe even paint your face, to dance like a wild goofball who can’t be tamed and to escape from the social norm of a square lifestyle.
A person can be anyone he or she desires to be. A person can dress up or dress down; he or she can wear a mask and simply experience life to the fullest through the music. For those truly devoted fans, music can be a state of awe and admiration that another human being could create such intense beauty.
A live musical performance may be more personally fulfilling. For example, going to hear the artist perform some sick, nasty guitar solo sounds sooo much better than that the same solo on a good ol’ CD — the CD that a person played too many times and still can not get enough of it because it is that good. That feeling sends serotonin racing through the brain like shooting stars light up the night sky in Patagonia after summiting. Grateful Dead sure does do a nice “Scarlett Begonias” song, huh? Well, now Dark Star Orchestra, anyways.
Perhaps we find going to live music more enticing, more memorable, more meaningful and cheaper than the usual night out in town. Or maybe we just go for fun. To each their own. Attending live music events provides common ground for strangers to meet and greet and talk about likes and dislikes. Eventually, attending live music becomes an addiction for some, becomes a need to fulfill desires that can’t be met by any other adrenaline rush. It becomes a temptation to see more sweet guitar solos, to meet more people, hear more stories and travel to more unmarked territory. Again, a ticket to freedom.
Even though music is mass marketed, there is a meaningful connection behind the merchandise. All music, marketed or unmarketed, evolves from other artists who paved the road for inspiring a new generation. Ultimately, people find their own niche, and as long as you find what you like, that is what matters. Put on your dancing shoes and get on out there and enjoy yourself while you can. “Don’t ask yourselves what the world needs. Ask yourselves what makes you come alive.” [unattributed quote]
For many people, it is that electric feeling of freedom, that tingling sensation that you only find while you lose yourself in the moment, dancing wildly to your favorite band performing live. It doesn’t matter what genre of music it is or if it’s even music at all for that matter — just find it while you still can. It is never too late. Sometimes it’s good to take a long hard look at things from a fresh perspective.
Things are not always what they seem. Life doesn’t always work out the way you imagined, but the light shines through the cracks in the strangest of ways.
Stay strong and carry on.