28 million viewers watched this year’s Grammys and while the majority of post-event articles and blogs are about fashion, celebrity antics and special effects, as we walked the red carpet, and throughout the event, we heard a truth behind the notes in the more subtle tone of the songs – a truth that no one is tweeting, blogging or talking about…
…and that is the strong correlation between the music and what is happening in our society today.
We all know the difference between major and minor keys: major keys tend to have a warm, positive, even bright tone; minor keys often sound slightly dark, cool, sometimes reflective or brooding. In short, major keys usually conjure feelings of happiness; minor keys evoke those of seriousness. Enough with the grade school music theory. Why does this matter?
At the Grammys, the minor key permeated most of the music, reflecting a trend that has developed over the past three decades. Music is predominantly moving from major to minor keys, and it’s a trend that parallels business, culture and our socio-economic state.
In the 1950s and ‘60s the majority of songs were written in a major key. Rock Around the Clock, All Shook Up, the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine and We Can Work It Out and Aretha Franklin’s RESPECT are a few huge examples. Contrast that to this week’s winners and performers. Taylor Swift’s We’re Never Ever Getting Back Together represents her collection of minor key songs and even with her bubbly enthusiasm she’s frequently a tad snarky. Other winners this year, Gotye’s Somebody that I Used to Know, Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) and The Black Keys’ Lonely Boy are all composed in minor keys.
Researchers E. Glenn Schellenberg and Christian von Scheve researched a large selection of songs from Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 charts beginning in the 60s. Their most fascinating find is the change in key. In the 1960s, 85% percent of the songs were written in a major key compared to approximately 40% today. Society’s musical preferences are a key indicator of the public consciousness.
Researcher C. Nathan DeWall and his team utilized linguistic analysis to reveal that popular song lyrics are currently more self-focused and antisocial, two traits that currently can be used to describe the political strife in Washington, D.C. and around many boardrooms.
How might the Grammys be a call to action for CEOs?
Musical tones provoke emotions and thoughts. The reverse is also true: your thoughts and emotions project a tone, and unless you’re mindful of your chosen thoughts and their subsequent tone and tenor, the people you are talking to will absorb your tone and its impact on their energy and actions – positive or negative. How are your colleagues’ conversations influencing culture, creativity, performance and productivity?
Stop and listen to the tone and tenor of your conversations with colleagues and those you lead. Are these conversations cynical, weary, sarcastic or even filled with frustration? Or are they focused on producing solutions, creating clarity, seeking understanding and establishing trust so you can collaborate and create forward momentum in a major way?