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The Commercialism of Sound

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Alex Triece

Bernardo Illari

MUMH 1600-100

August 10, 2005

The Commercialism of Sound

People love music. In each generation, the culture of society presents itself artistically, and in many cases music is deemed one of the most eloquent forms of social expression. In recent years, music has in many ways become a centerpiece of culture. Some musicians have become icons of our time, and are looked up to as role models and visionaries. And yet, as with any form of art, there are different styles of music that remain obscure, or become obscure over time. With the development of a large record industry, the amount of amateur music made declined thoroughly (Frith 52). Only a handful of artists are ever privileged enough to experience the popular artistic limelight. The business of music has become increasingly turbulent and erratic, overrun with fads and trends that can last as little as weeks. As many artists are dependent on their art as a source of income, this ever changing industry has become a cause for alarm to many working musicians. Today’s music scene has welcomed many innovations to the art and business of music, while imposing many setbacks upon some musicians. These changes have affected today’s music, as well as modern culture.

Throughout the history of music, there have been changes in styles and sounds that have brought about evolution and progression to new styles and sounds. Some of the more modern styles of music in western culture include Jazz and Rock. These styles of music contain countless subcategories that span the complexities of human emotion. What makes each of these genres of music so influential to the public are the artists and fans that create and promote them. In this way, music has become a business, depending on a supply and demand system. Some believe that this commercialization has resulted in a general decline in talent, art, and meaning in music, and has promoted a shift from musical expression to pop indoctrination (Frith 50). This shift in artistic perspective and constant debate over the goal of commercial music has been a common theme within popular culture.

Commercialism is the controlling factor of music today. The business of music has become more and more essential with each passing decade. Marketing and promotion are now as important if not more important than the product being sold. From an artistic standpoint, this has limited much of the variance in style from artist to artist, as far as what is socially acceptable. One highly influential instrument in the marketing of popularity has been the development of the music video. Many argue that the music video is simply an advertisement, not a product in and of itself (Shuker 186). Nonetheless, the music video is responsible for a huge cultural influence upon society. The success of MTV yielded 28 million viewers by the early 1990’s, and was continuing to grow by the millions (Shuker 189). This, in league with the music television format, similar to that of Pop 40 radio, has created a platform for a select amount of artists to directly influence culture in a huge way. There are a few largely popular styles of music that tend to take up most of the public airtime on television and radio. Other styles that have receded from the public eye generally obtain either a cult status or trickle out completely. With the development of radio stations and music television, much of the music scene is overshadowed by a handful of artists. Currently, the rap/r&b and rock styles tend to dominate the music video and radio scene.

The development of music television and pop radio has given a unique privilege to many artists in modern culture. Due to these advancements in communication technology, the artist is able to utilize a media forum to project his or her ideas to a hugely expansive audience. The whole world is the concert hall, and the audience can experience the artist in various forms in various places. This gives the artist a voice that can be heard anywhere and everywhere. Many artists take advantage of this situation to voice political ideas as well as artistic ideas, sometimes in amalgam. Perhaps the largest example of modern political and artistic fusion occurred during the Vietnam War in America, a time which the youth culture of the United States was thrown into a controversial situation (Savage 131). The music and artists during the Vietnam era led the way in a huge period of protest and confusion, building anti-government sentiment amongst the youth of America, and the commercialism of the music industry played a big factor in this uprising. Many artists who had already made their names known in the public, such as The Beatles, CCR, and Bob Dylan, began speaking out and writing

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