The predominant consumers, analysts, commentators and producers of popular music are children and young people. The significance of music for children and young people is well known. A business perspective on the music industry is considerably less well documented. This paper examines ten key issues for the popular music business to consider in their dealings with children and young people. The same ten issues are just as vital to policy makers, parents, educators and the young people themselves. Those issues are: the proportion of young people's time and money that is spent on popular music consumption; their ease of access to popular music; the positive and negative impacts on health; the positive and negative impacts on attitudes and behaviour; piracy and respect for copyright and other intellectual property rights; their participation as prospective industry employees, artists and entrepreneurs; peer groups and the tribal nature of youth and popular music; age compression, especially with regard to younger children; popular music as an entertainment common denominator in education and advertising; and the marketing of popular music to young people.
Von Feilitzen and Roe (1990) commented that one of the areas in popular music research 'where our knowledge is scant ... is the ways in which children use popular music ... One immediately associates the expression "children and music" with nursery rhymes, games, songs etc. However there is growing evidence that pre-teenage children are increasingly orientated to popular music. The problem is that much of this evidence is fragmentary and unsystematic' (p. 53). This lack of knowledge has not changed much in recent years. The issue has been largely ignored by classical musicologists (who generally hope that popular music will just go away) and business people (who generally hope that popular music will keep on selling itself). This paper focuses on the business area, with priority given to the children's issues aspect of this enormous industry. In this paper, 'industry' is taken to mean popular music in its widest sense, including entertainment, retail, media, advertising, education and the internet, not only the recorded music business.
The data were collected using a combination of primary sources in the popular music industry and secondary sources such as the monograph series on Youth and Music published by the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA), The Youth Report published by B&T Weekly, surveys of employment in the industry by the Australia Council, the marketing and music literature, and relevant internet sites. Ten main issues were identified.
Concerning time devoted to music, Ramsay (1998) found that more than 40 per cent of young people spent between one and three hours on an average weekday on each of the three activities: listening to recorded music; listening to music on the radio; and watching television. She also found that this varied by genre: 'Those whose favourite type of music was dance/techno/trance, heavy metal/thrash, or rap/hip hop, spent the most time listening to recorded music' (p. 11). This was confirmed by AC Nielson McNair and YouthSCAN data.
Concerning money spent on music, one Australian study (Australia Council, 1991, p. 52) found that the major buyers of records and CDs from music stores were young people aged between 13 and 24 years, with two-thirds of purchases being in the popular/rock-and-roll category. Forrester Research (2000) expects online music sales to be worth $US4.2 billion and concert ticket sales $US3.8 billion by 2004. This does not include music-related news and sales of other merchandise.
An interesting statistic is that, during the Australian 1993-94 financial year, a total of $7.49 per week per person was spent on music consumption by persons under 25 years of age compared to $4.31 for those over 25. In addition, an average of $1.86 per week per person was also spent on musical instruments and production accessories by those under 25 years, and only $0.37 by those over 25 years. Total discretionary expenditure by 10-17 year olds in that year was calculated at $3 billion per annum by both Dolly/AMR Youth Monitor and by Harrison Communications. Ausmusic (1994) reported that half the under-18 age-group bought recorded music monthly, while half the 18-25 age-group bought recorded music weekly.
Similar situations are found in other countries. For example, a recent survey of 3 000 web users in the USA reported that:
by far the heaviest users of music downloads [were] individuals under 20 years old. They are heavy users and early adopters, they influence the behavior of those slightly younger than they are, and as a group they keep making more money as they grow older. The habits they form now will have a huge effect on sales of music five to ten years from now. ... It is just a matter of time before music downloads become a multi-billion dollar industry by themselves. (New Media Music, 2000, p. 3)Heavy popular music usage was also found in Sweden (von Feilitzen and Roe (1990). They reported that between 75 per cent and 90 per cent of all music listening among young people was accompanied by some other activity such as homework, eating, sport, travelling and socialising. Also, 91 per cent of young people had purchased at least one CD in the previous year, with the average purchase being 16 CDs. Audio tape buyers averaged ten tapes a year, and music video tape buyers five per year. While it is hard to say whether this constitutes 'heavy' purchasing or not as compared to the youth of other countries - the USA is higher, others are lower - it would amount to a large share of the average young person's discretionary expenditure.
