Music Thought Download: What is Musicology?


Written by Mary Woodcock

16 March 2018

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Imagine if you could look at a Number one song and know exactly what put it to the top of the charts. Well, that’s exactly what a musicologist does. It might sound like an intense term but to put it simply, musicology is the academic approach to studying music and it could be the key to making you a lot of money in the future. Those who have studied musicology, know how to break down a song into its most basic components and can usually spot exactly what gives it that extra oomph it needs to really sell. Any guesses on why this could be helpful to an unsigned artist trying to carve out their own little corner in the music industry?

Camila Cabello,Fifth Harmony,Music Industry

Just take a look at Camila Cabello’s breakout hit ‘Havana’. A musicologist could breakdown its success to the fusion of Latin and Pop music mixed with a bit of Cuban jazz and the slightly mysterious nature of the lyrics – who is this man who split the singer’s heart between Havana and Atlanta? Mixing those basic components and adding a verse from Young Thug, you have a number one waiting to happen. Of course, Ms. Cabello had the edge of having previously been in three-time, Billboard top 10, girl band, Fifth Harmony, so she already had fans waiting to buy and stream her music, but the principle of how she wrote a smash hit is still the same.

If you’re looking for mass market appeal, this kind of approach might be worth considering the next time you’re writing some new material. Essentially you could reverse the musicologists method to help find your musical identity. Is there anything in life that really helps channel your creativity? Maybe it’s a friendship, your old car or your favourite pack of biscuits. Build your song around this, just like Cabello did around the town of Havana, and make it personal to you. Try and tap in to what is current and popular, if that interests you – maybe even collaborate with another artist if you feel they have something the track really needs. Music Gateway can help you find other artists to collaborate with, which could be a great way to give your music that unique element you’re looking for.

Musicology has been popular with classical musicians looking to the past as it provides new ways to look at music written maybe a hundred, or even two hundred years ago.

adele,21,musicology,music careers

Learning about a composer’s life might tell you why they wrote a particular piece at a particular time. A great modern example of this would be Adele’s hit album 21. Musicologists might look at that material, making a strong link between the heartbreak she’s singing about and the relationship that fell apart while she was writing the album. Then they might look at the music, does it sound happy or sad? Does this sound match with the lyrics? Is the song a tear-worthy ballad or a bass-heavy club tune?

A lot of musicologists spend their time looking at classical music because that’s what they’ve always done, but there’s a lot of potential to use the same skills to break down current music to understand it on a deeper level. It’s what plenty of Youtubers do without realising it. They make a video reacting to a song they like, talking about their favourite and least favourite parts of the song. If this really interests you then you should check out some of the podcasts on switchedonpop.com because it’s exactly what they do, just without the fancy title of musicology attached.


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