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As musicians, we are carriers of influence, whether or not we are aware of it and whether or not we intend to be. The sound and messages we release through our art form directly impact our listeners in powerful ways. This is especially true of the youth and adolescents of our society, who are still extremely malleable to the world around them. I remember sitting in the car with my two little cousins, ages five and eight, when "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk came on the radio. They both started singing every word at the top of their lungs. And when Katy Perry sang during the Super Bowl halftime show, the kids at the party sang nearly every lyric verbatim, putting me to shame because I didn't know all the lyrics, and I'm aspiring to be a pop artist. It began to shock me just how acutely youth are being impacted by the music they listened to, and how much attention they're paying to the music being played around them.
I believe that those who really love and care about music are the ones who grew up listening to songs that touched them and spoke to them in a profound way. I remember being in middle school when the music I listened to defined so much of my identity. As professional musicians, it's no doubt that so many of us can identify with music being a keen agent in shaping the person we have become over the years. Thus, in return, it's almost our unspoken job to create a sound that will be amplified to the next generation, impacting them and impacting our society in return. If we can gain a more comprehensive awareness of how our art form is making a difference around us, we will undoubtedly become better musicians – musicians with a purpose.
The popular music of our day reflects the culture of our day. We can see the fingerprints of a certain generation in the lyrics and sound of that time. One recent and almost outrageous example of this is the song "#SELFIE" by the Chainsmokers. It's a pretty spot-on commentary about the youth and media culture of our day. And in this present age, culture is changing far more frequently than ever before, reflecting styles of music that are evolving and birthed just as rapidly. Interestingly, it wasn't always so.
"There were times and places — in the Europe of the Middle Ages, as an example — where music might remain largely the same for hundreds of years," writes Selwyn Duke in "Influential Beats: The Cultural Impact of Music." "And it is no coincidence that in medieval times something else also remained quite constant: culture. It is clear to me that changes in music hew closely to changes in society’s consensus worldview. This explains why musical tastes change so quickly today: With no dominant cultural stabilizer, such as the Catholic Church (whose medieval influence is undeniable); the ability to transmit ideas worldwide at a button’s touch via modern media…society is prone to continual arbitrary change."
In other words, culture and music flow together. What our parents used to dig, kids of today would deem as lame. And in a few years, the music we think is cool now will probably be outdated. It's nothing against the music. It's just a representation, a manifestation of what's constantly changing around us. With that said, we need to be very aware of our modern day culture, but more importantly, we need to be intentional about the cultures we want to create and cultivate with our music.
Merriam-Webster defines morality as "beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior." A quick Google search on the impact of music on morals will yield many results on the negative impact it has on society, especially in the realm of rap and hip-hop music. But in all styles of music nowadays, there are a plethora of songs with lyrics that glorify sex, drugs, and violence. While research can't concretely link the cause-and-effect behavior of listening to these songs with directly inducing this type of behavior, many researchers and people agree that it surely encourages it.
I believe that morals and behavior, especially in teens, aren't completely steered by the lyrics they're listening to, because there are so many factors to building a moral compass. However, music can definitely play a significant role in determining what seems to be right or wrong, okay or not okay, and good or bad. Because of this, we need to become wary about the messages that we are putting out with our songs, but to take it a step further, what if the songs we wrote intentionally carried positive messages? What if they became anthems that declared hope and joy, triumphs over weaknesses, courage and love? We would have the influence to empower the hearts and minds of the next generation, and that is something to truly take hold of.
This is probably the most identifiable and direct impact music has on people in society. It makes us feel a certain way. Music sets moods and creates atmospheres. And as humans, we're so behaviorally influenced by the way we feel. That's why we throw on an upbeat playlist while we're working out, put on jazz on a romantic date, or get up and dance when a four-on-the-floor beat is going down. When I wake up in the morning, I know exactly what songs to play to get me focused and ready for what's up ahead in my day. Now that's powerful.
Music has the potential to change a mood, to shift an atmosphere, and to encourage a different behavior. In fact, the average American listens to four hours of music each day! Just imagine what kind of an impact music is having on our emotions throughout the day, whether we consciously realize it or not. With emotional impact, the most important thing to consider is: What am I feeling, and how do I want my listeners to feel when they hear this song? Because what you're feeling will help determine what your listener will feel, and that carries a lot of weight.
So in short, music has the power to culturally, morally, and emotionally influence our society. Thus, the more intentional we become with the sounds, messages, and moods we create and release through our music, the more powerful we will become in making deep positive impacts. We have the mandate and authority as artists and musicians to change the world around us because of the influence we carry, and that truly makes music something worth dedicating a life to.
Belinda Huang is a contributing writer for Sonicbids. She is a music production & engineering major at Berklee College of Music and is a staff writer for their online newspaper, The Berklee Groove.