Four Questions: The Changing Nature of Music and Festivals
UA researcher Brian Moon, an expert on American music traditions and popular music trends, shares how festivals have shaped the industry.
SnowGlobe Music Festival in California, Decadence New Year's Eve in Colorado and Bestival in the UK's Isle of Wight will be among the world's largest and most electrified concerts and music festivals as people around the world welcome 2017.
Though geographically diverse, what connects such events is the massive infusion of technology and social media: live streaming to expand views, new perspectives offered by the use of custom-made camera rigs, mobile apps and wearable listening systems that customize a user's experience, and scannable RFID wristbands that help reduce wait time and limit ticket fraud.
Such technology has helped drive the popularity of festivals while revising the experiences people have with live music, said Brian Moon, an assistant professor in the University of Arizona's Fred Fox School of Music.
What has not changed, however — from Woodstock to Coachella — is the festival industry's effort to create an all-sensory experience "getting into the realm of sight, temperature, feeling and smells," Moon said.
In advance of the New Year's Eve celebrations, Moon answered a few questions about the changing culture of music festivals, and how such events are reshaping how people engage with the music industry via technology and social media.
Q: How has new technology had an impact on music festivals, and how are festivals changing?
A: Broadly, technology has, in some ways, driven the popularity of music festivals, allowing festivals to become larger. The technology that amplifies sound has allowed for better experiences for huge outdoor venues. You can steadily see festival sizes growing. In terms of technology, I also suspect that there are links between the ways people relate through social media, which creates bonds between fans as they document their festival experiences. For example, Coachella builds itself as a "music and arts festival" as a means of drawing attention that there is going to be more going on. And I do see that music festivals pick up on the culture of the moment. For example, Woodstock seemed to reflect the peace and love movement in the 1960s culture. But festivals are also an alternative to the mainstream popular music culture.
Q: How has technology impacted and influenced musicians?
A: We're still finding out what technology is doing to the industry. In the past five years, the number of times you visit a band's Wikipedia page can tell if a band is going to break in the next year or so. For instance, about eight months before The Weeknd began to play across radio stations throughout the country, there was a huge spike of views on their Wikipedia page. And there are now firms that create analytics of data of the number of YouTube clips that are played.
Another way record labels or representatives of an artist are able to tell if an artist is going to break is through the use of Shazam (an app that identifies the media playing around you). Shazam is able to show the most "Shazamed" song in your particular area. For instance, in Tucson right now, "Guys My Age" by Hey Violet has been Shazamed more than any other song in Tucson. With this data, a record label or artist representative is able to promote the artist or their music by showing this data in the hopes of getting it released nationally. This is very different from pre-social media and the pre-internet era, because technology creates data that the industry can use which reflects actual taste and not instinct. In the past, record executives would instinctively know this song or artist was going to be a hit. But that led to repetitive-sounding music that often was the same thing time and time again. Now we have songs and artists that sound really distinct, and that diversity is in part because it's possible for the data and technology to draw attention to people's taste.
Q: How do millennials engage with music, and how has this generation responded to the influence of technology within the music culture?
A: The millennial generation is the first that has been able to experience music almost entirely out of chronology. Because of the internet, we are able to explore any era or kind of music at any time. In a way, this is at odds with how I grew up. I could only listen to music that I owned or that played on the radio. As a consequence, there are fewer successful albums and more one-hit wonders.
Technology has influenced the way we define a successful album. There was an interesting moment in the collaboration between Paul McCartney, Kanye West and Rihanna with the song "FourFiveSeconds." According to Rolling Stone, Kanye West tweeted that the single had nearly 100,000 downloads. But Paul McCartney was kind of like, "Oh, that's all?" When he was a top artist, if you only sold that much, it wasn't really a hit. Today we consider that one of the best-selling singles. The scale has changed, and that's because you have access to an infinite amount of music types.
Q: How would you compare the experience baby boomers had to what millennials are currently experiencing?
A: There is a sense that popular music festivals that began in the 1960s were designed for the baby boomers as an introduction to new musical tastes. But that often drives festivals in general. Festivals try to draw attention to the diversity of popular music at that moment. So, we may all bounce around to different genres, but there seems to be something about music festivals — particularly ones that are associated with a certain demographic — that are trying to validate a specific taste in music.
Also, earlier generations have a tendency to create links with the ownership of music through cassette tape and CDs. At the same time, radio is pulling us in a more conservative direction in terms of playing fewer songs with little diversity. But the millennial generation associates music and music ownership with the internet and cellphones. For them, the access to music via the internet results in almost a paralyzing effect of having so many choices. For instance, with so many opportunities, if you choose restaurant A, you are missing out on restaurant B, C or D. It's similar with music. So, with access to such a variety of music, people sometimes feel like they're missing out on it.
"Four Questions" is an occasional feature in which UANews asks experts from the UA for their perspective on current events or pop culture.
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