Written by: Desislava Zareva , New Bulgarian University Because this writing is long and uses advanced formatting, it’s also available for download in MS Word .DOC format
The following activities were initially designed as a part of self – study courseware accompanying a teacher training course ‘Studying Culture’ delivered in four Bulgarian universities: New Bulgarian University, Sofia University, Plovdiv University and University of Veliko Turnovo. However, some of tasks have been also piloted with English language students at NBU and proved suitable for both training students’ intercultural and linguistic skills.
Thus the activities I offer below have two basic purposes:
- To acquaint you and your students with some of the theoretical works which appeared in the 20th century and aimed to explicate the nature of popular culture in general and popular music in particular
- To provide you and your students with a number of methodological tools that will enable you (and your students) to critically approach and analyze examples of popular music.
Once you have completed the activities you should be able to:
- Approach examples of popular music from two theoretical standpoints – that of the Frankfurt School (with Theodor Adorno as its main bard) and that of postmodernism
- Analyze popular music as an outcome of the music industry
- Relate examples of popular music to respective cultures and subcultures they are part of
- Conduct different types of small-scale research employing ethnographic research methods: questionnaires, interviews, participant observation, field work.
The following six activities have been designed to cover no more than ten hours of study. Each of them focuses on one particular issue related to popular music studies. The activities, though to a great degree self-contained, are best completed in the sequence suggested below.
They can easily be adapted to the purposes of your own classroom and changed in accordance to the needs of your own students.
I have selected a number of reading texts, which, without being exhaustive, throw light on theories still influential in popular music studies. You are not expected to whole-heartedly embrace them and take any of the findings for granted. Rather, I would like you to approach them with the necessary degree of criticism, taking into consideration both their weak and strong points. There also included texts introducing particular case studies, which will draw you your attention to various aspects of popular music and a range of methods for the analysis of individual examples. The following symbols have been used to signpost the type of tasks you and your students will perform:
s Answer the question(s)
i This is a point where you are provided with further information on a topic or you are guided to some reference resources
INTRODUCTION TO THE TOPIC
- When did you last listen to music?
- Where were you while listening to it?
- Which is the song you like best? You hate most?
- What sort of music you will never consent to listen to? Why?
- What are the latest hits in Bulgaria? In the world?
As you realise, listening to music, especially to popular music, has become an indelible part of our everyday life. People are exposed to it practically everywhere: at and outside home; on TV, radio or live concerts; in shops, cafes, even public transport. Still, what exactly do we mean when we identify certain songs or instrumental pieces as an instance of ‘popular music’? And what’s ‘popular’ anyway?
ACTIVITY 1. TOWARDS DEFINING ‘POPULAR’ AND ‘POPULAR CULTURE’
~C ? 1.1 Consider the following terms. Put down in your notebooks as many words or expressions that, in your view, best explain their meaning.
& 1.2. The following excerpts introduce a number of interpretations of ‘popular’ and ‘popular culture’ currently in circulation in the field of Culture Studies.
Do they differ from your own perception of the two terms? If yes, how?
And, in one sense, popular culture always has its base in the experiences, the pleasures, the memories, and the traditions of the people. It has connections with the local hopes and local aspirations, local tragedies and local scenarios that are the everyday practices and everyday experiences of ordinary folks. Hence it links with what Mikhail Bakhtin calls ‘the vulgar’ – the popular, the informal, the underside, the grotesque. That is why it is always counterpoised to elite or high culture, and thus is a site of alternative traditions. And that is why the dominant traditions have always been deeply suspicious of it quite rightly.
The role of the ‘popular’ in popular culture is to fix the authenticity of popular forms, rooting them in the experiences of popular communities from which they draw their strength allowing us to see them as expressive of a particular subordinate social life that resists its being constantly made over as low and outside. However, as popular culture has historically become the dominant form of global culture, so it is at the same time the scene, par excellence, of commodification, of the industries where culture enters directly into the circuits of a dominant technology – the circuits of power and capital.
Source: Hall (1995:469)
Pop’s multi-faceted nature begins with the word of which it is diminutive; popular, an adjective which has become a keyword in this century of mass production and mass culture. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives many definitions, all deriving from the Latin populus, the people: ‘adapted to the understating, taste or means of ordinary people (1573), ‘finding favor with the people, favourite, acceptable, pleasing’ (1608); ‘prevalent among, or accepted by, the people generally (1603)’. Its first attachment to a noun is recorded in 1885: ‘short for popular concert’.
Popular is an ambiguous term, however. Against its earlier uses are placed pejorative words like ‘plebian’, ‘epidemic’, while Bacon referred to a ‘Nobleman of an ancient family, but unquiet and popular’. This meaning is amplified by the account given by Raymond Williams in Keywords: ‘Popular culture was not identified by the people but by the others, and it still carries two older senses: inferior kinds of work (cf. popular literature, popular press as distinguished from quality press); and work deliberately setting out to win favor (popular journalism as opposed to democratic journalism, or popular entertainment); as well as the more modern sense of being liked by many people’.
Source: Kureishi & Savage (1995: xxv)
It is worth asking what we mean when we use the term ‘popular’. As Raymond Williams (1976) suggested, the term combines some contradictory ideas and meanings. In historical perspective, he noted that to call something ‘popular’ was a negative description until the nineteenth century, a bad thing. Positive connotations – the idea that ‘popular’ could be good – developed from that time onwards. In the modern media age, if something is popular, or part of popular culture, it is understood first of all, to be widespread, to be liked by or at least encountered by many people. A prerequisite for this in the modern period has been the development of mass production and distribution systems, industries and technologies devoted to the mass meditation of culture. So, in addition to the idea of ‘liked by many’, the notion of popular culture also often carries this implication of mass-produced culture. Associated with this theme are ideas that popular culture is ‘machine-made’ for the ‘mass’ of people and not the elite, not based for example on certain craft traditions and as a result perhaps regarded as rather trashy, contrived, ephemeral and commercial.
