Music: Does It Influence or Reflect the Generations?

Music is always changing.  It always has and always will.  But does music change to reflect the times or do the times change in reflection of the music?

It’s kind of like the question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”  Upon first thought, you would think that music reflects the times because the music of the era is often times about what was going on in the world during those times.  But…can the opposite also be true?  Does music have enough influence to actually change what is going on in the world?

Take the Depression Era.  “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” was a big hit.  There were many songs that told about the hardships.  There were others that did quite the opposite though.  The times were depressing enough and many musicians sought to change the tone by uplifting tunes that cheered up a very distraught nation.

Music of the 40’s and 50’s was much simpler than the music of today.  Perry Como sang, “Catch a Falling Star” to a crooning nation.  By the end of the 50’s, things were changing and along came Elvis Pressley.

Then there were the 60’s with the Vietnam War and rebellion of the youth.  Songs were written about the happenings such as “Fortunate Son” – Creedence Clearwater Revival and also the account of the Ohio riots, “Ohio” by Neil Young.  But in the same era, there were songs begging for peace, like John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

Both the 60’s and 70’s music were widely about drugs.  Some were pro-drugs, others were against but since drug use was so prevalent in the era, it was often in the music.  Even music that did not state drugs were suspected to be about them like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles.  Did the music influence the listener to use, or not use, drugs though?

The music of the 90’s were often comprised of Grudge sounds and lyrics.  Much of it reflected the “don’t care” attitude of the age.  Greasy hair, greasy clothes and lazy was often implied in the music of Generation X.

Even in recent times, there are songs that are about what’s going, about 9-11 and Afghanistan.  There are also peace-loving songs that praise and encourage the world being as one.

Today, there is a mechanical edge to music in many cases.  There are machines that play drums and keyboards are electronic.  Sophisticated software has led to many new sounds.  Music is indeed reflective of the day in which we live, mechanical and technical.  And, perhaps we are influenced by the music and have become more mechanical and technical as the music we listen to has.

Music has always told us the story of what was going on with the generation of the day.  It’s hard to say which it is, if the music of an era reflects what was going on at that time, or if the people are reacting to what was going on in the music.  Perhaps,…it’s a bit of both.

Rent-a-crowd

Live venues are not to be missed at least a few times in life. Who hasn’t been to at least one rock, pop, or country concert, taking in the lights, the sound, and the crowd? Everything happens at once. It’s amazing how in sync it all is: the artistic and technical elements fuse and combine producing one big exciting event. The stars come out in a blaze of glory under the spotlights and the music begins. The crowd sits rapt at first and still. It looks like rent-a-crowd. Then they loosen up and go wild with adulation and glee. People say there most inspiring moments are witnessing music in the flesh so to speak. The madness of the crowd is catching and the moment is sublime under the best circumstances.

The music world is just that exciting when you are dealing with the top level of performing artists. People will sit in the cold for hours or days, lined up to get tickets. (But they will sit longer, for days, for Black Friday sales.) They will brave rain, sleet, and snow—anything and everything to gain admission. Conversely, they will doff their duds and get down to their t-shirts and tanks in acceptance of the heat of sweltering bodies cramped in a small airless space. It is all for the music, all for the joy. And that comes in spades with the right artists and venues. Fans know it. I know it.

I remember one small intimate concert not long ago with a second tier artist that was well attended in spite of the summer sizzler day. Everyone was bravely packed in with only a ceiling fan or two to stir up a bit of a breeze. It was pretty hard to stay awake and focused. You had to be a diehard to stay put. Because the featured group was late, the air became thin and it was difficult to breathe. Many eyes became glazed over and many were becoming pale. Two people actually fainted! There is only so much a crowd can take, even a loyal engaged one. Thank God there were spectators remaining at all when the band came out, also sweating profusely. The audience was probably stuck to its seats or too feeble to move. The ceiling fans became the most important electrical equipment in the room that day, far surpassing the amps in importance.

We all have our tales to tell and some horror stories here and there (when crowds get unruly and stampedes occur. Pretty scary!). I am thinking of getting a portable backpack size battery-operated mini fan for emergencies. I may look like a middle aged matron having hot flashes, but I don’t care. If you can get a little air on your face, you can tackle almost anything. It is a cheap and easily stored answer to unforeseen moments when the temperature in a room is just too much to bear. Get one online for a few bucks and be prepared, Boy Scout style.

The Rise of Electronic Music

When you go to the symphony in most major urban centers, and look at the program, you see familiar names: Beethoven, Mozart, Hayden, and maybe some “moderns” like Dvorak and Stravinsky. No truly modern electronic music is to be heard. They may throw in a new composer in who uses traditional styles or it may be atonal, but that’s it, no nod to one of the great inventions of the twentieth century.

We hear it all the time as background noise on TV and in movies. You think it would be recognized as an art form in itself by this time. People are slow to accept the new. They don’t even understand Picasso a hundred years later! Why should it be any different with music? We do love it in rock and pop arrangements. Even good ol’ boy George Strait used it in a country classic. But that is the extent of it.

The word electronic is, of course, here to stay. Electronics run our lives: things like Acs, home standby backup power generators, electric pumps, and the like in the past. The digital world is the updated variant. There is new music electronic in orientation that fills the bill in representing our time. But our conservative ears will have nothing to do with it other than as filler or frills. Plug in an acoustic guitar and you have the idea. That’s what most understand as electronic. They see innovation as a form of technology, a method of producing a different kind of sound that barely morphs a traditional style. They think of synthesizers and all the gadgetry that turns a mediocre singer into a good one.

