Home > Name that audience. > Who is our audience?-Part II

Who is our audience?-Part II

Whatever audience you’re writing for, what the question of “Who is your audience?” really comes down to is “What makes a human being” Now, why should anyone care?  After all, I’m just trying to write some music.  But, if your goal is to communicate, even if it’s just to tickle your own fancy (or whatever), then you have to know who you are.  So, who are you?  What makes you tick?

Any successful work of art really addresses the whole person.  Some have called it speaking to the “human condition”.  The first, and most obvious, description of “who we are” is our physical being, otherwise known as our bodies.  We are physical.  “If you prick him, does he not bleed?”  Without your body, you’re just not here.  Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration TV ghost-chasing programs.

How does this affect you, the composer?  Look at pop music, including anything from Johann Strauss, Jr. through Ragtime through The Jonas Brothers.  What makes it successful, why do people like it?  Its not called “popular” music for no reason.  It physically moves people.  We tap our toes, nod our heads, dance, and generally have a great deal of physical fun with it.  Does this mean go out and become a pop musician?  Not really (unless, of course, you want to).  What makes some pop music so damn unfulfilling?  Pretty much, the same thing that makes it successful.  A great work of art has enormous breadth, but it also has great depth.  Much pop music doesn’t have this.  Of course, this is not true of the entire genre.  I am a firm believer that there is no good or bad style of music.  It’s obvious there can be a great Hip-Hop song as much as there can be a great piece of Romanticism.  I’ve seen some websites recently that really insult anything that is not classical art music.  There really is no great objective veracity to the superiority of one style over another.  What I’m saying here is that within any genre (or actually any art-form), the things that make something great, or at least work, are identical, regardless of style.  That’s one thing this is about.

Getting back to the main point here, sorry about the digression, is that one thing people like to do to music is move to it.  When that is the only aspect to the piece then, it’s just a one-dimensional work of art.  Unrewarding!  Why is much pop music from the 60’s and 70’s considered so good?  Listen to the Beatles.  You can dance to it.  True, some songs, “I am the Walrus”, Strawberry Fields”, “Eleanor Rigby”, and generally their post Help! period you can’t really dance to without chemical enhancement, but there is still an element of movement.  Maybe it’s complex, but it’s still there.  Listen to Baroque music.  It grooves.  Look at Hip-Hop.  Listen to Public Enemy.  Sometimes their music becomes so dense without a sense of tonal center that it borders on what some might call atonality.  Before anyone reading this thinks, “Oh come on, Public Enemy was not atonal!”  Remember, I said, at times, they bordered on it.  Nevertheless, why, if it’s actually complex music did it have such a huge audience in the 80’s and 90’s?  Why has the art music from the 50’s, usually called the Avant-Garde, never had a big audience?  My theory is that if you can dance to it, or at least nod your head, or tap your foot, in some kind of rhythm, no matter how complex, many other elements of the music will be heard as, not necessarily traditional, but at least something one doesn’t need a degree in music to understand.  Does this mean a successful piece of music has to have a beat?  No!  It does mean that there has to be some kind of rhythmic logic that allows the listener to get a handle on it.  Much of the music from the Avant-Garde is so rhythmically complex it simply sounds arhythmic.  The “complexity” is so great that it ceases to be something perceived as complex and simply becomes something unintelligible.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but it doesn’t lend itself to being great art.  Most of my teachers, especially two of them, would be beating me with a stick at this point.  However, the truth is, the Avant-Garde, with some exceptions, failed to create great music.  Its failure, because of its extremeness, is as much an artistic marginality as Herman’s Hermits (apologies to Peter Noone).

Why does Miley Cyrus (sorry to the Miley Cyrus fans reading this) not produce what might be called great art?  There’s not much depth.  She speaks to the physical side of her audience, but that’s it.  The “rhythmic logic”, and pretty much the other elements of her music, is so obvious, there’s no interest outside of the physical.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, it just is.  I don’t think Hannah Montana is worried about creating great art, just entertainment.  Nothing wrong with that.

Next Week: Modernism: Beethoven, Lady Gaga & you!

See you then.

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Categories: Name that audience.
  1. May 12, 2010 at 4:30 PM

    I like this post. Hope you to post useful article soon

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