One of the hardest things to explain to people who are not involved in the business side of music is how much the marketing of music influences it's perception and reception. People think you just listen to music and like what you like in a vacuum with nothing shaping HOW you are hearing it. How many are ready to be honest and admit that how you perceive an artist or a genre of music influences HOW you listen and WHAT you listen to? How many are ready to admit that listening to music is more than just something you do casually. A lot of people use music as a way of expressing and affirming their identity and how they want people to perceive them. Basically music has a social aspect to it and it is more than just you enjoying a sound coming out of your expensive name brand headphones or laptop speaker or huge sound system etc etc
So let's get into my 2nd episode of for and against. Let's look at labels versus content
Content: When it comes to music, content means exactly what it means, what the music contains. If it is a song with lyrics it means the lyrics, the themes, the melody, the rhythm, the chorus, the instruments used and the style the whole thing forms into. People always go on about how a song has "content" (Shout out to the hipsters! I see you musical snobs lol) now what they really mean most times is it is "deep" and has "substance" but the truth is on a basic level all music has content because it contains something. You're not listening to silence. Whether what you are listening to is deep and meaningful sometimes is a subjective thing as well.
The most shallow song might have a deep meaning to someone for example a guy who goes on a first date with a woman who later becomes his wife might hear the most cheesy love song at the restaurant they go to but that song might be remembered with so much meaning because it was the soundtrack of their first date that led to a deeper commitment and let's say they grow old and grey together and they hear that song later it will contain so much deep meaning to them even though many others will say it just some shallow, cheesy pop ballad. (OK so this example is SUPER sentimental but you get the point right? LOL!)
Sometimes people try to appear deep by publicly identifying themselves with music that is generally perceived as deep or maybe too complex to be enjoyed by people who's sensibilities are attuned to pop music and then these same people will admit to love what is generally perceived as shallow music but call it a "guilty pleasure" and then post a tweet saying "I like _____ by ______" #DontJudgeMe. Sometimes that baffles me because WHO CARES? why should someone judge you for liking music that you like? The need for validation for our personal preferences and musical tastes is strange but I understand it because the truth is we are social beings that want to belong even though we also want to stand out and feel "unique" at the same time. Sometimes we want to feel our preferences and tastes are approved by the social group we identify with and want to belong to.
Labels: OK labels. These are the things we use to identify the music we like so that when we are talking about it or seeking it out then we can find what we are looking for easily with no confusion. We hate confusion and ambiguity besides life is short who has time? Convenience is necessary because we want what we want and we want it NOW! Instant gratification rules the world! Apart from that it is practical.
I have a theory about the labeling of music. The music industry lives and dies on this labeling being applied because when you go into a store to buy something you need it clearly identifiable to make a purchase don't you? That is pretty basic. The thing is labeling gets quite weird when it comes to music because people get creative with music and challenge established definitions and strict labeling and categorizations all the time. This keeps music fresh and interesting.
Most consumers don't know how much labeling and categorization is important to the marketing of music. For example Christian music (which is the only genre of music defined by it's lyrical content and not it's musical sound/style). In marketing terms it is music that is mainly for Christians, marketed to Christians, bought mainly by Christians, played on Christian radio, sung in Christian churches/concerts/events. It is the soundtrack of the different subcultures within Christendom. Christians have their own award shows to celebrate this music and their own celebrities who have huge expectations placed on them and are borderline idolized by some of their enthusiastic fans.
All this is why on a business level the labeling of music is important. A lot of fans of Christian music will never admit to all this. The Christian labeling and categorization of music is primarily a marketing term as far as record labels are concerned. Also the labeling is more important than the content as far as the marketing side of things is concerned. Let that sink in. If you are a fan of Christian music and you find yourself conflicted and resisting and fighting what I am saying then imagine how a lot of Christian artists who are aware of the business side of things and are involved in it feel daily.
Conclusion: I side more with content but I am not naive about the business side of music and how labeling and categorization are important. I am going to real with you, I want to make a living doing music but at the same time I don't want to be limited to a certain market either because of labeling. They say content is king but what they don't tell you is context is queen. The marketing, promotion and branding of music forms the context within which the content (in this case music) is consumed.
This is what labeling does. It limits things. It almost as if it says: "This is only for these people and not for everyone" Labeling excludes some people and it doesn't even give them an opportunity to give the music a chance because they feel IT IS NOT FOR THEM FROM THE START.
I think the musical style and lyrical themes should play a part in what label is placed on the music and what it is defined as but that is a highly idealistic thinking because sometimes some things are beyond conventional definition. Why is it so important to define things? I think it is because we want to feel in control. Things that are hard to define challenge us and make us feel VERY uncomfortable. Apart from all this people's attention spans are so short these days. No one seems to have time to stop think too hard about what something is.
Maybe we all should just listen to music and stay open to what we hear. You just never know what you are going to connect with sometimes. You never know what you could discover if you get over your preconceived notions.