Early voting is underway in Georgia and Election Day is just a couple of weeks away. Pundits are looking at candidates from every possible angle, including song choices played at campaign rallies and events, to determine which one is more effectively conveying their message.
Assistant professor of music at Georgia College Dr. Dana Gorzelany-Mostak has developed a website (www.traxonthetrail.com) that keeps up with the candidates' soundtracks and even provides analysis on why those songs were chosen.
"I'm a music historian by trade," said Dr. Gorzelany-Mostak. "Most of the time when I study music it's usually after the fact. I thought it would be really neat to do a type of research project where the research is constantly in motion as events are happening, and that's really what Trax on the Trail allows me to do."
In addition to getting to study something in her field that's pertinent to current events, Gorzelany-Mostak says it's also nice to take part in research that casts a much a wider net than her normal work.
"I think the other reason I went forward towards this project was most of the work that academics do is read by other people who are academics. There's not a huge, broader audience for the type of work we do. There's already this existing conversation, so where Trax on the Trail comes in is it's joining academics with journalists, students, and the general public to have this shared conversation. The goal of the site is to create a type of music scholarship that really is accessible to a broader audience. I think that's what makes the Trax project special in that we're creating a high-quality type of music scholarship that is very accessible."
The Trax on the Trail website was launched in December of last year, but planning began back in February of 2015. The site has a total of 40 staff and contributors across different areas of study such as music, journalism, public relations, and political science.
"What's great about having the site here at the college is it very much ties into the mission that we have here," Gorzelany-Mostak said. "We're a public liberal arts institution that values faculty/student research, that values interdisciplinary work, and that values community outreach and engagement. Our site accomplishes all of those things."
Sam Campbell was a mass communications major at Georgia College when she began working on the project. Although she has recently graduated, the Warner Robins native continues her work with Trax as the site's social media coordinator.
"Working with Trax has been an incredible experience," Campbell said in an email to The Union-Recorder. "When I started working on the project, I was timid and had no idea how far it would reach before the election was over. It has been a wonderful privilege to get to work with so many brilliant people, especially Dr. Gorzelany-Mostak. I have learned so much about the different ways people engage with politics through music, and have become more engaged with politics myself through my involvement with Trax. It has been a huge learning experience and has given me countless skills to take into my future career."
Gorzelany-Mostak defined an effective candidate's playlist as being able to find a balance between the taste of their demographic and a reflection of who the candidate is and wants to be as a president.
When looking at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign soundtrack, Gorzelany-Mostak says his choices of classic rock and show tunes from "Phantom of the Opera" and "Cats" are trying to invoke feelings of three decades ago.
"I think there are a couple of things you could pull out of that," she said. "One is a lot of the music vibes very much the 1980s. That's sort of the time that Trump was at the height of his glory. It's also the age of excess, theatricality, and all these things."
On the other side of the coin, Gorzelany-Mostak believes preconceived notions of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton have shaped people's feelings of her playlist.
"The general criticism about Hillary Clinton is that she just panders to what the voters want to hear and that she's inauthentic. So people are taking that conversation and they want to see her music through that same lens. I don't know that it's so much the music itself that precipitating those reactions, as much as it is that's what people are already talking about with Hillary Clinton."
When asked to pick a winner based on campaign soundtrack alone, the music professor said, "I think overall Trump's use of music has been more effective, but you also have to keep in mind what system you're using to evaluate that (effectiveness). As I see it, do his core supporters seem to appreciate the music and be engaged with it at events? You have to sort of judge it on those terms."
Whatever the outcome may be on the night of Nov. 8, Dr. Gorzelany-Mostak says music's role will continue to expand in the political realm and hopefully give those uncomfortable with talking about politics a way to get into the conversation.
"Not everybody feels comfortable engaging in political discourse, but I think in a lot of ways people feel very comfortable talking about their tastes in music. So it sort of becomes a proxy for having these sorts of discussions about candidate policies and about platforms. I think talking about how they use music and how the public uses music to engage with the electoral process is just another way that people participate. It's another way people get information."