In this context of values and tastes, discussions of popular culture inevitably also bring us into contact with another set of definitions, especially those, which have attempted to distinguish between ‘high’ and ‘low culture’. These often pose fundamental questions of cultural value and worth. The accepted definitions of cultural value or excellence have traditionally been associated with dominant or powerful groups and classes in society. Such definitions have often made distinctions between ‘high’ culture – the educated appreciation of works which are often classical in origin in terms of music, art, theatre, ballet, opera, and literature – and ‘low’ or popular culture. Whilst ‘high’ culture tends to be equated with educated discernment, taste and distance of an intellectually refined elite, seeking to universalize its values, ‘low’ culture is all that is not refined or approved in these terms. It is therefore perceived as ‘popular’, vulgar, common and easy. Modern media and popular culture in general have often been found wanting from this standpoint, although to confuse matters somewhat, modern media also played a significant role in ‘popularizing’ aspects of ‘high’ or elite culture, for instance Classic FM, Pavarotti, and so on.
There is a final twist in the debate over popular culture and it brings into play another inflection in the term ‘popular’. This emphasizes the idea that popular culture is ‘of the people’, a kind of modern equivalent of folk culture. The importance of this view lies in a stress on popular culture as the modern site, an arena, where all sorts of ideas, images, styles and values can be expressed, articulated and compete for allegiance: where resistance and challenge, especially from less powerful or oppressed groups, can be symbolically advanced, and where dominant or powerful can be subverted or countered. The extent, to which involvement in the consumption of forms of popular culture can be seen as predictably conformist in its outcome and impact, as opposed to unpredictable and resistant, has formed a key area for debate in recent studies of media audiences.
Source: O’ Sullivan at al (1998:26-27)
The sense of popular culture I have in mind is indicated by Hebdige’s definition: ‘popular culture’ – e.g. a set of generally available artefacts; films, records, clothes, TV programmes, modes of transport, etc.’ Different societies, different groups within societies, and societies and groups in different historical periods can all have their own popular culture. It is therefore preferable not to hold a strict and exclusive definition.
Source: Strinati (1995:xvii)
å 1.3. Considering all the definitions you have just read can you complete in no more than 50 words each of the following statements:
POPULAR is ………
POPULAR CULTURE is……….
NB! Your summaries need not be coherent text. Notes will do.
So far we have dealt with two basic concepts – popular and popular culture in somewhat general terms. Now I would like to turn your attention to the main subject of this paper: popular music.
ACTIVITY 2. WHAT IS POPULAR MUSIC ?
SMALL SCALE ETHNOGRAFIC RESEARCH
C ? 2.1. Design a short questionnaire aiming to identify popular perceptions of the term ‘popular music’.
I You might like to consider the following points while preparing your questionnaire.
- Aims you would like to achieve
- Respondents: possibly an equal number of male and female informants from different age groups; ideally with different social and educational background.
- Questions: clarity of formulation; content / topic of questions; number (up to 5)
- Questionnaire layout
- Time constraints
2.2.Conduct your small-scale survey.
NB! You need not ask more than 20 informants.
2.3.Analyse the outcomes of your survey. Questions to consider:
- What aspects of popular music are touched upon in your informants’ response?
- How can this be interpreted in terms of their age, gender, and social status?
- Are there any examples of popular music given?
- What conclusions can be drawn about your respondents’ perceptions of popular music?
@2.4.Write down the most important, in your view, results from this survey.
ACTIVITY 3. TWO APPROACHES TO POPULAR MUSIC STUDIES
& 3.1. THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL: THEODOR ADORNO’S STUDY “ON POPULAR MUSIC”
A clear judgement concerning the relation of serious music can be arrived at only by strict attention to the fundamental characteristic of popular music: standardization. The whole structure of popular music is standardized, even where attempts are made to circumvent standardization. Standardization extends from the most general features to the most specific ones. Best known is the rule that the chorus consists of thirty-two bars and that the range is limited to one octave and one note. The general types of hits are also standardized: not only the dance types, the rigidity of whose pattern is understood, but also the characters such as mother songs, home songs, nonsense or ‘novelty songs, pseudo-nursery rhymes, laments for a lost girl. …. This guarantees that regardless of what aberrations occur, the hit will lead back to the same familiar experience, and nothing fundamentally novel will be introduced.
The details themselves are standardized no less than the form, and a whole technology exists for them such as break, blue chords, dirty notes. Their standardization, however, is somewhat different from that of the framework. It is not overt like the latter but hidden behind a veneer of individual ‘effects’ whose prescriptions are handled as the expert’s secret, however open this secret may be to musicians generally. This contrasting character of the standardization of the whole and part provides a rough, preliminary setting for the effect upon the listener.
The primary effect on this relation between the framework and the detail is that the listener becomes prone to evince stronger reactions to the part than to the whole. His grasp of the whole does not lie in the living experience of this one piece of music he has followed.…Details which occupy strategic positions in the framework – the beginning of the chorus or its reentrance after the bridge – have a better chance for recognition that details not so situated, for instance, middle bars of the bridge.
Serious music, for comparative purposes, may be thus characterized: every detail derives its musical sense from the concrete totality of the piece which, in turn, consists of the life relationship of the details and never mere enforcement of a musical scheme.
s3.1.1. Think of a popular song or an instrumental piece currently played on a radio station of your preference.
- Which part of the song comes to your mind first?
- Why do you think you remembered this particular part?
- How does that relate to Adorno’s theory?
