Music is one of the most important parts of the world we live in. While we all have our own relationship to music in one way or another, the influence that music has on the world at large may not be quite as obvious. As the technology we use to play and record music has evolved, so has the systems in which music distribution has been able to bring this art form to millions of people. At one time, the only way to experience someone's music was to see it live, or get your hands on sheet music and play it yourself. And even when recorded music was widely popular, you still had to be on a record label to get any kind of real exposure to your work. Now, music distribution is something that most indie artists can afford on their own, even if they don't have a major label backing them. This has certainly contributed to a huge boom in niche online communities, but also tends to blur the lines of music's real cultural influence on all of us. In this article, we'll give a few major ways that music influences the world, on both a micro and macro scale.
An Almost Universal Language
Music, in essence, is as complex as language. It allows communication of emotion that ideally, both the performer and the audience are sharing together in real time. In this way, music is a way that human beings can connect and communicate with each other without words and thus, absent of many of the cultural barriers that we are so used to experiencing. Especially in America. However, it's necessary to note here that the Western European world only makes up a small percentage of the music world. Cultures in the Eastern, Southern and Northern parts of the world have complex systems of organizing music that differ from Western traditions in many ways, but at the end of the day all music systems have the same goal; to organize a sequence of sounds into emotional catalysts that reflect the world around them. In this way, music is a highly powerful communicative tool that can allow culture to coexist.
Celebration of Individual Culture
With all this being said, music is also a way that individual societies and cultures can build tradition and expression in their own communities. The styles of music we study today have largely been built by inter community celebration and traditions that go back hundreds and hundreds of years. This is true not just for the traditional sounds and instruments of a region, but in the ways music is used as well. In Ghana, for example, music is used as a ceremonial tool and is often a central part of their funeral celebrations. Funeral processions are typically accompanied by parades of dancers, drummers and singers to guide their family members spirit safely on to the next realm. In this example, music is not just something enjoyed at a party, but an essential part of guiding family spirits after they have passed on.
A Tool For Expression
In its most raw form, music is a tool for expression. The art we see from generation to generation will reflect the circumstances around the artist when they were making it, and some of our most celebrated classic pieces are fantastic examples of this. Oliver Messiaen was a French composer during World War II and was imprisoned at a prisoner of war camp in what is now Zgorzelec, Poland. It was here that he met some fellow musicians for whom he wrote The Quartet for the End of Time, a hauntingly beautiful piece that reflects the dire and horrific times they were all living in. This piece was performed at the camp, in front of 400 prisoners and guards.
In the Digital Age
Today, music is a central part of the digital networks that most young people communicate through. The best and most prominent example of this can be found on Tik Tok, where music is being used and repurposed to express a multitude of experiences, emotions and humor. Anyone who browses social media is familiar with trending sounds, how quickly they spread and how deeply they can evoke certain emotions or experiential commonalities between people.
Music is just an influencer over culture, it's an essential ingredient to culture. Music, in one way or another, is at the center of every culture's traditions and for many countries, their music is a large part of what defines their nation. Music helps us communicate, understand and empathize with each other and it can also be a powerful tool to reflect the situations we are experiencing together in the world. Messiaen's quartet is just one example of this, and a modern example can be found quickly by seeing how musicians are sharing sounds and music on social media today.