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Social Class and Musical tastes


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Social class influences our status, where we live, how we dress, how we speak and how we decorate our homes. So it seems that it must also influences the music we listen to.

 

Let me clarify that by social class I do not mean income or personal wealth. Social class is determined more by one's family background and education level. For example, a college professor with an advanced degree in philosophy who was raised in a well-educated, formerly-affluent family is at a higher class level than a plumber with only a high school degree, even if the plumber makes more money and lives in a more expensive neighborhood. For an excellent discussion of social class check out the hilarious book CLASS: A GUIDE THROUGH THE AMERICAN STATUS SYSTEM by Paul Fussell.

 

How does your social class influence your music listening habits? I think most people avoid listening to music below their class level unless the music has been well-aged. For example, blues is now acceptable for middle class people, thanks to the fact that it hasn't been relevant to low income African-Americans for over thirty years.

 

Here's my attempt to identify some genres with social classes. (Of course geographic location, age, ethnic group and other factors are also influences)

 

Lower classes-mainstream country, rap/hip hop, pop rock/metal, booty/bass music, pop and/or soul ballads. Stars: Alan Jackson, Jay-Z, Lynyrd Skynrd, Anne Murray. Characterized by unabashed sentimenality, aggressiveness (for male-oriented music),lack of intellectual content.

 

Lower middle: Lite-Jazz, MTV/FM mainsteam rock, Pop/Rock Oldies, Lite classical, mainstream club/dance. Stars: U2, Sade, Madonna, Boney James, Teddy Pendergrass. Characterized by occassional pretense of intellectual content (nothing too deep), sentimentality and aggressiveness are kept somewhat in check.

 

Upper Middle: Jazz, Blues (nothing too obscure, preferable artists mentioned on PBS), College rock, folk-Rock, electronica, classical, Conscious Hip Hop.

Stars: Dylan, B.B. King, Mozart, Blackalicious, Wynton Marsalis. Characterized by some actual intellectual content, avoidance of excessive sentimentality and aggressiveness.

 

Upper: Avant Jazz, New Music/contemporary classical, experimental, IDM, Early Music, obscure ethnic music, anything old and obscure. Stars: Stockhausen, John Adams, Eric Dolphy,. Characterized by an extreme emphasis on intellectual content, obscurity, avoidance of sentimentality, accessible rhythms or melodies (with exceptions for extremely old and/or obscure genres).

 

Where do you fit in? Do you ever step outside ofyour class boundries? Are my generalizations relatively accurate?

 

Bring it on!

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That's actually pretty funny, and maybe even insightful, for a noncat.

 

Personally (catally?) I enjoy listening to ( and have worked in ) all classes of music you define.

 

Meow.

Dooby Dooby Doo
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I can only speak for myself... but I don't listen to certain kinds of music just because I'm aspiring to reach a 'higher social class' and/or I don't avoid certain music because people considered lower on the 'social ladder' may like it. That's bunk.

 

Matt

In two days, it won't matter.
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I believe you've assigned music tastes to the upper class that are probably way more avant-garde/intellectual than in reality.

 

Ahem...not that I actually have a lot of contact with the upper class. :rolleyes:

Just a pinch between the geek and chum

 

 

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I doubt any upper class folks listen to the music you describe. They would tend to listen to 'high brow classical' 3 tenors type of stuff; of if they were showing off maybe some 'cool' flavor of the month like Moby doing spinning a set of records; or Pablo Cassals at the Kennedy White House. Or something like Wayne Newton--I could see him playing the Bohemian Grove.

For upper middle I'd also add in 'world music'.

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Like you may have anticipated someone would, I find this theory to be a massive overgeneralization, along the same lines as criminal profiling.

 

I also believe that as musicians, we are obligated to cast off class-based expectations in this regard, and make music from the heart.

 

Here in California, at least, I know CEOs (born of the country-club set) who crank up gangsta rap as they leave the office. I also know impoverished people who definitely fit your lower-class description who listen to classical music nearly exclusively (including avant-garde composers). These are people I know personally.

 

I am aware that you qualify your idea by defining class as not being tied to race or economic status, per se. But your data is similar to that used by A&R research services for labels. It's easy to define people based on these criteria. I just don't think it needs to be that way, or is nearly as clear-cut as people try and make it.

 

- Jeff

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I guess I agree and disagree eith the assumptions. Generally (and very loosely) the list is sort of right, or at least kind of close.

