Music in various functions plays an increasingly important role both as an indicator of and as a medium for changes in society. Popular music is with us constantly; it is part of our everyday environment, and increasingly part of the aural or sonic soundscape that surrounds us. Not only do we listen to music in our homes and at concerts, but also as a background in cars, bars, airplanes, restaurants, and shopping malls. Our brains are constantly registering, monitoring, and decoding popular music. Popular music is one of the more powerful expressions of the “culture industry” worldwide. Some would claim that popular music is the only truly universal “mass medium.” Certainly most people would agree that music speaks a universal language of emotions. Popular music is now the lingua franca for a large segment of the world’s youth population. It is probably fair to say that music is the most universal means of communication we now have, instantly traversing language and other cultural barriers.
Whereas consumption of other media products is often limited by geographic availability and consumer income, almost anyone anywhere can listen to popular music, often regardless of whether they want to or not. Most of us at one time or another have felt pursued by music itself. In this respect, popular music is certainly the most global aspect of our “global village.” The evolution of technology and the proliferation of global cultural products have had many effects, not the least of which is the fact that the stars of the contemporary music industry are increasingly catering to an international audience that is constantly growing. Today, we are all listening to the “global jukebox” (Burnett 1996).
There is no precise, straightforward definition of popular music but rather a commonsense understanding placing an emphasis on “popular” and based on the commercial nature of music, and embracing genres perceived as commercially oriented. As soon as there were media technically able to transmit sound, and communities economically able to use these media, there was mass communication of music. This occurred first with the development of the record industry, and was later followed by the development of radio, sound film, television, music videos, and the Internet.
Music And Globalization
In recent years, the international music companies have begun to stress that they are global organizations. Globalization in their case, and as reflected in company annual reports, means the organization of production, distribution, and consumption of cultural goods on a world scale market. The flow of information, ideas, and cultural artifacts on a global scale has greatly increased in recent decades, due in part to the many developments of new communication technology. It is no longer fruitful to try to understand the new global cultural economy by using old models of conflict that contrast the center versus the periphery. In most of these models of “cultural imperialism,” an underlying concern or fear of “cultural homogenization” is expressed in the wake of growing Americanization and commodification. What is clear is that in the contemporary context, the international media environment is far more complex than that suggested by earlier models of media imperialism.
The study of transnational music production should be able to tell us something about the ways in which international capital works in the field of popular culture and specifically in the entertainment industry. For example, a question that is always raised is: are we experiencing the rise of a global homogeneous world culture, and if so, will this process still allow for smaller heterogeneous local cultural traditions? One effect of media globalization and commercialization is the almost instantaneous dissemination of popular music developed by the major transnationals to an increasingly global audience spread to the far corners of the world. One can argue that the universal acceptance of popular music indicates that a widely felt need and demand are being met, and its global reach enables greater understanding and the emergence of some sort of global music culture.
There is also an increasing musical flow towards the cultural centers, and cross-flows within particular geographical and cultural regions as well, which may open up musical understanding between peoples. A controversial effect of the globalization of the music industry is the spread of music and the carrying across borders of some of the values of the west, such as human rights, individualism, and questioning of authority. These values embedded in popular music lyrics and music videos, whether explicit or implicit, can lead to controversy in nonwestern cultures (Shuker 2001).
However, as noted above, it is really no longer fruitful to talk about American “cultural imperialism” at the level of ownership in the entertainment industry. European and Asian companies have proved to be at least as successful as their American counterparts. It makes more sense to discuss the few transnational companies that dominate today’s world market. The transnationals certainly see themselves as players on a world scale. Advances in communications technology have weakened the nature of traditional national boundaries.
It used to be the case that Hollywood film, television, and record producers saw foreign distribution as a lucrative by-product, money to be made after earning back costs and hopefully turning a profit in the domestic American market. In recent years, it is increasingly the case that producers, distributors, and investors target the international market from the very beginning of every new project. Still, it is important to remember that much of the information and entertainment material owned by non-American companies is still created by Americans, for the simple reason that Los Angeles is still the film, music, and television production capital of the global entertainment industry (Negus 1999).