C ? 3.1.2. Adorno’s work on popular music was written in 1941. Do you think his concept of standardization of structure and detail is still relevant today and can be applied to modern popular music? Why? /Why not?
& 3.1.3 In his analysis of popular music Adorno goes on to draw further distinctions between popular and serious music.
In serious music, each musical element, even the simplest one, is ‘itself’, and the more highly organized the work is, the less possibility there is of substitution among the details. In hit music, however, the structure underlying the piece is abstract, existing independent of the specific course of the music. This is basic to the illusion that certain complex harmonies are more easily understandable in popular music than the same harmonies in serious music. For the complicated in popular music never functions as ‘itself’ but only as a disguise or embellishment behind which the scheme can always be perceived.…The listener, when faced with the complicated, actually hears only the simple which it represents and perceives the complicated only as parodistic distortion of the simple. No such mechanical substitution is possible in serious music.
So far standardization of popular music has been considered in structural terms – that is, as an inherent quality without explicit reference to the process of production or to the underlying causes for standardization. Though all industrial mass production necessarily eventuates in standardization, the production of popular music can be called ‘industrial’ only in its promotion and distribution, whereas the act of producing a song-hit still remains in the handicraft stage. The production of popular music is highly centralized in its economic organization, but still ‘individualistic’ in its social mode of production. The division of labor among the composer, harmoniser, and arranger is not industrial but rather pretends industrialization in order to look more up to date, whereas it has actually adapted industrial methods for the technique of its promotion. It would not increase the costs of production if the various composers of hit tunes did not follow certain standard patterns. Therefore, we must look for other reasons for structural standardization – very different from those which account for the standardization of motor cars and breakfast foods.
Imitation offers a lead for coming to grips with the basic reasons for it. The musical standards of popular music were originally developed by a competitive process. As one particular song scored a great success, hundreds of others sprang up imitating the successful ones. The most successful hits, types, and ‘ratios’ between elements were imitated, and the process culminated in the crystallization of standards. Under centralized conditions such as exist today these standards have become ‘frozen’… This ‘freezing’ of standards is socially enforced upon the agencies themselves.
3.1.4 $ ON? As you can see, imitation of hits that proved successful is yet another characteristic feature of popular music production Adorno deals with in great detail. Undoubtedly, we all can list a few examples of songs that support his findings.
s Can you identify any particular genres of modern (Bulgarian) popular music where standards in Adorno’s terms have been followed in the production of the hits?
sCould we argue that the producers have strongly relied on imitation as discussed by Adorno?
sWhat exactly has been imitated in the songs you have considered?
In addition to his argument that popular music is to a great degree standardized and mechanical in the sense that certain details can be shifted from one song to another without really affecting the whole, Adorno also claims that popular music industry attempts to conceal standardization through what he calls ‘pseudo-individualization’.
By pseudo-individualization we mean endowing cultural mass production with the halo of free choice or open market on the basis of standardization itself. Standardization of song hits keeps the customers in line by doing their listening for them, as it were. Pseudo-individualization, for its part, keeps them in line by making them forget that what they listen to is already listened to for them, or ‘pre-digested’…. The most drastic example of standardization of presumably individualized features is to be found in the so-called improvisations. Even though jazz musicians still improvise in practice, their improvisations have become so ‘normalized’ as to enable a whole terminology to be developed to express the standard devices of individualization.
Source: Storey (1994:197 – 210)
Another claim found in Adorno’s work is that popular music promotes passive listening. He relates the consumption of popular music to work under capitalism which, on the one hand, is dull and repetitive and therefore urging people to seek escape and imagine what the world could be, but, on the other hand, is dulling and leaves little energy for real escape. Thus people seek and find satisfaction in popular forms equally repetitive and boring to their work.
3.1.5. å I do not in any way aim to criticize or evaluate Adorno’s assumptions here. Rather, I want to draw your attention to one of the seminal works on popular music that appeared in the 20th century. Before we proceed with other views, I would like you consider what you have become acquainted with so far and answer the following questions.
s What are some of the characteristic features of popular music according to Adorno and the representatives of the Frankfurt School?
s Have the readings we have offered so far risen any questions regarding popular music you would like to seek answers to? If yes, can you formulate these questions?
s What is your personal comment on Adorno’s assumptions about popular music?
& 3.2. POSTMODERN THEORY & POPULAR MUSIC: AN OVERVIEW
From the point of view of postmodern theory, the recent history of popular music can be seen to be marked by a trend towards the overt and explicit mixing of styles and genres of music in very direct and self-conscious ways. This has ranged from the straightforward re-mixing of already recorded songs from the same or different eras on the same record, to the quoting and ‘tasting’ of distant musics, sounds and instruments in order to create new sub- and pan-cultural identities. Jive Bunny and the Master Mixers, with their eclectic succession of pop and rock’n’roll records, are the best example of the former, while mixing and collage-like constructions of reggae sound systems, rap, house and hip hop are amongst the best examples of the latter. It is also necessary to include in this category the so-called ‘art rock’ musical innovations and mixing of styles associated with groups like Talking Heads, and performers like Laurie Anderson, together with the self-conscious ‘reinvention of disco’ by Pet Shop Boys.
