Become a Music Investigator

by Adam R. Holz

As Plugged In's music guy, there's one question from parents that I hear often: "What do you know about music by ________?" Sometimes I'm not fully able to answer. Even though I spend my working hours submerged in pop culture, there are so many musicians in our increasingly fragmented media world that it's impossible to keep track of all of them. And while parents need only keep tabs on the music that their kids listen to, today's fast-changing music culture means the challenge of understanding those playlists is more difficult than ever.

But it's worth the effort. When it comes to discussing what music is appropriate for your family, you'll find that your kids respect informed, reasonable decisions far more than snap judgments and broad stereotypes. By entering the world of your kids' music — and that of their friends — you'll develop an accurate understanding of the musical messages competing for your kids' attention.

I rely on a few basic approaches to uncover the facts about unfamiliar artists or songs—things you can use as well to help you and your children evaluate their music:

Go to the source. Virtually every band has a website and an official Facebook page. You'll find pictures and biographical information, as well as links to songs and videos — all great ways to get a feel for the act and the image they want to project. Dig a bit deeper by checking out a musician's Twitter stream — the daily pulse of his public messaging.

Find out what others are saying. Key to understanding an act's message is a look at its current cultural influence. Wikipedia.com is a good avenue for information on a group's background, controversies and political advocacy. Content is user-generated, so don't take Wiki entries as gospel truth, but few folks are as passionate about getting details right as a musical act's most rabid fans. Check out the references section at the bottom of the entry for links to interviews and additional articles. Also, if an artist is popular enough, you'll likely be able to find his latest antics covered in your favorite news feed.

Examine the lyrics. It's important to explore what musicians are actually saying in their work. If you know the artist and can identify the title, search for a noise-free version of the lyrics at metrolyrics.com or azlyrics.com. I sometimes come across slang words that are unfamiliar (especially when reviewing rap). Urbandictionary.com is a user-generated site that offers multiple definitions for emerging slang and euphemisms. Warning: This site contains explicit and offensive language.

There's more music out there than ever these days. Fortunately, the Internet is the great equalizer when it comes to finding out about it. In just a few minutes, you can arm yourself with enough information to have an informed, intelligent conversation with your kids about the latest band or solo artist vying for their attention.


This article appeared in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Thriving Family. Copyright © 2012 Adam R. Holz. ThrivingFamily.com.


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