+1443 776-2705 panelessays@gmail.com

 Think about what genre of music that you enjoy. VVrite a 2 page 3ssay on the history of your particular genre and explain why you choose to indulge in this particular genre.

Make sure to highlight

How this genre effects your mood? Great messages in great songs and fun to dance too. Always puts me in a great mood.

  • Favorite artist? Lady Gaga
  • Is it a positive message in the song? Born this way has a positive message of inclusivity of all human beings. 
  • Please reference book chapter for uploaded as a word document – Media and Culture 4 Sound Recording and popular music.  MLA format, use Times New Roman or Arial 12 font size, double space.  


Mass Communication in a Digital Age

Twelfth Edition

· Richard Campbell

· Miami University

· Christopher R. Martin

· University of Northern Iowa

· Bettina Fabos

· University of Northern Iowa

CHAPTER 4Sound Recording and Popular Music

Artist Chance the Rapper shows off one of his signature “3” baseball caps at the 59th Grammy Awards.






IT WAS THE 2017 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, and a twenty-three-year-old rapper from Chicago, Chancellor Johnathan Bennett, walked out with awards for best new artist, best rap performance, and best rap album. Bennett is better known as Chance the Rapper and is a major music artist who emerged from a very untraditional path. As Billboard magazine put it, “Chance the Rapper Is One of the Hottest Acts in Music, Has a Top 10 Album and His Own Festival—All Without a Label or Physical Release.”

Other artists have paved the way for Chance’s business approach. In 2007, British alternative rock group Radiohead decided to sell its album In Rainbows on its website for whatever price fans wished to pay, including nothing at all. Adele, Taylor Swift, and Rihanna all record for independent labels, and Macklemore sells music under his own label. Chance the Rapper has gone one step further by not selling any music at all.

His recording career began with the mixtapes 10 Day (2012) and Acid Rap (2013), which he posted for free. Both mixtapes were critically praised, and he received offers from multiple music labels. Chance decided to make a business deal that would both earn him some money and help promote his next release, Coloring Book (2016). Rather than sign with a label, he agreed to a short-term contract with a streaming service. Apple Music got exclusive streaming rights to Coloring Book for two weeks, a deal that Chance later disclosed was worth $500,000.
 The Apple Music connection gave his work an even greater audience. His album became the first to debut on the Billboard 200 chart (at No. 8) based on only the number of streams.
 “I think artist[s] can gain a lot from the streaming wars as long as they remain in control of their own product,” Chance said.
 All of his recordings remain available for free streaming on SoundCloud (

Why does Chance the Rapper remain independent and refuse to sell recordings? He sat down with journalist Katie Couric at Harold’s Chicken Shack on the South Side of Chicago (one of his favorite restaurants) in 2017 to explain his approach to his career. When Couric asked him if he had ever considered signing with a record label, Chance replied, “I get to choose how much my music costs. I get to choose when my music gets released. I choose when I go on tour, who I work with, what movies I work with.”

Instead, Chance makes his money selling merchandise and concert tickets on his website 
. Among Chance’s merchandise is his ubiquitous “3” baseball cap. Chance used to exclusively wear Chicago White Sox baseball caps, but when he and the team could not reach a deal for the publicity, he made his own trademark “3” cap to mark the release of his third album. In addition to merchandise and ticket sales, and revenue-generating streams on Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube, Chance and his manager have put together other deals, such as sponsorship from Bud Light and Citibank for his sold-out 2016 Magnificent Coloring Day music festival at the White Sox’s Cellular One Field.

“My dad taught me to work hard, and my mom taught me to work for myself,” Chance told Couric. “And so now I work for myself really hard.”

The rise of independent labels is one of the most significant developments in the music industry in the past two decades. The old route to success for musical artists was highly dependent on signing with a major label, which handled all the promotion to sell records. Now, with so many distribution forms for music—traditional CDs and vinyl; digital downloads and streaming; social media; music licensed for use in advertising, television, and film; and (of course) live, in-person concerts—there are multiple paths for talented artists to find an audience with an independent label or on their own.

THE MEDIUM OF SOUND RECORDING has had an immense impact on our culture. The music that helps shape our identities and comforts us during the transition from childhood to adulthood resonates throughout our lives. In the course of its history, popular music has also been banned by parents, school officials, and even governments under the guise of protecting young people from corrupting influences. As far back as the late eighteenth century, authorities in Europe, thinking that it was immoral for young people to dance close together, outlawed waltz music as “savagery.” Popular music from the jazz age to today has also added its own chapters to the age-old musical battle between generations.