Whatever the respective musical and political merits of these new departures, or the scale of their influence, they can be argued to be postmodern. They are concerned with collage, pastiche and quotation, with the mixing of styles which remain musically and historically distinct, with the random and selective pasting together of different musics and styles, with the rejection of divisions between serious and fun or pop music and with the attack on the notion of rock as a serious artistic music which merits the high cultural accolade of the respectful concert (a trend identified with punk). By contrast, ‘modernist’ popular music can be understood as an attempt to fashion new and distinct forms out of previous styles. So what was distinctive about rock’n’roll, for instance, was not the fact that it, too, borrowed from and based itself upon already existing musical styles, but that it used these styles to construct something new. Rock’n’roll, as is commonly suggested, arose out of the cross-cutting influences exerted by country and western, on the one hand, and urban rhythm’n’blues, on the other. The result was not, it is argued, a postmodern amalgam in which country and rhythm’n’blues stayed recognizably the same, but a novel and original fusion called rock’n’roll. …. Put very simply and crudely the argument about the transition between modernism and postmodernism in pop music can be seen to be associated with the movement from rock’n’roll in the late 1950s, and the Beatles and Tamla Motown in the 1960s, to Jive Bunny, Music Mixing and ‘art rock’ and ‘straight’ pop in the 1980s.
Source: Strinati (1995: 233-235)
? å 3.2.1. Consider the following questions.
s What are the characteristic features of popular music from the standpoint of postmodern theory?
s What is the main difference between modernist and postmodernist views on popular music?
3.2.2. Can you provide any examples of recent hits that support the postmodernist understanding of popular music? Can you justify your choice?
Admittedly, what Strinati offers in the excerpt above is an attempt to bring together a number of arguments considering the nature of popular music as formulated by different representatives of the postmodern theory. Inevitably, some of the counter-arguments claiming that such an approach to contemporary popular music is one-sided and superficial have been left out. If you are interested in these issues and would like to get a broader view on postmodern theories, I have included a number of works you could turn to in the “Further Reading’ section at the end of this unit.
ACTIVITY 4. THE POPULAR MUSIC BUSINESS
& 4.1 Read the following texts focusing on various aspects of music production and promotion.
1. The worldwide success of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ provided the key. Elvis Presley arrived in the UK, on record and in photographs, like an alien. The British industry immediately looked for home-grown rockers, but were hampered by pop’s Afro-American origins: what in the US was the result of a long musical process – the marriage of Country and R&B – was seen as a fad in a country where the popular traditions were music hall and balladeering. Like tail-fin on a Buick, Elvis’s gimmick was his hoodlum, androgynous sexuality; that’s what entrepreneurs like Parnes sought to develop and promote, starting with Tommy Hicks. Parnes immediately identified his problem. His raw material was working class youth, who had decidedly non-technicolour names. There got to be some glamour and charisma. So Tommy Hicks became Tommy Steele, Reginald Smith became Johnny Gentle, Clive Powel became Georgie Fame. … Parnes was the first to make up names that evoked emotional and sexual states that you couldn’t find in a phone book. Here they all are once again , and some more: Steele, Wilde, Fury, Eager, Gentle, Power, Fame , Pride. Feasting with panthers, Parnes defined the plasticity of the first teenage British stars – that overt yet passive sexuality – and made it clear that pop was about one thing: self-recreation. You could be an inner-urban child with a boring circumstance, yet by one simple act – changing your name – you could be transformed forever into a deity.
Homosexuality was always hinted at this new relationship between manager and artist, and the shade of Oscar Wilde hovered in this new dandyism. … Most of the managers were men and most of them liked boys. A few of the managers were women and one or two of them liked girls.’ In this exchange, gay desire = teenage female desire, an equation which has continued through the Beatles to today’s Smash Hits pop groups.
The collective power of young women was another central factor: the very first teenage products – cosmetics, magazines (like the US Seventeen), singers like Sinatra – exclusively marketed at young women, and it was their extreme enthusiasm which, from 1943 on, was the most obvious manifestation of youth power. And to this day, pop still requires the willing feminization of young men.
Source: Kureishi & Savage (1995:xxiii – xxiv)
2. … The basic Golden Rules as far as they apply to writing a debut single that can go to Number One in the UK Charts are as follows:
Do not attempt the impossible by trying to work the whole thing out before you go into the studio. Working in a studio has to be a fluid and creative venture but at all times remember at the end of it you are going to have to have a 7’’ version that fulfils all the criteria perfectly. Do not try and sit down and write a complete song. Songs that have been written in such a way and reached Number One can only be done by the true song writing genius and be delivered by artists with such forceful convincing passion that the world HAS to listen. You know, the sort of thing, ‘Sailing’ by Rod Stewart, ‘Without You’ by Nilsson.
What the Golden Rules can provide you with is a framework that you can slot the component parts into.
Firstly, it has to have a dance groove that will run all the way through the record and that the current 7’’ buying generation will find irresistible. Secondly, it must be no longer than three minutes and thirty seconds (just under 3.20 is preferable). If they are any longer Radio One daytime DJs will start fading early or talking over the end, when the chorus is finally being hammered home – the most important part of any record. Thirdly, it must consist of an intro, a verse, a chorus, second verse, a second chorus, a breakdown section, back into a double length chorus and outro. Fourthly, lyrics. You’ll need some, but not many.
Causality Plus a Pinch of Mysticism
… Be reassured by us, all music can only be the sum or part total of what has gone before. Every Number One song ever written is only made up from bits from other songs. There is no lost chord. No chances untried. No extra notes to the scale or hidden beats to the bar. There is no point in searching for originality.
So why don’t all songs sound the same? Why are some artists great, write dozens of classics that move you to tears, say it like it’s never been said before, make you laugh, dance, blow your mind, fall in love, take to the streets and riot? Well, it’s because although the chords, notes, harmonies, beats and words have all been used before their own soul shines through; their personality demands attention. This doesn’t just come via the great vocalist or virtuoso instrumentalist. The Techno sound of Detroit, the most totally linear programmed music ever, lacking any human musicianship in its execution reeks of sweat, sex and desire. The creators of that music just press a few buttons and out comes – a million years of lust.
What we are basically saying is, if you have anything in you, anything unique, what others might term as originality, it will come through whatever the component parts used in your future Number One are made up from.
