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Commercialism+

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This! paper! examines! the! key! areas! of! study! on! the! interrelationship! between!
popular! music! and! commerce.! The! arguments! of! key! scholars! such! as! Adorno,!
Longhurst,!Negus!and!Harker!will!be!discussed!before!then!considering!whether!
these!arguments!are!still!applicable!within!the!21st!century.!Krims!hypothesis!of!
the! contemporary! relationship! between! art! and! commerce! through! PostD
Fordism!will!be!explored!for!its!contribution!to!the!argument.!The!impact!of!the!
PostDford!model!on!art!will!then!be!discussed!in!relation!to!its!sociological!effect!
on!consumers.!To!conclude,!we!will!consider!that!Adornos!predictions!are!partly!
applicable!within!the!21st!century,!but!have!limitations!in!that!the!development!
of!the!capitalist!model!has!lead!to!an!unforeseen!art/commerce!relationship!that!
Adorno!could!not!have!predicted.!!
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Commercialism,is,the,general,influence,of,business,principles,and,practices,
upon,social,life,,including,leisure,activities.,A,central,part,of,the,process,of,
commercialisation, is, the, commodification, of, cultural, commodities, and,
symbolic,goods;,i.e,their,production,as,material,commodities,for,a,market,,
consumer, economy., The, Frankfurt, School, theorists, [such, as, Adorno],
stressed,the,commodification,of,popular,cultural,forms,under,the,conditions,
of, capitalist, production, and, the, constant, quest, for, profit.! (Shuker,!
2005:46)!!
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Adorno+and+Popular+music++
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Standardisation!is!the!term!utilised!by!Theodor!Adorno!to!describe!the!impact!of!
capitalism!upon!culture!and!artistic!expression.!Adorno!was!part!of!the!Frankfurt!
School!of!theorists!and!wrote!predominantly!in!the!1940s!and!1950s.!According!
to! Adorno,! production,! textual! form! and! audience! reception! of! popular! music!
are! all! standardised,! revealing! a! similar! essential! structure! (Negus,! 1999:20)!
and!that!this!standardised!product!is!used!in!superficial!ways!by!the!audience,!
who! desire! or! express! a! wish! for! such! industrial! products! because! of! their!
familiarity.!(Longhurst,!2007:!6)!This!product!is!created!by!a!culture!industry!
as!a!commodity!in!the!same!way!that!the!motor!industry!produces!cars.!He!looks!
to! the! Fordism! concept! of! the! assembly! line! whereby! production! is! broken!
down! into! strict! rationalised! organisational! procedures! (Negus,! 1999:20)! as! a!
way!in!which!to!attain!the!highest!profit!margins!possible.!As!a!consequence!of!
this,! a! hegemonic! mass! culture! is! created.! He! then! goes! onto! argue! that! these!
patterns! have! a! soporific! effect! on! social! consciousness! (Longhurst,! 2007:! 7)!
creating!progressive!listening!habits!that!ultimately!lead!to!passive!consumption.!
(Adorno,!2002:442)!Therefore,!for!Adorno,!any!emotions!arising!from!listening!
to! popular! music! are! deemed! synthetic! and! no! more! than! capitalistic!
manipulation!to!increase!demand.!!
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Adorno!looks!to!the!crystallization!of!standards!(Adorno,!2002:443)!as!a!means!
of!justifying!imitation!within!popular!music.!He!notes!that!musical!standards!of!
popular! music! were! originally! developed! by! a! competitive! process! and! that! if!
one! particular! song! scored! a! great! success,! hundreds! of! others! sprang! up!
imitating! the! successful! one.! The! most! successful! elements! of! these! hits! would!
be! frozen! under! centralised! conditions! and! would! provide! a! basis! for!
exclusion!of!creativity!deviating!from!these!rules.!He!notes!that!standardisation!
enforces! two! fundamental! characteristics.! First,! there! must! be! a! stimuli! that!
captures!the!listeners!attention,!and!secondly!it!must!fit!into!a!category!that!the!
musically!untrained!listener!would!call!natural!music.!The!term!natural!music!
describes!the!basic!musical,language!that!has!been!ingrained!in!society.!Adorno!
draws!upon!the!general!construction!of!music!as!a!whole,!such!as!tonality,!and!
the! implications! of! these! tonal! relationships! that! are! taught! through! early!
musical!experiences!such!as!nursery!rhymes!and!hymns.!(Adorno,!2002:!443)!
