The Use of Music: A Conversation with Professor Waleed Rashidi

By: Melissa Torres, Catalina Melgoza, Kenya Nunez

Humans have been making music for over 35,000 thousand years. The oldest manufactured instrument is the flute, originally made out of mammoth ivory. Today, there are over 1,500 musical instruments used individually or together to make the music we listen to every day. Advancements in technology have also allowed us to make and listen to music more efficiently, making it easier to take music with us wherever we go. After interviewing researcher and Professor Waleed Rashidi regarding music and its related technology, we were able to gain some insight on their important roles in students’ lives today. 

Professor Waleed Rashidi

One specific technology that Professor Rashidi has conducted extensive research on was playback technology, more specifically old technologies such as cassette tapes. A couple of his studies revolve around the usage of cassette tapes and how they have been swinging back into use today. Cassette tapes were very popular in the late 1970’s through the mid 1980’s, but were quickly abandoned  when newer technologies, such as CD’s, were introduced. Professor Rashidi was curious as to why people were newly interested in cassette tapes, nearly 40 years after they went into retirement. 

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He started asking questions such as, “Why are people interested in a technology that is considered obsolete?”,  “Who are these people?”, “What are their experiences like?”,  and “What is their inspiration to use cassette tapes?”  He conducted two different surveys, the first interviewing millennials on their usage of cassette tapes and the second interviewing record store owners on what it’s like to sell cassette tapes now. Professor Rashidi wanted to know how owners reconfigured their stores and the way they responded to a renewed market in demand. After collecting all his data, he was able to present his research twice at an annual conference with MEIEA (Music and Entertainment IndustryEducators Association). 

Another technology Professor Rashidi looked into was the usage of CD’s. He also did two different studies that he was able to publish as a book and an academic journal. The first study focused on what people did with all the CD’s they bought as everyone started moving onto streaming. With the emergence of online streaming platforms such as Spotify, Pandora, and Apple music, there has been a definite shift away from these older physical media platforms. He wanted to discover if people sold them, gave them away or kept them and if they did keep them, which ones did they keep and why. The second study focused on why people were still using CD’s today, which group of people still use them and where they buy them. That is, it focused on those who actively still chose to use CDs to listen to music in the year 2020. 

Compared to when CDs were the primary physical format for music playback, CDs are no longer as prevalent as they used to be. In retail spaces such as Target, Walmart, and other stores, one used to be able to walk in and find a wide selection of CD music from different artists and genres. Some of the responses Professor Rashidi received in the study as to why people still use CD’s was for one, certain genres of music aren’t found on many streaming devices and two, sometimes the devices used don’t work or break down and CD’s are a great alternative. Overall, while CD sales and usage have definitely fallen from the level they were once at, there are still many that choose to use them. An example of this is within Korean Pop music, where CDs have evolved from simply the format that the music is contained on into something highly collectible and desirable by fans. As noted in the study, K-pop CDs have become known for containing photo cards that can then be traded by fans, and tickets to attend “Fan-Signs”, or artist meet and greets. 

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Audio from Zoom call

Aside from CDs and cassette tapes, Professor Rashidi has also researched many other areas in music. He has performed numerous studies exploring aspects of music such as the shifting trends in the press coverage of California’s Inland Empire (San Bernardino, Riverside, and Eastern LA county) pre-Coachella, the data stored on the grooves of vinyl records, the shift from record stores to streaming and their future viability in the increasingly online market, and many others. More recently, he has performed a study on the changes to peoples’ listening habits amid the pandemic, looking further into the way that people are using streaming services- are they increasing the amount of podcasts they listen to, are they spending more time streaming, and many other attributes. Also, he studied the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on touring independent music artists, interviewing several artists on how things have changed for them. In terms of the direction of further music research to be done, he wants to see studies that explore more about the impact of online concert streaming (ie, will they continue to be as important if we are no longer in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic), other interactive modalities such as Tik Tok, and finding out more about what is new and cutting edge in music. 

Throughout his many studies, Professor Rashidi utilizes emails, social media posts, online message boards, and Qualtrics panels, an online database that searches out study participants. He also uses the “Snowball” method to find participants (forming a group based on others that the existing participants know who are also interested in participating). Within the studies, he focuses on collecting qualitative data rather than quantitative data. Sometimes, it is difficult to find people who are willing to participate in the study, or the data collected is not sufficient or elaborate enough to be useful. 

No matter what format, people have and will continue to listen to music and other forms of media in the audio format. Music has a plethora of uses- it be used for creativity, socialization, distraction, emotional processing, catharsis, product promotions, promotions, creating an ambiance to the environment, increasing energy before a workout, and many others. The world of music is constantly evolving; through scholarly work done by those like Professor Rashidi, we can continue to explore, learn more, and build an even greater knowledge base around music.

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