In the 1920’s and 30’s, electronic instruments were being introduced in performance environments. Composers started to write for them. In the 1940’s, music could be taped and altered, a forerunner of our DJs today. Electronic music as an art form was a rebellious child akin to the painters and sculptors of the day. Classical music, just like photographic realism, was rejected in favor of a futuristic embrace of a new kind of sound. It was as radical as Cubism and Futurism were in the arts. It was as avant-garde and groundbreaking. It heralded a new era that never quite gained acceptance.

So much has happened since, but it remains esoteric, like a generator for an electric harmonica. The popular incarnation is the electric bass or guitar we all know and love. We don’t remember John Cage or Karlheinz Stockhausen. They are historical oddities like Marcel Duchamps or Jean Arp. We do have computer music and experimentation is part of digital synthesis. But alas, electronic music has gone far afield from the intention of its groundbreaking originators. It wasn’t the wave of the future as the early 20th century practitioners thought, it was the wave of pop and funk, drum and bass. Just techno. That’s it. But it is here, and let us be grateful for modernization. Perhaps the future will bring it back and give music the impetus it needs to evolve and grow in a new direction.

Record Shops Through the Ages

The 60’s was an era like none other for music store owners.  Not only was it virtually the only place that music was sold, the local record shop was often a popular place for hippies to hang out.

With the generation of music lovers also came an era of rebellion against war and discord.  “Peace, love and rock-and-roll” was the motto of the day.  Record shops monopolized on the mood and often sold peace sign decals and anti-war posters.  Patches were another big seller.  They were sold and then sewn on blue jeans or jackets.

Drugs were also on the scene.  Back then, the dangers we know today were not as apparent.  There was a lot of experimentation which eventually led to the awareness of the harm drugs do but in the 60’s, there was a whole different attitude about them, especially marijuana.  Many record shops sold smoking paraphernalia and sometimes, even the smoke.  A good number of these stores had an upstairs room where people could lounge on beanbag chairs and get high.  With the growing concern about the harm of drugs came crackdowns on such places but for a while, they were pretty popular.

Although there was a movement to fight drugs in the 70’s, record shops still catered to the crowd.  They just did so in a more obscure manner.  Along with albums, incense was sold and other “head shop” items that were commonly used to cover up or aid in pot smoking.  Upstairs facilities were still available in many record shops but they were much more secretive.

A good record store would not only have regular albums, but import ones as well.  These were coveted and sold for considerably more money.  “Cut-outs” were available too.  These were albums that didn’t make it to popularity and were sold for less.  Many people were fonder of “cut-outs” because the music was not overplayed.  “Bootleg versions” were pretty popular as well.

When an album would come out, it was not unusual for people to flock to the closest music shop.  Sometimes there were long lines and albums would sell out quickly.  Since there was no way to duplicate albums in the days of old, there was no such thing as sharing music.  People also needed to replace scratched albums so record shops were rarely without a steady income.  There were also shops that were “the place to go” which were sometimes small local spots and later, in the 70’s, oftentimes in a mall.

Albums gave way to 8-track tapes and they were wildly popular.  They could be played in the car and places that albums couldn’t be play at so people flocked to purchase them.  Cassette tapes eventually replaced 8-tracks and CDs replaced cassettes.  Digital music has now replaced much hard copy music all together but there will always be those who won’t settle for less than a good album or CD and for as long as those people remain, there will be record shops to fill their orders.

Music Mania and Those Who Make Their Living From It

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Music makes the world go round and for some of us, it also IS our world.  Not only are some of us consumed with music, it’s also our bread and butter.

They say that those who are fortunate enough to make our living from music, in one form or another…are fortunate enough.  I am inclined to believe that is true.  There are a myriad of those of us who are lucky enough to do so from the songwriters who write to music, the artists who sing and play, all the way down to those of us who sell it.

The evolution of the music industry has been an ever changing one.  The more technical of a society we become, the more diverse the field is.  That has enabled a greater number of people to get into the music career who would not have in days gone by.

Takes mixers, for instance. Although it takes a great deal of talent to mix, that field of music didn’t even exist not so long ago.  Now, one can make a very comfortable living by mixing and may even enjoy fame and fortune if they are great at it.

Talent scouts aren’t new.  There have been people who earn their living searching for great musicians for many years.  What has changed is the number of people doing so.  There are so many avenues of music and so many genres too that it has made the field of scouting wide open which is a great thing for those who have a sharp eye for talent.

Music journalists are in demand more now than ever.  Not only do they have a huge number of musicians and bands to write about, the worldwide web has opened up a whole new audience.  Websites focusing on musicians or music based information are constantly in need of great articles, blogs and interviews too.  Music based e-books are also big sellers, opening a whole new field for writers who focus on music and musicians.

Here’s one you probably never thought of, a music therapist.  These days, you can actually make a living by mastering in the healing techniques of music.  You can even acquire a license in the field and make a pretty decent income sharing the healing power of music with others.

Of course if you are technically talented, the music field is wide open to you now.  Modern day technology has infiltrated the music world and has created jobs that were never even heard of before.

With the number of radio stations growing all the time, the need for disc jockeys is constantly growing as well.  If you have an ear for music and possess the gift of gab, you may just be perfect for the job.  Not only do these personalities work on the radio but also hire out for parties, weddings and other events.

Last but not least are those who market music.  There are wholesalers, retailers and those in between.  Although music is often electronically transmitted when it is purchased in these modern days, there are and always will be those who appreciate a good hard copy for their collection.

The field of music is growing and I suspect that will not be changing anytime soon which comes as extra good news for those of us lucky enough to enjoy making our living from it.