 

Of course, exceptions are expected.

 

I've seen very un-classy people in their BMW's or yachts listening, or more less partying with really crappy "lower class" music (as in not even pop, just low class crap). Hideous!!!

 

There are blue collar workers out there with very fine taste in music. While their income maybe "blue collar", their "education", knowledge on life is just a bit higher. Or maybe have actually taken the time to appreciate and "educate their ears" on what art is. Take me, I'm still refining my tastes and hopefully will never stop. I started listening to crap hair metal rock, but I've outgrown it. Still can enjoy a couple of them albums (Def Leppard's Hysteria, Badlands, ...), just not cock wanking macho crap it evolved into.

 

I'm hoping some day I'll develop a good taste for classical and Zappa, etc and still enjoy or remininsce on the past. Ramones still rock, no matter how much I grow.

 

Anyway, still, it is wrong to profile. I hope I never judge anyone just because they like a certain kind of music. So lets keep our ears, arms, minds and hearts open or may eat our own words.

 

Peace and Love you all!!!

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Originally posted by hard truth:

Tedster wrote: "I've known well-educated professors who listened to country, and housepainters who listened exclusively to jazz."

 

Does that mean there are plenty of exceptions (I would agree) or do you think I am wrong?

Hmmm...interesting...at what point do exceptions outweigh the general argument? I don't know...just posing a question.

 

Allow me to pose this...we, as either musicians or those directly involved with music (engineers, audio folks) are perhaps much more sensitive to musical issues than the mainstream. Which can work either for or against your initial statement. In support, people listen to what they listen to for a variety of reasons, which makes for an interesting exploration as well.

 

1. They just like it. That's a hard one to quantify. It strikes a special chord (pardon the pun) for some unknown reason, perhaps even to them.

2. It reminds them of some special time (their grandfather played classical violin, or perhaps bluegrass fiddle). Oldies stations, nostalgia...whatever.

3. They listen for the express purpose of belonging to a given perceived social group. Gangsta, punk, country, redneck rock, all have elements...but so do "highbrow" types..."I'm a professor, I'm SUPPOSED to like classical".

4. The wallpaper element. They don't care, they just need some sort of background. Could be pop...whatever. The housewife who keeps her radio on, but never really listens to it. The guy who just turns his car radio on. I'd kind of put most dance-oriented listeners in this group as well ("I'll give it a 98, I can dance to it"). Loud wallpaper.

5. It transports them to a special place they can't get to otherwise. This again could encompass several styles or genres...including dance...jazz, classical, whatever. I'd include romantic music in this vein.

"Cisco Kid, was a friend of mine"
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Originally posted by hard truth:

Social class influences our status, where we live, how we dress, how we speak and how we decorate our homes. So it seems that it must also influences the music we listen to.

 

Where do you fit in? Do you ever step outside ofyour class boundries? Are my generalizations relatively accurate?

 

Bring it on!

Sorry man, here comes MY hard truth.

 

That's nonsense. I think Tedster said it best - there's a variety of reasons people listen to music, some of which even the listener may not recognize.

 

The point about a plumber who has more income than a college professor being perceived as lower class because of his occupation is interesting, but a very different debate. Let's just say, I make a lot of jokes about college professors who have no ability to safely cross a busy street. There's a new book out about appreciating the kind of mental gymnastics the "working class" must perform on the fly in order to accomplish their jobs. Here\'s the link. The book is called "The Mind at Work"

 

I think musical taste breaks along lines of appreciation. People who like and appreciate music will tend towards the the styles you ascribe to the "upper" classes; people who disregard music and use it as wallpaper or "lifestyle" enhancement will probably tend towards what the we (hopefully the appreciative type) consider crap.

 

And as FZ said, people don't know what they like, they like what they know.

 

P.S.: I've read books by Paul Fussell. There is not such thing as a hilarious Paul Fussell book. :P

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Reading the replies so far, made me think of one point: I'll bet there's a lot more live concert tickets sold according to "class status" than actual "appreciation". Case in point: I've heard a lot of snoring over the years in concerts... namely classical concerts! Don't know if its "the-wife-loves-classical-and-drags- hubby along", or couples just trying to get their pictures in the local society pages. I've also noticed, here in Utah, a lot of highbrow-looking folk who show up at jazz concerts, both free and pay-to-enter, who don't listen to the music at all but rather talk with everyone around them. Hmmmm.....