Creators of music who desperately search for originality usually end up with music that has none because no room for their spirit has been left to get through.
Don’t worry about being accused of being a thief. Even if you were to, you have not got the time to take the trial and error route.
The simplest thing to do would be to flick through your copy of Guinness Book of Hits, find a smash hit from a previous era and do a cover of it, dressing it up in the clothes of today. Every year there is at least a couple of artists who get their debut Number One this way. From the ‘80s we have already had:
Soft Cell ‘Tainted Love’
Paul Young ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat’
Captain Sensible ‘Happy Talk’
Neil ‘Hole In My Shoe’
Tiffany ‘I Think We Are Alone Now’
Wet Wet Wet ‘With a Little Help’
Yazz ‘The Only Way Is Up’
There are, however, the negative facts in taking this route. Using an already proven song can give you a false sense of security when you are in the studio recording. You can end up under the illusion that the song is such a classic that whatever you do, the song itself will be able to carry it through. You tend to lose your objectivity in the production of your version. The all important radio producers hate nothing more than a classic song covered badly.
The classic oldie, while fulfilling all the Golden Rules in pop, might have a lyrical content that may only relate to one period in pop history. There have been numerous Number One’s where this has been the case:
Scott McKenzie ‘San Francisco’
The Beach Boys ‘Good Vibrations’
The Beatles ‘All You Need Is Love’
Mott the Hoople ‘All The Young Dudes’
MARRS ‘Pump Up the Volume’
Unless there is a revival of the zeitgeist of times past where the lyric in some way makes sense again, these songs should be stayed clear of.
Sometimes, almost the opposite can happen. By covering a cleverly picked old song it can be re-recorded in such a way that it is now more relevant to today’s record buyers, both lyrically and musically, than the original was to the past generations of hit-makers. Tiffany’s ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ and Yazz’s ‘The Only Way Is Up’ are both perfect examples of this in 1988. … The other negative of doing a cover version is you lose all the writing credit. That means you will earn no publishing money on the record, however many it sells. We will explain later the mysteries of publishing, but for now just take it from us that having a Number One with a cover, as opposed to your own song, is the equivalent of throwing away a minimum of £10 000.
There is no denying that picking the right smash from the past and recording it well will result in a sure fire success. The procedures of the daytime shows at Radio One will have to only hear the opening bars of your record to know that there will be a few slots in their show for it; ‘the housewives at home and the husbands on the building site’ will be singing along with immediately. It’s not going to take them three of four listens before they decide whether they like the song. That decision was made long before you ever thought of having a Number One. As for the current 7’’ single buying generation who might have never heard the song before, they will automatically be given the chance to hear the record three or four times on the radio.
If there is not a cover that takes your fancy the trick is to construct your song out of disguised, modified and enhanced parts of previous smashes, so that those Radio One producers, TV youth programme researchers and multiple-chain-record-store stock buyers will subliminally warm to your track and feel at ease with it.
The Timelords, The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) (1988)
Source: Kureishi & Savage (1995:673-677)
3. Many bands reacted to business problems by setting up their own labels and in the beginning it was thought that this would lead to less dependence on the businessmen.
Bands would have complete control over material, packaging, marketing and promotion. Of course these inflated ideals have collapsed but even the more modest ambitions – such as the freedom not to be pushed around too much – have proved too difficult to achieve. In practice most musicians get rather confused and bored if they are asked to do a lot of auditing of accounts and they settle for a larger royalty cheque and that’s about it.
Even the Grateful Dead, the most recent band to launch their own label, have scrapped their original plans. These included distributing through head shops, a fleet of ‘Good Humor’ trucks to take the records to outflying areas not well-served by retail chains, and whole series of head spin-offs. But surprise, surprise, we find that in Europe at least, ‘In the Wake Of the Flood’ is being distributed in a completely conventional manner by Atlantic. … Meanwhile, the hardware gets more and more complicated. From Hi-Fi to Stereo to Quadrophonic. Cylinder, disc, cassette, eight-track. More and more live albums are being made, because the equipment to do them justice is at last on the market and more and more people listening to them – in their living rooms. Venues get bigger, roadies multiply, PA systems need articulated lorries to haul them about, ticket prices soar. …The oil storage is affecting not only juggernauts but also the record industry. Vinyl, from which records are made, is a by-product of oil, and the position in the States at the moment is so critical that record company executives admit quite openly that they are having to pass inferior product at the pressing plants simply because the quality of raw materials is deteriorating every week.
Difficulties with raw materials do not only affect the distribution end of the business. United Artists admitted last week that from now on they would only be producing the records they knew they could sell. Not only would the print order be limited but the company would be very reluctant to sign up new artists unless they were guaranteed sellers. So we can expect a fine crop of Great Soundtracks and Ray Conniff anthologies. The smaller independent labels, who normally employ the pressing facilities owned by the giant conglomerates, will be turned away from the plants, just as the small petrol operators are being given the cold shoulder at this minute by the big Oil companies. Budget labels will suffer and we will all sink into a morass of middle of the road, mid-Atlantic schmaltz. Music for western civilization to collapse by.
Despite these problems, however, the Industry is expanding in the time honoured capitalist tradition. In the boardrooms brandy-veined cheeks quiver with excitement at the thought of the Japanese market. (It has expanded 10 times in the last two years.) At last we’ll pay the little buggers back for those Sonys. Beyond stretches the Third World – Music will win it all back.
‘Plastique Phantastiquie Romper Rock’, Time Out 152, by Music Star (1973).
Source: Broughton (1998:48)
? å 4.1.2. List the main issues discussed in each of the three articles?
