Music is regarded to as the universal language that traverses over cultural boundaries and nations thus unifying the human race. Music is believed to have the ability to evoke sentiments ranging from happy sensual emotions to sad and enraged feelings.
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As an art, music has evolved together with man from a humble mostly percussion beginning to the beautiful and complicated symphonies that engage hundreds of instruments of this modern era. The developed of music was expansive thereby leading to the birth of different styles of music called genres. These genres often depend on the unique geographical and cultural settings of the singer as motivation and inspiration always come from ones surroundings.
The United States is home to a myriad of musical genres all originating from differing groups and inspiring different kinds of sentiments. These multiple genres affect people differently and the prevalence for one genre over another varies. This paper sets out to discuss music in the US cultural context. The various kinds of music and their effect on US culture shall be articulated. Advantages and disadvantages of music as a whole shall also be highlighted so as to bring about a deeper appreciation of the effects of music in America.
Genres of Music
Owing to the extensive nature of music, there is need to categorize music so as to simplify classification and ease the process through which a person can find music that they enjoy. Musical genres can be termed as categories into which music sharing certain stylistic similarities are placed. The popularity and frequency with which music from various genres is listened to differs due to many reasons among which are demographics, religion and age groups to name but a few.
A report by Nielsen Soundscan indicates that the Rock genre is the most popular in the US. Musical sales in the year 2007 showed that a total of 150,000 Rock records had been sold making it by far the highest selling genre (IT Facts). This group of music is mostly favored by the youths as can be highlighted by the age of the crowds who throng various rock concerts. The second most popular genre according to the report was RnB music which garnered 96,000 record sales.
This genre also greatly appeals to the youths as well as segments of the older population. The other popular genres are Hip hop, Country and Metal. However, despite Rock being the predominant genre, there are indications that the Hip Hop genre is quickly gaining ground (Ramsey 199). This assertion is reinforced by popular media which hails Hip Hop as the fastest growing musical genre accruing billions of dollars in the US recording industry.
Effects of Music
Music has always had an effect on people; from the short term altering of moods to the long term changing of perceptions or creating of ideologies. This holds true for music in the US whereby social messages are passed and stereotypes reinforced through music. Shepherd assets that the ideologies of gender in society have overflowed to popular music therefore affecting the visibility of women in some genres (234). For example, the rock music culture is characterized by an overrepresentation of males.
A majority of rock stars are depicted as domineering males with gruffly voices and athletic bodies. Shepherd theorizes that this images advance the social construct where girls are encouraged to adopt a passive and subordinate role while boys learn to be more active and dominant (233).
Technology and Music
Music production and the medium through which music is distributed to the consumers has changed through the years as technological advances are made. The cassettes and records of the 1980’s are now rendered obsolete and have been replaced by the more efficient CDs. An even more ground-breaking invention in recent times is the iPod which had literally revolutionalized the manner in which music is listened to by consumers.
The iPod, created in 2001 has made it possible for one to listen to their favorite music literally anywhere owing to their compact nature and light weight (Ivan 1). In addition to this, the iPod has a significantly high memory capacity allowing one to load a huge number of songs into the player and listen to them at leisure.
Combining their immense power with that of the internet, the iPod has threatened to make local music stores obsolete. This is because one can by use of an iPod legally download millions of songs from the internet. This has led to music stores being rendered redundant by iPod users who can in most cases get the same music provided by the stores at significantly reduced rates (Ivan 2).
Advantages of music
From its conception, the traditional function of music was entertainment. This remains true in modern day American culture where music is still hailed as the number one entertainment activity for Americans. Research indicates that Americans dedicate more time to listening to music for leisure that they do for any other leisure activity (Shepherd 22). This may be because one can engage in listening to music while undertaking other activities such as driving or performing household chores.
From a commercial perspective, music has become a big business in America contributing over a billion dollars to America every year (Barnet & Burriss 2). One can therefore extrapolate that the music industry is an important facet of the American economy. Through the various components e.g. recording artist, production houses, agents and concert venues to name but a few, this industry creates employment for a big number of American citizens and also increases the government’s revenue accrued from taxation on sales made.
Music can be accredited as having been one of the factors that brought about integration of an America what was legally segregated from 1896 through to 1954. New genres such as rhythm and blues and rock all acted as social forces that cut across the social boundaries that segregation had built. Barnet and Burriss stress that genres such as Rap and hip hop raised awareness about ongoing prejudices and inequalities in American cities therefore leading to changes which brought about justice (43)
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Disadvantages of Music
Despite the many advantages that can be attributed to music, there are also many ills that are as a result of music. Some genres of music, especially Hip Hop and rap, are infamous for their lewd content and vulgar language. Such offensive material is detrimental especially to children and adolescents who are highly impressionable. Kirsh notes that sexually explicit lyrics have led to the degradation of the American culture (7).
However, the government has attempted to mitigate these disastrous results by heavily monitoring music aired by the radio through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In addition to this, music sold in stores is voluntarily labeled by the record companies with parental advisory warning stickers notifying the listener of the explicit contents (Kirsh 7).
Some forms of music have been noted to actively promote social vices such as drugs and violence. This popularization of violence has led to an increase in violence and juvenile delinquency among the younger population. These occurrences are consistent with research which shows that violent entertainment is consistently an evil influence on youth leading to degradation of moral values and behavioral changes in some cases (Kirsh 8).
Another disadvantage of music is that it can be used to advance prejudices and stereotype images which may then be used as the basis by which people interact with others of differing cultures. As such, music has led to marginalization of some groups as well as propagation of prejudices which is detrimental to the harmony of the multicultural American society.
This paper set out to give a brief overview of music in America so as to provide a deeper appreciation of the role that music plays in shaping our culture. To this end, this paper has outlined the popular genres of music in America and highlighted the major listeners of the same. The technological advances that have turned the manner in which we listen to music have also been pointed out. Like most other things in life, music has been seen to be a two faced creature; having both a benevolent side and malevolent side.
The advantageous attribute of music have been seen to be significant in integration and nation building efforts. However, from the discussions presented herein, it is evident that the negative aspect of music threaten to break the fiber that makes up our society if they are left to run wild. It is therefore our duty to ensure that we capitalize on the advantages of music and retard the negative aspects for the benefit of our entire nation.
Barnet, D, R, and Burriss, Larry, L. Controversies of the music industry. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001. Print.
IT Facts, 2007 US Music Sales by Genre. 7 Jan 2008. Web. http://itfacts.biz/2007-us-music-sales-by-genre/9354/
Ivan, Gregor, How the iPod has Changed the Way we Listen to Music. Web.
Kirsh, Steven. Children, Adolescents, and Media Violence: a Critical Look at the Research. Sage, 2006. Print.
Ramsey, P, G. Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop. California: University of California Press, 2004. Print.
Shepherd, J. Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Media, Industry and Society. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003. Print.