With continued cuts to the arts both in and outside of the academy, music studies (and especially popular music studies) faces increasing risk of disappearing off the research agenda. So, why study music? I’d like to take a brief look at three main reasons.
1. Music allows us to better understand ourselves
For me, this is one of the most persuasive arguments for music studies, and it is what led me to start my PhD in the first place. As Allan F. Moore (2012: 286) writes:
From a good song, we learn about ourselves. From finding out what we make of the song, we make that learning conscious, and that seems to me to be of inestimable value.
Although I think the issue of quality in what makes for a “good song” both complicates and problematises the issue (after all, I have also learnt from songs that I do not think of as good), this makes for a very agreeable line of argument.
2. Music is ubiquitous in everyday life and western culture
There’s no sense beating around the bush, music is almost unavoidable in everyday life and if it allows the learning about oneself, it certainly rewards study as a cultural phenomenon. In a recent programme for BBC Radio Four, Professor Trevor Cox (University of Salford) tried giving up music for lent. In his summary, he writes that “it’s impossible to completely avoid music and try and go about a normal life.”
In 2013, UK Music produced a comprehensive summary report in which the music industry is stated to be worth £3.5bn to the UK economy. Research has also indicated that music influences consumer behaviour in-store (indeed, the Musak company which pioneered ‘applied’ uses of music had relied on music as a mood-setter since around 1934). This has received increasing attention from the marketing research community of late. Knoferle et al. (2011), for instance, identify that tempo and tonality both influence how quickly consumers navigate stores and hence their likelihood to buy more. Similar studies have suggested musical style has a similar influence though, to my knowledge, narrative and sonic design have not been subject to extensive attention.
3. Music as therapy
Finally, music has positive restorative effects that make music therapy a candidate for a variety of cases including care for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, social disorders, and even pain management.
I could make a case for each of these but in this instance I think Music and Memory’s powerful video says it better:
If music can have such profound effects then the value of its study is surely self-evident. In an ageing population, the popular music of the present will become increasingly important in the future for music therapists. It’s time to get studying.