Music is entertainment. Most of us, especially those who update their musical vocabulary through major media such as television and radio, would agree with that statement. This is because big media has transformed music into a showbiz industry and selling entertainment.
However, there are a handful of people who think music is more than just entertainment. According to the description of music anthropologist Alan P Merriam, music has 10 main functions in society. (Merriam, 1964). Entertainment is one of them. In addition, music is related to emotional expression, aesthetic appreciation, communication, symbolism, physical reactions, social norms, validation of social institutions, cultural continuity, and community integration.
With so many roles music can play, why is music only considered entertainment? This single perspective is dangerous because it generates tolerance of or indifference to bad music in the Indonesian music industry. People do not seem to care about songs that are very monotonous and almost uniform, both in terms of music and lyrics. As long as they are entertaining, that’s enough.
There are two factors that have shaped an industry ecosystem that treats music as entertainment ornaments to fill spare time in the country. First is the lack of music criticism that accompanies the journey of the Indonesian music industry.
Why does music criticism matter? Like the House of Representatives, which plays a checks-and-balances role so that the government cannot act as it pleases, music criticism is a reminder that music should not be created without thought.
Music critics are needed to maintain the quality of music. As music critic Suka Hardjana puts it, in music, there is a correlation between criticism and appreciation. Music criticism will improve audience appreciation.
The lack of music criticism correlates with the second factor that turns the Indonesian music industry into mere showbiz. The Indonesian pop music industry feels safe because there is no checking mechanism to criticize it. This can be seen in lip-sync and minus-one behavior on television music shows that have lasted several decades.
In the end, the wider community is only a spectator community, not really concerned about appreciation. This is due to the lack of comprehensive music criticism of the music industry and artists working on its tracks.
Music is an important instrument for the life of the nation because music teaches us to cultivate reason and feeling, two things that are important in growing harmony in life.
Music also sharpens human reasoning abilities because basically music is mathematics. Music is a precise calculation of algorithms among melody, rhythm, tempo, and other musical elements. Without mathematical reasoning, music cannot be enjoyed, let alone appreciated, as it would be out of tune or have an irregular tempo.
Music accustoms listeners to reasoning, then uses their reasoning to understand the surrounding environment. The reason is important so humans are not trapped in assumptions and presumptions, especially in solving problems.
Music also teaches humans to be sensitive to feelings. Music sharpens our sensitivity to the surrounding environment.
The question now is whether the music produced, distributed, and listened to across the country has developed us into better Indonesians. Has the music we listen to trained us to be more sensitive in processing reason and feeling?
It is time to build a critical view of Indonesian music so that music listeners in the country do not settle for being what philosopher and musicologist Theodor Adorno calls “entertainment listeners” (Adorno, 1941). The Indonesian music audience should strive to better appreciate the quality of music and possess a better bargaining position as consumers, rather than being a silent majority who don’t care about the development of Indonesian music vis-à-vis foreign competitors.
The matter of listening to music finds its relevance if we extend the context to the sociopolitical realm. If Indonesian people opt to be mums when banal music prevails in the music industry, it is possible that they will be negligent in other issues such as social and political problems plaguing the country.
Let’s criticize music and appreciate it better, learn to reason, and cultivate feelings from music so that we can live as critical citizens who are keen to keep Indonesia moving in the right direction.
PS: Previously featured in The Jakarta Post.