Trax on the Trail: Researching Music on the U.S. Presidential Campaign Trail

Trax on the Trail Research Assistant Sarah Griffin presented her research on campaign music at the Georgia College 23rd Annual Student Research Conference in April 2020. You can check out her poster here.

Sarah Griffin (Student, Georgia College), Dana Gorzelany-Mostak (Assistant Professor of Music, Georgia College), Haley Strassburger (Student, Georgia College), Naomi Graber (Assistant Professor of Musicology, University of Georgia), Zach Sheffield (Independent Web Developer/Data Scientist)

Abstract

Pundits, journalists, and the public spend a lot of time dissecting the speeches, advertisements, engagements, and actions of presidential candidates. As scholars of music, we contend that the sounds we hear equally contribute to the formation of presidential identity, party identity, and American identity. Founded at Georgia College in 2015, Trax on the Trail is an online research project that tracks, catalogues, and analyzes the soundscape of U.S. presidential campaigns. The website offers comprehensive resources and data to inform scholars, students, educators, and the general public about how music shapes our opinions of presidential candidates. Our contributors include experts from academic fields such as musicology, ethnomusicology, political science, history, sociology, and communications along with student researchers. Using research tools such as Hootsuite and Google Alerts, the Trax on the Trail student researchers locate campaign-related music media, tag it according to specific parameters, including song title, performer/composer, genre, type of media, and date, and catalogue it in our open-access database (Trail Trax). End users can use Trail Trax to explore the many ways candidates use music on the campaign trail, as well as the way the public uses music as a means of participating in campaign-related discourses. For example, simple searches in our database can reveal the music genres favored by each political party, the soundscape of a particular swing state, or the ways in which a single candidate’s music strategy evolves over time. For our poster, we will demonstrate the capabilities of Trail Trax as a research tool and outline strategies for utilizing the database in various educational contexts.

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