Understanding Popular Music Culture
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Understanding Popular Music Culture

Roy Shuker

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eBook - ePub

Understanding Popular Music Culture

Roy Shuker

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This extensively revised and expanded fifth edition of Understanding Popular Music Culture provides an accessible and comprehensive introduction to the production, distribution, consumption and meaning of popular music, and the debates that surround popular culture and popular music.

Reflecting the continued proliferation of popular music studies, the new music industry in a digital age, and the emergence of new stars, this new edition has been reorganized and extensively updated throughout, making for a more coherent and sequenced coverage of the field. These updates include:

  • two new chapters entitled 'The Real Thing': Authenticity, covers and the canon and 'Time Will Pass You By': Histories and popular memory
  • new case studies on artists including The Rolling Stones, Lorde, One Direction and Taylor Swift
  • further examples of musical texts, genres, and performers throughout including additional coverage of Electronic Dance Music
  • expanded coverage on the importance of the back catalogue and the box set; reality television and the music biopic
  • greater attention to the role and impact of the internet and digital developments in relation to production, dissemination, mediation and consumption; including the role of social network sites and streaming services
  • each chapter now has its own set of expanded references to facilitate further investigation.

Additional resources for students and teachers can also be found on the companion website (www.routledge.com/cw/shuker), which includes additional case studies, links to relevant websites and a discography of popular music metagenres.

