Can you remember the first health leaflet you ever read? No. What about the first record you bought? Music appeals to people in a way 'sensible advice' doesn't
Village People never sounded like this. The National Health Service play 'MRSA'
Pop music and health inequalities
The Experian research I looked at from part of Northeast England showed that roughly 25-35% of people in the largest target groups were interested in pop music. In addition a smaller percentage listed rock as as an interest. It may be worth examining whether key groups that you are interested in engaging are also keen on music. Music has the advantage of being heard and not read. Therefore if your target group has literacy problems, music may be one way round this. Music also works on both the head and the heart. This allows health workers opportunities to influence or discuss people's feelings around an issue as well as the logical facts.
Use music to reach key small groups and a wider audience
Traditionally community music workers have sometimes got local people to write and perhaps perform their own songs on personal topics such as health. The benefits have been focused on the small number of participants involved in this. They have had a chance to explore an issue, share their experiences and perhaps learn new skillls. This may have increased their confidence. In some cases of course the finished product may be used as an educational tool with other people. This could be either as a way to give out health messages or open up discussion. However this is a by-product. The quality of the songs and the performers cannot be guaranteed. This is not to knock this approach however. It is well established and I would encourage the health sector to make more use of.
My own background however has been in mass communication. I think here that the potential of music has been greatly underdeveloped. Music for health could be used at live events such as health fairs, consultations and council carnivals. Its purpose would be to attract attention and engage people. Health workers could then take it from there. Alternatively CDs could be given out with local health service publications or songs be made available to download. There is a rich back catalogue of already existing songs on a range of health topics. These include sexual issues, emotional health, resilience, community cohesion and the wider determinants of health. I list some ways of tracking them down in the reports at the bottom of this page.
Health trainer pop stars
Professionals musicians could be used to perform music to people. However another alternative is to use the talents of local people. 15.5 million people in the UK say that they would like to learn to play a musical instrument. In fact 21% of the population already do. Specially recruited health trainers or local volunteers may both be viable options. In any case music will always need some follow up if it is to be successful. This could be by health trainers or other staff.
Make public health appear more relevant
Music may do more than just attract people's attention and help you engage with them. It may also brand health services as being more approachable and relevant. It may also attract the local media, particularly radio and television.
Avoid death by PowerPoint
Try producing presentations that are a mixture of statistics, statements and images with appropriate lyrics playing in the background. This is perfectly legal in conference venues that have a standard music licence.
(For references click here and links click here.)
To read my 2014 discussion paper and guide around using pop music lyrics as a health tool click here or for a summary here
To read an account of the topics covered on this page in the relevant chapter from my report on edutainment for health purposes click here
To download the whole 180 page report on using popular culture to tackle health inequalities click here
To download a booklet about emotional health and music click here
To download an example of a hypothetical viral email advertising campaign around music click here
To download the PDF software to be able to view these files click here