The ownership of major entertainment enterprises has become increasingly internationalized, reflecting the economic interdependence among nations. In the entertainment industries it goes beyond internationalization of ownership. American film, television, video, record, and music publishing companies now derive at least 50 percent of their revenues from foreign markets, and must therefore consider the tastes of consumers in other countries as well as those of American consumers. One of the reasons why music companies pay million-dollar fees to stars such as Madonna, Britney Spears, and Michael Jackson is the simple fact that with a big selling album, enormous financial returns can be derived outside the United States. Escalating production and marketing costs have made thinking about the foreign market crucial. The same logic is at work in the film, television, and book industries as well. The vertical and horizontal integration of the music, film, and television production and publishing industries, an alignment of technology development and ownership that is coupled to production and distribution control, has never been more closely linked to the power centers of the media and electronics industries in America, Europe, and Japan (Hesmondhalgh 2002).
Music And Digitization
Deregulation and the emerging digital technologies changed the mission of the music business. The multiplication of media channels combined with cheaper, more flexible means of producing, manipulating, and integrating musical material into new contexts (such as music TV, video games, and advertising) led to a shift in revenues from physical distribution to immaterial performance rights. A wider, simultaneous presence in global markets imposed further constraints to find instant “synergies” across the activities of a media group. The ideal product would sell on any channel, anywhere (Burnett & Marshall 2003).
Music, and its production, distribution, regulation, and reception, are now essential features of the “information society.” The music industry is a key financial asset. The agent of change in the world of music in recent years is the Internet and the capabilities that it provides. There are two constants in the music industry. On the one hand, there are the artists and the music they create; on the other hand, there are the fans who are eager to hear the music. All the other pieces between the artists and their fans are subject to change. What the Internet has provided is a mechanism and a technology with the capability to bring the artist and the fans together, so closely in every possible way that it is going to change the mechanics and the dynamics of the business.
The future of the music industry in many ways coincides with developments in digital media. We are witnessing an important transition period in the music industry. Historically, intellectual property has been defined by physical boundaries, like the movie, video cassette, CD, or book. Now, because of advances in information technology, this physical boundary has been broken. The best example of this transformation is the music industry, where the music, which is the purest digital format, has left the CD, left the physical product, and spread rapidly across new technologies and networks and in different ways found its way back to consumers. Specific digital technologies such as mp3 sound files and peer-to-peer (P2P) networks have facilitated this process.
Due to these developments, music companies will need to embrace new technologies much faster and much more aggressively than they have in the past. Today we see new technologies and high consumer demand and use of these new technologies. The problem is that currently there are no proper business models in place, where the value of the intellectual property being produced is maintained. With the concentration of control in the music industry, the transnational corporations will continue to play a strong role in shaping global rules for trade policies and for the protection of intellectual property rights.
The globalization of the music industry has both an economic and a cultural dimension, which are closely linked. Certainly, the almost total dominance of the popular music industry by the transnational corporations, and the globalization of popular music styles are clear examples of the forces of globalization. The transnational majors’ market share of the global production, manufacture, and distribution of recorded popular music is estimated at between 80 and 90 percent. Figures from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry also show that the dominance of the transnationals is around 90 percent across Europe, and growing in Asia. Since the 1980s, the transnationals have concentrated on buying up local and national record labels around the world in their search for increased market shares (Burnett 1996).
- Burnett, R. (1996). The global jukebox: The international music industry. London: Routledge.
- Burnett, R., & Marshall, P. D. (2003). Web theory: An introduction. London: Routledge.
- Hesmondhalgh, D. (2002). The cultural industries. London: Sage.
- Negus, K. (1999). Music genres and corporate cultures. London: Routledge.
- Shuker, R. (2001). Understanding popular music. London: Routledge.
- Toynbee, J. (2000). Making popular music: Musicians, creativity and institutions. London: Arnold.