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Information

Verlag
Routledge
Jahr
2016
ISBN
9781317440888
1 ‘Every 1’s a Winner’
The music industry and the record companies
The music industry can best be defined as encompassing a range of economic activities, or revenue streams. These are engaged in by various economic entities, primarily, but not exclusively, the sound recording companies, commonly referred to as the ‘record companies’ or ‘record labels’. These business institutions are characterized by accompanying social practices: the manner in which people operate within and in relation to them.
Here, I focus on the heart of the industry, the record companies. Historically, these have been engaged in a constant struggle to control an uncertain marketplace, primarily through concentration and consolidation (vertical integration), their operation as part of media conglomerates (enabling horizontal integration and facilitating marketing), and the regulation of copyright. The general view of the binary nature of the record companies, into ‘majors’ and ‘independents’, is problematic, but does provide insights into their ideological underpinnings, their organization, and operating practices. The music industry has used the extension and consolidation of copyright legislation, both domestically and internationally, in an attempt to maintain market control.
The late 1990s saw the beginning of a long decline of the sound recording companies and their market dominance, as the internet radically altered the production and marketing of music, with music increasingly going online and the digital environment posing a major challenge to the traditional operation of copyright. This shift is considered in the second half of the chapter, which looks at the arguments around this decline, the record labels’ response to it, and the present configuration of the recording industry within a new music economy. I conclude that the ‘death’ of the music industry has been overstated, although there has been a repositioning of the key players and elements within it.
The music industry
There is a tendency, especially in general discourse, to equate the ‘music industry’ with the sound recording companies, who develop and market artists and their ‘records’ in various formats, including digital. This sector has historically been at the heart of the music industry, and it certainly remains a very significant part of it. In a broader sense, however, the music industry embraces a range of other institutions and associated markets, which can be considered ‘income streams’ (Hull, Hutchinson and Glasser, 2011, provide an extensive overview; see also Wikström, 2013). The most important of these are music publishing; music retail; the music press; music hardware, including musical instruments, sound recording and reproduction technology; tours and concerts, and associated merchandising (posters, t-shirts, etc); film, television, and MTV; and royalties and rights and their collection/licensing agencies.
Below are a few indications of the nature and value of these activities
  • During 2011 Adele’s album 21 sold 14.5 million copies globally, contributing to a 3 per cent increase in album sales in the US market alone.
  • The Grateful Dead reunion concerts in 2015 – 27 and 28 June in Santa Clara, California, and 4–6 July in Chicago – have taken US$50 million in ticket sales and could have sold six million more seats, according to music industry publication Billboard. Revenue from t-shirts and other tour merchandise is expected to generate a further US$5 million, and the concerts will also be live streamed. In addition, the last concert was shown in over 250 UK cinemas on the evening of 6 July; later in 2015, a career-spanning documentary by director Martin Scorsese is to be released. (Source: The Observer, 17 May 2015: NEWS, p. 14.)
  • According to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), in March 2015 there were now some 43 million songs online, across more than seventy authorised services in the United States.
  • A US jury has ordered Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams to pay more than US$7 million in damages to Marvin Gaye’s family, ruling that the pair copied Gaye’s 1977 hit ‘Got To Give It Up’, in writing their 2013 mega-hit ‘Blurred Lines’, which had sold 14.8 million copies internationally and topped the 2013 global singles chart.
  • MOJO, the UK’s largest music magazine, had a circulation of 70,667 in January–June 2014, and a readership of approximately 210,000, according to publisher Bauer Media. Almost 60 per cent of its readers are over 35.
  • In a month-long Kickstarter campaign, hip hop group De La Soul raised US$600,874 from 11,169 backers to fund the making of their eighth studio album; the second-highest amount ever given to a music project on the site.
  • Music has been the top entertainment product driving the continued growth of mobile phone services, especially among the 18–35 age group.
  • Prime TV music shows, notably Idol, The Voice, and Glee, continued to play a significant promotional role, boosting record sales and the careers of the judging panel participants.
  • With 114 million registered users by 2012, eBay has become a primary source for music buyers generally and record collectors in particular: in December 2011, a copy of the Beatles’ early 7â€Čâ€Č single, ‘Please Please Me’, signed by all four members of the group, sold for ÂŁ8,000.
As the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) observed back in 2006:
The recorded music industry is the engine helping to drive a much broader music sector, which is worth more than US$100 billion globally. This is over three times the value of the recorded music market, and shows music to have an economic importance that extends far beyond the scope of record sales.
(IFPI, 2006)
I shall return to other aspects of ‘the music industry’ throughout this study, but concentrate here on the sound recording companies and their activities. The critical analysis of these has drawn heavily on political economy, and a view of music as constituting a cultural industry.
Political economy
A political economy approach to the popular mass media has as its starting point the fact that the producers of mass media are industrial institutions essentially driven by the logic of capitalism: the pursuit of maximum profit. The fact that these institutions are owned and controlled by a relatively small number of people, and that many of the largest-scale firms are based in the US, is a situation involving considerable economic and ideological power. A number of accounts have traced the pervasive and increasing inequality in access to information and cultural products due to the commercialization and privatization of broadcasting, libraries, higher education, and other areas of public discourse. A small group of large industrial corporations have systematically acquired more public communications power than any private business has ever before possessed in world history, creating a new communications cartel. The music industry has been part of this process of consolidation. At issue is the consequent question of control of the media and whose interests it operates in, and the relationship between diversity and innovation in the market.
The influence of political economy is evident in the argument of studies that emphasize the power of corporate capitalism to manipulate and even construct markets and audiences. The picture of a powerful corporate capitalist music industry stresses how the music business is now an integral part of a global network of leisure and entertainment corporations, typified by a quest for media synergy and profit maximization (Chapple and Garofalo, 1977, best exemplify an early example of this perspective).
Classical political economy tended to devalue the significance of culture, seeing it primarily as the reflection of the economic base of society, all too easily slipping into a form of economic determinism. A group of German intellectuals, active from the 1930s, the Frankfurt School theorists criticized mass culture in general, arguing that under the capitalist system of production culture had become simply another object, the ‘culture industry’, devoid of critical thought and any oppositional political possibilities. Theodor Adorno applied this general view more specifically to popular music, especially in his attacks on Tin Pan Alley and jazz.
