Shaping individuals for centuries, music has the power to completely alter society in an instant. Looking at both the past and present, cultures have been fashioned upon this musical foundation, where people dress a certain way or live a certain lifestyle based on their preferred genre of music. Something as simple as a song has the ability to push listeners to strive in finding music that makes them ‘feel’ something.
Across generations, people have become interconnected through just their favorite pieces of music. Subcultures blossom thanks to this art of communication, and self-expression arises through the unification of these individuals. However, as a college student, the manner in which I listen to my music appears as a stark contrast to how people 50 years ago listened to theirs.
Through streaming services, accessing music in today’s world is infinitely easier than that of previous generations.
Chaz Celaya, director of commercial music at Point Loma Nazarene University, expressed his thoughts on this alteration among generations.
“Going from tangible, physical product to access has been a fundamental change in music consumption. Music has gone from ‘I go and I purchase a physical thing that I own forever’ as opposed to now I pay a monthly rental fee to have access to these almost unlimited number of songs.”
With an at-times overwhelming amount of power, an individual is capable of discovering new songs or artists risk-free: There is virtually no worry of wasting money on an album they may dislike since the listener has the ability to hit the skip button and move on to the next piece.
“I remember getting an album once [as a kid], and I was so excited that it was going to come out.I think I might have only heard a single on the radio. I was paying 18 bucks on this one song, which is a huge gamble, a huge risk on the rest of these tracks,” Celaya said.
There was a potential waste of money on music when there was no access to digital components, and this is a major difference between the now-and-then of music consumption.
However, with the rise of digital music, recommendations of songs, artists or genres have been revolutionized through data collection.
In an interview with Glenn McDonald, data alchemist at Spotify and producer and programmer of the Every Noise at Once website, there was much discussion on how listener data is collected and what the recommendation algorithm looks like. An intriguing job title, McDonald is in charge of creating algorithms for collecting data from Spotify users, and essentially makes sense of the numbers for classification of artists into their respective genres.
“You can basically look for patterns with any kind of commonality, like what’s different about people in a city or in age group or at a college that mention ‘this’ in their song titles or ‘this’ in their playlist titles? There is a lot of ways to help us [Spotify programmers] find the things that we don’t know we’re missing,” McDonald said.
This music is so much more personalized, even tailored to the listener. With platforms such as Spotify, a listener obtains music that fits them based on the algorithms set in place by the developers.
“When you get a student account, you have to say what your student email is and what college it is. But the principle there is the same as the other ones, which is any way we have to identify a subset of listeners, we can then look at what’s different about those people’s listening from the rest of the world. Ideally, something that every student at your college plays and nobody else would play,” McDonald said.
Has the intimacy of music been lost due to its increasingly convenient accessibility over time? I would argue that it hasn’t been diminished, but rather transformed into something new altogether. Listeners can collect music almost ‘made’ for them without the previous stakes required of past generations, but still at a cost.
Lily Smith, a first-year history major, elaborated upon this idea of how music has changed her perspective.
“I think that it [music] has grown in popularity because of its growing availability to most people, and because of the increasing variety of genres you can listen to. People today have access to far more types of music than they did 50 or even 20 years ago.”
Sarah Shaw, a first-year psychology major, expressed music’s influence on her own life.
“Music has had an impact mostly because I play music, flute and piano, and it’s been a big part of my life for a while. It takes away a lot of my stress, as well as giving me something I can devote my time to.”
“It’s interesting because I can look at 18 year olds across the globe and I can look at a cohort of people moving through time, but I can’t look into the future. I can’t tell whether you’re going to grow up to be a different listener. When you’re all 45, are you going to be different 45 year old listeners than 45 year olds now?” McDonald stated.
As college students, our listening habits may have been forged by past experiences or memories. Nonetheless, the systems put in place on streaming services encourage genre exploration, and taking advantage of the algorithms could bring us into the new frontier of music today.