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Adorno in Continental Philosophy categorize this paper. Applied ethics. History of Western Philosophy. Writing in the s, Adorno began by denying that jazz had any of the qualities for which it was praised: it was not expressive and spontaneous. Rather, he thought it was essentially formulaic, banal, and — worst of all — fashionable.
He granted that the tunes were syncopated, but pointed out that they were played over a rigid beat, always marked by the kick drum. Jazz may have its roots in African music, but any forms of authentic African expression must be attenuated or removed so that the music can be a mass-produced. Like, say, a piano concerto, jazz was a musical form which claimed it reconciled an individual part an improvised solo to a whole the rest of the song.
On Popular Music, by Theodor Adorno
Adorno rejected this idea as a bourgeois illusion; all tonal music pretends to reconcile part to whole, which cannot happen in the modern world. In other words, elements do not progress or develop out of one another; they merely occur after one another. Although, ideally, solos within a jazz track are meant to be variations on the same theme, I find that this is rarely the case, and the better the individual players, the more distinct their solos. Adorno c: While economic concentration and the desire to minimize risk and production costs leads to formulaic types of popular music, Adorno believed that this standardization must be disguised, for otherwise there would be resentment from mass audiences.
The music industry needs to maintain the illusion that its star performers have become successful on the basis of their own merits and that consumers have freely chosen to enjoy the songs that have been marketed to them. Adorno has been widely criticized for his elitism and what some have seen as his racist judgments about popular music, particularly his attacks on jazz Huyssen ; Gendron ; Gracyk ; Wilcock ; Witkin ; see also Paddison The only signs of resistance he could find were among those listeners, presumably like himself, who rejected popular music altogether:.
Nevertheless, Adorno never articulated why some listeners could resist the onslaught of popular music or how such refusals might translate into political action. The dispute between Adorno and Benjamin arose less from an intrinsic incompatibility between their views than from their radically different points of departure, with Adorno singling out the commodified relations of the culture industry as Benjamin considered the consequences of new media.
I will examine three dimensions of popular music that have developed historically through conflicts between the centralizing and standardizing processes of the culture industry and the democratizing consequences of technologies that effectively socialize the ownership of music. Table 1 is intended to be a guide for how the argument will unfold as I consider the historical conflicts that have shaped the field of popular music.
Examining the relations between capital and reproducible technologies in the recording industry, we first discover that the crisis of the digital age represents the most intense manifestation of an enduring history of conflict, for new technologies are just as often a threat as a boon to the profits and private ownership of the major labels.
Finally, the divergent perspectives represented by Adorno and Benjamin illuminate two ongoing forms of struggle among musicians, one in subcultures that try to remain independent from the major labels and mainstream audiences, the other among musical producers who blur the boundaries between production and consumption in ways that challenge private ownership.
Centralization of capital; absorption of companies into conglomerates spanning multiple forms of media. Access to technology enables greater participation in music scenes; production and consumption merge.
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Anti-corporate forms of independent music; aesthetic of authenticity opposed to mainstream music. Sampling and remix in hip hop and mash-ups; legal conflicts over private vs.
Theodor W. Adorno
These larger processes of economic transformation have made a significant impact on all aspects of the music industry: record labels, radio, retail, and live performance. The problems posed by digital reproducibility have affected all the media industries in various ways, but within the recording industry the crisis is especially pronounced and seemingly intractable.
In the U. The contradictions between technological reproducibility and the culture industry have reached new extremes in the digital era, but the history of popular music is rife with instances in which new technologies have both endangered and enriched the industry at different times. During the years that Adorno was developing his critique of the culture industry, recorded music in the United States was indeed the standardized product of an oligarchy in which a small number of firms and powerful interests dominated.
In , American radio broadcasting consisted of four national networks and their local affiliates, and four companies accounted for 81 percent of all the top-ten hit records Peterson and Berger However, during the first half of the twentieth century, recordings were not the primary commodities of the music industry, which was still based on live performance, songwriting and publishing, and selling sheet music. Sound had been recordable and reproducible since the nineteenth century, but records and phonographs were still too unwieldy and expensive for mass consumption.
The major labels invested in the research to develop a more accessible medium for recorded music, but their unintended effect was to give the smaller, independent labels a chance to compete in the market for commercial pop, thereby decentralizing the industry. One key advantage of the 7 inch, 45 rpm record — the standard format for pop music until the mids — was that it was much less breakable than its larger counterparts, and therefore could be packaged, shipped, and distributed in mass quantities. Meanwhile, the number of local radio stations multiplied as the Federal Communications Commission FCC granted a backlog of licenses after the war, when the networks had their sights on the emerging medium of television.
These smaller, independent stations were unable to provide the variety of programming offered by the networks, and so much of their airtime was devoted to playing records. This gave the independent record labels, particularly those specializing in rhythm and blues or country music, an unprecedented opportunity to get their music on the air at the growing number of stations that catered to specific tastes or regional styles Gillett ; Peterson The recording industry would be significantly decentralized by the end of the s: whereas the largest four record companies had over 80 percent of the market for hit singles through the s and still maintained 74 percent as late as , by their portion of Top Ten records had declined to just 34 percent Peterson and Berger Over the next two decades, the recording industry enjoyed its time of greatest profitability, chiefly by selling rock music to the sizeable baby boom generation.
The industry was re-centralized in the process, although now the major labels adopted a new strategy that dispersed creative control to subsidiaries and independently contracted producers Lopes ; Dowd After a sales slump in the early s, the recording industry reaped massive profits from the Beatles and the other groups associated with the British Invasion, followed by the folk rock and psychedelic groups centered in California, as rock music became the central medium of cultural expression among great numbers of young people. The industry was also re-centralized in a flurry of mergers and conglomeration.