These researchers also found 'that only 5 per cent of 11 year olds [in Sweden] were not at all interested in pop while 70 per cent were interested or very interested ... Interest did not differ much by social background but there were significant differences in amount of listening; the largest being between working class and middle class girls, the former being the heaviest consumers of popular music of all categories' (von Feilitzen & Roe, 1990, p. 54).
Clearly, popular music is one of the extensive - and expensive - activities in which young people engage. This is the case in Australia and apparently also in other countries.
More recently we also have the MP3 'Rio' downloadable device, the MP3 'Casio' watch and music player, Sony's new Web Walkman, Web Radio and TV, the PlayStation, various DVD music products, WAP mobile phones, mobile personal digital assistants, the Vaio personal computer, and various digital television set-top boxes. In addition there are now hundreds of websites offering hundreds of thousands of songs (full length and promotional clips) from catalogues that are expanding exponentially as you read this. WAP mobile phones linked to the internet and other digital devices are being hailed as the next ubiquous product, 'with the teen market shaping up as the biggest user of WAP' (Abernathy, 2000, p. 63). In July 2000, a youth-oriented multi-platform media network called rushTV.com was launched in Australia. Using a content team of more than 100 youth specialists from here and overseas, it offers radio, television, a 25 channel web site, several free-to-air and pay TV youth shows, showcasing of new artists, news on fashion, sports, and advice on loans, doctors, study tutors and other services (Bray, 2000).
Even with this plethora of media opportunities, there is still one area where Australian young people complain about inadequate access to music - the lack of commercial radio targeting youth specifically. Other than American College radio and other supported/subsidised community stations, mainstream youth radio has been unattractive to advertisers and uneconomic to produce. Nevertheless, in developed countries like Australia, Europe, Japan and North America, and even in most developing countries, access to popular music is quite substantial.
On the other hand, there can also be positive impacts. Some songs have inspirational lyrics (for example, 'I'm going to give myself permission to shine'[Bachelor Girl], 'Around here, we all stand up straight' [Counting Crows]), and some musicians are admirable role models. Dancing to popular music may be one of the main sources of exercise for many young people. Ausmusic concluded in 1994 that music 'creates a positive emotional response, gives them an identity, helps young people study, gives them a sense of belonging, and helps them cope with life and understand themselves.' (Ausmusic, 1994a, pp. 10-11). It also is suggested by von Feilitzen and Roe (1990, p. 58) that music adds 'an important element in the child's creation of a private, self-defined domain within the household; ... it is a major diversion when children are alone and tends to be chosen when they are lonely, sad, or want temporarily to forget about their current situation; ... it is an agent of social utility, unifying social collectives, introducing new topics, teaching norms and creating new symbols and identities.'
These kinds of negative and positive impacts on young people's health are contested by some observers. Independent, longitudinal, controlled studies are needed to clarify the situation.
One interesting element, with both positive and negative aspects, is the close link between music on the one hand and puberty, courtship, sex and romantic love on the other (von Feilitzen & Roe, 1990; Miller, 2000). Research has consistently shown this link, as well as both a special relationship between pop music and young girls as consumers, and also the preponderance of males as pop musicians and singers. However, studies which indicate whether or not this spoils, trivialises or enhances courtship and relationships are needed.
Another kind of positive impact may be on the composers and musicians themselves. Benefits to their health may derive from inspiration, creativity, language skill enhancement, self actualisation, intellectual and spiritual development and joy.
One possibly negative impact on attitudes and behaviours is the way popular music dominates young people's purchases, friendships and leisure activities. Several studies mentioned in this paper have shown the time and money expended on popular music. They have shown the selection of friends based on shared tastes, the use of music to accompany homework, and arguments with family and teachers over their music. One study found that 80 per cent of teenagers who switched radio stations did so to find the music they liked (Cupitt Gillian & Shelton, 1996), probably denying them exposure to other material of value to their development.
Another potentially negative impact on young people's attitudes and behaviour is the emphasis on small numbers of people receiving extra-ordinary financial rewards. This is common to sport, entertainers, politician and senior corporate executives as well, and could be encouraging the 'greed is good' version of capitalism among young people (Brashares, 2000).
Negus (1996), drawing on earlier work by Theodor Adorno, points to various negative effects of popular music on children's welfare. He is especially concerned that mass produced and mass consumed music constitutes a 'mass culture' that could contribute to authoritarian control.
