• Tue, Apr 23, 2024

Unlocking The Power Of Empathy In The Music Industry

columns May 12, 02:50pm

An insight with an intent to invoke a new line of thought in the Emerging Artists, Creators, Creative Professionals and Entrepreneurs. We know, Our World is Changing. We are attempting to share some ideas for a United World and a Better Tomorrow!

Emotions, Music, and Storytelling are deeply integrated aspects of our human life. It is not surprising that most of the lyricists, poets, philosophers, and designers have a particular focus on emotions. The crux of the Music Business is about the Emotional Expressions of the Artists and Collaboration with their Fans. The synchronicity amongst the talent focuses on honesty, trust, and transparency. The vulnerabilities here arise due to intermediaries as they perform specific roles in the commercialization and monetization aspect of the business. It is, therefore, vital to creating a distinction between the nature of relationships that operate on two separate levels: Emotional and Commercial.
Human life consists of four vital aspects: the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels of existence in the universe. To find a balance, wholeness, and fulfillment in our lives, we need to heal, develop, and integrate all the four aspects within ourselves to create a definite rhythm.


A drawing by Debu Purkayastha for Rolling Stone Anniversary Cover depicts the need to live in harmony. It comprises of a ‘Music Note’ in the center of the artwork. The note highlights that by developing an ability to be able to resonate with each other, we can make a perfect musical note.



For the longest time in our societies, Emotions were disregarded and were not considered essential. Being emotional, or showing them in public was deemed to be shameful and perhaps a sign of weakness. However, Emotions get connected to music and babies/children; we always find that they help put them to sleep or uplift their mood and bring joy. Such is the origin of the lyrical rhymes and lullabies. The correlation between Music and a feeling is a long-standing fact associated with an emotion (mood). Even animals and plants carry this emotion, such as — By listening to Western Classical Music (Beethoven or Mozart), Cows can produce sweeter milk. Plants can grow with exposure to Music. European streaming service Moodagent specialized in this aspect of Mood Music’ intersecting’ with Empathy.

Stanford’s encyclopedia of philosophy, work done on Emotions highlights: “It is surprising that throughout much of the twentieth century, scientists and philosophers of mind tended to neglect the emotions — in part because of behaviorism’s allergy to inner mental states and in part because of the variety of phenomena covered by the word “emotion” discourages tidy theorizing. In recent decades, however, emotions have once again become the focus of vigorous interest in philosophy and affective science. Our objective is to account for developments, focusing on the descriptive question of what the emotions. Also tackling the normative question of whether emotions are rational”.
The study further explains — The most straightforward theory of emotions, and perhaps the most representative of common sense is that emotions are simply a class of feelings, differentiated by their experienced quality from other sensory experiences. Either of the ways can interpret that. The great classical philosophers — Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Locke — all understood emotions to involve feelings recognized as primitives without component parts. An alternative idea was first introduced by William James, who argued that scientific psychology should stop treating feelings as “eternal and sacred psychic entities, like the old immutable species in natural history”.


For the Music Industry, this is a crucial part of understanding the correlation between the Artist and the Musical Works. It contains these aspects, especially when the idea of a musical work gets conceived in the thoughts of the Artist. The image below explains the correlation between ‘Circumplex Structure’ and ‘Words in Lyrical works.’



At the time of a global outbreak, Empathy becomes very relevant because we deal with a lot of human lives. The issues the human beings face at such times are immense, diverse, and impacts human lives at different levels. Creative Industry typically is the first to get hit in such circumstances. There is very little elasticity in the effects that can be absorbed and for the continuity of the business in the future. The Music Industry and Music Artists are learning to deal with such occurrences, as our current world is coping with COVID-19. ‘I Believe that We Will Win’ a Global campaign by Pitbull is a beautiful example of unity, hope, and humanity.
Bottom line, No Matter What, Face Everything and RISE! ……. Pitbull