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To! conclude! his! argument,! Adorno! states! that! successful! standardisation! must!
contain! a! balance! between! ! stimulatory! elements! that! create! interest! for! the!
listener! whilst! simultaneously! retaining! the! familiar! natural! form! that!
audiences! instantly! recognise.! ! This! is! a! cyclical! process! whereby! the!
relationship! between! the! natural! form! and! the! mass! market! is! enforced! over!
and!over!again,!continuing!the!cycle!of!profitability!for!the!culture!industry!and!
consumer! demand.! Music! created! through! this! standardised,! rationalised!
process! is! therefore! synthetic! and! holds! no! real! cultural! or! authentic! value!
(Adorno,!2007,!19).!!
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Adorno+and+Popular+Music++Key+Criticisms++
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One! of! the! key! criticisms! that! has! sparked! debate! over! Adornos! thesis! is! his!
claim! that! popular! music! holds! no! cultural! value! and! is! instead! a! synthetic!
product.! Chapple! and! Garofalo! agree! that! once! music! is! commoditised! it! looses!
its!artistic!value!but!disagree!with!Adornos!theory!that!there!is!no!initial!artistic!
value! to! popular! music.! Instead,! they! argue! that! whilst! there! is! radical! social!
potential! of! popular! music! when! connected! with! youthful! rebellions! against!
authoritarianism! or! when! harnessed! to! political! campaigns! (Negus,! 1996:40)!!
any! critical! effect! of! commercially! recorded! popular! music! or! any! creative!
possibilities!that!might!arise!during!production!are!lost,!absorbed!and!coDopted!
by! a! ruthless! and! exploitative! commercial! system.! (Negus,! 1996:40).! ! Negus!
notes! that! this! viewpoint! was! particularly! popular! at! the! time! of! Chapple! and!
Garofalos! writing,! as! 1960s! popular! music! provided! collective! expression! for!
American!countercultural!values.!They!state!that!coDoptation!is!a!consequence!of!
the!oligopolistic!structure!of!the!music!industry!and!the!power!this!creates!as!a!
means! of! controlling! output.! Harker! also! argues! a! similar! point:! that! arts!
potential!to!make!change!is!filtrated!by!the!corporates!who!do!not!want!to!see!
any!oppositional!material!pass!through!the!system.!He!concludes!that!ultimately,!
artists! (if! not! most! of! the! audience)! will! have! to! succumb! to! the! commercial!
sausage!machine,!and!be!compensated!with!cash.!(Harker,!1980:111)!
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Post7Fordism+
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Although! this! argument! might! been! very! creditable! in! the! latter! of! the! 20th!
century,! the! current! social,! economic! and! technological! landscape! has! changed!
radically!since!Chapple!and!Garofalo!and!Harker!where!writing.!As!Krims!rightly!
points! out,! the! proponents! and! opponents! of! Adornos! vision! of! the! music!
industry! tend! to! wrap! their! debates! around! conditions! that! have! been! at! least!
partially!surpassed!historically!(Krims,!2007:!126).!He!draws!these!conclusions!
from! evaluating! the! current! social! climate! through! PostDfordist! thought.! This! a!
post! 1970s! economic! theory! that! analyses! the! second! stage! of! capitalism!
whereby!one!standard!good/service!that!is!mass!produced!has!developed!into!a!
variety!of!products!in!small!and!frequently!changing!batches!made!possible!by!
increased! programmability! which! allows! quick! and! flexible! change.! (Krims,!
2007:! 128)! As! a! result! of! this! market! fragmentation,! consumption! of! goods! or!
services! possesses! much! stronger! connotations! with! personal! expression! and!
individual! identity.! There! is! also! a! rise! of! multinational! conglomerates! through!
buyouts!and!mergers!with!decentralisation!of!decision!making!to!lower!positions!
within!the!corporate!hierarchy!to!increase!efficiency.!
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Krims! argues! that! due! to! the! PostDFordism! model,! the! notion! of! a! standardised!
product! no! longer! exists,! but! is! instead! replaced! by! an! industry! with! more!
centralized! ownership! and! greater! product! diversification! at, the, same, time!
