Music, Business and Peace

Join us for a discussion with panel of experts working at the frontier of music, business and peace.

Live Panel

22 June, 10 - 11am ET (3 - 4pm UK)


Welcome to an ongoing discussion about topics specifically devoted to the relationship among music, business and peace, hosted by Indiana University and Business Fights Poverty for the months of June, July, and September. This conversation has been the aim of two conferences on “Music, Business, and Peace” at Indiana University led by scholars at the Jacobs School of Music, the Kelley School of Business, and the College of Arts & Sciences. Our intent has been to bring together national and international peace researchers, activists, and artists, to form a collective with the ability to assess and pursue peacemaking activities with the combined power of the tools presented in different disciplines.

Read all the articles in the Music, Business and Peace series on the Challenge page

This first discussion will place a particular, but not exclusive, focus on music.


  • What are the most important contributions of music to peace-building? If partnered with business, how does business help sustain the contributions of music to peace-building?

  • What is it that is important about furthering the efforts of peace-building through a combination of music/business approaches? How does music-making make the peace-building more effective?

  • What obstacles, or challenges, prevent the field from being as effective as it could be?


Carolyn Calloway-Thomas, Professor and Chair of African American and African Diaspora Studies, Indiana University
Nancy Love, Professor of Political Science and Humanities Council Coordinator, Appalachian State University
Olivier Urbain, Director, Min-On Music Research Institute (MOMRI), Tokyo, Japan
Tim Fort, Eveleigh Professorship in Business Ethics, Indiana University Kelley School of Business
Kathleen Higgins,
Alexander Bernstein, President of Artful Learning Incorporated, and Founding Chairman of the Leonard Bernstein Center for Learning
Jerry White, CEO, Global Impact Strategies, and Professor of Practice, University of Virginia

Moderators: Ruth Stone, Professor Emerita of Ethnomusicology, Indiana University and Constance Cook Glen, Director, Music in General Studies, Jacobs School of Music

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Join the discussion!

This is a very interesting, interdisciplinary topic. As the Writing Program director at IU Bloomington, I’m particularly interested to see how and what people write about this topic. I’m also very interested in how music fits with notions of business and peace, as I know very little about music other than what I enjoy.

This concept as noted in “Music, Business and Peace: An Overview” that notes “One can place this project’s efforts within the vernacular of political theory as well in the following way: Music draws on “soft power,” which can elicit the emotions and aesthetics of what is possible, and it can and has been utilized as a feature of cultural diplomacy” it’s easy to see how music transcends differences. The blog talks about other kinds of power as well which directly translate to Tim Fort’s book “Diplomat in the Corner Office”. If you can connect ecologizing values with soft power, which Fort aims to do, it discusses symbiotic or mututally supporting relationships. When you think about how large names in music like U2, Bono, even pop culture like Taylor Swift have been able to connect trade partners, you can see how music can build on these relationships over time, showing how while we’re different, there are ties that bind beyond just an economic reason to work together. Music can be a way to grow community support as well, which connects as well with this idea of soft power.

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Urbain mentions two concepts which really stuck out as well in “Working Together to Enhance the Effectiveness of Musicking in Peacebuilding Activities”. The concept of ambivalence is really thought provoking. I loved the line " It is not the music that matters, it is what we do with it." When you think about what a powerful piece of drum music can stir up in different people, a women’s group vs. a soundtrack to genocide in a sense, we have to be mindful when thinking about music and business about how different music can trigger different both emotional and physical responses in people.

The concept of music being a booster is really interesting as well. When you think about movies or music on a hold line, the ability for music to make people feel can set a tone for a meeting, discussion, negotiation, etc. The concept of it being music in a therapy session or a therapist is powerful. I’m sure we can all think of a song or multiple songs that stir up both positive and negative emotions in all of us. Do you remember what was playing at your first dance at your wedding? How about when you found out about the impact of 9/11. Both can take you to very different places, even if it’s the same song for two different people!


Thanks for getting us started on this. One thing that had made me curious concerns Christopher Small’s notion of Musicking. We may want to talk with Olivier, who knows this material better than me, at the live panel, but I wonder about different levels of efficaciousness depending on whether one is listening vs actually singing or playing the piano or otherwise generating music. What do you think? Does it feel different to you to generate music (even if singing along with the radio in the car) vs listening? Do both “Move” you in the same way?


Tim, I think actually the more you connect with the music, the more you feel it. For me anyways, there is nothing better than being in the car by myself and singing along. It’s almost, for me at least, a form of meditation where nothing else comes into your head. Lyrics and words can unite people as well! On a road trip recently with a friend, we each made mixes (definitely children of the 80’s!) where each song was based on a theme like “reminds you of home, reminds you of college, a song for our daughters, a song that sums up the year between high school and college, etc”. We each had to guess which song fit which theme and it not only made the car ride more fun but led to some great conversations as well.

Casey, totally agree on Rudy - think all of us have movies and theme songs that make you generate a strong emotional response. I just watched Beauty and the Beast with my 2.5 year old for the first time and while I can’t remember phone numbers or birthdays to save my life, I can remember every word from that song and it’s been 20+ years since I’ve seen it. Not only does music make you remember moments and feel emotion but it takes you to a different place in your life as well!

As a former professional athlete (NFL) music was a HUGE part of my ritual for getting myself pumped up for a game, and it has been since I was a young kid. It get’s my mind in the right place as I prepare to “do battle”. I usually just listen, but if I sing along then that song really speaks to my spirit (if that makes sense). I believe that music can be good therapy as well if you are dealing with some personal issues. Some times an artist can put words to the thoughts and emotions that you are experiencing. Just my thoughts.