Finally, on the negative side of the ledger is satanic and death metal music and its lyrics. Such lyrics are a vivid description of violent and vicious sexual crimes (Cole 2000a,b,c; Egenes 2000). The CEO of Metal Blade Records, Brian Slagel, happily admits that 'the major buyers are teens and young adults' (Cole 2000a, p. 3). Some heinous crimes, have been attributed in part to death metal music by juvenile criminals. Just as disturbing, perhaps, the expos articles themselves have been criticised for encouraging death metal. In response, Eric Egenes, President of Vomit Radio.com sought to and 'put [this] into perspective' (Egenes 2000). Egenes forcefully puts forward the 'rebellious, bored, badly-raised and badly-socialised, but bright teenager's perspective' on such music. But the laws on incitement to violence and murder are clear in other walks of life, and should be here. While he is correct in saying that there are similar problems in other entertainment industries, the music industry must join together with other interested parties to seek appropriate solutions.
With only one exception, regarding concerns about the lack of accessible low cost social venues for entertainment (Eastern Area Service for Youth, reported in London & Hearder 1992), none of the main surveys of youth has identified concerns with music or the music industry as a major worry of young people (as compared with unemployment, youth suicide, family problems, the environment and education). Also, despite the concerns of adults, the yearly AMR Interactive Report reports that 'Australians aged 10-17 years are mostly happy (95 per cent) - a level which has remained largely unchanged since 1992. They (75 per cent) are also optimistic about the future of their generation' (cited in B&T Weekly, 2000, p. 28).
The Greenfield Online e-Merging Music II Research Report found that over 66 per cent of 5 200 online music shoppers have not paid for, and would not expect to pay for, digital music downloads. (New Media Music, 2000). While the sample was spread across the internet age groups and did not focus on youth, it is likely that their proportion would be at least the same if not higher.
In Ramsay's survey for the ABA, 'younger respondents were more likely to record from radio while older respondents were more likely to buy music from music stores.' (Ramsay 1998, p. 12) We do not know whether this could be interpreted as a disturbing trend among young people, or whether it is a sign that they grow out of this habit once they are older and have more money to buy from music stores. In the same study, 4 per cent admitted to having distributed music to other people over the internet.
Out of the copyright issue has emerged an interesting, perhaps vitally important issue for society and one that could have particularly valuable consequences for young people. This issue is about free speech, liberty and democracy. During the recent debate over and prosecution of MP3.com and Napster for infringement of copyright, and the rapid closing down of the Gnutella site by its owners AOL/Nullsoft, concern was raised about the possible loss of the 'open, free society' - benefits that are one of the attractions of a global internet-connected world. This is an area where young people can adopt a leadership position due to their greater technological literacy and their passion for 'freedom', innovation and community. The creator of 'Furi', a Java version of Gnutella, put it this way:
Furi is the end result of my anger ... I did not care much about downloading MP3s for that matter. However, when I heard the news of AOL shutting down the Gnutella project, it made my blood boil. It was clearly a case of big money killing off innovation, established corporate interest censoring creativity ... Gnutella is a new technology that has great potential, with many different uses that allow free flow of information, fight against censorship and empower the individual user. Killing it off is like killing off a tool for liberty ...[With Furi and Gnutella technology] there will be networks for literature to share stories and poems, networks for art to share painting and animation, networks for photography, networks for music. (Lewis, 2000, p. 1&2):Perhaps it will be young people who will take a leadership role in protecting the valuable 'baby' while at the same time 'throwing out the bathwater' of stolen intellectual property and disrespect for musicians' work.
