Tuesday, February 10, 2009

College students and the Grammys

It was an informal survey, of course, but I really did not expect what it revealed.

During the past two days, I have polled about 80 students in four sections of English 102 at Coastal Carolina University.

I asked questions like, "Did you watch the Grammys? Who watched the Grammys?"

I was thinking, "Who wouldn't watch the Grammys?"

The 51st Annual Grammy Awards included live performances by U2, Lil Wayne, M.I.A., Coldplay, Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, Katie Perry, and several more recording artists who (surely) are familiar to folks in their late teens and early twenties.

So how many of my English 102 students watched the Grammys?

In one class, I might have had six hands in the air. In the other three classes, fewer than five raised their hands.

Some of those hands came with comments like, "I watched some of it."

These classes are mostly populated with freshmen.

I think music must be getting more democratic, less hierarchical. After all, the Grammys is a marquee event for popular culture, and most of the English 102 students didn't stop to watch.

I often use examples from popular films in my classes because there are some movies that nearly everyone has seen.

But music? It's less likely that everyone has heard the same songs or loaded the same tunes onto their MP3 players.

Movies still have big advertising and marketing campaigns, and still have distribution routes that keep viewers on a tight leash. If you want to see a new Hollywood movie, most of the time you have to go to the cinema.

But music? A televised, annual event with live performances by big-name recording artists can't draw much more than two percent to three percent of my students.

Or, you could say, movies have a portability problem that indirectly allows some of them to become popular in ways that songs and even recording artists cannot.

It's easy to listen to music on small devices, but movies (once they've made their run in the cinemas) require at least a small screen to view. You can't watch that small screen while you're driving, but you can listen to music just about anywhere, just about anytime.

The portability of music and the convenience of transporting allows the proliferation of distribution routes and low-cost, or free, or pirated downloads. Spend a few minute on the Web and you'll find dozens of bands that are new to you. Some band sites on MySpace will allow you to download select MP3s for free.

But all that is just well-worn speculation about the impact of technological changes.

I'm just surprised more of those students weren't watching the Grammys.

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