16 Nov, 15

Astra Taylor

What kind of impact does music have in our world?

I don’t think of art so much as impacting the world as being an essential part of it. It almost feels like one of the elements. There's air, water, dirt, fire, and music. It’s obviously something primal, the beat of our mother’s heart we hear in the womb. Music soothes us and bonds us, and also teaches and transforms us. I know so many people who got their initial political education from music, through lyrics and also through the ethos of specific musical subcultures and scenes (though it’s important not to be too romantic about the lessons music imparts, because plenty of music also upholds the status quo, reinforce stereotypes, and encourages a kind of dull conformity).

Music soothes us and bonds us, and also teaches and transforms us.


I like the divisive element of music, the subcultural even sectarian aspect, all the obscure niches and weird obsessions people have. I know what I love, the sounds and songs I can’t imagine living without, and can’t stand plenty of music with an equal and opposite passion. But I also like that there are people versed in genres of music that don’t speak to me (but that maybe one day will, who knows). One paradox is that music is a medium of connection and communion but also of differentiation and divergence. Music make the world more heterogeneous and diverse, more ornate and interesting, and that’s and that’s one of its most precious consequences as far as I can tell.

Music make the world more heterogeneous and diverse, more ornate and interesting, and that’s one of its most precious consequences as far as I can tell.


What can we do to ensure that artists' voices are heard?

I’m a political person, which means I’m not for artists voices being lifted categorically. Plenty of artists without a lot to say have an awful loud microphone compared to their fellow citizens. Beyond the superstars with their massive followings, all an artist has to do to be heard these days is talk shit about someone else and it’s front-page news. The incentives are all wrong if you crave a different kind of discourse. What I’d like to see is more thoughtful voices rise above the din, and also to see the sound turned up for some of the artists who inhabit those obscure niches I mentioned above (niches can refer to genre but also to geography or even gender, any trait that puts people outside the center). I think the number one priority is rethinking the advertiser corporate-sponsor data-collection driven business model that drives so much of our digital cultural distribution systems.

I think the number one priority is rethinking the advertiser corporate-sponsor data-collection driven business model that drives so much of our digital cultural distribution systems.


This matters because, let’s face it, the Internet is where most of us discover and listen to music today. Why do artists’ gossipy gripes spread far and wide? Because websites want cheap clicks. Why do streaming platforms put the most popular artists front and center as opposed to surfacing lesser known creators? Because by privileging celebrities they are guaranteed to attract the largest user base, which is what advertisers want to see. I’d like us to subvert these systems and to invent new ones. Systems of production and distribution that value music intrinsically, instead of using it as bait for advertisers and marketers to exploit, will help carve out space for the kind of artist voices we now have to strain to hear.

By Astra Taylor, distributed under a Creative Commons CC-BY license.

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