Forschung Aktuell

 Science Service
Nr. 1, September 2000

TU Berlin Science Service of the TU Berlin
Nr. 1 / September 2000

Music sociology
Social inequality lives on - in the concert halls

The traditional form of social inequality still continues to exist - particularly when it comes to attending cultural events. That is the conclusion drawn from a survey of 6500 visitors to concerts in Berlin conducted by music scientists of the Technische Universität (TU) Berlin. For the first time they were able to map musical preferences and to describe the social features of each area.

Stefanie Hertel - the shooting star of German "Volksmusik" not only attracts huge television audiences, but has also been filling the halls and music palaces for years. But, like every other sort of music, her audiences have its own special social composition. "The value system of the audience finds its expression in the song lyrics, and the music also provides them with an experience of collective emotionalisation", explains Dr. Hans Neuhoff, a music sociologist from the Institute of Communication, Media and Music Science of the Technische Universität (TU) Berlin. He is currently supervising a research project in which 6,500 people visiting music concerts were surveyed. "For the first time, we are now in a position to draw up a precise map of musical tastes, and to assign social descriptors to the individual areas:"

And this project, which is supported by the DFG (the central sponsoring organisation for research in Germany) has also come up with two other findings that cast a new light on common assumptions. Firstly, though the main motivation for visiting a live music event is an aesthetic one, the desire to receive affirmation for the value system of ones own social group is also important. "The results also show that the traditional forms of vertical social inequality can still be observed today in social life," said the scientists, summing up the results of his team of researchers, who visited twenty concerts, ranging from Karel Gott to the Berlin Philhamoniker to Metallica.

The scientists found that the German "Volksmusik" attracted comparatively homogeneous audiences, especially in terms of age structure, social background, and life goals. The visitors attached great importance to the feeling of protectedness, and to security and family. This group also had a relatively large proportion who expressed a political preference for the PDS, the political party which is the successor to the East German SED. Other indicators such as "showing involvement", "taking an initiative", or "changing the world" are only of minor importance for them. "The musicals have the highest proportion of Conservative CDU voters, whereas Wagner is more likely to attract a relatively large proportion of SPD and Green Party voters. The image of Wagnerians as a conservative group certainly needs to be corrected for Berlin.", according to the musical scientist.

The audiences at Wagner's operas enjoy the complexity of the works and celebrate through the long performances the self-control of the group. "This is a typical behavioural pattern known as deferred gratification, which is necessary for complex and lengthy economic processes." The visitors to "Volksmusik" events, in contrast, are looking for the communal experience: They link arms and sway together to the music. The aspects of protectedness and safety are most important for them.

Other factors also vary between the visitors according to the type of music involved. About half the visitors to a Wagner opera have attended a university or college, whereas on the other hand half the audience at a "Volksmusik" concert will have left school with only minimal qualifications. But only 3% of the fans of Stefanie Hertel will have come to the concert on their own - again in contrast to the Wagner aficionados. This group has a large proportion of individual visitors (30 percent) and singles (40 percent). The two audiences also show different age structures. The "Volksmusik" audience has an average age of 60, but the Wagner audience is uniformly spread across all relevant age-groups.

"With this survey we can describe the music audience as a social phenomenon" is how the scientist summed up his work. The results clearly show the trend to social inequality, and the differentiation in large social groups in terms of both vertical and horizontal characteristics of social inequality lead to identification within the groups.


Contact: Dr. Hans Neuhoff, Technische Universität (TU) Berlin, Institute of Communication, Media and Music Science
Special field: Media and music science
Research project: Audience analysis at live music events
Address: TU Berlin, Str. des 17 Juni 135, 10623 Berlin, Germany, E-mail:, Tel.: +49 30 314-22789, Fax: +49 30 314-22235

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