In , the largest four record companies were, for the first time in two decades, responsible for more than half of all Top Ten records Peterson and Berger As rock music became big business, the infrastructure of the industry also expanded to include talent agencies, managers, concert promoters, lawyers, journalists, and magazines like Rolling Stone. In short, by the mids, while the rest of American industry slumped, popular music had grown into a multi-billion dollar business, the recording industry had been recentralized by a small number of large companies utilizing a decentralized approach to production, and many people had discovered new ways to make money from various aspects of the music and its performance.
Despite their ability to regain control of the market while undergoing extraordinary growth, the recording industry continued to see technologies of reproducibility as a potential threat. Compact discs did not yet have the capacity to be recordable or rewritable, so the recording industry profited handsomely as consumers replaced their old record collections with compact discs and repackaged box sets.
In the meantime, the recording industry squashed the development of the Digital Audio Tape DAT that would have allowed consumers to make perfect reproductions of music recorded from a CD. Although Digital Audio Tape was squashed, advances in digital technology still made it possible to copy data from personal computers to recordable CDs. The most threatening form of reproducibility to confront the recording industry has proven to be the compression of audio content into an MP3 file.
People began exchanging MP3 files through the internet in the late s, with Napster eventually emerging as the most popular site for the free exchange of music. Napster was effectively shut down by the recording industry, but the free exchange of music has continued online with new sites that were developed utilizing more decentralized methods of file sharing. Established artists like Prince, Nine Inch Nails, and Radiohead have released musical recordings independently of any record company by simply allowing them to be downloaded from their websites.
In bypassing record companies altogether, the members of Radiohead claim that they made more money from In Rainbows than all their other best-selling albums combined Kot As Adorno foresaw, the most commercially successful and popular forms of music have tended toward standardization because the recording industry, like the culture industry as a whole, seeks to maximize profit and minimize risk.
Especially in the early years of , relations between countercultural musicians and representatives from the recording industry revealed deep conflicts of cultural ideals about music and commerce. For example, in late an executive at Warner Bros. Before long, however, the majors would discover that they could capitalize on the burgeoning youth culture more effectively if they utilized semi-autonomous subsidiary labels run by younger people with a more organic connection to the music.
By the s, rock had become the highest selling form of popular music for an expanding market of baby boomers, and the music had splintered into more specialized genres country rock, heavy metal, singer-songwriters, southern rock, progressive art rock that could be marketed to particular taste groups shaped by various social differences.
Pop Culture and Power | The New Yorker
The punk explosion of presented a challenge to the solidifying rock music establishment, exposing and ridiculing its conventions through a negative example of short songs, short hair, and bleak attitudes. The fusion of production and consumption was also fostered in the practices of sampling and turntable scratching, which were essential elements in the evolution of rap and hip hop from the late s through the s. Chang ; Potter ; Rose ; Schloss ; also see Forman and Neal The advent of digital samplers, which hip hop producers began utilizing in the second half of the s, enabled the DJ to move beyond the turntables to loop and remix snippets of sound into a recycled musical pastiche.
The divergent processes of corporate concentration and digital reproducibility have shaped the music world into a commercial pyramid with standardized pop at the summit and a proliferating number of musical styles and hybrids subsisting in local scenes and cyberspace. Following the mergers of the s, labels began slashing the size of their rosters to focus on a smaller number of more commercially dependable pop acts.
Now there is an incredible lack of patience for developing artists. Likewise, after their acquisition of radio stations in every region of the U. Meanwhile, the opportunities for ordinary people to create, record and distribute music have continued to increase with each new development of technological reproducibility and the exponential growth of independent media outlets.
Computer software and digital technologies have made it cheaper and more convenient for musicians to do the work of recording and mixing that once could have only been done in a studio, while the internet provides innumerable outlets for distribution, promotion, and networking with audiences. By , over 5 million bands had created MySpace pages that allow musicians to upload their songs, post tour dates, and communicate with fans Kot The increasingly unnecessary role of the major labels was especially evident in , when the group Arcade Fire released The Suburbs , an album that debuted at the number one position on the charts in America, Britain, Canada, and Ireland despite being released on the independent Merge Records from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a label that has been owned and operated since by two musicians from the local indie rock scene.
Following the release of The Suburbs , Arcade Fire played a concert at Madison Square Garden that sold out in just a few hours and was streamed live to an estimated 1. Finally, Adorno and Benjamin and their corresponding emphasis on the culture industry and technological reproducibility illuminate two different sources of conflict between musicians and the industry.
The DIY network of independent media that have supported various underground scenes since the late s was constructed in opposition to the major labels, which are perceived as a homogenizing and standardizing force in music, driven by the profit motive to exploit their musicians and consumers without regard for the quality of the music Azerrad ; Hesmondhalgh ; Moore ; Thompson Discarding the fetish for originality, Benjamin directs our attention to the social conflicts facilitated by reproducibility, suggesting that digitalization facilitates the erosion of distinctions between production and consumption in the development of a participatory culture.
Like file sharing, sampling poses a threat to notions of authorship and the private ownership of music, and so the record companies and other established interests in the music industry have subjected it to a number of legal challenges over questions of copyright and fair use Schumacher In , the rapper Biz Markie and his record company, Warner Bros.
For many years, the precedent in this ruling would stifle much of the creative energy that had been developing around the practice of sampling in hip hop music.
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