Issues in Popular Music
1) Shuker, Roy. Understanding Popular Music Culture, 4 edition. New York:
2) Brackett, David, editor. The Pop, Rock and Soul Reader: Histories and Debates, 3 d
edition. New York: Oxford Univeristy Press, 2013.
Midterm (Oct 16): 30%
Final Paper (Nov. 20 ): 30%
Final Exam (TBA): 40%
Popular Music Criticism:
Journalistic Writings: Reviews, Magazine Articles, Interviews.
Academic/ Scholarly writing: Books and articles from unique
disciplines (ie: musicology, sociology, media studies etc…)
What is Popular Music?
Status as a commodity (music created for commercial use).
Often defined by what It’s not (ie: NOT classical/art, NOT jazz…)
The idea of “popular music” itself and the separation of genres doesn’t necessarily exist
Time period, social and cultural context, and geographical location have an effect.
Timbre: Colour of a musical sound, the quality that distinguishes one instrument from
another (eg: piano vs saxophone).
Intensity: The loudness of a musical sound
Pitch: We hear as wave vibrations. When a sound vibrates at a specific frequency, then it
has a definite pitch. We identify rapidly vibrating sounds as high pitches and slower
Duration: How long a sound lasts.
Instrumentation: The range of timbres in a performance, instruments used.
Dynamics: Volume levels, levels of gradation.
Texture: Various relationships among parts (each voice or instrument is a part). Reading No.1:
Advertisers use so much popular music in their ads
Advertisers find that music is a great way to be relevant with consumers across the
Before, no one liked to have their music used commercially, but more and more artists
realize it’s a great way now to get noticed.
Horkheimer was convinced that the culture industry was crucial to the domination of
Adorno was obsessed with popular music and it’s culture. “On Popular Music” was one
of his greatest success’s.
Adorno’s critical analysis of Popular Music: popular music was not serious music
because it was standardized and pseudoindividualized.
To Adorno, classical music was serious music because of it’s detail.
Advertisers often use certain songs with special lyrics to draw attention (ie: “in the
navy” by the village people being used in an Old Navy commercial).
Adorno defined what made popular music not serious music was standardization.
Standardization: the melody and lyric are constructed within a definite pattern or
Popular Music must meet two demands: provoking attention from listener and to be
“natural Music” to the untrained listener.
Popular music becomes popular through mainly radio. Adorno hated radio because it did
not broadcast “serious music”. Radio made listeners believe they where listening to the
most greatest music.
To become a hit, a song must have one detail which makes it completely unique but
must have every other aspect of a conventional normal song.
the use of a “plug” of a song in an ad is similar to selling a product in an ad.
Adorno says that a producer of popular music must write a song that is impressive
enough to be remember but well known enough to be able to reach the listener at all.
Ads contain popular music but popular music also contain ads. (Ie: Nikki Minaj sings
about Michael Kors).
*Citation styles: CHICAGO or APA. Also, NUMBER PAGES. For papers.
Theodor Adorno (19031969)
Member of Frankfurt School.
Colleagues: Horkheimer, Marcus, Habermas.
Studied critical theory
Marxist understand of society (an economic and social system where class struggle is a
central element. Antithesis of capitalism), criticized capitalism and its’ inequalities.
The Culture Industry (coined by Adorno).
Made up of economic institutions that employ modes of production
It produces forms of culture that are commodities and items. (Entertainment industry).
(Culture= pop music, art, television, film, literature etc…) According to Adorno, the commodification of these cultural products leads to
standardization of these products.
Standardization, he said, leads to passivity in consumers.
Culture is produced to be bought, and sold and companies “make culture” to make
Mass production= lack of critical thought (ie popular music).
Popular music is standardized in several ways:
1) a number of types that are immediately recognizable (ie: certain Genres).
2) a small number of structures (ie: chord progressions, rhythms etc)
3) a small number of particular components to each song that are interchangeable.
(ie: lyrical themes, instrumentations, melodies etc…)
Tin Pan Alley (20’s30’s) was a music house which made older songs for musicals and
broadway shows etc…
All the biggest Jazz musicians did all their recording/producing there.
The type of variation that exists between standardized products. (songs sound different
but have the same basic structure. Appearance of uniqueness).
They do not alter the basic structure of something.
Serious VS Popular Music. (Equated with High VS Low culture).
Differences include: degree of standardization (ie: art music was not standardized where
as pop was standardized), level of complexity, market context (art music was NOT
market oriented but Pop Music WAS).
Role of The Listener
The average pop listener, according to Adorno, was caught up in a standardized routine
set of responses.
The pleasure derived is superficial and false. Controlled by the industrial apparatus.
Individuals who enjoy pop are corrupted and are open to the domination of the
industrialized, capitalist society.
