It’s de rigueur these days to talk flippantly not only about the collapse off the music industry, but also of the whole notion that popular music remains an important part of people’s lives, that it has (or can have) any meaningful impact on the culture. While the former is almost undoubtedly true, a couple of new studies may complicate the later.
A press release from the Consumer Electronics Association (brought to us via Coolfer), describes the findings of CEA’s latest research into the role of technology in teenagers’ lives. Hidden among the findings’ many platitudes (“Today’s teens were introduced to technology as toddlers and rely on consumer electronic products like computers, cell phones and MP3 players that make their lives easier”—Duh), is this nifty little tidbit: “Four of [teens’] five top activities were technology driven, with listening to music as the most popular activity…” And surprisingly, most of these kids actually bought music in stores (58 percent), rather than borrowed it (56 percent), received it as a gift (52 percent), or bought it online (51 percent). (Though the fact that illegal downloading isn’t mentioned at all is more than a little suspicious.)
Even more interesting is a five-year research project, also mentioned on Coolfer, commissioned by Bauer Media, publisher of magazines like FHM, Mojo, and Q. Not only did its survey confirm CEA’s findings—46 percent of respondents said music was their number one interest—it also noted that “44 percent of respondents consumed more music this year than last year.” The kicker, though, is that “75 percent of consumers identified themselves as being passionate about music.”
Now, it’s one thing for folks to say they’re consuming tons of music. Much of that can be chalked up to an obsession with new media technologies that happen to allow people to access music at any time, any place. And CEA findings showing that over a third of teens use their cell phones—their most beloved possession—to access “mobile entertainment, shoot videos, listen to music and watch videos,” gives credence to this idea. It’s quite another thing, though, for people to say they actively care about music, however they get it. While the jury is obviously still out on the question, what may in fact be changing is not how important music is to people’s lives, but the nature of that importance. As rock stars die out and pop music is less able to affect the culture at large—to cut through the static of a million media options—music listening becomes more personal, more intimate, but no less important. Pop may not able to change the world, but it can still change people’s lives.