Saturday, May 20, 2006

Teens Resist Corporate Control of Music Industry

Listening to records - the old-fashioned vinyl discs long believed to have been made obsolete by CDs and music downloading — is a form of resistance against the music industry’s corporate taste-makers for many young people, according to new research from David Hayes, a PhD candidate at the Ontario Institute >for Studies in Education of U of T.
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High school teacher David Hayes, a PhD candidate at OISE/UT, discovered that teens have turned to LPs rather than the newer music marketed so aggressively. Image: Pascal Paquette
High school teacher David Hayes, a PhD candidate at OISE/UT, discovered that teens have turned to LPs rather than the newer music marketed so aggressively. Image: Pascal Paquette

His thesis, entitled Making Music Meaningful: Youth Investment in Popular Music, focused on how young people in the pseudonymous town of Mapleville, Ont., gleaned meaning from popular music and how their choice of music helped them navigate gender and racial identities.

While conducting his research, Hayes was surprised to discover that many of the young music fans he was interviewing were fans of vinyl. “This made me wonder why they were interested in something that is for all intents and purposes a dead medium,” he says. These young people were not connected to DJ culture but had switched from buying CDs to collecting LPs, often seeking out obscure recordings.

In multiple interviews, Hayes’ research subjects said they liked the visual appeal of LP jackets and the act of scouring shops and conventions for hard-to-find releases. They overwhelmingly insisted that the sound quality of LPs was superior to that of modern formats and characterized LPs and the artists of the past as more authentic than the barrage of youth-oriented music being aggressively marketed at them today.

In a paper published in the February 2006 issue of Popular Music and Society, Hayes stated that though these reasons for preferring LPs were important, it was the physical interaction required by an LP — the need to gently place a needle on a record, to flip the record and to care for it — that really engaged his subjects. Indeed, he says, their “active involvement in negotiating the pops, skips and crackles endemic to most second-hand records” was essential to the experience and lent the music an air of authenticity.

Worlds away from rural Mapleville, Hayes works in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood as a Grade 10 and 12 English teacher. “Popular music is so important to young people but it’s often ignored or derided by their parents and by authority figures.”

Hayes argues that an affection for vinyl is liberating for the young people he studied and helps them mark themselves as different from their peers as they reject the music industry’s attempts to define what’s popular and to regulate format. Their preferences are a form of resistance: “Through their retrogressive tastes and practices, these youth effectively disrupt the music industry’s efforts to define and regulate their consumer identities.”

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