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Monday, August 30, 2010

Oscillation in Audience Taste for Popular Music

   I don't think it is inappropriate to talk generally about tastes of a mass audience for specific trends in popular music.  These trends and shifts in taste occur as a result of the interaction between audience members/consumers, artists and professionals in the music industry reacting to both groups.

   Although shifts in audience taste take place over a longer period, slowly, the shifts among music professionals and intellectuals oscillate relatively quickly.  By "oscillate" I mean that the shifts in taste made by professionals and intellectuals tend to "flip" between two self-defined poles.  This oscillation mirrors reasoning trends in most western intellectuals fields since the rise of the university in Germany in the 18th century:  Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

  Thus, it should surprise no one that the taste of critics in a field like popular music tend to flip between two self defined poles:  loud/soft,  experimental/traditional, polished/gritty- there are many such set of oppositions that describe everything from the characteristics of songs to a style of dress of an artist.  If enough observers put together the same sets of oppositions at the same time, they can influence the tastes of passive listeners of music by influencing the people who produce and distribute music (artists and professionals.)  The poles themselves can shift, based on activity by groups of artists but an established set of opposing values tends to maintain itself over time absent activity by artists and/or audiences.

   The take away here is that taste tends to flip from one set of values to another set of values very quickly because of the way professionals and intellectuals talk and think about specific types of popular culture.  These flips in taste do not immediately impact the broader taste, but they can introduce momentum which can influence the wider audience.

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