what do we mean by commodification of music/ Simply this - the packaging and
mass production of forms of music for the market place - or you like conversion
and production, of certain forms of music, identified as having market appeal,
or transformed to have market appeal, by the capitalist production process, for
mass consumption and profit.
other words, with the industrial revolution, in Western Capitalist society,
music, just like the manufacture of cars and washing machines, became
commodified and mass produced in `factories’ for the market, such factories
being Music publishers (Tin Pan Alley) and then the record industry itself.
2.0 NOW LETS LOOK AT THE
COMMODIFICATION OF WESTERN POPULAR MUSIC - AND MAINLY IN THE USA.
lets look at the commodification of western popular music as it occurred - and
we shall look mainly at the USA. I make no apologies for this as the USA is the
main source for Western popular music, as we know it - I apologise to the
Brits. But there is also no time to look at the UK - or here for that matter.
2.1 Early 1900s-
the development of the phonograph and technologies for mass production and
indeed for the listening of music, in the early years of this century, in the
United States a small number of recording companies emerged, including Victor
and Columbia records. These soon became dominant in the music market and helped
shape the way music was commodified. Originally they recorded Operatic music
and instrumentals,but then Dance music
was soon introduced, and popular songs were recorded.For example, Irving Berlin’s songs were
popular (Alexander’s Ragtime Band),and
Jazz was also soon recorded.
1918 and 1922, the recording industry flourished, -and Jazz, as the latest
craze in the West was commercialised. This was an important event because for
the first time the sale of records outpaced sheet music, and in this respect
weakened the power of Tin Pan Alley. However, this success was short lived for
the record business as it was soon severly curtailed by the popularization of
1922, the radio had stolen much from the phonograph, it was free and programs
could be constantly varied. Radio as such, soon became a giant industry-
dwarfing then absorbing the record business.
the business of phonograph records greatly shrank during the 1920s, audio
recording technology moved forward during that period with microphones and
amplifiers applied to top recordings. There were also other developments and
new developments in recording and disc manufacturing also soon enhanced the
dynamic range of records.
2.2 Radio Dominating
significant was the expansion of recorded repertoire during the 1920s. The
first `race’ records, mainly blues intended to be bought by the black
population, began to appear.But radio,
nevertheless, continued to dominate home entertainment during the depression,
and the big networks considered their record lables as something of a sideline.
But then DECCA came along, slashed prices, and forced the other labels to
follow suit making records again affordable to the public.
about the music at this time? Well, many of the top recording artists of the
1930s were also the radio stars of their day. Their repertoire came primarily
from Tin Pan Alley and Broadway.While a
few songs of the period were influenced by the Depression - ie. Buddy can You
Spare a Dime?’, the majority of popular music proved more optimistic, or at
least sentimental.. By the mid 1930s, the first Albums of 78 rpms discs
the Mid-1930s until after World War Two in America, a recovery in the popular
music record business took place, aided by two outside forces: juke box and
radio. Many restaurants and public recreational places had jukeboxes. This was
important, for not only did juke box operators purchase large numbers of
records, but jukebox exposure seems to have stimulated consumer sales of
records as well. But radio also helped to sell records by giving exposure to
popular artists and new songs.
2.3 Big Bands and Wartime
popular vocalists dominated the major record labels during the 1930s, public
taste in America began to change drastically during the Depression, and the
time was ripe for a rebirth of enthusiasm for instrumental music.
black jazz bands, white regional bands began to appear around the beginning of
the decade. This trend grew rapidly, and by 1935the ten year `big-band era ‘ had dawned. ie.
Artists such as Glenn Miller, and Benny Goodman not only affected what was
recorded but influenced the pattern of the music business behind the scenes as
2.4 TIN PAN ALLEY
at this time as in the 1920s and 1930s most of the power of the industry came
from something called TIN PAN ALLEY. - in that most of the repertoire of songs
sung by pop artists came from one or another of the large New York music
publishers known collectively as `Tin Pan Alley’.
as far back as the 1890s, these publishers and the composers they represented
were the most powerful single influence on popular style andtherefore popular taste. The lyrics of Tin
Pan Alley songs followed a philosophy of escapism rather than realism, and the
music used the forms, harmonic patterns, and melodic styles inherited from the
lighter European traditions, such as Operetta - ie Tea for Two, Blue Moon, etc.
Tin Pan Alley publisher’s traditional means of promoting the sales of a printed
song was to persuade one or more record companies to record it. However, after
the advent of sound films (The Jazz Singer, 1927) the screen furnished a new
alternative for introducing and promoting songs. Probably the movie song most
successful on records was `White Christmas’ by Irving berlin and sung by Bing
Crosby in the Film Holiday Inn (1942). Its sentimentality was quite typical of
the Tin Pan Alley Songs of the day.
Pan Alley music publishers were accustomed to weilding a great deal of power in
the matter of recorded repertoire. Within the existing system it was they who
found new songs for the big label’s major artists to record. Thus the
publishers had held the initiative. However, most of the new ‘Swing’ style
tunes and arrangments played by big bands did not come from publishers but
rather from the leaders and members of thebands themselves.
big bands were the first complete entertainment ‘packages’ (forerunners to the
self-contained Rock bands of the 1960s) and they had little need for Tin Pan
Alley. Prime examples of swing tunes and their popularisers include “in the
Mood” (Glen Miller) etc.
big bands held sway from the late 1930s until after the US entry into World War
11. However, they soon lost out due to record companies countreing their
independence and industrial action, by promoting featured singers. In the end -
they were left with little promotion and a dwindling audience.