Contemporary political economy theorists have become more sophisticated in their appreciation of the reciprocal relationships between base and superstructure, economics and social activity. As David Hesmondhalgh (2012) convincingly demonstrates, it is necessary to emphasize a view of the cultural industries as complex, ambivalent and contested. Media institutions can be examined by asking of media texts: Who produces the text? For what audience? In whose interests? What is excluded? Such an interrogation necessitates examining particular media in terms of their production practices, financial bases, technology, legislative frameworks, and their construction of audiences. This new work has reasserted the importance of political economy, which has been prominent in the last decade in considering the nature of music as a cultural industry.
The cultural industries
A descriptive term first coined and developed by Adorno, who referred to them as the ‘culture industries’, the cultural industries are those economic institutions ‘which employ the characteristic modes of production and organization of industrial corporations to produce and disseminate symbols in the form of cultural goods and services, generally, though not exclusively, as commodities’ (Garnham, 1997: 25). In analyses situated in business economics, they are referred to as the entertainment industries, which are characterized by a constant drive to expand their market share and to create new products, so that the cultural commodity resists homogenization. In the case of the record industry, while creating and promoting new product is usually expensive, actually reproducing it is not. Once the master copy of a recording is available, further copies are relatively cheap as economies of scale come into operation, especially in digital format; similarly, a music video can be enormously expensive to make, but its capacity to be reproduced and accessed, especially via new media such as YouTube, is then virtually limitless.
The increased concentration of the culture industries is a feature of late capitalism, and the music industry was part of this process of consolidation. The move into Hollywood by Japanese corporate capital in the late 1980s was a clear indication of the emerging battle for global dominance of media markets. This battle reflected companies’ attempts to control both hardware and software markets, and distribute their efforts across a range of media products; a synergy that enables maximization of product tie-ins and marketing campaigns and, consequently, profits (see the examples of this in Chapter 8).
Such mergers reflected the economies of scale and global integration required to compete on the world media market. A small group of internationally based large corporations spread their interests across a variety of media, including sound recording, resulting in multi-media conglomerates, such as Time Warner. Two of the main corporate strategies used here are horizontal and vertical integration: horizontal integration describes the actions of a firm to buy out (or control, usually through marketing and distribution deals) competing companies at the same level, as with one music retail chain acquiring another music retail chain; vertical integration refers to a market in which a firm owns more than one aspect of the production chain from manufacture through distribution and marketing, as with a music distributor that owns a music retail chain.
German media giant Bertelsmann illustrated these processes at work in 2008 when the company owned book publishing (Random House); magazines and newspapers (Gruner+Jahr); printing and media services (Arvato Printing); direct marketing groups (book and CD clubs); online interests (CDnow); and, the heart of the company, Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG). In 2006, Bertelsmann had sold BMG publishing, the world’s third largest music publishing company, with 2005 revenue of €371 million, to Universal Music. Yet, indicating the huge scope of Bertelsmann’s interests, that figure then only accounted for about 2 per cent of the company’s total revenue (the company is now part of Sony-BMG).
The cultural industries are engaged in competition for limited pools of disposable income, which will fluctuate according to the economic times. With its historical association with youthful purchasers, the music industry is particularly vulnerable to shifts in the relative size of the younger age cohort, their loss of spending power in a period of high youth unemployment worldwide, and their shifting modes of consumption in the era of the download. The cultural industries are also engaged in competition for advertising revenue, consumption time, and skilled labour. Radio, television, and music magazines are all heavily dependent on advertising revenue. Not only are consumers allocating their expenditure, they are also dividing their time amongst the varying cultural consumption opportunities available to them. With the expanded range of leisure opportunities in recent years, at least to those able to afford them, the competition amongst the cultural, recreational, and entertainment industries for consumer attention has increased.
The record companies: the traditional industry model
The record companies are an important part of the culture industries. From its initial development in the early 1900s, the sound recording industry demonstrated four main characteristics (see Frith, 2007; Gebesmair, 2009):
  • A high concentration of markets.
  • The vertical integration of firms.
  • Transnational and global operation.
  • A dependence on copyright regulations.
These remained evident in the subsequent evolution of the record companies, which into the 1990s continued to demonstrate the features identified as characteristic of the cultural industries (Vogel, 1994; he prefers the term ‘entertainment industries’):
  • Profits from a very few highly popular products are generally required to offset losses from many mediocrities; overproduction is a feature of recorded music, with only a small proportion of releases achieving chart listings and commercial success, and a few mega sellers propping up the music industry in otherwise lean periods (e.g. Michael Jackson’s, Thriller, 1982, with sales of some 20 million copies through the 1980s).
  • Marketing expenditures per unit are proportionally large; this applies in the music industry to releases from artists with a proven track record.
  • Ancillary or secondary markets provide disproportionately large returns; in popular music through licensing and revenue from copyright (as with film soundtracks).
  • Capital costs are relatively high, and oligopolistic tendencies are prevalent; in the music industry this is evident in the dominance of the majors, in part due to the greater development and promotional capital they have available.
  • Ongoing technological development makes it ever easier and less expensive to manufacture, distribute, and receive entertainment products and services.
  • Entertainment products and services have universal appeal, as evident in the international appeal of many popular music genres and performers; this is enhanced by the general accessibility of music as a medium, no matter what language a song may be sung in.
A significant, though frequently debated, aspect of the record companies is their broad division into major and independent labels.
This distinction is frequently referred to in popular discourse, but is far from clear cut given that many independent labels adopt the operating practices of the majors and the two sectors are commonly linked by distribution.
Calling the tune? The majors
The record industry has historically been dominated by a group of large international companies commonly referred to as the majors. The major labels are usually involved in all aspects of the management, production, distribution, and sale of recorded music, attempting as far as possible to control these different aspects. They have similar organizational structures, with typical management hierarchies and various divisions: A&R; promotion; sales and marketing (for a detailed discussion, see Hull et al., 2011; for an insightful analysis of the process in the 1980s, which remains relevant and provides an histori...

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