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 And in a few years, the music we think is cool now will probably be outdated.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.
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.