Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How Many Foreign Songs Do You Listen To? Globalization and the Music Industry

I would guess that when most people sit down to listen to music, they rarely consider its origin. They're looking to distract themselves from the doldrums of their daily routine, relax after a long day at work or school, or to cut loose with a night on the town. Sometimes, (though more rarely inside the United States) music can be a form of preserving and enjoying one's own heritage. Still, what a person listens to and where that music comes from is truly reflective of the political, cultural and economic conditions in which they live.

For example, consider the effect of globalization on the world music market. Globalization is supposed to bring a new level of interconnectedness and unity among all people in the world, but at what cost? Is globalization opening new windows culturally across the globe, or does is serve to advance Westernization? Sure, new music is accessible to Americans from areas of the world they have never traveled to or thought they had interest in. But how often do they actually listen to this music? I'm not trying to be cynical here, but I personally think this is some of the reality of American culture. Personally, I would say that my exposure to music that is not from the US/Canada/UK is greater than average, yet still limited. I have about 4-5 albums and some various singles from German bands, and probably a good dozen from the remaining Western European countries, most of which are still sung in English. When it comes to albums from other areas of the world, I have some Bhangra (Indian dance music), I listen to Reggaeton, and...Bob Marley? The list pretty much ends there. I may be wrong about this, but I think this is a rather typical American experience.

Now, let's consider the experience of a person in another country. Some see problems with globalization in that it robs a country of its own identity and culture. In February of 1994, France passed legislation that forced commercial radio stations to air at least 40% French-language programming, because many of the most popular stations had been playing "as little as 15%". Having traveled to Germany in 2005, I can also testify that this phenomenon is not just true in France. The majority of the music my exchange partner listened to was in English, and when I brought a CD to share of some American music, she and her friends had heard most of the songs already! German CD stores were filled with American and British artists alike. In order to avoid relying entirely on personal evidence, the top UK and European charts also show the huge American and (to a lesser extent) British influence over the top singles in various western European countries.

This sort of thing raises a lot of questions. Was France correct in forcing the hand of radio stations with the intent of preserving its own artists and culture? Or should the music market be allowed to operate freely? And if so, is this all about money? The US and UK are two very rich countries, and thereby have a wealthy music industry. Money often translates into influence, and hence Anglo-European music is played the most. China is also a rising economic power. Does this mean we will hear more Chinese music on the airwaves, or will the government try to control this form of expression out of fear of subversive messages? Also, I don't really know too much about the influence of American music in other areas besides Europe, so I am curious if anyone else out there might be able to share their knowledge.

I feel that I have left out one last important element in this discussion so far. It seems there is a trend that is not so much about globalization as it is about the regional influence of music. In the United States, this is witnessed by the number of Spanish music channels on the radio, and the relative popularity of some Latin American artists such as Daddy Yankee ("Gasolina"), Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, etc. In Europe, a single from just about any country can become wildly popular, even if the airwaves are dominated by English music. Examples of this can be found in "Dragostea din tei" by O-Zone of Moldova or little Jodi Gruttman's "Schnappi, Das Kleine Krokodil" from Germany. The reason I view these as more regional than global is because these instances are mostly restricted to a smaller area. The Spanish-language influence is not as dominant in Europe and other parts of the world, just as it is difficult for non-English European songs to receive airtime in the U.S.

I would love to hear other people's thoughts on the issue.

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