4.1.3. What are some of the basic ‘Golden Rules’ to be taken into consideration in terms of popular music production, distribution and consumption? List any of them you find particularly relevant within Bulgarian context.
4.2. C? You are an affluent producer willing to support the debut of a young Bulgarian artist (a singer, a musician, a group). Design a strategy that will ensure the success of the artist’s debut single (album), on the one hand, and secure your investment, on the other.
I Questions to consider:
- What genre are you going to choose? Why?
- Who are you more likely to support – a female or male artist (group)? What factors would affect your choice?
- How are you going to proceed with the single itself?
- How are you planning to launch your ‘star’?
? Outline briefly your strategy.
4.3. C? You are a young Bulgarian artist (a singer, a musician, a group) with little experience in music business and you want to ‘conquer’ Bulgarian music market with your music. Though you are ambitious enough and don’t give up easily, you lack the necessary finances to do it on your own. Design your strategy that will ensure an overnight success to your debut single (album).
I Questions to consider:
- What is the music genre you’re currently working in and you’d like to be recognized by?
- Are you ready to make compromises for the sake of success? If yes, how far would you go?
- Who are you likely to approach for (financial) support?
- How are you going to proceed with the single (album) itself?
? Outline briefly your strategy.
4.4. C? Consider the two strategies you have designed. How can you account for any differences between the two approaches employed to achieve the same goal: success in the music industry?
s4.5. Has this activity raised any other questions in terms of popular music production, distribution and consumption you would like to seek answers to? If yes, what are they?
ACTIVITY 5. POPULAR MUSIC: (SUB)CULTURES & IDENTITIES
In an article published back in 1958, Colin MacInnes argues that even a brief scan of the Top Twenty best-seller list in Melody Maker can tell a lot about the singers and their audiences. Taking into consideration one particular chart, he arrives at the conclusions that
‘the modern troubadours are teenagers, and the reason’s not far to seek: the buyers are teenagers, too; the youth is rich and willing to spend money on records; there’s a decline of the female singer (only two of the hits featured in the chart were performed by women); there’s a teenage aversion or indifference to ‘colored’ pop-singers (only one of the featured songs was performed by a ‘colored’ artist, Harry Belafonte)’.
A detailed look at a song, identified by the author as a typical best-seller, Paul Anka’s ‘Diana’, provides us with some insights with regard to the tastes, drams and desires of both singers and their fans, namely ‘teenage triumph and teenage yearning’(Kureishi & Savage 1995:85-90).
$ 5.1. Consider the most recent Top 20 chart (Bulgarian or international alike). What can you conclude about the identities of the performers and their target audiences?
s Judging from the song titles and/or song lyrics, what conclusions can you draw in terms of values, beliefs, cultural practices characteristic of this generation of performers and fans?
I If access to charts in the printed media proves impossible, you may consider any Radio or TV chart (e.g. Bulgarian Top 100 Albums, bTV; Bulgarian Top 20, BG Radio, etc).
& 5.2. Read the excerpts from an article, which originally appeared in a Time Out issue in 1978. It is an attempt to provide a comprehensive analysis of disco not only as a music genre but also as a (sub)cultural phenomenon.
The Infinite Spaces of Disco
In public I’m into punk like everybody else (saviour of rock’n’roll’s soul and all that) but privately I’m a junk rock junkie and the junkiest music of all is disco. Everybody hates it. Hippies hate it, progressives hate it, punks hate it, NME (New Musical Express) hates it, even Derek Jewell hates it. Disco is music for the disillusioned. It isn’t art: no auteurs in disco, just calculated desiccating machines. It isn’t folk: no disco subcultures, no kids seething with symbolic expression. It isn’t even much fun: no jokes, no irony, only hard rhythmed purposefulness. Disco is the sound of consumption. It exists only in its dancing function: when the music stops all that’s left is a pool of sweat on the floor. And disco’s power is the power of consumption. The critics are right: disco is dehumanising – all those twitching limbs, glazed-eyed , mindless. The disco aesthetic excludes feeling; it offers a glimpse of a harsh sci-fi future.
Popular music has always been dance music; disco is nothing but dance music. It has no rock’n’roll connotations; off the dance floor it is utterly meaningless, lyrically, musically and aesthetically. Every disco sound is subordinate to its physical function; disco progress is technological progress. The end doesn’t change but the means to that end, the ultimate beat, are refined and improved – hence drum machines, synthesizers, 12’’pressings. And disco is dance music in the abstract, content determined by form. Popular dance music of the past, in the 1930s say, was a form determined by its content. The content was developed by dance hall instructors and sheet music salesmen and band leaders whose rules of partnership, decorum, uplift and grace, can still be followed in ‘Come Dancing’: the music is strictly subordinate to the conventions of flounce and simper. In contrast, when Boney M, German manufactured black American androgynes, sing for our dancing pleasure ,‘Belfast’, it means nothing at all. Any two syllables arranged and sounding just so would do and how we dance to them is, of course entirely our own affair. There are no rules in disco, it’s just that individual expression means nothing when there’s nothing individual to express. I trace disco back to the twist, the first dance gimmick to be taken seriously and the first dance step to be without any redeeming social feature. I blame disco on Motown, the first company to realize that if the beat is right, soul power can be expressed without either the passion or emotion that made it soul power in the first place.
Disco is nothing like muzak. Muzak’s effect is subliminal; its purpose is to encourage its hearers to do anything but listen to it. Disco’s effect is material; its purpose is to encourage its hearers to do nothing but listen to it. Not even think.
