One of Media Logic’s music aficionados Ron Ladouceur brought a Salon magazine article to our attention a couple of weeks ago. After reading “Why I miss the monoculture,” he asked people under 25 if they felt a part of big cultural moments. Though I am a few (OK, a many few) years older than 25, I was inspired to respond.
Those of us old enough to remember the profound impact of music pre-computer age have a kernel within us that feels like awe, the awe that comes from many thousands of people experiencing the same feelings you are at the same time. That was a rare, novel concept 20-40 years ago, and numbers that seemed impressive then — 500,000 at Woodstock, by some counts – are dwarfed in a social culture where brands attract millions of fans.
Massive music moments were, and still are, about belonging to something. Regardless of generation, these moments have always been about sharing. Think of how Elvis became a sensation. Radio stations and word of mouth spread via our passionate need to tune into — and share in — the emergence of this amazing new talent from Memphis.
Music sharing “back then” (I’m thinking especially of rock and roll) depended initially upon radio broadcast over AM waves and the emergence of the transistor radio, the first true device to allow personal listening choice and mobility. Together, they shifted our interaction with music. We “called in” to radio stations to make requests or vote for our favorite bands. Transistors and telephones may seem primitive now, but in retrospect, they make the social media sharing of music now feel very familiar.
The boom-box craze of the 80s, where folks gathered and “commented” on each others musical tastes, also has a modern counterpart. Then, consumers blasted their favorites up and down the streets, ever louder and more publicly. Now, favorite sounds are amplified and critiqued via social channels.
You can argue that the massive attendance of the original Woodstock qualifies it as a viral event. Hundreds of thousands of peace seekers spread the word to each other within a very short period of time by 1969 standards. The New York State Thruway was clogged for hours in the process of their physical “engagement” migration. It was all organic spillover stemming from the need to be heard instead of bending to the conventional wisdom of the time. The initial intent — to gather 75,000 like-minded participants to a “be-in” (Woodstock Preservation Archives) — turned out to become one of the first examples of a mass-influencer initiative, where “the audience was a much bigger story than the [bands].”
Today, musicians hope to “go viral” on YouTube. The hysteria from Justin Beiber’s original YouTube channel comes to mind. A success like that on YouTube feels very similar to how the Ed Sullivan show helped launch the stars of its day.
The human race is a social pack animal, always seeking to be part of something. The paths to broadcast, promote or encourage mass engagement during the 20th century were not as accessible or plentiful as they are now, but music was something it seemed natural and easy to share.
Thanks to 21st century technology, many other things are also easy and natural to share and on an even grander scale. Avenues for deliberate political actions, social commentaries or movements used to be far more limited. But the revolutionary causes of the past year that utilized Twitter and Facebook have replicated the music-based monoculture model on a real-time global scale.
Is it likely that the revolution in Egypt last spring would have reached the size, intensity and ultimate success it did had it not been for the emergence of a “massive moment” sparked by a couple of voices that became many across social networks? In addition, the platforms helped our cable networks tell the same truth that folks on the street were able to tell. Talk about a moment reflecting who you are in that space and time! The call to gather – knowing the world was watching — was fueled by the real-time benefit and wide reach that social media provides.
And today, brands want to be revolutionary, too, and a few are able to do it. Think about the “massive moment” that each new Apple iDevice release creates. Examine the Apple iPhone 4s, for example. The frenzy and fervor of that “gotta have it on release day” mentality makes it appear that monoculture events do still exist.
As “Marketing Nut” Pam Moore wrote recently, “People no longer buy things, they join things.” And it occurs to me that music, movements and brands all rely on the same motivating factors, as described by the opening of the Salon article:
“I love Massive Music Moments. I live for those times when an album explodes throughout American society as more than a product—but as a piece of art that speaks to our deepest longings and desires and anxieties. In these Moments, an album becomes so ubiquitous it seems to blast through the windows, to chase you down until it’s impossible to ignore it. But you don’t want to ignore it, because the songs are holding up a mirror and telling you who we are at that moment in history.”
Think about it: all historic massive moments came from a few folks doing something unexpected. Something new and fresh. Something that raised our heads from the sometimes drudging, sometimes dangerous, simple, boring norm. The thing that successfully challenges inertia gets our attention, whether it’s music or something else.
The mass moments of “the good old days” still feel large and deeply special. But yes, Ron, people do still feel part of big cultural moments. When the channels of participating were fewer, music movements were one of the biggest things to belong to. Now, participation channels are so prevalent people are using their own unique filters so they can reasonably participate with like-minded individuals. Some filter by political preferences, some by brand affinity. And yes, some still filter by a taste in music.