I feel that way every time I watch the original Rocky movie. The main score gives me goose bumps depending on what scene I’m watching in the movie.


Good point, Casey! I often have students analyze ads in my first-year composition courses, and one particular strategy is to turn off the sound. This works with movie scenes as well, such as the scene in Ferris Buehler’s Day off when they visit the Chicago Art Institute. It’s amazing how the lack of music changes what you see and notice.

I do believe with Timothy Fort’s post that music, and aesthetics more broadly, are powerful nudges for peace and ethical behavior more broadly. My pastor has advanced academic credentials,i s brilliant, and makes insightful academic references….but more powerful than that to me is his aesthetic emphasis.

He tells stories and makes points using art, music, and nature. He finds beauty in the world and finds it to be powerful. He could be dryly academic and make strong cases simply based on cold logic…but he mixes his academic thinking with passion for the beauty of the word, natural and man made, and this combination makes him a particularly effective leader.

I do agree with Olivier Urbain that music is powerful and can be used for many purposes, good and bad. I wonder if there’s something inherent in music, something powerful that is innate to humans and transcends culture and training.

I have a little girl who just turned 1. I haven’t trained her to love music or feel an emotional connection. My wife and I are not musicians and did not purposely have our baby listen to music in the womb or since then. Nonetheless, our daughter now dances when most music comes on. When she was tiny and couldn’t even sit up, she’d still move around and her face would light up when music came on. In the womb she’d move more when we played music loud enough for her to hear. She seems to have an innate connection to music that impacts her including lifting her spirits.


I actually rarely listen to music nowadays. I often listen to podcasts instead during times when I may listen to music. But I do notice that when I listen to music more than podcasts, my spirits do get lifted. For my own mental health, maybe I should listen to more music.

It’s will be really interesting to see where this conversation is going to lead. Admittedly, I have to say that I initially didn’t see much of a connection between music and peace; and I had a hard time even thinking of where to go with this conversation. However, now that I’m hearing the thoughts of others, I’m beginning to understand a little more about the concept.

As mentioned by Ashley and Tim, if anyone else is looking for a great place to start, I think that seeking out the thoughts of Olivier Urbain and Christopher Small will help. What really made it click for me was the mention of Simon Bikindi and how many feel that his music inspired violence. To be honest, I’m not too keen on the idea of criminal prosecution of performance artists… but we can’t deny that music can certainly motivate and inspire. And if it can be used to inspire violence, it’s not hard to imagine how it can also be used to inspire peace.

I think that my primary difficulty with determining how music can lead to peace lies with the fact that I tend to think of peace as the absence of violence / war… the latter being an action and the former, by default, then being an absence of action (ie, if you don’t engage in fighting, you are “at peace”). It would probably help to think of peace-building (or peace-making or peace-keeping) as an active, rather than passive, pursuit.


I agree that music is very powerful and can have a connection to peace but also to violence and all sorts of other emotions. It can be used in pretty much any scenario such as in marketing as mentioned above, boosting morale, and even propaganda. I’m sure we all have certain go to music in our daily lives as well depending on the activity. To me, music plays a huge part of all of our lives and is very much a communication tool to stir emotions and bring people together.

Casey - I have also been listening to more and more podcasts rather than music and I feel the same effect music has on me compared to podcasts. On days where my mood might not be as great, music definitely helps lift my spirits up.

I am in the same boat as Casey. I too have zero musical background, except for playing “hot cross buns” on the recorder in fourth grade. That being said, I do feel that music has had a major influence when it comes to remembering past events. There are certain songs that bring me back to both happy and sad times. It is amazing how a couple seconds of a song can elicit such strong emotional responses.

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Steven, you make a good point about how society believes music can inspire violence. A great example is the Columbine High School shooting years ago. I remember the media, and many individuals, partially blaming the music of Marilyn Manson for influencing these kids to commit such a terrible act.

Eric, the point you bring up is something that I was thinking about when I made my comments. While it’s not hard to see how music can elicit a strong emotional response in people, I personally have a hard time putting too much direct blame on music as direct motivation for criminal behavior. A lot has been made of the link between tragic or violent acts and things like music (hip hop, heavy metal, etc.), movies, and video games.

My opinion is that it’s due to our need to find answers and make order out of actions that we find incomprehensible… along with the fact that it’s easier to blame things that we can control like availability of rap music or violent video games or firearms, rather than things that we can’t control such as the seemingly random human behavior of troubled, sick, or evil people. Finding fault in inanimate objects is just easier to wrap your head around. However, despite how I think understanding violence is a key first step to understanding peace, I believe that I’m digressing from the topic a bit too much.

Jermaine you make a great point about music being a form of therapy for people. Artists can deliver messages through music in such a powerful way via both the lyrics and the overall song. I think that when artists open up about their own vulnerabilities it resonates with a lot of people who may be going through similar things. Additionally countless kids look up to artists (which can be good or bad) further amplifying their influence.

One song that somewhat recently got a lot of attention for delivering a powerful message was “1-800-273-8255” by Logic. This song addresses suicide prevention and the name of the song is actually the suicide prevention hotline. Thousands of people have been inspired in a peaceful way through this song.

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I do notice a difference when I generate music vs. solely listening. I have played the drums in the past, and now informally sing. Creating music puts me in a difference place of feeling that definitely moves me more than just listening. To feel the emotions of a song (love, inspiration, sadness), I feel like I have to be creating it. I have no inspiration to create my own music, but I definitely rework lyrics to mean something (i.e. change gender in a love song or something else to relate) in order to truly feel the song and relate it to myself to inspire me.