March 4th, 2015
Comparative Studies 2367
Music is a form of entertainment that many people use to pass time, to help create a specific emotion, or to reinforce an emotion that they are currently having. These are typical examples of music being used on an individual basis through headphones and music has many more functions for the individual person. However, the focus in this paper is not on what affects music has in individual setting. The focus is on the effect music has on a group. It is both a form of escape from the stress and obligations of people’s busy lives, as well as a form of community among the audience and a way of self-representation for the artist.
In analyzing the effect live music has on the audience, there are significant communal and escapist aspects of concerts. Ann Cvetkovich touched on the communal concept in her book The Archive of Feelings she mentions the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and says, “performed live, the song creates an opportunity for the audience to shout out the words as a group and affirm the many kinds of survival that bring them together”. She said that these live shows “form the archive in which my own feelings are deposited”. In one’s own experience with live concerts, one might experience the same thing. Cvetkovich spoke of a collective “trauma” occurring in each of the attendees that brings them together and unifies them. However, it does not take a traumatic experience to pull people together and enjoy these live shows. Although it may add a deeper connection within the audience if they are able to relate on that level, the absence of a noteworthy traumatic experience will not hinder someone from having an amazing, communal experience when they go to a concert.
When one goes to a concert that is put on by a band that they have been listening to nonstop and know all the songs by heart, the feeling of community is indescribable. In most cases, the people gathered love the songs as much as they the next person. Consequently, they are simultaneously singing along to every word in unison. The crowd’s movement and energy transfers from one person to the next. Once one person feels it and starts jumping, it spreads quickly throughout the crowd. It’s as if energy is a highly contagious sickness that spreads mercilessly through the audience. The subject of the lyrics does not have to be about a traumatic experience or anything negative. All that matters is the atmosphere that the music creates. Songs with positive, encouraging lyrics are just as powerful as negative, traumatic ones. The music behind the words has a profound affect on the movement and mood of the audience. Dance concerts and festivals have very little words at all in their music and the feeling of community and acceptance is just as strong. An article in the Los Angeles Times talks about the Electric Daisy Carnival or EDC. The Electric Daisy Carnival is a massive festival that plays Electronic Dance Music, or EDM. This music typically has very few lyrics and is focused on the music and the beat. In this article, sociologist Yale Fox said “When everyone is listening to music at the same time, they’re all stimulated in a similar fashion … there’s something magical about everybody moving to the same beat.”(1) So, whether it has words to sing along to or not, the music has a way of bringing people together and putting everyone in a collective mood.
When an especially energetic and audience-engaging show is coming to an end, there is another ritual that takes place that has a particularly unifying effect; this ritual is called an encore. As the band plays the final song on their initial set list, they walk off stage as the crowd continues to cheer and applaud their performance. After a few moments, the crowd begins to chant together in unison. “One more song! One more song” After a minute of the crowd persisting, the band comes back on stage, invited by a roar from the crowd as they begin playing an encore song or set of songs. In an article in Popular Music & Society, Emma Webster sums up the encore phenomenon well by saying “The encore ritual both marks the temporality of a music event and also allows the audience at least to feel the semblance of empowerment in an increasingly mechanized, impersonal live music industry. It also enables artists, albeit somewhat artificially, to thank their audiences and finish their sets in a way that is understood, accepted, and expected by their audiences”(2). In her article, Webster tends to focus on the encore as being a temporary and artificial addition to a live show. This may be the case when an artist comes out to play more without the crowds eager applause. However, when a crowd eagerly wants to hear another song, the chanting and the highly anticipated return of the artist is an excellent conclusion to a great communal experience.
On stage, many popular artists pay close attention to how the set looks as they are performing. They adjust the lights that are being flashed onto the stage to set the appropriate mood. They use fog machines and lasers to create an intense atmosphere. Many artists use projection screens to show video of various different types to create a desired effect on the audience. There is an art to creating the music and lighting to project a feeling or emotion to the audience. In some of the larger shows, they the use of extravagant stage props to create an atmosphere that gives the viewer the sense that they are in another world. They hire actors and dancers and dress them up in obscure outfits to project an atmosphere that takes the crowd away from a sense of reality… A festival that goes by the name of TomorrowWorld achieves this through giant stage that is 400 feet wide and 90 feet high. The project director of TomorowWorld, Shawn Kent said, “for days, you’re transported to another world with the decoration, the 3-D elements we put on the stages, the design elements, the performers.” This use of music and visuals gives each audience member an escape from the real world.
The artists that put on a show have a unique opportunity to escape in their own way. This can be seen through the self-representation of their stage act. Some artists create a persona that is appealing and compelling to the average person. They create an alter ego that they act out on social media, in public interviews, and on stage during their live performances. David Bowie, a rockstar from the 70s, created an alter ego named Ziggy Stardust. This alternate persona wore outlandish clothing, and acted in a very different way than Bowie, by himself, would act on stage. Bowie had created a new personality that helped him step outside of himself in order to write music. Bowie said in an interview that he created the persona Ziggy Stardust because of his feeling of inadequacy, and feeling out of his element in the rock industry that he grew up in (3). He did a lot of writing for other artists at that time and he did it with ease. He knew what kind of sound they were looking for and could help them create it. But when he would attempt to write for himself he found it very difficult to do so. However, he found it very easy to write for the character that he created, Ziggy. Even though he was the one that created the persona, it was easier to distance himself from it all and write for his fictional character. He could escape into this character and live a life that came from his imagination while he was on stage. However, artists do not have to go to these extremes to captivate an audience. One can see the overwhelming effects of community in music that is written on a more personal subject to the artist. Some audiences are drawn to the fictional characters, because they see a piece of themselves in them. Others are drawn to a more truthful representation of the music.
In the realm of live music, we can see many different factors at play. We see the community that is experienced by the crowd. We can experience the feeling of escape into the music and feel like we’re being taken to another place. We see the effects that the stage lights have on the mood of the audience. We see the way that the stage props and stage structure can add to the feeling of escapist. We see, in some cases, that music and concerts allow the artist to escape into a fictional character that was created for the purpose of creating music and performing. These factors are all elements that make live shows one of the best forms of communion and escape a person can experience today.
- “Electric Daisy Carnival, EDM Thrive on Escapist Atmosphere.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2015. <http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-et-ms-electric-daisy-carnival-20140621-story.html>.
- Webster, Emma. ““One More Tune!” The Encore Ritual In Live Music Events.” Popular Music & Society 35.1 (2012): 93-111.Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
- “David Bowie Explains Ziggy Stardust Persona in Animated Interview.”Rolling Stone. N.p., 19 May 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2015. <http://www.rollingstone.com/music/videos/david-bowie-explains-ziggy-stardust-persona-in-animated-interview-20140519>