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Roles and Functions of the Music Industry

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 2647 words Published: 1st Jun 2017

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The music industry is one of the largest creative industries in the world, combing different elements of the business to produce and sell music to its audience. The development of the industry has evolved on a very large scale since the 19th century, when it was the printed sheet music being the leading product. Moving forward with society’s technological progression, in the 20th century, the way we were listening to music was changing with it becoming ubiquitous. “…popular music was an early global commodity, with record companies establishing branches around the world for both marketing and the recruitment of talent at the beginning of the twentieth century,” (Gronow and Saunio, 1998). When these record labels began to emerge, they were producing and selling more recorded music, CD’s, cassettes and live performances and introducing more musical genres to the world. All of these aspects have brought us to today’s technologically advanced society, making the music business a very powerful industry consumed by the masses. In this essay I shall discuss the role and functions of the music industry, drawing upon particular theorists’ opinions including Theodor Adorno. I will also touch upon the study of popular music and the many factors contributing to the current crises of the music industry itself.

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In an age where music has become one of the more dominant and influential forms of entertainment in our society, the factors driving its production should be explored. Firstly, I shall look at the concept of music ownership. Record companies have an enormous amount of control over what music gets produced and what doesn’t as it is the main goal for them to sell and make profit. They will not sign an artist unless they truly believe that they will make them money. The major companies in the business today are, Sony BMG, Universal Music, EMI and Warner Music, which are collectively known as “The Big Four” who then own smaller labels as well. After managing the production and distribution of the music, it is their responsibility to handle the marketing for musical artists, organising promotions, music videos, endorsements and so on, giving the artist well-known status among the mass audience. In the early days of this music industry, being signed to a label was essential for an artist to be successful. However, in today’s digitally advanced world, it is much easier for an artist to have their music shared with an audience using information technology like the internet, which paved the way for independent labels becoming more popular as well.

In the documentary ‘Money for Nothing’, they go behind the business of pop music and look at how it has changed in this society of digitally experienced consumers. We are shown insights from music journalists and artists about corporate control and the restraints given to contemporary music. With major labels only looking at the artists who they believe are the most profitable, the independent labels take on artists that they can help develop and take risks with different talent. Although, with the current economic climate and the decline in revenue from various aspects of the industry, even the independent labels are having trouble staying out of the corporate system. REFERENCE. Recording companies becoming this “hyper commercialized system” is a largely stated opinion among musical talents and media theorists. Major record labels are owned by the huge media conglomerates that are the core reason why creativity in music has become so limited. The conglomerates of the industry use the record companies to sign acts that can get them the ‘quick sell’ as the only aim for them as a business is to make a profit.

Cross media marketing or “synergy”, is something these conglomerates use to make this profit and to develop other media industries. They buy into other companies in entertainment, which they can then use to advertise and sell across different markets. “The music industry on the other hand is completely dependent on the media as a promoter, user and distributer of its products. Most professional musical artists communicate with their audience primarily via some kind of electronic medium and only a fraction of the audience is able to experience the artists live performance.” For instance, Warner Music Group, one of the largest media conglomerates, owns various entertainment companies including television, film and publishing along with music labels. The record labels use these companies to advertise and promote artists across markets such as radio, television and retail which are then consumed by the mass audience. A successful example in the current music charts is Ellie Goulding and her new song which is a cover of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’. It was not that popular to start with as Goulding is not an extremely well known artist compared to other artists currently in the charts. However, when the music label gave permission for the retail chain, John Lewis, to use the song in their new Christmas advertisement, the song rocketed up the charts and is now a favourite for Christmas number one. Goulding has begun to appear on radio and television promoting the song and she has become a household name in a matter of weeks, all thanks to the instant fame John Lewis have given her. This shows how popular music is so commercially driven and how the absence of real talent, experimentation and creativity in music has begun to disappear.

Most of today’s new acts are manufactured because this is cheaper and easier for labels to produce rather than finding new talented artists. With television shows such as ‘The X Factor’, a concept of combining reality television with the music industry, created by music mogul Simon Cowell, we are brought together as this unthinking homogenous mass with the music acting as a “social cement”. We are being brainwashed through these simple ideologies of music, rendering us as a passive and unthinking mass audience. Adorno argues that “the whole structure of popular music is standardized, even where the attempt is made to circumvent standardization.” In his work he characterizes “popular” and “serious” music of which he then uses to underline his theory of popular music being standardized. This theory highlights that pop music is just a product of mass culture, and how the formula of producing a song is just endlessly replicated with a fixed structure and yet creates the illusion of creativity, what Adorno refers to in his theory of “pseudo-individualisation”. The song structure is replicated so much so, that the consumers do not actually realise they have heard it before, what Adorno refers to as “pre-digested”. So the listening of a song is not spontaneous and no intellect is required as it has done the thinking for them and the listeners consume what is already “familiar”. However, I do believe that with the current crisis of the music industry, there is a certain layer of pop music that is standardized but there is still an element of creative autonomy. Although saying that, the industry will always be driven by money and not creativity as that is the prerogative of a capitalist society we live in today.

