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‘iPod generation’ blurs genre lines

13 April 2014 By Carley Milligan, Associate Arts and Life Editor No Comments

Illustration by Danielle Frater/ The Towerlight

Junior Liam Hurlbut is interested in a variety of styles of music, yet if you ask him what genre he prefers, his answer becomes a new question.

“I just don’t think that’s an important question to ask,” Hurlbut, a jazz commercial performance major, said. “I think the question should be ‘what artists do you like, what songs do you like, what albums do you like?’ That’s a more pertinent question.”

In the past 10 years, the invention of the iPod and music listening sites such as Spotify or Pandora has allowed for new artists and styles of music to emerge.

“I think a lot of new music that is happening is pretty hard to classify…if we avoid giving genre labels to music, people will be more open to trying new things,” Hurlbut said.

Like many people in what professor Cristina Magaldi of the music department calls the “iPod generation,” Hurlbut’s taste in music genres is broader than what would have been expected from the average college student 10 years ago.

“It was a very, very big thing in the music industry, the portability and accessibility of music. Those pieces of equipment in the past weren’t available,” Magaldi said. “As they became available, music became cheaper and people didn’t need to buy whole CDs.”

She said that this enabled music listeners of all ages to sample whatever new music they wanted for a few seconds without paying for it.

“Once you have that easy access to things, you use it, you have it, you use it. And the outcome of this is very, very interesting…Now, you can pick and choose the music you want to listen to. You can engage with any type of music and culture,” Magaldi said.

In her classes that cover American culture and music, Magaldi said that they examine the idea of identity politics to better understand culture as it relates to music.

“The idea of culture and individual cultural identities is not as clear-cut as it used to be 20 or 30 years ago,” Magaldi said. “What this iPod generation is showing is that we need to re-focus how individuals build identities.”

Magaldi explained that culture in the United States is constantly changing. She encourages her students to engage with music and cultures that are not specific to one type of person or group.

“Students are giving a very positive response and are open to any kind of music, which makes it easier to teach now as opposed to 10 years ago when I was trying to teach one type of music,” Magaldi said. “It’s not clear-cut anymore that guys will listen to one kind of music and females will listen to another.”

Hurlbut for example, enjoys music that ranges from jazz and classical to punk, rock and even some mainstream music from previous decades.

“I don’t really look at it as genres, for me all music is good, it’s just whether or not it’s bad taste. Anything can be good in any genre depending on who is doing it,” he said.

Freshman and biology major Ranya Marrakchi said that the music she listens to is primarily determined by her mood, but she mostly listens to electronic dance music because she said it gets her pumped up.

Senior and molecular biology major Janine Mohlhenrich however, prefers country music.

“Especially this time of the year, nothing beats driving with my windows down in nice weather listening to country music,” Mohlhenrich said.

Magaldi has noticed a similar trend in her classes, where she assigns students at the start of the semester to write her a brief bio and list their musical preferences.

“Up until about five years ago, they used to give specific band names,” Magaldi said. “But now, they usually just write, ‘Well, I like just about everything.’”

She attributes this change to the recent development of new genres that have emerged from the combining of previous styles of music.

Hurlbut also believes that it has become more challenging to categorize music and therefore it’s better not to focus as heavily on genres. He said that using a classification such as “country” can be misleading because country music artists like Taylor Swift cannot be compared to a country artist like Johnny Cash.

“I think that people keep finding, like you just mentioned, labels that people would give to music today like country rock or country pop, there are certainly a lot more labels now than there used to be,” Hurlbut said.

Piano performance and electronic media and film major Scott Winter also believes that current music genres have evolved past the previously set limitations.

“In terms of classical music and popular music up until maybe 10 years ago people sort of hit a brick wall in terms of what do we do now, we have done everything,” Winter, a junior, said. “Now I think there are a lot of neat opportunities in sort of amalgamating musical styles.”

Although Winter said he believes that we cannot predict how music genres will evolve, in order to understand the progression of modern music it’s important to first look at the history of music.

“I think there is potential for new genres to emerge but they are always going to have some traces of what came before. I think that’s what makes it so interesting,” Winter said. “When we study either a famous classical or romantic artist like Beethoven, what did he learn from and then how did he do things differently? How is he a pioneer or an innovator? And the same thing comes with all of the popular artists.”


Illustration by Kate Rodman/ The Towerlight

Hurlbut also said he agrees that looking at the history of music is an important step in determining how music should be classified.

“What’s important about the music today is that it has roots in the history of American music. Like country has its roots where it started down south, jazz has its roots in blues and rock has its roots in jazz,” Hurlbut said.

Winter also said that music could be sorted by era rather than genre.

“There are certain traits that sort of characterize it that allow us to group these things together historically, we have such rich history and yet there are new paths of exploration that have still yet to be tried,” Winter said.

While the explosion of new musical artists and genres is positive, it also has its negative effects. Radio stations in particular, which generally classify themselves as a particular genre, may have difficulty adapting to the converging musical genres.

“They could probably still specialize and be able to get a wide audience, but they might have difficulty in choosing what music to play on there since you have so many cross-over genres, especially with new music,” Winter said.

Hurlbut explained that the public’s need for radio is declining due to the availability of music on sites like YouTube where users can freely explore their musical options.

“I think radio is going to die out very soon, it’s already becoming difficult for radio stations to made a profit and basically they keep recycling the same 40 songs over and over on every station not just the popular stations,” Hurlbut said. “I don’t think radio is giving people an opportunity to really go out and get their own music.”

However, he also recognizes that while the Internet has positively affected music listeners it has a negative impact on artists.

“Things like Spotify, while it’s really great for listeners, and I think that it’s great that it exists, it’s not so great for the artists trying to make money off of their music,” Hurlbut said. “In the 21st century music is kind of devalued as a product, it’s not viewed as something that should be paid for which I think is a problem.”

This is an important trend that Magaldi has expressed to her students.

“It’s something that was predictable, but now that it’s happened, people are thinking theoretically about what this means,” Magaldi said. “I showed my students that if you are in marketing or business you should pay attention, because traditionally, the industry market tried to target one specific group of people.”

With the explosion of new types of music, the need for a classification system is becoming less relevant. It is not clear if a new way to classify music by genre or decade will emerge but Winter said he believes that genre will always have a place in academia.

“It’s certainly an important thing when you are studying popular music to sort of figure out the methodology and formula and see sort of the amalgamation of ideas in terms of collegiate study, I think that’s probably one of the main reasons why they classify them as such,” he said. “I think it’s important for academic study but not so important for practical listening and for enjoying music.”

– Jonathan Munshaw contributed to this article

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