How Can Folk Music Become Popular Music?

Streaming platforms have opened the world to folk music like Bon Iver’s soulful folk songs to an unprecedented fan base. Listeners all around can now experience his songs as Bon Iver can reach global listeners with his work.

Folk musicians such as Joan Baez and Judy Collins started writing topical songs supporting civil rights, environmental causes, and progressive causes in the 1960s – following in Woody Guthrie’s footsteps who sang about orphans’ struggle for survival.


Folk music refers to any style of music created and enjoyed by an ethnic community and has come to encompass an expansive variety of musical styles. Folk can refer to an oral tradition like bluegrass or Bulgarian vocal music, or it can describe modernized or experimental versions using traditional instruments; contemporary folk often combines elements from other genres into its sound while typically possessing an acoustic quality such as finger-picked guitar or banjo playing; British “folk-rock” band Mumford & Sons have given legitimacy and credibility to this musical form.

Folk music’s roots are the subject of much speculation and theoretical analysis, yet most theories compromise between metaphysical attribution and individual songwriter responsibility for its creation. In many folk traditions, identification of an original piece often depends on its similarity to others in its genre – whether this means recognition of composer or recounting of real event narrative or more broadly shared melodies like those seen across multiple North American Flathead folk songs (Merriam 1967:3-24).

Folk music’s roots can be traced to social upheaval and political change. The 1960s witnessed its resurgence with Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie both penning songs about working class struggles as well as equality and injustice issues, respectively.

Folk musicians today often feel deeply passionate about their art form and use it as an avenue to communicate with audiences and fans in real-time via social media platforms such as YouTube or Facebook Live, where artists can show fans behind-the-scenes glimpses into their creative processes while engaging directly with fans in an instantaneous manner.

Folk music remains an engaging genre that continues to adapt and change with society. You’re likely to hear it on radio stations, clubs and YouTube. Folk music connects with audiences regardless of background or social status; its message of community resonates worldwide.


Folk songs differ from other forms of music in that their style can be greatly affected by various cultural elements, including history, other cultures that have come through an area, or even local environment factors. These factors may have an enormous influence on how a song is performed and received by audiences; additionally, its style often evolves over time to take into account different trends in society.

Since recording technology has emerged, folk music has found greater international acceptance; before this happened it was usually limited to local or regional audiences. Thus it should come as no surprise that numerous popular musicians, including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and The Beatles, have drawn inspiration from folk music for their own styles of performance.

Folk music’s appeal lies in its ability to connect with audiences. Historically, folk has been utilized for political and social causes – in the 1960s it was commonplace to hear protest songs against racism and the Vietnam War on college campuses – while contemporary folk singers continue to use music as an avenue to promote positive social change through song.

Some scholars have criticized the idealization of folk music; others have attempted to revive interest in it by analyzing its social and political significance. Ernst Klusen asserts that it is crucial to comprehending how songs become part of tradition over time; traditional music serves not just as entertainment, but as a form of social learning as well.

Modern folk musicians utilize different instruments and techniques to craft unique sounds, often drawing influence from other genres of music as well. Artists such as Xavier Rudd and John Butler combine traditional folk with rock and country, streaming their music online through streaming services for global distribution of their sound.


Folk music is a genre that draws on traditional songs of various cultures worldwide, dating back to medieval Europe where minstrels and troubadours performed ballads about love and heroism using lutes and fiddles. Folk music typically passes down from generation to generation as part of an effort to preserve cultural and historical identity.

Folk music can also serve as a form of protest. Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan employed folk music to spread messages of social change during key historical moments; more recently Joan Baez and Pete Seeger continue the tradition by using folk music as a vehicle to advance peace and justice in their performances.

Folk music differs from other musical genres by having to rely on social networks in order to thrive; thus it constantly changes and adapts to reflect society at large. Traditional Appalachian music, bluegrass music, cowboy songs, sea shanties and jug music are all examples of folk music genres that exist.

Folk musicians frequently incorporate elements from other genres into their music, like British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas who uses her acoustic guitar to craft soulful folk that incorporates elements of pop and alternative rock; her song “Skinny Love” serves as a great example of this phenomenon.

Folk music often lacks a single composer due to oral tradition being passed from generation to generation and making adaptation easy by different communities.

Adaptation takes many forms and can have both positive and negative outcomes. Negative adaptations often arise when new generations do not accept the original form of a song, while positive adaptations help the piece retain its cultural value while reaching more audiences.

Adaptation is an integral component of folk music’s evolution; without it, its popularity would wane and eventually die out. The digital era offers opportunities for folk artists to flourish; streaming platforms provide musicians access to global audiences while keeping folk alive as an artform.


Folk music, like any musical genre, can become commercialized. While this process can be beneficial or detrimental to its development, depending on how it’s carried out; commercialization could include extracting its essence for commercial gain or using it to spread an idea or cause. While commercialization may help spread awareness for an important cause or promote an ideology through folk songs, it must not go too far and lose what makes folk music unique and special.

Though some songs might fall from the folk canon, others continue to develop over time. Songs may change through generations due to influences such as creativity, memory, previous learning, stylistic expectations and social change; such as shifting primacy of one form of organization over another or migration between geographical regions.

Modern folk musicians frequently incorporate elements from various genres into their work, which helps them reach a wider audience and build community across cultures. This is especially evident on streaming platforms such as Spotify and YouTube where it has never been easier for listeners to discover new artists while listening to classic folk tunes.

Joan Baez of American folk singer Joan Baez took inspiration from African-American music to craft her unique and compelling style that marries elements of African-American gospel and blues music with folk. Animal Collective captured this essence while staying true to its original roots through its dreamlike sounds and poetic lyrics that captured folk genre’s spirit perfectly.

Rosalia de los Santos is an artist specializing in flamenco who embraces the sparse design of folk music to craft mesmerizing tunes that mesmerize audiences. Just hearing her play the harp on “Sprout and the Bean” will entice listeners, while her poetic metaphors and fantasies will lead them into an almost meditative state.

Folk music offers numerous ways to bring pleasure into one’s life, so there’s no reason not to keep its traditions alive. Listening alone or sharing it with friends, this genre’s soothing sounds are sure to impress and satisfy.