Reading 2: Technology, The Dawn of Modern Popular Music and the “King of Jazz”
Before 1920’s, pop music= sheet music and live performance.
In the 1920’s, we could start listening to radio and records.
Recording studios used to change instrumentation often (ie: double basses, tubas etc).
Drums with other musical instruments playing, didn’t make good music
Records where unforgiving items and would have to be made time and time again in
order to perfect the song.
Orchestra became more popular on recordings.
Dance styles and types of music came in quickly and out quickly too. th
Monday, Sept 16 Class (Advertising)
Allan’s Premise: The use of popular music in ads is growing. Companies attempt to
reach a wider audience with music. Musicians seem more willing to have their music
used for commercial purposes (to gain money or exposure).
Songs Played In Class:
My Addidas RunDMC
Rum and Coca Cola The Andrews Sisters
Pass the Courvoisier Bustra Rhymes ft. Diddy, Pharrell
Bugatti Ace Hood
Circus Britney Spears
We Are Who We Are Ke$ha
On The Floor JlO Pitbull
Thrift Shop Macklemore
Apple Commercial for iPod Nano (Feist)
Trying to link the status of the product to their own personal success.
Wednesday, Sept 18 Class
Ads can focus more on a particular artist (ie: Justin timberlake) rather than an actual
Sometimes, when the only sound to an ad is music, it helps the audience focus on the
Connection between biographies of artists and the product (ie: Eminem in the Chrysler
Plugging popular music in ads on radio and television is getting more and more
prominent. Advertising is also being used in songs (ie: Tom Ford Jay Z).
We also see Art Music very frequently in ads. Probably almost as much as popular
Tin Pan Alley: An area in Manhattan around 28 street where much of the sheet music
for popular vaudeville tunes of the early 20 century were written. Sheet music was very
easy to mass produce.
Between 1890 and 1909 sales of sheet music almost tripled. One song was about 25
cents, which equals 515 dollars in our time.
Some people (Song Pluggers) where hired to go to department stores during the day and
vaudeville theaters at night and try to convince people and performers to buy the new
music pieces which would result in more sheet music sales.
Irving Berlin was the most prolific of he Tin Pan Alley Composers. He wrote “God Bless
America” and “White Christmas”. Other Tin Pan Alley Writers include: George and Ida
Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rogers.
Technology and mass dissemination
78 rpm records represented the beginning of the transition from written to recorded
music. Sales decreased form 106 million to 6 million in the depression.
the transition from sheet music to records forced some orchestras to change their
compositions because they didn’t sound great on record compared to when you heard it
live (Paul Whiteman and Mary Margaret McBride). Whiteman’s Ambassador Orchestra
achieved unprecedented commercial success.
Guy Lombardo was a successful orchestra leader from Canada.
The recording industry back then, provided absolutely no room for mistakes.
Music was being mass distributed for the first time.
Monday September 23, 2013 (Industry and Commercialization)
Readings: Shuker Chapter 1 and Short Brackett Reading
The Music Industry
Consists of sound recording companies who develop and market artists and music.
Other industries include: Publishing, Music Retail, Music Press, Music Hardware, Sound
Recording, Tours and Concerts, Merchandising, Royalties and Rights.
Major Labels: Universal Music Group, Sony/BMG, AOL Time Warner.
Concentration: The ownership of popular music production is concentrated in the
hands of a small number of companies.
Vertical Integration: Where concentration of the music and media industries lead
to control of the total production flow, from raw materials to wholesale.
Some critics have observed that periods of concentration have produced a lot of
Some have observed that this has lead to bursts of creativity by the public.
Innovation is therefore linked to indie labels
A cycle of innovations and consolidation (indie label releases new sound
and then major labels “steal it” and indie labels have to find a new sound
and the major labels take it again etc…).
This framework has been argued against.
Music production is more complicated
Webs and networks operating within the music industry.
Interconnections between large and small companies.
Income from Rights
Copyright (intellectual property right).
1) Performing Rights
For the use of musical material collected on behalf of writers and
publishers when music is performed or broadcasted.
2) Public Performance Rights Paid for the privilege of broadcasting of playing the actual recording I
3) Mechanical Rights
Paid to the copyright holder every time a particular song or piece of
music is recorded.
Provides a legal shield around a name, slogan, shape or character image, in conjunction
with product licensing. Makes it possible for the original owner to transfer this sign to
others for a limited period of time in exchange for royalties.
The forging of links of image and perception between a range of products.
Images are transferable between different media.
Ie: Jessica Simpson (clothing line, perfume, proactive spokeswoman)
50 Cent (gunit, video games, movie).
Reading 3: Music Industry and Record Companies (Shuker Ch.1)
Ever since the 90’s there has been a drop in record sales because of internet.
Mass Medium driven by capitalism (maximum profit).
The Cultural Industries are companies which sell goods and products which mass market
and help perpetuate a certain culture.
