“By its very nature, popular culture impinges on people unceasingly; it is part of their environment, part of the background noise, colour, and verbal imagery of their lives…”
David Riesman, Listening to Popular Music
Over time, humans have developed habits and rituals surrounding music consumption. Technology has shaped the way we listen to music and in turn has changed where, why and how we listen. The following storycircles explore how different individuals interact with music on a daily basis and how this is unique depending on the space they occupy.
Current Favourite song: ‘Sweatpants’ by Childish Gambino
Brooke represents the generation who grew up with the internet. Generation Z was the first generation to have widespread access to the Internet from an early school age (Cooper PG, 2016). This has shaped how they interact with technology on a daily basis.
Brooke listens to music while she studies. She notes that music helps her stay focused from other distractions. Statistics show that 79% of students listen to music while working to remain focused and improve productivity (Flannigan, 2015). However, there is debate surrounding the effectiveness of this practice. Sixty undergraduate students at the Georgia Institute of Technology participated in a study to investigate whether media multitasking was distracting. The study found that ‘a majority of students (59%) listened to music for part or all of the session, with an average amount of time engaged with this source of distraction of 73 min (over 40% of the study session),’ (Calderwood et al., 2013). In contrast, there are researchers who argue in favour of music consumption while studying. Shin, Huang and Chiang (2008) found ‘when people listen to background music their awareness level is raised and they perform the task more enthusiastically’.
The previous suggests the effectiveness of listening to music whilst studying depends on the individual. Similar to media multitasking, some people can manage multiple screens better than others. Brooke would be classified as having a high tolerance for media multitasking. It should be noted she is an avid gamer. Studies suggest that video game music is one of the best genres for concentration as the music helps ‘foster achievement’ (Greenfield, 2014) . This could explain her disposition for multitasking.
Brooke also mentions the etiquette surrounding music consumption in public spaces. She will always listen to her music through her headphones to ensure it cannot be heard by others.
The headphone is a piece of technology that revolutionised the way we consume music on a daily basis. They were first used by telephone operators and were not associated with music until the 1900s. Nathaniel Baldwin invented the first pair of audio headphones on his kitchen table in 1910. However, the biggest turning point for the headphone was the release of the Sony Walkman in 1979 (Newman, 2012). Suddenly, music had become portable. Listening was transported out of the private home and into public spaces. Headphones had to become light and not interfere with daily activity.
Fast-forward to 2016, it would be difficult to consume music in public spaces without headphones. Headphones can be an underrated piece of technology, but large companies strive to continually improve them. In 2014, Apple bought Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s Beats brand for $3 million (Martins, 2014).
The concept of the headphone is unique. We can see someone is listening to music but we cannot hear what they are listening to. For that reason, there is a degree of privacy in the practice of personal media use in public spaces. Public spaces are transformed into semi-private spaces through the use of headphones. It is only in private spaces where we a have greater influence over how we consume music.
Generation: Baby Boomer
Current Favourite Song: “Right Here, Right Now’ by Jesus Jones
Joann represents the generation who watched music consumption evolve. This has shaped the way she listens to music. During her youth, music consumption was a private practice which could only be performed in the home. The introduction of the Walkman transported music out of the home and into the street. However, there were still limitations to the device.
Today, the Walkman has been replaced with smartphones. ‘In August 2015, 8.2 million Australians listened to music or viewed music-related content on their smartphones and 3.7 million did the same on tablets’ (Smith, 2015). Our music collections now fit into our pockets. Despite this, Joann still prefers to listen to music in private. This could suggest that media practices correlate to exposure to technology from a young age.
The ‘sociology of consumption has devoted much attention to the symbolic use of activities and goods that create distinction and manage or maintain status boundaries,’ (Roose, Stichele, 2010). Music is a distinctive medium as it can be consumed while performing other tasks. Similar to Brooke, Joann will listen to music while performing other activities such as cleaning. Music has subjective functions in our lives. Some will use music as a form of entertainment while others use it to maintain focus. The space we occupy will likely influence its function. Music can also define space.
A unique similarity between both Brooke and Joann is where they get their music from. Both use free versions of streaming services such as Spotify or Pandora. Over 10.7 million Australians use video and streaming services on their smartphones (Neilson, 2015). We are on the cusp of technological change that will alter music consumption. Streaming services are opening a discussion around ownership. Currently, there isn’t much regulation surrounding these services and the governing bodies are beginning to change that. This will likely determine how we consume music in the future.
What does this mean?
Both Brooke and Joann have different tastes in music, different ways they listen to music and different reasons why they listen to music. However, it is unanimous that space impacts these choices. The space in which we consume music gives meaning to individual practices. Brooke will happily listen to music through her headphones while walking down the street, whereas Joann will only listen to music out loud in the privacy of her home. New technology is expanding our ability to consume music in different spaces and music is slowly creeping into all spaces. It’s not uncommon to witness people listening to personal music devices on public transport, even though there is already music playing through speakers. Ethnographers will study situations like the previous to understand shifting rituals and habits in the digital age and demonstrate how technology and life are not separate. There do not fit into different spheres, they bleed into each other and effect one another.
Finally, Shaun Wilsons wrote in Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods (2008) that ‘all stories reflect the storyteller and where they are in their lives.’ Music is only one portion that makes up a person’s life. However, it is a tiny puzzle piece which combines to create a bigger picture. These snapshots give insight into how the individual interacts with the space around them, which reflects the point in the story which the person is at.
Cooper, PG 2016, ‘Generation Z’, Salem Press Encyclopedia.
Calderwood, C, Ackerman, PL, & Conklin, EM 2014, ‘What else do college students “do” while studying? An investigation of multitasking’, Computers & Education, vol. 75, pp. 19-29.
Flannigan, D 2015, ‘Student’s thoughts on listen to music at school’, Daily Herald, 1 January, viewed 25 October 2016, http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20130509/submitted/130509837/
Greenfield, R 2014, ‘The new playlist for more productive work: video game music’, Fast Company, 14 May, viewed 25 October 2016, https://www.fastcompany.com/3030502/agendas/the-new-playlist-for-more-productive-work-video-game-soundtracks
Martins, C 2014, ‘Apple buys beats, Welcomes Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’, Spin, 28 May, viewed 25 October 2016, http://www.spin.com/2014/05/apple-beats-music-electronics-deal-acquisition-billion/
Newman, M 2012, ‘History of Headphones’, Cool Material, not specified, viewed 25 October 2016, http://www.stuff.tv/features/headphones-complete-history
Neilson, 2015, ‘IAB and Nielsen release first mobile ratings report’, Neilson, 7 October, viewed 27 October 2016, http://www.nielsen.com/au/en/press-room/2015/nielsen-mobile-audience-measurement.html
Riesman, D 1950, ‘Listening to Popular Music’, American Quarterly, no. 4, p. 359.
Roose, H, & Stichele, AV 2010, ‘Living Room vs. Concert Hall: Patterns of Music Consumption in Flanders’, Social Forces, no. 1, p. 185.
Smith, A 2015, ‘Mobile mania! Australians spend on average more than an hour a day on their smartphones’, Neilson, 31 October, viewed 27 October 2016, http://www.nielsen.com/au/en/insights/news/2015/mobile-mania-australians-spend-on-average-more-than-an-hour-a-day-on-their-smartphones.html
Wilson, S 2008, Research is ceremony : indigenous research methods, Black Point, N.S. : Fernwood Pub., c2008.