What are the difference between popular music and traditional music being composed in the 21th century?

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Let us first examine the two descriptors of music in the question. Music that is described as "popular" is just that. It is music that is consumed by a large portion of the populace. It is also an innovation of modern culture. Music that is described as popular is often...

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Let us first examine the two descriptors of music in the question. Music that is described as "popular" is just that. It is music that is consumed by a large portion of the populace. It is also an innovation of modern culture. Music that is described as popular is often easily digestible and generally does not seek to make the listener work at understanding or enjoying it. However, popular music is often clever, innovative, well performed, and enjoyable. Traditional music is often considered to encompass roots, Americana, bluegrass, and New Orleans jazz. It is not as popular, as it is not meant for mass consumption but rather is composed at the pleasure of the artist. The term "traditional," when referring to music, is often describing non-western or improvised music.

In the 21st century, popular music is composed for mass consumption and is relatively reliant on electronic enhancement, whereas traditional music being composed in the 21st century is less concerned with commercial popularity and more concerned with traditional forms and instrumentation.

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Let us define modern music as 20th and 21st. century music, which can be divided into at least two kinds: “popular music”, which is the widely broadcast, bought, and sung music of iTunes and the radio airwaves; and “art music” which is a continuation of the compositions now called “classical” music, and which includes all Western orchestral pieces since, say, the seventeenth century. Popular music today is youth-driven, fairly shallow expressions of the standard emotions, and generally (but not always) composed and/or written by the singer or musician who records it. Its audience and market are frivolous, temporary, and profit-driven. Serious music, on the other hand, is an exploration of the artistic possibilities of sound, and since Schoenberg, is most interested in finding alternatives to the standard key-driven harmonies of nineteenth-century music. Stravinsky, to Arvo Part and John Cage, are “necessity-driven” composers, not market-driven, and contemporary classical music is following many of the same paths as the visual arts – expressionism, minimalism, and the like. Its audience is a more serious, focused, long-term listener, and its emotional effects are wide-ranging, complex, and fueled by intellectual contemplation rather than shallow, juvenile sexual impulses. If one compares Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” with Taylor Swift’s or Justin Bieber’s “love songs”, the difference is immediately clear.

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