Visit LaunchPad for Media & Culture and use LearningCurve to review concepts from this chapter.

In this chapter, we will place the impact of popular music in context and:

· Investigate the origins of recording’s technological “hardware,” from Thomas Edison’s early phonograph to Emile Berliner’s invention of the flat disk record and the development of audiotape, compact discs, and MP3s

· Study radio’s early threat to sound recording and the subsequent alliance between the two media when television arrived in the 1950s

· Explore the impact of the Internet on music, including the effects of online piracy and how the industry is adapting to the era of convergence with new models for distributing and promoting music, moving from downloads to streaming

· Examine the content and culture of the music industry, focusing on the predominant role of rock music and its extraordinary impact on mass media forms and a diverse array of cultures, both American and international

· Explore the economic and democratic issues facing the recording industry

As you consider these topics, think about your own relationship with popular music and sound recordings. Who was your first favorite group or singer? How old were you, and what was important to you about this music? How has the way you listen to music changed in the past five years? For more questions to help you think through the role of music in our lives, see “
Questioning the Media
” in the Chapter Review.


aNew mass media have often been defined in terms of the communication technologies that preceded them. For example, movies were initially called motion pictures, a term that derived from photography; radio was known as wireless telegraphy, referring to telegraphs; and television was often called picture radio. Likewise, sound recording instruments were initially described as talking machines and later as phonographs, drawing on names of existing inventions, the telephone and the telegraph. This early blending of technology foreshadowed our contemporary era, in which media as diverse as newspapers and movies converge on the Internet. Long before the Internet, however, the first major media convergence involved the relationship between two industries: sound recording and radio.

From Cylinders to Disks: Sound Recording Becomes a Mass Medium

In the 1850s, French printer Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville conducted the first experiments with sound recording. Using a hog’s hair bristle as a needle, he tied one end to a thin membrane stretched over the narrow part of a funnel. When the inventor spoke into the funnel, the membrane vibrated and the free end of the bristle made grooves on a revolving cylinder coated with a thick liquid called lampblack. De Martinville noticed that different sounds made different trails in the lampblack, but he could not figure out how to play back the sound. His experiments, however, ushered in the development stage of sound recording as a mass medium. In 2008, audio researchers using high-resolution scans of the recordings and a digital stylus were finally able to play back some of de Martinville’s recordings for the first time.7

In 1877, Thomas Edison had success playing back sound. He recorded his voice by using a needle to press the sound waves onto tinfoil, which was wrapped around a metal cylinder about the size of a cardboard toilet-paper roll. After recording his voice, Edison played it back by repositioning the needle to retrace the grooves in the foil. The machine that played these cylinders became known as the phonograph, derived from the Greek terms for “sound” and “writing.”


In addition to inventing the phonograph, Edison (1847–1931) ran an industrial research lab that is credited with inventing the motion-picture camera, the first commercially successful lightbulb, and a system for distributing electricity.

Thomas Edison was more than an inventor—he was also able to envision the practical uses of his inventions and ways to market them. Moving sound recording into its entrepreneurial stage, Edison patented his phonograph in 1878 as a kind of answering machine. He thought the phonograph would be used as a “telephone repeater” that would “provide invaluable records, instead of being the recipient of momentary and fleeting communication.”8 Edison’s phonograph patent was specifically for a device that recorded and played back foil cylinders. Thanks to this narrow definition, in 1886 Chichester Bell (cousin of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell) and Charles Sumner Tainter were able to further sound recording by patenting an improvement on the phonograph. Their sound recording device, known as the graphophone, played back more durable wax cylinders.9 Both Edison’s phonograph and Bell and Tainter’s graphophone had only marginal success as voice-recording office machines. Eventually, these inventors began to produce cylinders with prerecorded music, which proved to be more popular but difficult to mass-produce and not very durable for repeated plays.

Using ideas from Edison, Bell, and Tainter, Emile Berliner, a German engineer who had immigrated to America, developed a better machine that played round, flat disks, or records. Made of zinc and coated with beeswax, these records played on a turntable, which Berliner called a gramophone and patented in 1887. Berliner also developed a technique that enabled him to mass-produce his round records, bringing sound recording into its mass medium stage. Previously, using Edison’s cylinder, performers had to play or sing into the speaker for each separate recording. Berliner’s technique featured a master recording from which copies could be easily duplicated in mass quantities. In addition, Berliner’s records could be stamped with labels, allowing the music to be differentiated by title, performer, and songwriter. This led to the development of a “star system,” wherein fans could identify and choose their favorite artists across many records.

