The Mighty Music Metamorphosis


Trey Williams, Staff Writer

Pop music, also known as popular music, shows us what’s trending, what music listeners value, and who listeners appreciate. Throughout time people have gone to different sources for their music, from the symphony, to the radio, to MTV, to pure word of mouth. How we listen to music has changed dramatically throughout history. Now, streaming music is king. Streaming has completely changed how music listeners consume music, according to sophomore Kaelan Kinkead. He uses streaming services, such as YouTube Music and Pandora to get his music.

“I usually use a YouTube playlist with songs on it instead because it’s just more customizable,” Kinkead said.

He isn’t the only one. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) shows that 65 percent of music revenue in the United States comes from music streaming, far outweighing physical sales and downloads.

“There usually aren’t very many problems with the services,” Kinkead said. “YouTube has the whole related videos under music you select, so it’s easier to find something that’s like by the same artist.”

Though streaming music has been done for years on services such as Limewire and the scorned free and illegal Napster, streaming has become easier than ever with smartphones. Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora, all apps you can download on your phone, are now some of the most popular ways to listen to music.

Obviously, music hasn’t always been listened to like this. Before digital music, physical music was the only way to discover your favorite artists. English teacher Christian Schaeffer often found his music from cassette tapes from his friends.

“I can’t remember how we heard new music other than the classic word of mouth from your friends,” Schaeffer said. “You would make 90 minute cassettes. I still have a bunch of them at home… if it were somebody’s birthday you would give them a mixtape. That was how I shared music and how I got music the same way.”

With the rise of the internet and streaming, physical music such as CD or albums have become rare. Traditionally, pop has been influenced by its presentation, from cover art to crazy outfits. Music videos also were significant in pop culture. With the rise of MTV, music videos became a nearly vital component to a successful single. Though English teacher Libby Reed didn’t pay as much attention to MTV when she was younger, it was still relevant.

“It was on often as radio in the background in the summer when I was home. There are still some videos that I’m like ‘oh, I totally remember the video for that!’” Reed said.
Though MTV is a shadow of its former self, the music video medium hasn’t died. With the rise of streaming video, this is an aspect that hasn’t changed as much. Drake’s “In My Feelings”, the most popular song of the summer, has over 150 million views on YouTube. For many, YouTube is the new MTV.

A major difference between then and now, according to Reed and Schaeffer, is how we have shifted to listening to singles rather than albums. Due to the ability to choose to listen to whatever song you want, whenever you want, it’s become easier than ever to only listen to your favorite songs off of an album.

“…a lot of the artists I listen to right now don’t really have albums. It’s kind of like, ‘here’s a song!’” Kinkead said.

We can see this change in how music is listened to on the charts. Now, the focus when creating an album isn’t always on making a cohesive product; it’s more focused on being packed with hits. Some of the most successful albums of this year, such as Culture II and Scorpion, are massive in length, both between 90 and 110 minutes. These albums aren’t intended to be listened to all the way through in one sitting. Their goal is to release as many songs as possible, and profit off of what sticks. More songs means more chances at making the next “In My Feelings.”

Another side effect of the rise of streaming is the death of the radio, at least in being relevant in mainstream music. NYU’s Steinhardt Music Business Program published a study in 2017 which stated that teenagers listening to AM/FM radio has decreased 50 percent since 2005. Before then, according to history teacher Ryan Banta, the radio was another massive source of music consumption for teens.

“…the radio was what I would listen to to enjoy music. Especially if you go back to the 80s and you’re looking at old school hip-hop music, like that’s the only way I could get that music, on the radio station because my parents didn’t have those albums,” Banta said.

The radio has faded out of the limelight, according to sophomore Spencer Kessler.

“I feel like at this point in time modern radio is 99 percent ads and one percent music and that’s a lot of the reason it has faded out of popularity. It’s just ad space,” Kessler said. “The last time I listened to the radio was when the Bluetooth stopped working in my car.”

Due to streaming, it’s become more convenient than ever to listen to music wherever you go. Though there are many beautiful aspects to streaming, there are many aspects to music that have been lost through time. When hearing multiple teachers capable of naming different popular radio stations by both signal and name, it surprised me, because I would never be able to tell you what my local radio stations are. Hearing Reed talk about MTV, and Schaeffer talking about sharing cassette tapes, and Banta talking about his favorite stations, makes me wonder how different music would be for me if I grew up in their times.

“I miss the spontaneity, getting to hear only what’s playing, learning new songs instead of getting stuck in one place musically,” Kessler said. “But it’s also nice to have the control. It might also be more of a sense of nostalgia than really missing it.”