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When It Comes To Music, You Never Know What's Going To Be Popular

Aug 22, 2008
What do the majority of music aficionados search out when it comes to musical genres? What CDs achieve the highest sales results? What is the dominant style of music heard on the airwaves and on the dance floors around the world today? The answer is popular, or pop, music. While jazz, classical, polka, reggae and the like have their loyal followers, no group commands the audience that popular music does.

In general, popular music is any music that's accessible to the public through mass-marketing means and appeals to the broadest spectrum of listeners. The number of recording sales an artist achieves is a measure of popularity, as is the amount of airplay an artist receives. Therefore, artists and their music are popular by virtue of the vastness of their audience.

Popular music is not one particular genre. Songs that are on the pop music charts (which measure success) can be any genre. A top 40 list of current popular songs may include, rap, hip-hop, country and rock songs. In the early 1960s, when rock-'n-roll was the hot thing on radio, a catchy jazz tune called Take 5, by the Dave Brubeck Quartet climbed the charts and became a hit. Conventional wisdom at the time couldn't predict this, but it was what the public wanted to hear. Therefore, this quirky jazz tune was popular music.

The varieties of music commonly seen under the popular music umbrella today are soft rock, hard rock, country, hip-hop, rap and ballad-type film and Broadway music. The latter two often become popular due to the boost they receive from their visual media. Think of how popular the ballad "My Heart Will Go On" became because of the 1997 film "Titanic."

Trends in popular music today are toward vibrant, energetic dance music, superstar artist duets and tribute albums. Recent years have seen crossover albums become popular. This is where a popular artist in one genre, for example country, ventures over to another genre, like rock.

Another trend in popular music is toward elaborate stage productions for artist shows. Consider the production values of Celine Dion's recently ended show in Las Vegas. Christina Aguilera's recent Back to Basics tour resembled an elaborate Broadway production, complete with circus performers. This is the trend: big, brash and bold, with stunning visuals accompanying the popular music.

Any music listened to by the majority is, by definition, popular. However, some achieve levels unheard of in the past due to today's ultra-fast dissemination methods. At no other time in history has so much music reached so many people in such a short time. With computers, the Internet, cell phones and other technology, a song can achieve popularity fast.

This is great for independent musicians who have no record company contract yet to promote their work. Through the social networking capabilities of the Internet, the word can get out about their work. In an inexpensive manner, they can find listeners and become very popular. This kind of viral marketing can make a lesser-known musician a pop star almost overnight.

In previous decades different styles of music achieved the status of "popular" because of television. From the 1950s on, TV variety shows were a valuable tool for record companies to display their artists. Think of "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Dean Martin Show," and others that combined music, dance and comedy to entertain America. Many music artists achieved their popularity due to the power of television.

The popular music field has room for songs of many styles. As Dave Brubeck proved, you never know what the public will choose to make popular. In any given year there are always surprises, remember the song "Who Let the Dogs Out"? So, there you go. Sit down at that piano and compose away. You just never know.
About the Author
Duane Shinn is the author of the popular online newsletter on piano chords, available free at "Exciting Piano Chords & Chord Progressions!"
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