By the first decade of the twentieth century, record-playing phonographs were widely available for home use. In 1906, the Victor Talking Machine Company placed the hardware, or “guts,” of the record player inside a piece of furniture. These early record players, known as Victrolas, were mechanical and had to be primed with a crank handle. As more homes were wired for electricity, electric record players, first available in 1925, gradually replaced Victrolas, and the gramophone soon became an essential appliance in most American homes.

The appeal of recorded music was limited at first due to sound quality. The original wax records were replaced by shellac discs, but these records were very fragile and did not improve the sound quality much. By the 1930s, in part because of the advent of radio and in part because of the Great Depression, record and phonograph sales declined dramatically. In the early 1940s, shellac was needed for World War II munitions production, so the record industry turned to manufacturing polyvinyl plastic records instead. Vinyl records turned out to be more durable than shellac records and less noisy, paving the way for a renewed consumer desire to buy recorded music.

In 1948, CBS Records introduced the 33⅓-rpm (revolutions per minute) long-playing record (LP), with about twenty minutes of music on each side, creating a market for multisong albums and classical music. This was an improvement over the three to four minutes of music contained on the existing 78-rpm records. The next year, RCA developed a competing 45-rpm record that featured a quarter-size hole (best for jukeboxes), invigorating the sales of songs heard on jukeboxes throughout the country. Unfortunately, the two new record standards were not technically compatible, meaning the two types of records could not be played on each other’s machines. A five-year marketing battle ensued, but in 1953, CBS and RCA compromised. The LP became the standard for long-playing albums, the 45 became the standard for singles, and record players were designed to accommodate 45s, LPs, and, for a while, 78s.

From Phonographs to CDs: Analog Goes Digital

The inventions of the phonograph and the record were the key sound recording advancements until the advent of magnetic 
 and tape players in the 1940s. Magnetic-tape sound recording was first developed as early as 1929 and further refined in the 1930s, but it did not catch on right away because the first machines were bulky reel-to-reel devices, the amount of tape required to make a recording was unwieldy, and the tape itself broke or became damaged easily. However, owing largely to improvements made by German engineers, who developed plastic magnetic tape during World War II, audiotape eventually found its place.

Audiotape’s lightweight magnetized strands finally made possible sound editing and multiple-track mixing, in which instrumentals and vocals can be recorded at one location and later mixed onto a master recording in another studio. By the mid-1960s, engineers had placed miniaturized reel-to-reel audiotape inside small plastic cassettes and developed portable cassette players, permitting listeners to bring recorded music anywhere and creating a market for prerecorded cassettes. Audiotape also permitted “home dubbing”: Consumers could copy their favorite records onto tape or record songs from the radio.



Data from: Recording Industry Association of America, Annual Year-End Statistics. Figures are rounded.

Note: The year 1999 is the year Napster arrived, and the peak year of industry revenue. In 2011, digital product revenue surpassed physical product revenue for the first time. Synchronization royalties are those from music being licensed for use in television, movies, and advertisements.

The advances in audiotape technology opened the door to the development of other technologies. Although it had been invented by engineer Alan Blumlein in 1931, 
—which permitted the recording of two separate channels, or tracks, of sound—was finally able to be put to commercial use in 1958, once audiotape became more accessible. Recording-studio engineers, using audiotape, could now record many instrumental or vocal tracks, which they “mixed down” to two stereo tracks. When played back through two loudspeakers, stereo creates a more natural sound distribution. By 1971, stereo sound had been advanced into quadraphonic, or four-track, sound, but that never caught on commercially.

The biggest recording advancement came in the 1970s, when electrical engineer Thomas Stockham made the first digital audio recordings on standard computer equipment. Although the digital recorder was invented in 1967, Stockham was the first to put it to practical use. In contrast to 
analog recording
, which captures the fluctuations of sound waves and stores those signals in a record’s grooves or a tape’s continuous stream of magnetized particles, 
digital recording
 translates sound waves into binary on-off pulses and stores that information as numerical code. When a digital recording is played back, a microprocessor translates those numerical codes back into sounds and sends them to loudspeakers. By the late 1970s, Sony and Philips were jointly working on a way to design a digitally recorded disc and player to take advantage of this new technology, which could be produced at a lower cost than either vinyl records or audiocassettes. As a result of their efforts, digitally recorded 
compact discs (CDs)
 hit the market in 1983.