(Krims,!2007:!130).!He!draws!attention!to!!the!rampant!acquisition!of!otherwise!
independent! companies! by! ever! larger! entertainment! conglomerates! enabling!
the!brand!value!of!indies!to!be!used!to!create!and!sustain!different!genres!which!
tap!into!specific!subcultures!and!markets.!Thus,!the!value!of!the!capital!is!within!
its!ability!to!sell!to!smaller!specific!markets!rather!than!changing!the!product!to!
appeal!to!a!larger!mass!audience.!He!claims!that!we!are!left!with!a!centralisation!
of!wealth!with!a!decentralisation!of!control!(Krims,!2007:!131)!something!that!
Adorno!and!others!would!not!have!been!able!to!anticipate.!!
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The!commercial!viability!of!this!process!according!to!Krims!has!come!about!as!a!
result! of! two! main! factors.! Firstly! the! flexible! and! highly! localized! decisionD
making! structures! ultimately! answerable! financially! to! a! small! number! of!
dominant!players!(Krims,!2007:!132)!and!the!improved!efficiency!of!companies!
to! respond! to! consumer! demand! through! changes! in! programmability! and!
automation.! Both! of! which! are! two! key! features! of! PostDFordism.! Examples! of!
this! increasing! musical! diversity! rather! than! standardisation! can! be! seem!
through! the! fluidity! of! niche! dance! genres! such! as! dubDstep! to! drum! and! bass,!
drum!and!bass!to!deep!house!and!so!on.!Moreover,!the!fact!that!only!three!major!
companies! (Sony,! Warner! and! Universal)! own! 88.5%! of! the! market! share!
(Wikipedia! 2014)! but! there! is! such! a! vast! diversity! of! genre! clearly! shows! that!
the!standardisation!model!is!outDdated!and!that!the!real!capital!value!of!popular!
music! is! now! driven! by! its! appeal! to! niche! markets.! If! artistic! expression! no!
longer!has!to!be!diluted!to!appeal!to!a!wider!audience,!then!arguably!corporate!
control!is!fostering,!rather!than!extracting!creativity!not!because!they!care!about!
artistic!expression!but!because!its!a!more!efficient!way!of!attaining!profit.!From!
this! perspective,! if! one! follows! the! scope! and! ethos! of! post! modernism,! it! is!
therefore!possible!to!postulate!that!authentic!art,!in!a!postmodern!context,!may!
have!a!greater!commercial!value!than!standardised!art.!It!is!beyond!the!scope!of!
this!work!to!conclude!this!specific!argument!beyond!these!mere!postulations.!
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Post+Fordism+and+its+effect+on+consumers++
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Contrary! to! Adornos! prediction! of! regressive! listening! habits! creating! passive!
consumption,! the! shift! in! emphasis! to! smaller! markets! and! the! notion! of!
expressing! personal! identity! through! individual! consumption! has! become!
extremely! relevant! within! 21st! century! society.! The! PostDFord! era! has! lead! to! a!
vast! array! of! fragmented! NeoDtribes! (Goulding,! 2002:272)! who! buy! into! a!
specific! range! of! commodities! that! reflect! the! values! of! their! particular! social!
circle.!!
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The! concept! of! social! fragmentation! is! a! postDmodern! cultural! theme! that!
defines! a! contemporary! approach! to! consumption.! Goulding! notes! that!
fragmentation! consists! primarily! of! a! series! of! interrelated! ideas;! the!
fragmentation!of!markets!into!smaller!and!smaller!segments,!and!therefore!the!
proliferation!of!a!greater!number!of!products!to!serve!the!increasing!number!of!
segments! (Goulding,! 2002:! 264).! Goulding! looks! specifically! at! the! dance!
subculture! rave! as! a! means! to! justify! the! changing! patterns! of! consumption!
within! a! postDmodern! context.! She! references! Firat! who! argues! that! within! the!
21st!century!the!consumer!is!interacting!with!other!objects!in!the!market!place!
to!produce!oneselfconsumption!is!increasingly!becoming!a!productive!process,!
goal! orientated! and! purposeful.! ! (Firat,! 1995:52)! The! effect! of! consumer!
fragmentation! can! be! perceived! as! either! a! potentially! liberating! force! which!
frees! the! individual! from! conformity! (Firat! and! Venkatesh,1995)! or! as! a!
superficial!answer!to!the!general!collapse!of!Meta!narratives!within!postDmodern!
society.!(Goulding.!2002:263)!!!