Compared to popular music, serious music is not standardized as it is produced with the whole aesthetics of a song in mind and “every detail derives its musical sense from the concrete totality of the piece.” With serious music being genres such as folk, pre-industrial music, classical, or art music, it is focusing on the experimentation and meaning of a piece rather than the repetitive, fixed structure of a popular song. Independent music labels have a slightly different outlook on producing music compared with the major labels. They take a less economic approach and more a social approach to music and without a corporate conglomerate steering them they can decide what to produce. However without corporate finances ‘indie’ labels still have trouble getting the music out there to be heard. Not wanting to be a part of the commercial music industry, the American punk band Fugazi stayed with their independent record label ‘Dischord Records’ which was also co-founded by the bands guitarist Ian MacKaye, refusing offers to become part of major label. Their main focus was their music and they did not want to rip off their listeners, which a major label would make them do. Michael Azerrad mentions in Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, “In response not only to a corrupt music industry but to an entire economic and political system they felt was fraught with greed for money and power…Fugazi staked out the indie scene as the moral high ground of the music industry; from then on, indie wasn’t just do-it-yourself, it was Do the Right Thing.” This is one example where the music is more important than the sell and the artist keeping control over their music. Even when managing to not “sell out” to the commercial music industry, Fugazi gained loyal fans through their honest and passionate attitudes towards their music and do not charge extortionate amounts of money for tickets to their performances or CD’s escaping the capitalist business. However, for the major record labels, charging large amounts of money for concert tickets seem to be the only way for an artist to make money these days. With the music industry in a crisis, losing money through illegal downloading and file sharing over the internet, artists are losing money through CD sales so have to charge more money for ticket prices to make up for this loss.

Going back to the use of synergy in the music business, we have come to find that the status of Radio itself has also changed. With radio stations being owned by the bigger conglomerates, they are not spontaneous anymore, when playing different types of music. It used to be that, Radio DJ’s would play the music that they believed was good music and having their particular music personality broadcasted to their listeners. Today, the conglomerates that own the stations have a strong say in what gets played. For instance, there would be a particular song they have to play a number of times in so many hours, so technically they have no control over what’s played. Adorno’s belief on how culture gets polluted when it meets commerce plays a quiet role here. The media conglomerates controlling the radio stations are selling the listeners an illusion. They are hiring celebrities as DJ’s who know little or sometimes nothing about music other than their own personal interests to host shows, who then become these big media personalities become with the public from media marketing and promotion. For example, Vernon Kay, BBC Radio 1 DJ, was a TV presenter before his big break in to radio in 2004. His television status made him a well known name, and so naturally he was then hired to be the DJ for a prime spot on a mainstream station. So, overall, they are selling him more than the station, to acquire a larger proportion of listeners.

It was radio play of music that constituted its popularity, but with many radio stations sounding the same nowadays, only playing the popular chart music, it is much harder for unknown bands and artists to get air time on the more popular stations. Looking back at the documentary ‘Money For Nothing’ again, we can see that there are the four main companies that reach consumers in the selling of music. From the production at the record companies, the music then gets played over the radio, the music videos will be shown on television and then touring will promote the music. For manufactured new artists, the record companies will pay other radio stations to play this music so it’s heard by the masses, and then this will also give the opportunity to promote other areas of the industry that they own. So in the end, the variety of music heard on the radio has now decreased on a large scale.

Coming into today’s digitally advanced world, the music industry has fallen into a crisis. In a generation where virtually everything is digitally recoverable, the sales of records are on continuing decline, not only from legal downloads from sites such as iTunes, but illegal file sharing over the internet has also become major factor. In an interview with Simon Frith for the online music magazine Perfect Sound Forever, Simon Frith says that, “With digital CD’s, records can now live forever and there is far more back catalogue available and less incentive to buy records that just came out.” iTunes is one of these catalogues where music files from virtually any artist are readily available to purchase. It was established in 2001 by the global corporation Apple and has since been one of the main outlets of digital media.

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Napster, was a “peer to peer” file sharing service online created by a university student, Shawn Fanning. It began in 1999, allowing people to share their music libraries across this system. This service became very popular with its easier way of obtaining music files that could be expensive to purchase or just hard to come by. However with this technology its popularity grew to over 20 million users and music artists and bands became more aware of the seriousness of the copyright infringements of the company. Metallica and Dr Dre were one of the first bands to sue Napster for copyright violations of their music with a successful outcome. Rapper Dr Dre stated that “”I work hard making music – that’s how I earn a living.” This is a shared opinion of all musical artists as they are losing money through file sharing technology, and this is ultimately damaging the future of the industry. In the end Napster had to stop the service, but not completely shut it down. They turned it into a subscription service to abide by the copyright laws; however this still did not get them out of the financial struggle they were in, paying legal settlements to the music industry. They finally went bankrupt and had to liquidate their business. Even though the illegal file-sharing was stopped through Napster’s service, the core idea and technology has gone on to a larger problem with many more illegal downloading services such as Limewire, Ares or torrent software. These newer services have built upon Napsters’ original technology and have made a larger dent in the music industry’s revenue today. Even Fanning saw the greater potential for peer to peer technology stating, “peer-to-peer technology or distributed computing also has tremendous opportunity for sharing resources or computing power, lowering information and transaction costs…Peer-to-peer also has the potential to change today’s understanding of the relationship between source and site.” He saw how this could make searching for files easier, explaining that it is less complicated and less time consuming to just let a program find the file source to rather than connecting to a central server.

Looking at the music industry as a whole, the main aspects of technology, music and commerce


Internet has made music ubiquitous.

Using our emotions and vulnerability to sell us music – “catharsis” adorno

“synergy,” which Ben H. Bagdikian, in his book Media Monopoly,


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