Why do people play music in public through a phone?

Teenagers with phone

For many, teenagers playing tinny music to each other on public transport on their mobile phones can be intensely irritating. Why do they do it?

With mobile phones in many a teenager's pocket, the rise of sodcasting - best described as playing music through a phone in public - has created a noisy problem for a lot of commuters.

"All you can hear is 'dush, dush, dush, dush'. It's irritating. So many times I end up with a headache," says Tracey King, who has signed up to the Shhh! Scheme set up by bus company Arriva Yorkshire to stop the noise on their services.

"As teenagers, they don't seem to have the capability to think about others. I have heard older women turning round and saying 'will you turn that down?' and sometimes they will… and other times I've heard them with abuse and swearing at other people."

As mayor of London, Ken Livingstone called for the "absolute prohibition on playing music from a mobile system" as far back as in 2006. Young people can now have their zip cards - which allow them free travel in the capital - revoked for "anti-social behaviour", which includes playing loud music.

The issue has even been discussed in the House of Lords. In 2006, the Piped Music and Showing of Television Programmes Bill was presented to Parliament, calling for "the wearing of headphones by persons listening to music in the public areas of hospitals and on public transport" to be made compulsory, although it never made it into law.

What is sodcasting?

  • Sodcasting is described by The Urban Dictionary as "The act of playing music through the speaker on a mobile phone, usually on public transport. Commonly practised by young people wearing polyester, branded sportswear with dubious musical taste."
  • The term is believed to have been first used by Pascale Wyse in the Guardian in his series Wyse Words, a list of words that do not exist but should. He stated that sodcasters were terrified of not being noticed, so they sprayed their audio wee around the place like tomcats.

So why do people do it? Is it just an act of youthful rebellion?

"I don't think it is intrinsically anti-social, what I would say is that it is a fascinating human phenomenon of marking social territory," says Dr Harry Witchel, author of You Are What You Hear.

"With young people, usually loud music corresponds very strongly to owning the space.

"They are creating a social environment which is suitable for them and their social peers. But for those not in this group - a 50-year-old woman for example - instead of confidence, she'll feel weakness and maybe even impotence as there's nothing that she can do about it."

Start Quote

With young people, usually loud music corresponds very strongly to owning the space”

End Quote Dr Harry Witchel Author, You Are What You Hear

But hasn't this always been the case? Most people who remember the 80s can remember someone with a boom box perched on one shoulder, pumping out the latest songs to anyone within earshot. Some take this tradition back even further.

"I reckon I was an early sodcaster," says the poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan.

"It was way back in the distant 1970s. As a teenager I was a big fan of the kind of music that made my mother say 'Will you turn that rubbish off?', and my dad hiss 'I wouldn't mind if it had a proper tune.'

"The fact is that I wasn't allowed to listen to [my favourite artists] in the house so I had to listen to them outside using a tape player."

But Dr Witchel says something slightly different was happening back then.

"When people went around with their ghetto blasters, you could argue that it was for the pure pleasure of the music they loved," he says.

"There is no excuse for why you would want to listen to tinny music, except if you were establishing territory. It just sounds rubbish. It must sound rubbish to them."

'Elderly people'

A group of schoolchildren on the 277 bus in Hackney, East London, don't all think that what they are doing is wrong.

"I wouldn't agree [that it was anti-social]," says one.

Find out more...

Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan presents The No.219 Sodcast Project on BBC Radio 4, 1330 BST, Tuesday 14 June

"The people who think it's anti-social don't really listen to this type of music."

A second agrees that the bus would be dull without a little bit of music.

"Fair enough, it might be anti-social but the bus is always quiet," she says. "You need something to listen to, right? We give you [something] to listen to."

Some youth workers argue that what the youngsters are doing is largely innocent.

"I don't think they [the sodcasters] are being selfish at all," says Dmitry Fedotov, of the Youth Association.

"I think if young people see sound as preferable to no sound then, if anything, they're going to be thinking they're doing people a favour."

And something is changing within the music industry itself. With the increase of songs being played through phones, more attention is being spent on the parts of the music that can be heard loudest though phone speakers.

"I think we're starting to see evidence that musicians and producers are thinking about the technology by which their music is listened to," says music journalist Dan Hancox, who has written extensively on the subject of sodcasting.

The rap artist Giggs Rapper Giggs is said to be the most sodcasted artist, though quantifying this is very difficult

"It's something that has been described as treble culture.

"It is the idea that in this particular technological era, things that are transmittable on low fidelity (low quality) speakers are being heard more and more in pop music, quite a bit of R&B and hip hop - things which traditionally had a large and important bass element to them."

So, if this phenomenon is here to stay, what can be done by those who want a little bit of peace and quiet on their journey?

"Legislation is not the answer, and nor is citizen power, as anyone who has ever approached a sodcaster to ask them to stop will know all too well," wrote Julian Treasure, chairman of the Sound Agency, on his blog.

"I believe the heart of the solution is in teaching listening skills in schools. If we teach our children how to listen properly to the world - and especially to each other - they will understand the consequences of their own sound and be far more responsible in making it."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Storm in a tea cup! If they want to stop it just pipe music or the local radio station through the vehicle, bus or train, local radio needs support and music can keep you calm.
    Jumping on the proverbial war horse and shouting "Youths", now an alternative name for something ruder!
    Kids are kids, listening to music and growing up is part of their lives. A case of Bah Humbug here!

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    As a 20 year-old who was in high school when "sodcasting" became popular, I found it intensely irritating even as a young person myself. Earphones were invented for a reason, there is no need for someone to play music on public transport or in the street. Especially because the types of people that play music through their phone generally listen to similar styles of music. Utterly infuriating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    All adults were teenagers once and probably did things that annoyed adults. We need to remember this when we complain or was it alright to do so when we were young.

    The reason for it is simple, it's like having the lastest designer clothing or the latest phone. Whos got the latest big tune.

    Musical tastes form social groups, so I guess its a way of showing which social group they belong too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    On a train just last week a lady in late middle age was blasting out Handel for all to hear. No one was prepared to tell her to turn it off or use headphones any more than they would ask a teenager. Users of headphones with too high a volume are also a regular noise pollution problem. On the Bristol to London trains my unscientific study shows most of these to be over 50. It's not just the young.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I recently sat on a train where some teenagers were 'sodcasting' via a tinny mobile phone speaker. One guy asked them to stop and they gave him some abuse.

    He pulled out some portable speakers, plugged them into his phone, and started playing Gilbert & Sulivan to them. They swore loudly when they realised his speakers were far louder and left.

    The rest of carraige applauded the guy. Brilliant.


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