I began to fall in love with music at around the age of eleven. Up until then, I never really cared about it that much because the only exposure I had at that point was Disney Channel and church music. It’s not that I disliked music; I simply did not care. It took lyrics to really pull me into the artform.
The first artist I got really into was Ed Sheeran. I remember when his debut album “+” came out, and I remember the first time I heard “The A Team” on the radio. There was something about his music that I loved. Like I said, I’d only been listening to Disney Channel music before him, so say what you want about Ed Sheeran, but discovering him was a transformative experience for me. I’d never heard music before that focused on songwriting so strongly. I’d never before found myself reading and analyzing lyrics in order to determine the artist’s message behind the song. I loved that his music had meaning and that it made me feel something. I sought to seek that same feeling that his lyrics gave me, so my interest in Ed Sheeran turned into years following of folk and indie (which somehow turned into years following of emo and hardcore–go figure), and music began to envelop my entire life.
The music that I listened to growing up greatly influenced my adolescence. I wanted to be exactly like my favorite artists and I wanted to experience everything they were telling me about in their songs. When I listened to Ed Sheeran, whose discography was, at the time, full of heartfelt and gushy love songs, I became entranced by the world of romance. I read every single young adult romance novel that I could get my hands on and I started listening to other artists who projected the same feelings and emotions. I loved this music so much, and it made me want to experience more and more of what it was talking about.
In fact, I can owe many of my interests to my music. Eddie Vedder’s Into The Wild soundtrack, which to me, is essentially a love letter to nature, inspired me to start getting outside as much as I could. As a result, being out in nature is something that I hold deeply close to my heart. I think I owe that, at least in part, to music. In addition, my personal style is something that was influenced by music. When I entered high school and my music taste began to turn in the more alternative direction, so did my clothes. When my taste got heavier, I started shopping baggier and darker… I wanted to be viewed in a certain light by my peers, and music showed me how. I thought I was being original, but I was actually just following a template laid out by the artists I admired.
Young people who are trying to figure out who they are and what their place is in the world are extremely vulnerable and malleable. There are of course infinite other factors that go into forming a person, such as their upbringing, socio-economic status, ethnicity, and nationality; however, music is one influence that tends to be deeply overlooked–or at least misunderstood. Music is probably the most common artform shared among young people, so society has a certain responsibility to place a greater emphasis on music as an influence. If we can form a greater understanding on how our music influences those around us, and if we can be intentional about the morals that we want to promote and cultures we want to create, then we can become better musicians and perhaps better the world. I am not an advocate for musicians feeling the need to avoid certain taboo topics because they don’t want to negatively influence their audience, but I am an advocate for musicians becoming more aware of who their audiences are and how they might be affected by these topics. Music has this amazing power to transform something dark into something hopeful and positive, and I believe that musicians, using the media of music, can be a powerful resource for individuals who might be struggling. I don’t agree with musicians who glamorize the extremely negative (suicide, self-harm, addiction) but it is still their place to talk about it. There is a massive difference between glamorization and discussion, and that is a line that all musicians have a responsibility to find. It’s not a new idea that music and society are deeply connected, nor that music influences our character, but I believe that there should be more focus placed on the idea that musicians are influencers themselves. If you choose to share your deepest and darkest thoughts and experiences with society through music, you have unknowingly picked up an important responsibility that requires thought and action. The music that we listen to affects what we eat and drink, what we wear, our career options, and how we carry ourselves. It affects our attitudes, our morals, our culture, and how we choose to treat our earth and those around us. Music affects everything, which means that musicians bear weighty and grave influence on their shoulders, whether or not they are aware of it. I ask musicians to create with purpose, because even your demo EP has the breathtaking power to change an individual for the better or for the worse– you decide.