Botch

"Eccentric language often is symptomatic of peculiar thinking" - George Will

www.puddlestone.net

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I had a plummer come out to connect our new dryer to the gas line a couple of years back. The plummer's assistant was a doughy young guy who was not very well spoken and poorly educated - a somewhat typical Louisiana "redneck".

 

He saw my guitars and asked me if I liked Derek Bailey. Took me by surprise. Turns out that he had an encyclopedic knowledge of 20th century music and was a particularly huge fan of avant garde jazz and mid-century experimental music. Didn't play any instruments, just loved music. His quote was "My friends don't understand my music, they all listen to Skynerd".

"You never can vouch for your own consciousness." - Norman Mailer
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...

For example, blues is now acceptable for middle class people, thanks to the fact that it hasn't been relevant to low income African-Americans for over thirty years.

...[/QB]

I've read your entire initial post, so forgive me for highlighting this one sub section...

 

"low income african americans"...

 

1. Was blues EVER relevant to low income african americans?

 

2. Why not "african americans"? Why tie in "low-income" and "african americans".

 

3. Are there no low income caucasions? Nor mongoloids?

 

-----

 

In general I don't see strict delineation between social classes and music. Things are so fluid, who keeps track of these things? Furthermore, if you are going to look at the effect of learning on music or vice versa, you are missing an important control group - kids, given that they do not meet your definition of "social class".

 

Also, a lot of music like Salsa, reggae, soca, juk and calypso are tied to countries and regions not indegeneous to the USA, or to another "1st world" country". Historically, immigrants don't occupy the highest (educational, financial) strata of society (but we're getting there!)...so, the survey is further skewered.

 

A lot to do with what we hear and like relies on what we are exposed to, and the power of advertising.

 

It may be a cleaner study if you look at high school>college age kids (14-22) to see where their musical tastes lie, irrespective of education.

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Originally posted by hard truth:

 

Where do you fit in? Do you ever step outside ofyour class boundries? Are my generalizations relatively accurate?

 

Bring it on!

Well I do have a PhD, MSc, BSc, three other diplomas and a PPL (private pilot's license).

My father has a grade six education, but so did the owner of the Lear jet my uncle was allowed to fly for fun. I myself am very poor, all I own is this home studio, nothing else. I do NOT consider myself more than lower middle class, mainly due to my financial weakness.

 

My musical aspirations are of the experimental, obscure, yet highly composed and classical influenced or inspired. What I'd call dischordant degression as opposed to regular chord progressions... My results, however, are influenced if not tainted by my previous absortion of modern pop culture.

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No surprise when avant garde jazz musicians end up in minimum wage jobs! The house painter was on a career track, for sure.

A WOP BOP A LU BOP, A LOP BAM BOOM!

 

"There is nothing I regret so much as my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?" -Henry David Thoreau

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Extremely wealthy, old: Mozart (male), Opera (female)

 

Extremely wealthy, young: Euro techno, trance

 

Wealthy, but started out poor or middle class (MC): Whatever they liked when they were poor or MC

 

Upper middle class, over 60: Swing, jazz, Everly brothers, easy listening

 

Upper middle class, 45-60, male: (split among five groups) Classic rock, Dead, Rush, soul/R&B, Michael Bolton

 

Upper middle class, 45-60, female: soft rock light FM hits :(

 

Upper MC, 30 - 45: 80's, world music

 

Upper MC, 20 - 30, male: Nirvana, alternative rock

 

Upper MC, 20 - 30, female: boy bands, Enrique Iglesias, Dave Matthews

 

Upper MC, under 20: (female) boy bands, (male) Eminem, MTV acts

 

Working class, 60+: Doo wop, country, (black) Motown, jazz

 

Working class, 30 - 60: (white) Springsteen, country (black) R&B

 

Working class, 20 - 30, male: (white) Nirvana, metal, country (black) rap

 

Working class, 20 - 30, female: boy bands, Britney Spear, country

 

Working class, under 20: MTV

 

Poor, 60+: Country, pop, gospel

 

Poor, 30 - 60: Whatever they liked in high school

 

Poor, under 30: Country, rap, MTV

The Black Knight always triumphs!

 

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I like Dan South's list, by making age distinctions his list is probably more accurate than mine.

 

NYC Drew wrote:

>"low income african americans"...

 

>1. Was blues EVER relevant to low income african >americans?

