Under the influence

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The rise of popular music in the past sixty years has caused an overlapping of influences upon artists and even our own musical tastes. Take the music your parents listen to, or music you listened to growing up, how much has this affected your taste in music today? There are a host of possible things that could influence your musical preferences, such as upbringing, culture, when you grew up or even the amount of music you could access growing up; the same goes for artists and the music they produce, the unique balance of factors play a crucial part in the music they go on to produce causing exceptional and original music to be created.

Music has changed a lot in the last couple of decades, as has the way we access it. This is primarily the fault of the internet, which has smashed the music world right open in more ways than one, giving artists and listeners access to a whole host of new sounds and potential influences.

So the question is how much of an impact do these musical influences have on artists today? We often see bands and artists being asked what their main influences are on their music and their music career, as it gives their audience a unique insight into the direction they are going to take.

The importance of influences is also shown by the frequency with which artists are compared to previous artists with a similar sound to them. This gives the listener a sense of familiarity, in knowing that they will probably like the band on the basis they sound like one they already know. In some sense, even when we look for something new we hope for a hint of the old, a sense of continuity. Having said this, for a new band or artist to be referred to as similar to a more successful, established artist in music is almost complimentary, and is respectful of previous artists as it further cements their place in music, as their music has breathed life into newer artists.

The Gryphon spoke to Dr Simon Warner, specialising in the field of Popular Music Studies and lecturer in the School of Music at the University of Leeds for his perspectives on the impact of musical influences upon artists today.

‘Broadly speaking, earlier artists have a huge impact upon contemporary artists; artists like Louis Armstrong, The Sex Pistols, and The Beatles.  Newer artists grow from earlier influences and build on the past, and in a sense pay homage to artists before them.’


In light of the mixing of influences and even genres in contemporary music, The Gryphon also asked Dr Warner for his views on how music is staying fresh.

‘There is no doubt that music genres are becoming more fluid due the internet changing music consumption, but the post mid-eighties club scene has brought about the most fertile area of music making; also, hip-hop has been the biggest, most recent change in music stylistically. We are also more likely to see in future a greater influence from non-western music such as Latino, African and Caribbean music upon pop music.’

These influences can manifest themselves in the creation of something new or something more straight forward. Recently, Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk’ cleverly incorporates funk, soul, pop and even some Latin percussion elements. This rather fitting combination pays tribute to older artists like James Brown, Prince and Michael Jackson which is clear from both the song and the music video. When newer songs like this feature funk, which is not so prominent in today’s popular music scene, it can summon nostalgia in pre-existing fans of the genre, while also introducing it a new generation of fans. This displays some of the impact of musical influences on artists and its wider effects on listeners today.

As with many things, there’s a cyclicality to music in the sense that there is a continuity in the changes we hear. No matter their influences, music that is created from an organic place of creativity must be regarded as original. There are only twelve notes in music so overlap is inevitable, however there are enough other factors that when balanced, can produce something new.


Stephanie Uwalaka

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