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Krims! clearly! rejects! the! idea! that! PostDmodernist! consumption! creates!
consumer! liberation! and! active! consumption.! He! argues! that! the! PostDFord!
model! is! exercising! the! same! amount! of! manipulation! over! the! consumer! that!
Adorno!feared,!but!not!in!the!way!he!predicted.!He!states;!Adornos!notion!that!
capitalism,! to! thrive,! must! (among! other! things)! homogenize! and! standardize!
artistic!products!seems!to!have!outlived!its!viability.!(Krims,!2007:!135)!But!that!
In! regimes! of! flexible! accumulation! and! justDinDtime! production,! enormous!
inequalities! in! power! (including! but! not! limited! to! wealth)! may! not! just! be!
consistent! with,! but! even! may! depend! on,! the! stylistic,! ethnic,! and! geographic!
mobility! and! diversity! that! pervade! the! current! cultural! sphere.! Specialised!
marketing! strategies,! for! example,! can! be! seen! as! a! corporate! technique! to!
promote! fragmented! consumption! to! create! and! maintain! niche! markets.! The!
idea! of! the! contemporary! Hipster! community! is! a! possible! example! of! pseudoD
active! consumption.! Creatively! inclined! students! living! in! poor! urban! areas!
notably! from! white,! middleclass! backgrounds! are! chaperoned! by! the! culture!
industry! into! the! belief! that! they! can! create! authentic! expression! through!
ironically! presented! low! culture! symbols! and! appropriated! countercultural!
fashions! (Henke,! 2013:! 117).! Therefore,! although! there! seems! to! be! increased!
consumer!liberation!and!active!consumption,!audiences!consumption!habits!are!
in! fact! passive.! Instead,! through! specialist! marketing! techniques! aimed! at!
disguising! class,! background,! location,! gender! and! race,! audiences! are! guided!
into!different!fragmentations!that!they!are!told!is!a!reflection!of!themselves!and!
their!own!identity.!!
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Conclusive+Ideas+
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Although!Adnoro!was!mistaken!in!his!prediction!of!a!homogenous!mass!culture,!
his! implications! of! increasingly! centralised! wealth! and! power! in! the! cultural!
industry! are! accurate.! Krims! makes! the! point! that! the! only! reason! why! the!
standardised,! homogenous! product! doesnt! exist! is! because! it! ceases! to! be! the!
most!profitable!form!of!cultural!commodity!within!a!postDmodern!context.!Also,!
the! decentralisation! of! control! within! the! corporate! infrastructure! is! merely! to!
increase!efficiency.!Any!real!power!is!still!ultimately!enjoyed!by!a!handful!of!key!
stakeholders.! Regarding! audiences,! the! increased! variety! of! popular! music! as! a!
result!of!specialised!markets!does!not!correlate!to!increased!consumer!liberation!
and! active! consumption.! Instead,! specialised! marketing! creates! fragmented!
consumption! whereby! different! types! of! people! are! directed! to! various!
consumer!categories.!Contemporary!consumption!has!the!impression!of!creating!
individual!identity!and!selfDexpression,!which!is!aided!by!the!general!break!down!
of! metanarratives! within! postDmodernist! society.! However! the! culture! industry!
depend! on! this! fragmentation! in! order! to! maximise! profit.! Smaller! and! smaller!
markets!allow!for!more!and!more!different!products!to!fill!the!market!gaps!they!
create.! It! is! therefore! in! their! interests! to! create! and! maintain! these!
fragmentations.!!!
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!
! Eleanor!Griffiths!!
! 18/02/2015!!
This work was produced as part of Musicianship 1 (Popular) (HBAMPM004)
! ! at Leeds College of Music!
!
Bibliography+
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Adorno,!T!W.!(2002).!Essays,on,Music,selected,with,introduction,,commentary,and,
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Firat,!A.!(1995).!Marketing,in,a,PostModern,world.,(1995):!European!Journal!of!
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Firat,!A!and!Venkatesh,!A.!(1995).!Liberatory!postmodernism!and!the!reD
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Harker,!D.!(1980)!One,for,the,money:,Politics,and,Popular,song.!London:!
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Wikipedia!(2014).!Music,Industry.,Available!at!
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