Music: The Soundtrack to Their Lives

By Jack Myers 1stFive Council Archives

Chapter 12 of Jack Myers' book Hooked Up: A New Generation's Surprising Take on Sex, Politics and Saving the World focuses on the impact and influence of rock 'n roll on the Hooked Up Generation – the first generation to grow up with the Internet -- born 1991-95 and emerging as the most important generation of this century. Hooked Up was published in 2012 and is the winner of the International Book Award for Youth Issues and finalist for the USA Book Award for Pop Culture.

The Hooked Up Generation consider music to be an integral, everyday part of their live––unlike its role in the lives of Baby Boomers, who may remember watershed moments like Woodstock or other live concert performances. Today's college students view music as the soundtrack to their lives.

Does a particular musician or band rank as "the best" to this Hooked Up Generation? In one word, no! Our survey asked young people born 1991-1995 to name two or three favorite musicians or bands, but fewer than 10 percent of respondents could name more than one. Yet many of them say music is "very influential" in their lives. The chart below shows where the Hooked Up Gen ranked music and other influences as "very influential" and "not at all influential" in their lives.

Influences in Hooked Up Generation’ Lives
  % Saying    % Saying
  Very Influential Not at All Influential
Parents 57% 5%
Friends 44% 6%
Siblings, Relatives 39% 8%
Schools and Teachers 38% 7%
Music 32% 11%
Internet/Facebook 24% 12%
Religious Leader/Organization 22% 31%
Books, Newspapers, Magazines 22% 13%
News Reporting on Issues 21% 13%
Camps, Counselors, Coaches 20% 23%
Participation Sports 20% 27%
Charitable Causes 18% 19%
TV/Film Documentaries 18% 17%
Games/Gaming 18% 28%
TV Series (Comedy, Drama Etc.) 17% 16%
Theater/Dance 14% 36%
Therapist/Medical Professional 13% 38%
Source: Jack Myers/Ipsos-OTX Survey of 1,000 Hooked Up Generation, August 2011
     

One quick conclusion is that the therapist profession needs to move online quickly to adapt to the needs and lifestyle realities of the Hooked Up Generation. Another is that parental concerns that television is "destroying the minds" of their children is misplaced and misguided.

The Hooked Up Generation understand the differences between television reality and the real world, although, as noted in the previous chapter on television, some television programming is indirectly influential. While there is no group consensus on the most influential musicians, music and the music industry has clearly had a lasting impact.

The Hooked Up Gen belong to the first generation born with the inherent right to download music for free––or at least it's their opinion that free downloads are a right. Only 15 percent of those surveyed say they always pay for the music they download. Three-quarters rarely or never pay for it. Easy access to music and music sharing, multiple music discovery sites, the music industry's shift to focus on single tracks (instead of albums) have all transformed the way in which people listen to music.

Ali Nelson, a 19-year-old Michigan student, feels music has a constant presence in her life. "I always have music on, all day long. Music has driven my late night study sessions, influencing me to pass my exams." She lists Adele, Beyoncé, The White Stripes, Minus the Bear, Grieves, Eminem, and Kings of Leon among her favorite artists.

Pennsylvania State University senior Allen Vickers may like some "old school" artists like Earth, Wind & Fire or The Temptations, but he prefers to listen to them via iTunes, YouTube, and LastFM. He also likes Jay-Z, Kanye West and newer artists like Pac Div, and Tyler, the Creator.

In a 2010 study published in the Atlantic Journal of Communication, researchers at Syracuse University's S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications found that "social utility was the most important motivation for illegal downloading." In the view of the study, music piracy is a social phenomenon. After conducting both qualitative and quantitative research, the authors concluded that "listening to digital music is an essential part of the college lifestyle."

There are signs of a high level of social acceptance for piracy, with more than 75 percent of the Hooked Up Generation voluntarily disclosing in our research that they illegally download music. Can a compromise to satisfy the social aspect of listening to music––while still compensating the rights holders––ever be reached? Possible solutions seem to be gaining traction with the (limited) support of Hooked Up Gen members.

"For artists just starting out…that's their job and everybody gets paid for their job. But it's kind of a right to have music. People should pay for it––that's important––but sometimes the prices are outrageous. I like Pandora because you can listen to the music and the artist is still getting paid. That's better than illegal downloads." Ortiz likes Eminem, Adele, Drake, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and loves the Beatles. She values originality in music: "It's important to me in music that people do their own thing."
Elena Ortiz, College Student, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Nine percent of males in our survey name Eminem and Li'l Wayne as their favorite all-time musical performers. Linkin Park receives "favorite" votes from 6 percent and the Beatles and Drake receive 5 percent. Males also like Lady Gaga, with 4 percent including her among their favorites. Hundreds of performers and groups are ranked lower, each with just a handful of votes.

