Uses of Music in Everyday Life

The ways in which we hear, listen to, engage with, value, and use music have changed dramatically during the past two centuries. In the nineteenth century, live music could be heard only in private homes or a public concert hall (Cook, 1998), and this would presumably include theatres, taverns, and other sites of social gatherings. This meant that music was arguably much more valued and prized than it is today, so that the composer, as generator of the “core product,” occupied the apex of a hierarchy of status. Lower down that hierarchy was the performer, seen as a “middleman” whose role was to pass the product on to the listener, who was viewed as a passive consumer at the lowest level of the hierarchy. Music was seen as a highly valued treasure with fundamental and nearmystical powers of human communication: Itwas experienced within clearly defined contexts, and its value was intrinsically bound up with those contexts.

The development of the mass media in the twentieth century meant that music became much more widely and readily available, and so arguably lost its aura of automatic aesthetic value. It became viewed as a commodity that was produced, distributed, and consumed just like any other. Another important change was that the range of contexts within which people listened to music became far more varied and diverse: The cultural value placed on musical experience became dependent on the context in question (cf. the interaction between disc jockey [DJ] and “audience” in a nightclub and that between the orchestra and audience in a concert hall, for example), such that the distinction between “serious” and “popular” music became much less clear-cut.

The pace of technological change has accelerated further during the past 20 years or so, and these fundamental changes in the nature of musical experience and value have arguably become even more pronounced. Because so much music of different styles and genres is now so widely available via the Walkman, music video, the Internet, and other media, it is arguable that people now actively use it in everyday listening contexts to a much greater extent than hitherto. They are still exposed to music in shops, restaurants, and other commercial environments without active control: But they also control its use in the home, in the car, while exercising, and in other everyday environments. It might be expected that they should do this in order to achieve different psychological ends, such as creating certain mood states, or changing their levels of emotional arousal. Music can now be seen as a resource rather than merely as a commodity. People might consciously and actively use it in different situations at different levels of engagement, such that listening contexts ultimately determine the value of the musical experience to the individual listener (see North & Hargreaves, 2000, for one example of such a process; see also Hargreaves & North, 1997, 1999). Furthermore, the notion of music as a resource has been employed by businesses and other organizations as well as individuals, such that the former have employed technological advances to impose music upon people in public places such as shops, restaurants, and the like: More simply, it might be expected that the notion of choice could mediate everyday musical behavior in the modern world.

The revolution in the way that music is recorded, processed, stored, and played means that many of the traditionally delineated roles of the composer, the performer, the arranger, the sound engineer, and even the listener, with their associated hierarchy of status, are increasingly blurred. Technological change has given people more choices regarding music: We would expect this increased level of choice to lead to people making logical decisions about the way in which they use music in everyday life. The composer is no longer the main “generator of the core product,” as innovation is negotiated with other participants in the creative process.