Horizontal Integration is when a large company wants to buy out another equally sizzed
Vertical Integration is when a company owns different steps in the music process (ie:
recording AND distribution).
4 main qualities of the recording industry: high concentration of markets, vertical
integration of firms, global operation and dependence on copyright rules.
Universal is the largest music company, then in second place it’s Live Nation.
Music Industry Fight Against Rock n Roll : Historical Context
What influcenced rock n roll?
rhythm and blues
Some early parings of “rock” and “roll”
“The camp Meeting Jubilee” (1912) > “We’ve been rocking n rolling all night
Trixie Smith, “My man Rocks Me” (1922)
Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald “Rock It For Me” (1937)
The term “rock n roll” used to describe the style form 1956 onwards. Popular Films: “Don’t Knock The Rock”, “Rock ,Rock Rock” and “Mister Rock and
Alan Freed coined the term “Rock n Roll”
Rock n Roll got it’s start by promoters who neatly packaged it. (Alan Freed, DJ Dewey,
Brackett, “The Music Industry Fight Against Rock n Roll”
Emergence of rock n roll in the 1950s
ASCAP v.s. BMI (old v.s. new)
Payola= the practice of paying Disk Jockeys in order to get them to play certain artists or
“Teen Pop” in late 50s/early 60s. Designed to please both teenagers and politicians
(cleaned up rock n roll).
Dick Clark promoted teen pop a lot.
what effect does the music industry have in shaping public taste?
Is the promotion of certain artists and restriction of others political?
who has control of current radio programming?
Production and Technology
Production and Consumption
How does technology affect the ways in which music is made and delivered to
“The history of music is, in part, one of a shift form oral performance to notation,
then to music being recorded and stored, and disseminated using various mediums
of sound transmissions.” –Shuker 2023, 26
Positive and negative aspects of/reactions to technological advancements
in sound recording:
Pianoforte replacing harpsichord
19 C Brass band instruments
Microphone in the 1920s
Electric guitar in the 50s
Moog synthesizer (60s80s)
MIDI – Musical Instrumental Digital Interface (80s)
new recording technologies have opened up creative possibilities that
have led to the emergence of new genres. Music as a “thing” (commodity)
Sound Reproduction and Dissemination: Developments in sound systems correspond to
how, when and where we listen to music.
Introduction to Electronic Dance Music
The rise of 1990s electronic dance music begins with the fall of disco
DJs developed a number of techniques to create new music.
The DJ became central to the dancemusic experience.
Larry Levan and the Paradise Garage
While disco was still popular, Larry Leven establish himself as one of NY’s top dance
As disco faded, Levan developed his own approach to reworking and combining
This NY approach to dance music was often called “Garage”
House music was developed at a Chicago dance club called the Warehouse.
Frankie Knuckles brought Levan’s techniques with him to Chicago (c 1977).
By the early 1980s the Chicago sound was developing (later called House Music)
House takes disco’s use of a prominent bass/kick drum on every beat
Heavy electronic synthesizer baseline.
Ie: Pump Up The Jam by Technetronic
Reading: Electronica Is In The House
Mid 1980s, DJs and producers in Detroit including Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin
Saunderson produced recordings that sought to extend the futuristic techno sound of
European Groups. (Hence > Techno).
Techno moved at faster tempo than house.
Electronic music rapidly split in numerous directions, one of which being raves
often involving drug use of MDMA and ecstasy.
Djs produced sounds which appealed to people in a high state of mind.
Jungle music started really attracting attention. It developed out of hardcore and the
tempo was very fast (often at 160 bpm). Sampled dance hall reggae drum patterns. Slow
moving bass lines, sustained synth parts. Often known as the British Gangsta Rap.
By the end of 1995, after the term “jungle” was debated, the term “drum n bass”
replaced “jungle” because it had less racist connotations.
“electronica” was another new term that emerged in the 199697 time.
October 7 , 2013.
Midterm: A Mulitple Choice/Fill in the Blank with Word Blank.
B True/False C Definition (standardization, payola, branding, concentration, vertical
D Short Answer.
The Belleville Three (DJs) began producing a refined, futuristic and sonically
sophisticated version of dance music that many called “Detroit House”.
Now referred to as “Techno”
ie: Juan Atkin’s “No UFO’s” (1985).
Jungle/Drum and Bass
Emerged in early 1990s, fast tempo, broken beatdrums; tracks often used ragga
(subgenre of reggae) vocals.
ie: Goldie “Angel” (1995).
Subgenre includes wide range of contemporary electronic music designed for a wide
range of uses.
Music is not always intended for dancing (unlike most other types of EDM).
ie: Moby “Natural Blues”.
Became really big towards end of 1990s.
“Historia Electronica Preface” Simon Reynolds (2001)
He lays out parameters that define a “field of Possibility” within which electronic dance