By 1987, CD sales were double the amount of LP sales. By 2000, CDs rendered records and audiocassettes nearly obsolete, except for deejays and record enthusiasts who continued to play and collect vinyl LPs. In an effort to create new product lines and maintain consumer sales, the music industry promoted two advanced digital disc formats in the late 1990s, which it hoped would eventually replace standard CDs. However, the introduction of these formats was ill-timed for the industry, because the biggest development in music formatting was already on the horizon—the MP3.

Convergence: Sound Recording in the Internet Age

Music, perhaps more so than any other mass medium, is bound up in the social fabric of our lives. Ever since the introduction of the tape recorder and the heyday of homemade mixtapes, music has been something that we have shared eagerly with friends.


Recording Music Today

Composer Scott Dugdale discusses technological innovations in music recording.


What surprised you the most about the way the video showed a song being produced, and why?

It is not surprising, then, that the Internet, a mass medium that links individuals and communities together like no other medium, became a hub for sharing music. In fact, the reason college student Shawn Fanning said he developed the groundbreaking file-sharing site Napster in 1999 was “to build communities around different types of music.”10 But this convergence with the Internet began to unravel the music industry in the 2000s. The changes within the industry were set in motion about two decades ago, with the proliferation of Internet use and the development of a new digital file format.

MP3s and File-Sharing

 file format, developed in 1992, enables digital recordings to be compressed into smaller, more manageable files. With the increasing popularity of the Internet in the mid-1990s, computer users began swapping MP3 music files online because they could be uploaded or downloaded in a fraction of the time it took to exchange noncompressed music files.

By 1999, the year Napster’s infamous free file-sharing service brought the MP3 format to popular attention, music files were widely available on the Internet—some for sale, some legally available for free downloading, and many for trading in possible violation of copyright laws. Despite the higher quality of industry-manufactured CDs, music fans enjoyed the convenience of downloading MP3 files. Losing countless music sales to illegal downloading, the music industry fought the proliferation of the MP3 format with an array of lawsuits (aimed at file-sharing companies and at individual downloaders), but the popularity of MP3s continued to increase.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the music industry and against Napster, declaring free music file-swapping illegal and in violation of music copyrights held by recording labels and artists. It was relatively easy for the music industry to shut down Napster (which later relaunched as a legal service) because it required users to log into a centralized system. However, the music industry’s elimination of file-sharing was not complete, as decentralized peer-to-peer (P2P) systems, such as Grokster, LimeWire, Morpheus, Kazaa, eDonkey, eMule, and BitTorrent, once again enabled free music file-sharing.

The recording industry fought back with thousands of lawsuits, many of them successful. By 2010, Grokster, eDonkey, Morpheus, and LimeWire had been shut down, while Kazaa settled a lawsuit with the music industry and became a legal service.11 By 2011, several major Internet service providers, including AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, had agreed to help the music industry identify customers who may have been illegally downloading music and try to prevent them from doing so by sending them “copyright alert” warning letters, redirecting them to web pages about digital piracy, and ultimately slowing download speeds or closing their broadband accounts.

SMART WIRELESS EARBUDS are the latest gadget trend in digital listening. The tech world has been trying out a few different names for these devices, including “hearables,” “smart headphones,” and “earputers.” The devices are increasingly powerful, and as tech companies figure out how to untether them from smartphones and computers, they will eventually be tiny stand-alone computers made for our ears. Apple’s AirPods and Google’s Pixel Buds are the two leading earbuds: They come with touch controls and custom wireless chips for pairing, and they connect directly with voice-recognition personal assistants. This listener is wearing wireless earbuds by Chyu.

As it cracked down on digital theft, the music industry—realizing that it would have to somehow adapt its business to the digital format—embraced services like iTunes (launched by Apple in 2003 to accompany the iPod), which had become the model for legal online distribution. In 2008, iTunes became the top music retailer in the United States. But by the time iTunes surpassed the twenty-five-billion-song milestone in 2013, global digital download sales had fallen for the first time.12 What happened? The next big digital format had arrived.

