So for this post, I thought I would tackle some of the more difficult music questions. Not the ones that are difficult in content, but rather the ones that you’re afraid to ask your musical friends because in all honestly, the window of opportunity to admit that you didn’t know the answer passed quite possibly years ago. Now, to try and make this as helpful as possible, I opened up the floor to you guys. Here are the questions you wanted answered (as well as one of my own):
1) How is the Top 40 selected?
The Top 40 songs can be different based on which list you’re looking at, but they are always calculated based on the same two variables. First, radio airplay is taken into account. The people compiling the list take a look at how frequently songs are being played on the air. They work under the assumption that airplay reflects what is currently popular and that radio stations have an idea of what exactly people want to listen to right now. This assumption may or may not be accurate, depending on whether or not you consider the influence of repeated exposure and peer pressure on musical tastes. That’s a discussion for another time though. Secondly, the Top 40 is determined by music sales. If an album is flying off the shelves, or a specific song is being downloaded like crazy off of iTunes, then that is also taken into consideration. Through these two methods, the Top 40 tries to be as accurate as possibly in reflecting what people are listening to right now.
2) What is the best way to find new music?
This can actually be a little tricky. Based on what kind of music you’re looking for, I have three different recommendations. First, you can always go the traditional route of tuning into the radio and checking iTunes. This way, you’ll see what everyone else is listening to, and you will probably be exposed to newer albums by popular artists as well as breakaway hits from unknowns. However, this will not help you if you’re looking for music that is more off the beaten track. If you’re looking for specific genres, you could definitely try Spotify playlists. They always have a collection of playlists on the front page that are organized by mood or genre. If you click on the type of music you’re looking for, you should be able to find something new that still falls within your tastes. Additionally, I find that using the related videos sidebar on YouTube can be helpful if you start from some of your preferred artists pages and just bop around from video to video until you like the music. Obviously however, I would definitely recommend tuning into WRVU. There are a bunch of different shows, so you can even just tune in to ones that are in alignment with your tastes.
3) What is alternative music?
Alternative music is an offshoot of rock music that first originated in the 1980s and became popular in the 1990s. Its definition is incredibly ambiguous and fluid. While some people characterize it as an attitude towards the music, others claim that alternative is characterized by musical elements such as distorted guitar sounds or transgressive lyrics. Ultimately, the genre has experienced a decent amount of commercial success despite the ambiguity of its classification. That being said, some individuals are shifting to classify what would have previously been known as alternative music as indie rock.
4) What is indie music?
Indie music can mean different things to different people, but at its most basic definition indie music describes an offshoot of rock that is characterized by a strong commitment to independence of sound and message. At the inception of the term, indie was strongly related to alternative rock, however it lacked the commercial success that alternative eventually experienced. Indie music tends to appeal to very specific subsections of people without a lot of broader appeal. That being said, a lot of indie artists have very dedicated followings which allow them to be successful even without being broadly accessible.
5) What is dubstep?
Now, this question is one of my own, and it is definitely one that has caused a bit of trouble since its inception. According to Wikipedia, it has been around since the late 1990s and is a form of dance music that originated in South London, England. It has just in the past few years begun to be popular in the US. Its influence has spread through its incorporation into pop remixes and even some pop hits. Some characteristic elements of the genre are a syncopated beat, and a sub-bass sound or the “wub” where the bass noise is manipulated rhythmically. Skrillex’s music would be a good example of dubstep as we tend to experience it in the US, although dubstep elements have also been incorporated into pop music by artists like Taylor Swift and Britney Spears.
If you are interested in any of these topics, I’d highly recommend doing additional research or leaving a comment below. There is a ton of literature out there, especially on the characteristics of the different musical genres, and these definitions are always shifting and taking on new meanings. My answers are the synthesis of what I’ve read as well as my personal experiences with these different topics, but there is so much more out there that I couldn’t even touch on here.
For further reading on any of these questions, these are the sources I consulted in compiling these answers:
Top 40: http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/top-40.htm
Alternative music: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_rock
Indie music: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indie_rock