The Music Business in the last two decades morphed from Physical Retail into Broadcast, and the World Wide Web. These significant transformations were manageable and evolved the Artist community along with the structured Industry (Record Labels, Publishers, Distributors, Technology, Product Innovators, and the Legal Framework). We could look at these shifts as ‘A Collective Mindset Shift’:
1. Introduction of Mobile, Telecom Ecosystem and The Convergence Theory.
2. The Business of Mobile Apps and Introduction of Hybrid Products.
3. Epidemics, Pandemics, Disruptions and the Role of Empathy.
Musicologist Zachary Wallmark published a report on fMRI, which stated, “High-empathy people use their social cognitive circuitry to process music.” Christopher Bergland, in his write up ‘Empathy, Music Listening, and Mirror Neurons Are Intertwined’, makes a compelling case for mirroring research and the need for being Empathetic in the Music Business. Empathy, therefore, is one of the most prominent traits in the Music Business, whether one is a Producer, Artist, Record Label, Industry Executive, Artist Manager, or a Service Provider. Without this, there is little hope for any success. Lifehacker video explains this in an effortless way for the emerging Artist to understand its importance. Empathy as a tool is a life long companion, along with creative skills.




Expressions of Empathy by the Global Music Industry — In recent days, the Music Industry has come together in many different ways to put Human Aid before Business Interests. Such practices are a sign of excellent company culture and exceptional leadership. Rob Stringer, CEO Sony Music’s action of Empathy, reflects this sentiment, “Whatever lies ahead, we will continue to put our employees, artists, and songwriters first in every action we take.” Similarly, UMG is engaged not just in the relief aid for the employees and artists, but instrumental in putting together multiple initiatives through ‘The Healing Power of Music’. These efforts are joined by Crew Nation by Live Nation, MusiCares by The Recording Academy, Emergency Relief Fund by PRS, Online Artist Performances by IPRS India, and Streaming services contributions, among many others.
Regarding Baul and Traditional Folk Music, which are the purest form of performances and musical works, we find documentation on the life and living of the society as well. The performing artists move between villages, expressing their love for God and exchanging notes on culture. The idea of Music and singing, therefore, emerged over centuries to provide collective community entertainment to uplift and enriching human lives.
We can also see the commitments coming from the Artist community, in the form of Online Music Performances. Their design is to directly assist the relief workers, frontline medical staff, and emergency services. Upcoming is Lady Gaga’s initiative of Global Virtual Concert with WHO and Global Citizen, which aims to raise 35MN$ for relief work. Selena Gomez pledges 1$ from each sale on her merchandising store. In the Indian context, T Series and Red FM joined hands for ‘The Care Concert’ to raise funds as an empathetic gesture. In an epic online Opera performance, over 250 artists come together for an online concert on the simple request of Sean Griffin, Founder of avant-garde opera company Opera Povera. Such initiatives, along with the CSR Initiatives and Artist associations with humanitarian causes, stem from being Empathetic.
Prof. Bob Sutton, Co-Founder of Stanford’s d-School, talks about Empathy in his blog post titled Bosses, Empathy, and Teachings: Thoughts from Anonymous. The CEO expressed. “Life is a lot better when thinking about my job as one of helping everyone be good, helping everyone learn whatever they need, and teaching where I’ve got experience and expertise. When I think in terms of helping people learn to be even better, it automatically puts me into an empathetic mode (because teaching, fundamentally, is about understanding where the learner is coming from), and that sets up the interaction really well. I can’t always stay in this teaching mode. Sometimes there are real pressures and things I need to deliver on. Sometimes external stressors in my life cause me to forget to be empathetic. But usually, now I can notice when it’s happening and correct it.”
Empathy, Creativity, and the Emerging Artists — Based on the research done by UCLA and SMUD, there are two aspects — low and high Empathy, which can apply to both — Music Artist and Music Consumers. The highly empathetic artists also have a unique perspective on Music as it opens up the auditory and sensory parts of the brain. While producing Music this helps in connecting to the power of Music, how basic sounds can make us feel about people in real-life situations. “If music can function something like a virtual ‘other,’” they write, “then it might be capable of altering listeners’ views of real others” state Choi Deblieck and Marco Iacoboni:



a)Musician’s involved in Music Teaching; Empathy is their most significant skillset and responsibility.
b) Collective Music Performances in a group or an ensemble is a testimony.
c) Communication through Musical Works and Marketing Brands objectives with Music is the Humanisation of this emotion as it blurs the boundaries of perspectives, viewpoints, and sympathy.
d) Brings better understanding for Music Listening as per Music Preference Factor Scale developed by Peter J. Rentfrow and Samuel D. Gosling:
Factor 1 — Reflective and Complex (Jazz, Blues, Folk, Classical)
Factor 2 — Intense and Rebellious (Rock, Alternative, Heavy Metal)
Factor 3 — Conventional and Upbeat (Pop, Soundtracks, Country, Religious)
Factor 4 — Rhythmic and Energetic (Rap, Dance, Soul, Electronica)
e) The Result: music genres encompassed by MPF-1 and MPF-2 are more robust in their associations with Empathy than are those surrounded by MPF-3 and MPF-4. This means music preferences are linked to cognitive aspects. To further develop Empathy, our the way forward is to invoke rightful thinking and not just remain limited to feelings.



f) Hip Hop Diplomacy in the US — In the 2000s, the US State Department revised its historical musical diploma strategies, sending more genres abroad, linking to existing exchange programs, and increasing opportunities for musical interaction. The initiative called ‘Next Level’ was different from Jazz Ambassadors in the mid-twenties and focused on identifying teachers and activists that can be Emcees, DJs, Beatmakers or Dancers. The idea was to put together a Person-to-Person Diplomacy and work with emerging markets like India, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Sergia, etc. to develop Hip-Hop.


g) Jay-Z, Science, and Bronx — Anne Dougherty did an interesting study on Brox intersecting customer engagement and STEM education. What can be learned from Hip-Hop = Perhaps, Everything! The ‘empathetic approach’ raised multiple thoughts to eliminate notions like — What captivates me? Who am I? My Idols? What’s stopping me? My safe decisions? What makes me feel proud? Jay-Z demonstrated how stable the Hip-Hop Currency is, and the outcome was: Know Your Audiences, Examine Barriers, Speak the Language, Find the Right Messengers, Provide ancillary benefits.




h) Bela Fleck project in Africa focused on finding the roots of the Banjo instrument. Working with local musicians over many years, they created many pieces of Music and a film titled Throw Down Your Heart.



i) Afro-diasporic dance expert Moncell Durden says that “Teaching dance is teaching empathy — dance is everywhere; it comes from everyone.” In his Medea Vox episode, on Hip-Hop and being h-u-e-m-a-n: When I say “human beings,” I mean H–U–E, hue. I struggle with the concept of black and white. Everyone on this planet is of one color — multiple hues, from the lightest to the darkest.


- Albert Einstein




j) The Story of Manjit Singh Memorial is a beautiful example of Empathy in the Punjabi Music Industry.
5. The role empathy plays in Vocal Performances lies in the process of identification with the characters while singing. Classical Music, Opera, Art Songs, Devotional Music, Bollywood Soundtracks do bring an aspect of the imagination of the physical character, which is being played by another person, who is not the singer.
6. Fandom and Empathy, as expressed by Jen Cardenas in the thesis “Affinity and Beyond — Fandom, Infinity, Culture,” describes how affinity spaces encourage its learning. To cite a fan example — Most fandoms I’ve been part of are relatively agnostic of aspects such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality — at least in regards to the circles I joined. It allowed me to be in contact and befriend a great diversity of people, enabling the broadening of horizons, my awareness of their respective realities, and my understanding of human nature in general.



7. Avoid Manipulation of Empathy as it affects the emotions induced by Music for the music composers, artists, and fans. A study done by Andrei C. Miu and Felicia Rodica Balte? discusses in detail the effects of voluntarily empathizing with a musical performer.
Inclusion of Empathy and its practice across the sector of Music Business in emerging markets like India is essential as the business realigns.
Alex Zhu, the Founder of TikTok, said — TikTok’s extraordinarily generous contribution to the WHO is a perfect example of cooperation between all individuals and companies in the fight against CoronaVirus. The case couldn’t be more clearer. The creative and emerging artist community can understand the Value of Empathy. In the Hearts & Minds, Processes & Mission Statements of the big corporation’s Empathy is a Big Goal!


*Written by Vivek Paul, in collaboration with Debu Purkayastha and Dr. Vandana Sharma*
The contents of this post are personal views of the author and the collaborators.


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