In the 1991 Census, 19 per cent of all private music teachers were aged 15-24 years, as were 19 per cent of all instrumental musicians, 15 per cent of all composers, 11 per cent of all music directors, and 23 per cent of all popular singers. Their median income was $11 700; musicians over 25 years of age earned 75 per cent higher. The Cultural Ministers Council survey of 1996 found that 'the most popular cultural activity for 15 to 24 year olds is live music performance ... Live performers spent an average of 266 hours each per year, ... the most time in total' by young people of any cultural activity (London & Hearder, 1997, p. 42). The Australian Broadcasting Tribunal study of 1985 stated that 45 per cent of 12-20 year olds claimed to be playing a musical instrument of one kind or another. (Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, 1985, p. 68)
In the survey by ABA and OFLC (1998), young women were 'more likely to have played a musical instrument, sung in a choir and sung as a solo artist while men were more likely to have performed as a DJ. ... 8 per cent of the sample said they either worked or participated in the music or radio industry. Of those, 57 per cent described themselves as musicians.' (Ramsay 1998, p. 14) In a study by Throsby and Thompson (1994), musicians and composers were the only male-dominated groups of artists. They found that career musicians and composers had below average incomes and above average levels of irregular intermittent work. These figures would probably be worse for the popular music genre and certainly would involve a shorter career span for most (despite the odd Mick Jaggers and Tom Jones of the world). Self-employment rates are extremely high in this industry, requiring probably more entrepreneurial activity than most young people are accustomed to or trained for. In some ways those who work or are committed to the industry are viewed as 'expendable youth' (Epstein, 1994). On the other hand, the number of young people establishing dotcom companies related to the music industry has been noticeable, and these companies constitute a significant new employment opportunity.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures (ABS, 1995-96), covering all music genres and all age groups show the following attributes of the corporate sector of the industry: 541 companies (record companies, distributors, manufacturers of recorded music, music publishing companies and sound recording studios); 3,886 full-time employees in the corporate sector of the industry (60 per cent for record companies and distributors, and 21 per cent for studios); and total income of $1 billion, with record companies and distributors contributing 81 per cent, publishers and studios 13 per cent, and recorded music manufacturers 11 per cent). There are no figures on the numbers of young people working in, or planning to work in, the corporate sector of the business, but it could be expected from the numbers taking music industry courses at Universities, TAFE and independent colleges that the total is substantial.
Youth cultures may well have much in common, but the differences and distinctions that the sub-culture members recognise and insist upon are equally significant. Moreover those tastes are employed as powerful mechanisms of intra-group discrimination and selective identity formation (as defined by differing tastes in music, clothing, personal habits and heroes, hang-outs, magazine/program choices, age, catchy phrases and acronyms, etc.). (p 63)Names coined for these different 'tribes' include Generation X, the Pepsi Generation, Teenie-Boppers, Baby Hippies, Grunge Babies, Black Tribe, Lost Tribe, Glam Rockers, Crusties, Pub Dwellers, Generation S 'The Simpsons', Waxheads, Ravers, Homeboys, Goths, Netheads, the ACES Generation (alienated, cynical, experimental and savvy), Hopeful Sceptics, Young Hermits, Young Optimists, Young Hedonists and Sheltered Kids. Typically, these labels are given by anthropologists and market researchers, not young people themselves.
While adult interviewees (18 years and over) name friends, parents, nightclubs and live music as their main influences in music consumption patterns, children and young people (under 18 years of age) name friends and older brothers and sisters. (Ramsay, 1998). However, popular music is not a form of family recreation. Listening to music with parents was reported by only 7 per cent of 12-17 year olds in the YouthSCAN survey, the fourth lowest ranking for leisure-time activity. Popular music is unlikely to have been the 'music' referred to here (Ramsay, 1998).
Some will argue that humans are naturally gregarious and that any sense of belonging to a group is natural and beneficial, especially for young people. Others will say that tribalism and peer groups can be divisive and conformist, and that the word 'fan' is a derivative of 'fanatic'.
Von Feilitzen and Roe (1990) conclude that 'today's 7 year old starting school has probably come into contact with more music than those living before the age of electronic audio-visual media did in their whole lives' (p. 3). They found in Sweden that 'by the age of 4, 60 per cent are already interested in pop ... and by 9-10 years interest had moved to rock/hard rock and over 80 per cent are interested in popular music' (p. 54).
One important consequence for youth can be a shock briefing on litigation. For example, of the 230 142 targeted users of the Napstar music sharing software allegedly illegally breaching the copyright rights of the pop group Dr Dre, many were below the legal age. These young people were told that they were 'banned' from Napstar, but if they believed they were innocent, they could file a counter notification 'under penalty of perjury, ... (including giving) your consent to be sued by Dr Dre in the Federal Court where you reside' (Napster, 2000). A student at the University of Oregon and 71 students at Carnegie Mellon University have already faced prosecutions or public reprimands (Neches, 2000).