 

Yes. I am not an ethnomusicologist or historian, just a well-read fan, but my understanding is that blues was a popular style in the black community. Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and others regularly appeared in the R & B and "race" charts of the fifties.

 

>2. Why not "african americans"? Why tie in "low->income" and "african americans".

 

Because blues was considered low-class or devil's music by more religious, upwardly mobile or "proper" african americans. Most white people were not exposed to, or aware of, real blues music until it was popularized by the Rolling Stones, Cream etc. in the mid to late 1960s. By that time blues was not very popular with african-americans having been replaced by soul, funk and other styles.

 

>3. Are there no low income caucasions?

 

Sure there are low income european-americans, but unless they had an unusual affinity with african-american culture (like Johny Otis), they were unlikely to listen to blues. More likely they would listen to country if they were rural and pop if they were more urban.

 

>In general I don't see strict delineation >between social classes and music. Things are so >fluid, who keeps track of these things?

 

My generalizations are broad, and not scientific. As has been pointed out, many other factors influence musical taste in addition to class. The other factors include: age, ethnicity, amount of music education,level of interest in music, and subculture. However, these class-based tendencies are tracked seriously by radio programmers, advertisers and the record industry. Note that different products are advertised on classical radio stations compared to country stations. What I find interesting is that commercial interests seeking to manipulate us are well aware of social class-musical taste tendencies, but I don't think that many listeners or musicians reflect on how their personal tastes are influenced by their social class.

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Well, let's see...

 

Me: Middle class, white male, 30-45.

 

Recent listens (glancing at my iTunes playlist): Rage Against The Machine, Dixie Dregs, Ray Charles, Mozart, Joni Mitchell, Linkin Park, Miles Davis.

 

Which category am I in again? :)

 

- Jeff

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Originally posted by Bejeeber:

I believe you've assigned music tastes to the upper class that are probably way more avant-garde/intellectual than in reality.

 

Ahem...not that I actually have a lot of contact with the upper class. :rolleyes:

I agree -- most upper class people I've encountered (a few hundred) listen to either Muzak or to whatever they've been told is 'classy' (typically opera, symphony or similar).
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Asking that question in this forum is moot. Most of the members here have long let it be known that their musical tastes are widely eclectic.

 

But it's a good point when observing the world around you. For instance, in southwest Detriot, long and mistakenly thought to be "lower class"(actually, many people living there make middle class wages.), the kids tend to listen to a lot of hip-hop and what's called R&B these days. In suburban Lincoln Park, the youthful lean towards rock and alternative. In many cases, people DO allow their so-called "social class" to dictate their tastes in music. And many other things as well. They almost seem to think of it as some kind of obligation.

 

But many folks have used musical tastes to assume a person's "personality", if you will. Here's a true and amusing tale about it:

 

I have always liked classical music. But for many years, it was from afar. Not until I was in my mid-20's did I start buying classical LP's, and start paying attention to which composer wrote what, and who conducts which orchestra. One day, I was listening to Beethoven's 5th piano concerto when my friend Ralph came over. He walked in and stopped dead in his tracks! "What's THAT you got on?" he asked. So I told him. He sat down for a minute, and finally said, "Yeah, it sounds OK. I guess I'll be going now..." I reminded him that he just got there, and asked what brought him over to begin with. He said, "Oh, I just wanted you to try out some of this weed I just got, but I guess not." "What makes you say THAT?" I asked. "Well," he said, "You're listening to classical music now, so I figured you gave it up..."

 

:confused::confused::confused:

 

I had to inform him that I just got done burning one during the first movement. And to this day, I STILL don't know what gave him that impression.

 

Whitefang

I started out with NOTHING...and I still have most of it left!
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Conversations such as this one are generated by those that are LED, and who are not LEADERS themselves. It all goes along with someone telling you what to like; there's no individuality for those who walk in someone else's shadow. I listen to all types of music; some I enjoy more than others, but all is good and varies between different moods as to which I listen to.
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Originally posted by Jeff Da Weasel:

Well, let's see...

 

Me: Middle class, white male, 30-45.

 

Recent listens (glancing at my iTunes playlist): Rage Against The Machine, Dixie Dregs, Ray Charles, Mozart, Joni Mitchell, Linkin Park, Miles Davis.

 

Which category am I in again? :)

 

- Jeff

"Linkin Park"

 

30-45 with children perhaps?

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