How Has Culture Contributed to Music Production?

How Has Culture Contributed to Music Production?

From Alvina Jennifer

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Music, culture and technology are inherently linked in their developments for new art forms and new technologies within those art forms. A quick look at any music history will reveal a powerful tool for expression that both brings joy to our communities and helps us communicate and express our unique feelings for the world around us and what might be going on inside our bodies and minds. Music has helped shape many cultures, and culture has certainly helped shape the face of the music industry throughout history. Today, with so many artists concerned with how to upload music to Spotify and how to get their music seen, it’s easy to forget the massive cultural impact we have on the world as musicians. In this article, we’ll give a brief overview of how culture, music and technology intersect and influence each other in our society. Keep reading to learn more! 

Tools + Art 

If we zoom out a bit, we can take a look not just at music, but at art as a whole. Throughout history, human development of tools is one of the major things that sets us apart from our animal ancestors. Tools like the hammer, ax and bow and arrow have helped humans survive and hunt in the most extreme conditions, but they’ve also provided some unintended results. Take the bow, for example. A bow is essentially a strong piece of wood and a string put under great tension. Not only do these strings make a sound on their own when drawn and released, but it was soon discovered that these bows could be rubbed against other objects to produce sounds. Additionally, tools that required striking could easily be transformed into percussive instruments. This trend has continued through history into our advanced technologies of the modern days, and in most cases the worlds of music and art are the first the repurpose tools for expression. The computer and smartphone are perfect examples of this trend in our cultures.

Hip Hop and Dance Music 

Let’s fast forward several centuries beyond the dawn of early humans, to New York City in the 1970’s. Around this time, home stereo systems were commonplace and records were the most popular way to enjoy your favorite music. However, underneath the mainstream scene there was a storm of creativity brewing in the Bronx, one of New York’s boroughs. In the Bronx in the 1970’s, on the right night you might find one of the world’s first hip hop parties, which consisted of a DJ spinning records and eventually MC’s using the music as a delivery system for their poetry. Culture and technology meet in an explosive cultural phenomenon, and we see some of the biggest innovations of modern stereo equipment. DJ Grandmaster Flash was one of the first to pioneer the cue system by rigging a record player and stereo system to play something back through a pair of headphones, but not the speakers. This allowed DJ’s to audition sounds before adding them into their mix. 

Electronic Dance Music 

Not long after hip hop became a cultural staple, a new scene started to emerge out of the wires and circuit boards of the late 70’s/early 80’s. Electronic dance music started to circulate the radio waves, largely born out of inner city youth of the country's Midwest cities. The rise of dance music can be attributed to two things. The first is a booming industry of modern electronic tools meant to be affordable for the general consumer. The second is a larger concentration of marginalized communities moving to the cities for a safer and more fulfilled life. The first pioneers of this kind of music were black LGBTQ youth searching for an avenue of expression and a community to share it with. These communities help shape and mold the sounds that we now associate with house, trance, techno and dub music.

Culture and music production have a deeply intertwined history together. In nearly every example we can see, cultural trends, technological advances and changes in political climate can be linked directly to many of the popular music genres that we’ve seen develop since recordings and radio brought music into people’s living rooms, cars and workspaces. However, the idea that culture and music are linked goes back much farther than the 20th century. In fact, most of our early tools as humans were repurposed into tools for art making of some kind. Music was likely initially produced with voices and percussive objects, and developed into more advanced instruments as our understanding of tools evolved. Today, the computers and smartphones we use are no exception to this phenomenon. The production tools we have today are a direct result of humans using tools to expand our musical language and our cultural language as a result.  

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