Disco music is disco music only in discos. These days there are CP discos, anti-fascist discos, students’ discos, youth club discos, cricketers’ discos, punk discos and reggae discos. The disco form can be used by anyone who’s got a record player, records and a large enough room. But a proper disco exists only to be a disco and the records it plays exist only to be played by it. The Musicians’ Union hates discos because they put live musicians out of work. I hate discos because they seem like such a soft way of making money: a DJ doesn’t do anything except buying records and put the needle on them – I can do that too. The whole enterprise is parasitic: if there is such a thing as disco creativity it happened in secret studio places before. The best discos are the best just to the extend to which nothing unexpected happens – feet never falter, taste is never threatened, offence is never taken because never given. If you want a surprise don’t go to the disco.
The main British disco development occurred in the late ’60 / early 70s as live rock became increasingly undanceable, expensive and in the wrong places (colleges and concert halls). British disco went teenage pop and, in a commercial sense, it mostly still is. The style of consumption involved is working class provincial. Bouncers, louts, uneasy sexual posturing; dance hall culture really, but cooler and smarter than in the ‘50s, and with flashing lights and much better music. Women do most of the dancing, men most of the drinking, and none of them take disco as seriously as, perhaps, they ought. Because meanwhile in America discos are the setting for adult chic consumption, part of the culture of singles rather than of teenage courtship, anonymously safe places for elaborate display of apathy. Can’t imagine drunks in Manhattan’s spruce discos, bumping buttocks with Susan Sontag and Lennie Burnstein.
The European connection is that discos in Paris are more like they are in New York than they are like they are in Nottingham. And French and Italian teenagers are, anyway, chic-er than Britons of any age. But the most wonderful Euro-discos of all are the ones in the holiday belts – Costa Brava, Riviera, Costa del Sol. Cellars which are open permanently in the summer months and in which earnest Northerners – Dutch, British, Swedes, Germans, develop their own singles culture, their own disco style. I can only explain it by noting that they dance to Donna Summer in their sandals. Ah disco! Ah Baccara!
As a rock writer, I’ve always been a frustrated DJ rather than a musician. ‘Hey you’, I’ve wanted to shout, ‘Listen to this!’ The model was John Peel, music lover and eclectic. I certainly didn’t fancy the provincial DJs I knew – big, hearty philistines who knew nothing about the records they played but enjoyed the patter and had dreams, like Albert Finney in ‘Gumshoe’, of moving from master of ceremonies to master of comic routine. But this was a doomed approach anyway, survival from dance hall days. Real disco DJs aren’t entertainers at all, have nothing to do with music. They’re technologists, men (very few women) of the future: their job is to play the audience. It’s a job I want again. By 1984 it’ll be probably called ‘consumption-coordinator’.
Discos are where people dance and dancing can be anything from the shuffle to a pre-rehearsed and elaborate routine to a straight display of cartwheels. What disco dancing isn’t is: a) musical interpretation and b) self-expression. The opposite of disco dancing is what Legs and co. do on ‘Top of the Pops’ – i.e. choreographed responses to the ‘meaning’ of the song. What they do is so embarrassing that I usually turn the picture off, but I turn it back again for the rest of the show because, at an admittedly low level, it does reveal the difference between the Anglo-Collective disco style – all those dumpy little boys and girls looking nervously at each other – and the American-Individual style (on the clips from ‘Soul Train’) – all those intense boys and girls determinedly at their own feet. Most disco dancing has little to do with elegance, grace or agility, which is OK by me because if it did I wouldn’t do it.
Rock music, dance music, has always been a form of sexual expression – girl meets boy physically. The social problem has been the control of this expression – hence the moral about rock’n’roll, Elvis’s hips etc. Disco’s greatest achievement has been to develop a form in which sexuality is expressed and controlled simultaneously. Critics have missed the point of the standard formula – machinery plus orgasmic sighs. The problem is not that the sighs are fake, but that it wouldn’t make any difference if they were real! Disco isn’t a frustrating music – preventing the climax from occurring – but a music of control- preventing the climax from being disruptive. It’s a noisy form of some Eastern mystical discipline and the only puzzle to me is why disco is so important an aspect of gay culture. I’m not gay, so I can’t say, except that it seems as if disco stylization allows gays public displays that are sexual without apparently being offensive to the usual custodians of public morality.
The only thing to say about disco music as music is that it has given extraordinary opportunities to pop’s previously second class citizens – its session singers, engineers, Bee Gees. The technicians, in other words, who always could produce any sound to order but used not to know what to do with them. They know now.
Previous popular music has only reflected the world, in various ways; the point of disco, however is to replace it.
‘The Infinite Spaces of Disco’, Time Out 416 (1978), by Simon Frith
Source: Broughton (1998:102-103)
? å 5.2.1. Simon Frith’s article can roughly be divided into several sections each addressing a different aspect of disco culture. Consider the following headings and summarize the main points the author makes in his study.
- Origins of disco
- Disco vs. other contemporary music genres
- The ideology of disco
- Disco production
- Disco consumption
- Disco cultural practices
- Disco identities
NB! The headings above do not necessarily follow the structure and the logical organization of the text.
5.2.2. Do you identify other important, in your view, issues concerning disco culture, which have been omitted in the list above? If yes, what are they?
$ 5.3. As you can see, popular music genres provide numerous opportunities to get insights about particular (sub)cultures they are part of, as well as about mechanisms employed to shape members’ identities and determine any of the practices they seem to share. The previous task (5.2) has outlined one possible framework which, with minor modifications, could be applied to analyze any contemporary popular music genre and the respective (sub)culture.
Consider a contemporary music genre or culture you are most likely to identify with, e.g. techno, heavy metal, rap, pop, pop-folk, etc. Modify (if necessary) the framework suggested in task 5.2 and carry out a small-scale research in order to determine its current status within Bulgarian society. Think of the possible interpretation of your results.