Among females, Taylor Swift ranks first, with 9 percent of respondents naming her as a favorite, followed by 7 percent favoring Lady Gaga. Katy Perry, Beyoncé, and Maroon 5 each receive 4 percent of the "favorites" votes. As with the male survey, females divide their attention among hundreds of different performers and groups.

Among Black/African-American respondents, Li'l Wayne and Beyoncé stand out with 15 and 11 percent respectively. These musicians are the only performers who receive double-digit support from any respondent group. Asians enjoy Lady Gaga and Eminem, the same performers who captured the highest number of responses from Hispanics.

Popular group Coldplay was named by only 3 percent of respondents. The Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna, Adele, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Britney Spears, and Jay Z, among others, were named by 2 percent.

Music for Every Moment of Your Life

Groups and performers are popular for a moment in time and are as good only as their most recent release. Successful performers with a lasting presence are few and far between, with personalities and image often as important as musical talent.

For the Hooked Up Generation, music is of the moment. They check out new talent, especially independent musicians, and they stay current on dozens of performers. They will find and support new performers, "like" them on Facebook, and even purchase a song or two on iTunes. But it's a rare performer who transcends the most basic level of popularity to capture the attention and money of a large segment of the Internet Generation.

One such performer is Justin Bieber, (especially relevant in view of his current melt down) the personification of a social media rags to riches story. Raised by a single mom, Bieber spent his formative years living just shy of the poverty line. His mother proudly displayed his singing talent to friends and family on YouTube, and Bieber suddenly became an Internet sensation, especially with the post-Internet "tween" audience. A recording contract and hit singles soon followed. Nevertheless, in our survey, Bieber was named as a favorite by only 1 percent of the Hooked Up Generation, receiving fewer votes than Rise Against and Three Days Grace and just one more vote than Death Cab for Cutie. Even a rare performer like Bieber can still carve out only a small slice of attention.

Social media is changing the criteria for who makes it in the music industry. It's changing the way we connect with our favorites and the way we discover new artists. The Bieber story is an example of the change. In the past, musicians needed radio, MTV and retail exposure, and recording executives limited marketing to the Top 40 performers. Being discovered and discovering new artists outside of the hit charts was never an easy task.

Enter Napster. Although its life span as a free music service was brief, this revolutionary online service completely changed the way in which music was bought and sold. This peer-to-peer online network became prominent between 1999 and 2001, when Hooked Up Generation members were already Internet savvy and just becoming musically sophisticated. Napster educated this welcoming audience to discover and share music with one another. Legal difficulties brought Napster's free music downloading to an early demise, but the basic premise of sharing music online remained. Napster was quickly followed by similar peer-to-peer file sharing systems, such as Gnutella and Freenet.

The next great music and social media explosion for the Hooked Up Gen was MySpace. Although MySpace eventually became known more as a means for young people to connect, its original focus was fostering socialization around the music industry and music artist discovery. Performers and bands would create MySpace pages with basic background information, concert dates and pictures. Many artists also allowed users to stream select songs, in hopes that users would like what they heard and would later choose to purchase entire albums.

MySpace launched a number of musicians to the top of the music charts. One notable success story involves Lily Allen, who struggled for years to gain recognition. The artist did manage to sign with record label Regal Recordings but was largely ignored as Regal focused on promoting albums from better-known artists such as Gorillaz and Coldplay. Allen launched a MySpace page that featured the demos she had recorded in 2005. Word-of-mouth attracted over 10,000 MySpace friends to Allen's page, many of them part of the Hooked Up Generation who liked searching for new talent. The My Space attention increased radio station attention. Within a year of setting up her MySpace site, Lily Allen reached the top of the UK Singles Chart.

The Hooked Up Generation supported the rapid rise of MySpace but also spurred its rapid decline after News Corp (owner of Fox TV, Fox News Network and home of American Idol) acquired the site for $560 million. The site hit its peak in 2006 and for a short time beat out Google as the most visited website in the United States. But as students began flocking to Facebook, MySpace was largely left in the dust. Musicians began creating pages on Facebook and young fans were quick to share those pages with friends and acquaintances. MySpace was acquired in 2011 (for only $35 million plus debt) by Internet newcomer Specific Media and Justin Timberlake.