Just as significantly, enormous multinational corporations in the news, software and entertainment industries have embraced popular music as an integral part of their product mix. Microsoft's Media Player, with its many strategic alliances with music industry players, has demonstrated their commitment. The American Online-Time Warner merger is designed, among other things, to weld the Warner music business into the rest of their operation. Giant European and American mobile phone companies have also embraced music in their mix. Billboard magazine reports that 'the record label interests of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp - now called Newscorp Music Group and Edel Music - have signed alliances to work on recorded music and Internet opportunities.' (Eliezer, 2000, p. 3). Music is everywhere and influential, and those who use it are often very powerful.
A study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (2000) found that 'across all types of private information studies, kids are more likely than parents to say it is okay to give out sensitive information. In addition, older kids (13-17) are more likely than younger kids (10-12), and boys are more likely than girls ... in exchange for a free gift' (p. 31). NUA Surveys (2000) reports that 'certain websites were closing down or scaling back activities because of the costs attached to adhering to the Children's On-line Privacy Protection Act, which obliges websites to obtain verifiable parental consent before children under 13 can give any personal information to that site' (p. 1).
Because of the frequency of music consumption among young people, sophisticated relationship marketing techniques could be both more powerful and more immediate with this target market segment. For example, there is no need for surveys or forms with KICK.com's New Music Companion. The software system 'learns what the user likes based on what they listen to and then delivers album art, news, concert information, commerce opportunities and more - all automatically personalised for each individual' (KICK.com, 2000, p 1)
In commenting on how to reach the youth market and to be accepted as 'cool', Lee (2000) suggests that young people should not be oversimplified and underestimated: 'It's not about trying to discover 'cool', it's about thinking in degrees of OK. It's about levels of acceptability. It's about greys ... 'Cool' is not a message. ... The environment in which the message is delivered becomes the vehicle for invoking 'cool'' (p. 6) The music industry players need to look very hard at that environment of delivery.
Another issue is the need for governments at all three levels to take this industry much more seriously. This paper has outlined how pervasive popular music is with young people. Its economic importance is also important. For example, only a few politicians and civil servants appear to appreciate that ABBA at their height earned more foreign exchange for Sweden than Volvo and that the Michael Jackson/Lisa Marie Presley marriage was one of the largest 'mergers' of that year. The Federal Government and the State Government of South Australia have injected $A1.8 million into music in that State (Watters, 2000), although only under considerable political pressure. Other Australian states have not seen this as an important industry. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (1996) report on the industry is now dated. The last major economic study of the industry was by Guldberg (1987). Popular music may be trivial to politicians and economic planners, but it is not a trivial industry and deserves more public attention.
Popular music is as much a social movement as it is an industry. The fact that the majority of the consumers and many of the producers are not yet adults makes this a very serious matter indeed. If the law protects young people from cigarettes, from incitements to violence, sexism and racism, and if obscenities are removed from the broadcasts of 'The Jerry Springer Show', for example, then it can also play a role against the abuses in the music business. Government support can involve conditions, as too can co-operation with public broadcasters and educational administrators. Parental Advisory Labelling by the industry in the USA could become compulsory rather than voluntary - as with cigarettes - and another attempt should be made in Australia to enact limited access legislation that is enforceable against specific offences (ABQ Journal.com, 2000). Existing legislation against incitement to murder, racism and sexism are accepted as justified by citizens and industry, and popular music should be no different.
Another important issue for policy-makers is to look at the industry and its environment strategically. Policy-makers need to find the best and most crucial leverage points for improvement. For example, popular music has been found to be very strong in encouraging creativity and social commentary among young people. Thus, particular projects should be developed to maximise this value for young people. All the other 'positive' aspects should in turn be examined, for example, by turning passive listening into exercises involving analytical and creative skills with popular music lyrics.
Because popular music is for young people a non-conformity sub-culture involving young people's music by young people for young people, improvements will have to be developed, and be seen to be developed, by young people themselves. Any 'in your face' attempts to do so would be anathema to them. Thus educators and policy-makers will need first to help young people to see the need and then to provide infrastructure and support.
The implications for further research are extensive but the main issues needing attention are the following:
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|Author details: Dr. John Jackson is Senior Lecturer in Marketing and Strategic Management in the Faculty of Business and Law at Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, 4702. His current research interests include the music industry, stakeholder partnering and management, business philosophies, the marketer and strategist as guardian and trustee, marketing and strategic innovations, agribusiness entrepreneurship, and case research and case writing. (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Please cite as: Jackson, J. (2001). Youth and the popular music business. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 17(1), 85-105. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer17/jackson.html