I To make your task more manageable you may choose to touch upon only one aspect of the culture of your choice, e.g. members’ identity, shared practices, and analyze it into a greater detail. Try to avoid any overgeneralizations when you interpret your results. You may decide to employ different research methods while you conduct your survey:
- Critical reading (seek for information in relevant music press: books, encyclopedia, magazines, fanzines, etc.)
- Design questionnaires
- Formal/informal interviews with members of the culture
- Participant observation and field work (participation in a particular event, visits to a club or other venues)
- Combination of the above
5.3.1. Give account of your research and suggest your interpretation of the results.
Instead of a formal conclusion, we would like you to reflect a little more on the issues dealt with in this unit and possible questions raised in the process of your work.
s Is there anything regarding aspects of popular music that left unanswered?
s Is there anything in this unit that you would like to study in more detail?
s Which of the activities suggested here seem most applicable to your teaching context? Why?
ACTIVITY 6. your LESSON
Choose an aspect of popular music (as discussed so far) and consider ways of introducing it to your own students. Design a lesson plan or an activity aimed at the group of students you’re currently teaching. Teach the lesson and reflect on its outcomes. What did you learn about your students that you didn’t know before?
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING
Frow, J. (1995) Cultural Studies and Cultural Value, Oxford: Claredon Press, pp.60 – 88
O’Sullivan, T. et al. (1994) Key Concepts in Communications and Cultural Studies, Second Edition, London & New York: Routledge
Strinati, D. (1995) An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture, London & New York: Routledge.
Deacon, D., Pickering, M., Golding, P., Murdock, G. (1999) Researching Communications. A Practical Guide to Methods in Media and Cultural Analysis, London, Sydney, Auckland: Arnold
Adorno, T. (1994) ‘On Popular Music’, in Storey (1994), pp.197 – 210
Gelder, K. and Thornton S. (ed.) (1997) The Subcultures Reader, London & New York: Routledge
Goodwin, A. (1994) ‘Popular Music and Postmodern Theory’, in Storey (1994), pp.403 – 417
Lipsitz, G. (1997) ‘Cruising Around the Historical Bloc: Postmodernism and Popular Music in East Los Angeles’, in Gelder and Thornton (ed.)(1997), pp.350 – 360
Storey, J. (1994) Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. A Reader, Second edition, London, New York, Toronto: Prentice Hall
Broughton, F. (ed.)(1998) Time Out. Interviews 1968 – 1998, London: Penguin Group
Kureishi, H. and Savage, J. (ed.)(1995) The Faber Book of Pop, London, and Boston: Faber and Faber
Becker, H. (1997) ‘The Culture of a Deviant Group: the ‘Jazz’ Musician’, in Gelder and Thornton (ed.)(1997), pp.55 – 65
Carter, A. (1995) ‘Notes for a Theory of Sixties style’, in Kureishi & Savage (1995), pp.316 – 320
Cohen, A. (1997) ‘A general Theory of Subcultures’, in Gelder and Thornton (ed.)(1997), pp.44 – 54
During, S. (1993) The Cultural Studies Reader, London & New York: Routledge
Dyer, R. (1995) ‘In Defense of Disco’, in Kureishi & Savage (1995), pp. 518- 523
Fonarow, W. (1997) ‘The Spatial Organisaton of the Indie Music Gig’, in Gelder and Thornton (ed.)(1997), pp.360 – 372
Frith, S. (1997) ‘Formalism, Realism and Leisure: The Case of Punk’, in Gelder and Thornton (ed.)(1997), pp.163 – 174
Garrat, S. (1995) ‘Teenage Dreams’ in Kureishi & Savage (1995), pp.423 – 425
Gosling, R. (1995) ‘Music That Spells Cash and Freedom’, in Kureishi & Savage (1995), pp.127 –133
Grossberg, L. (1997) ‘Another Boring Day in Paradise: Rock’n’Roll and the Empowerment of Everyday Life’, in Gelder and Thornton (ed.)(1997), pp.477 – 493
Laing, D. (1997) ‘Listening to Punk’, in Gelder and Thornton (ed.)(1997), pp.406 – 420
MacInnes, C. (1995) ‘Pop Songs and Teenagers’, in Kureishi & Savage (1995), pp.88 – 90
Rimmer, D. (1995) ‘The Birth of the New Pop’, in Kureishi & Savage (1995) pp.539 – 542
Straw, W. (1993) ‘Characterising Rock Music Culture: The Case of Heavy Metal’, in During (1993), pp.368 – 399
Straw, W (1997) ‘Communities and Scenes in Popular Music’, in Gelder and Thornton (ed.)(1997), pp.494 – 505
Walser, R. (1997) ‘Eruptions: Heavy Metal Appropriations of Classical Virtuosity’, in Gelder and Thornton (ed.)(1997), pp.459 – 470
Some useful websites:
Broughton, F. (ed.)(1998) Time Out. Interviews 1968 – 1998, London: Penguin Group, pp.48, 102 – 103
Hall, S. (1996) Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, London & New York; Routledge, p.469.
Kureishi, H.and Savage, J. (ed.)(1995) The Faber Book of Pop, London, and Boston: Faber and Faber, pp. xxv –xxvii, 81 – 91, 673 – 677
O’Sullivan, T. et al. (1994) Key Concepts in Communications and Cultural Studies, Second Edition, London & New York: Routledge
O’Sullivan, T., Dutton, B., Rayner, P. (1998) Studying the Media. An Introduction, Second edition, London, Sydney, Auckland: Arnold, pp.26 -27
Storey, J. (1994) Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. A Reader, Second edition, London, New York, Toronto: Prentice Hall, pp.197 – 210
Storey, J. (1996) Cultural Studies and The Study of Popular Culture. Theories and Methods, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp.93 – 109
Strinati, D. (1995) An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture, London & New York: Routledge.