Today, Facebook and Twitter share the top spot for connecting musicians and fans online. Both networks enable artists to share updates and upload photos and links to music. Facebook apps (such as Ping) allow users to tell friends about their new music discoveries and, in turn, to learn more about the music tastes of friends and acquaintances. Napster's co-founder Sean Parker, who was also the founding president of Facebook, is now focusing on Spotify, a European music streaming service that Parker sees as a way to continue the Napster mission. Spotify users can to stream select artists and albums for free, or they can purchase a membership that provides access to a greater variety of commercial-free music. Although initially independent of social networks, Spotify now has an integration deal with Facebook that allows Spotify users to chat about music and suggest new artists to friends.

The Music Business

As music listening shifts from computers and the classic iPod to smartphones and tablets, the music business is also switching from a focus on downloading tracks to streaming through apps such as Pandora, Vevo, Spotify and Clear Channel's IHeartRadio.

According to TechRadar, in 2011 listeners purchased only 175 million tracks online compared to seven billion streamed tracks.

With relatively low cost and ad-supported subscription services, streaming appeals to students who can discover, share and store a wide variety of music. Streaming is a good fit for those who constantly shift their musical preferences and who like exposure to a steady stream of new performers.

Music has devolved into the equivalent of YouTube viral videos. Find it, share it, enjoy it for the moment, and move on to the next tune that captures your interest. Music is no longer the cultural phenomenon it was in the 20th century, when massively popular performers and groups and waves of musical trends defined generations and eras. Over the years, we had a steady progression of personalities such as Al Jolson, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Ethel Merman, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, The Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, Frankie Avalon, Beach Boys, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Pink Floyd, The Who, Michael Jackson, and Madonna.

In their eras and at the height of their popularity, large percentages of music lovers would have named these stars as their "favorites." Most of these artists sustained careers well beyond their prime. Even today, they remain among the favorites of X-Gens and seniors. The Classic Rock genre remains among the most listened to by all generations and The Beatles remain a top seller on iTunes.

In contrast, Adele, 2011's Billboard Artist of the Year and a multiple Grammy Award winner in 2012, is named as "favorite" by only 1 percent of male Hooked Up Generation and 3 percent of females. And despite the most successful concert tours of 2011, U2 and Bon Jovi are named as favorites by fewer than 1 percent of Hooked Up Generation.

Future of the Music Industry

Music personifies, more than anything else, the dangers associated with a reluctance or refusal to shed the baggage of the pre-Internet world. After a slow start, the music industry continues its transformation as it finds ways to meet new and demanding requirements for easy access and complete consumer control. Rather than anticipating and proactively responding to new technologies and their impact, the music industry wasted time by clinging to business models and talent relationships that were quickly becoming outdated and irrelevant.

The old traditions revolved around executives identifying, developing, promoting, selling and profiting from musicians. That world has unraveled. While the industry scrambles to recover and rebuild, the fans are in charge––and Hooked Up Generation have led the charge. Their tastes are eclectic, diverse and constantly changing. Musicians themselves have easy direct access to their fans and often have an active dialogue with them through fan pages, blogs and videos. While Vevo has become a popular industry-owned site for music videos, YouTube and other music sites offer discovery engines and distribution tools that consumers and artists themselves can control.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Micah Nickerson and Damain Randle wrote a protest rap song, inspired by a quote from rapper Kanye West. They put the song, "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People," online, where Marquise Lee, a video producer found it. Lee then created a video for the song, which was posted online. The song writers and the video producer intentionally designed the work to give users free access under Creative Commons licenses. More of these collaborations are likely to occur, as the pathways for putting work online expand. Social networking sites such as Facebook will close gaps and degrees of separation between musicians, producers, collaborators and fans. Hooked Up Generation, who grew up with social networking and are adept at it, will lead the charge.

Music's role in the lives of the Hooked Up Generation reflects their unique power and the power the Internet has granted them. They will demand more musical choices than past generations and more channels through which to consume their music. They will continue to listen to new artists and the classics, as illustrated by iTunes' re-release of the 27-track 1 album of the Beatles greatest hits. Although the album originally debuted in 2000, the iTunes release rocketed to the top of the charts—ahead of Adele's hit album 21 and Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV.

Chapter 13: Celebutantes, Cewebrities and the Celebrity Cult

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