The Next Big Thing: Streaming Music

If the history of recorded music tells us anything, it is that tastes change and formats change over time. Today, streaming music is quickly becoming the format of choice. In the language of the music industry, we are shifting from ownership of music to access to music.13 The access model has been driven by the availability of streaming services such as the Sweden-based Spotify, which made its debut in the United States in 2011 and hit seventy-one million worldwide subscribers in 2018. Other services include Apple Music, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, Tidal, Deezer, and SoundCloud. With these services, listeners can pay a subscription fee (typically $5 to $10 per month) and instantly play millions of songs on demand via the Internet. YouTube and Vevo also supply ad-supported music streaming, and have wide international use.

STREAMING MUSIC SERVICES LIKE SPOTIFY (seen here) and Pandora provide users with more opportunity to fully customize their listening experience. Free accounts may include ads or limit a user’s selection, while a few dollars a month allow subscribers to search and stream any song.

The key difference between streaming music (like Spotify) and streaming radio (like Pandora) is that streaming music enables the listener to select any song on demand. Streaming radio enables the listener to pick a style of music but lacks the option of songs on demand. Yet the line is often blurred, even by streaming services. For example, at $10 per month, premium Spotify is ad-free and allows subscribers to access any song on demand and stream offline. However, the free version of Spotify is more like radio in that listeners do not have complete control over song selection.

The Rocky Relationship between Records and Radio

The recording industry and radio have always been closely linked. Although they work almost in unison now, they had a tumultuous relationship at the beginning. Radio’s very existence sparked the first battle. By 1915, the phonograph had become a popular form of entertainment. The recording industry sold thirty million records that year, and by the end of the decade, sales had more than tripled each year. In 1924, however, record sales dropped to only half of what they had been the previous year. Why? Because radio had arrived as a competing mass medium, providing free entertainment over the airwaves, independent of the recording industry.

The battle heated up when, to the alarm of the recording industry, radio stations began broadcasting recorded music without compensating the industry. The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), founded in 1914 to collect copyright fees for music publishers and writers, charged that radio was contributing to plummeting sales of records and sheet music. By 1925, ASCAP had established fees for radio, charging stations between $250 and $2,500 a week for the right to play recorded music—and causing many stations to leave the air.

But other stations countered by establishing their own live, in-house orchestras, disseminating “free” music to listeners. This time, the recording industry could do nothing, as original radio music did not infringe on any copyrights. Throughout the late 1920s and 1930s, record and phonograph sales continued to fall, although the recording industry got a small boost when Prohibition ended in 1933 and record-playing jukeboxes became the standard musical entertainment in neighborhood taverns.

The recording and radio industries only began to cooperate with each other after television became popular in the early 1950s. Television pilfered radio’s variety shows, crime dramas, and comedy programs, along with much of its advertising revenue and audience. Seeking to reinvent itself, radio turned to the recording industry, and this time both industries greatly benefited from radio’s new “hit-song” format. The alliance between the recording industry and radio was aided enormously by rock-and-roll music, which was just emerging in the 1950s. Rock created an enduring consumer youth market for sound recordings and provided much-needed content for radio precisely when television made it seem like an obsolete medium.

After the digital turn, the mutually beneficial arrangement between the recording and radio industries began to fray. While Internet streaming radio stations were being required to pay royalties to music companies when they played their songs, radio stations still got to play music royalty-free over the air. In 2012, Clear Channel—the largest radio station chain in the United States and one of the largest music streaming companies, with more than fifteen hundred live stations on iHeartRadio—was the first company to strike a new deal with the recording industry and pay royalties for music played over the air. Since that first deal, other radio groups have begun to forge agreements with music labels, paying royalties for on-air play while getting reduced rates for streaming music.


Popular music, or 
pop music
, is music that appeals either to a wide cross section of the public or to sizable subdivisions within the larger public based on age, region, or ethnic background (e.g., teenagers, southerners, and Mexican Americans). Today, U.S. pop music encompasses styles as diverse as blues, country, Tejano, salsa, jazz, rock, reggae, punk, hip-hop, and dance. The word pop has also been used to distinguish popular music from classical music, which is written primarily for ballet, opera, ensemble, or symphony. As various subcultures have intersected, U.S. popular music has developed organically, constantly creating new forms and reinvigorating older musical styles.

The Rise of Pop Music

Although it is commonly assumed that pop music developed simultaneously with the phonograph and radio, it actually existed before these media. In the late nineteenth century, the sale of sheet music for piano and other instruments sprang from a section of Broadway in Manhattan known as Tin Pan Alley, a derisive term used to describe the sound of these quickly produced tunes, which supposedly resembled cheap pans clanging together. Tin Pan Alley’s tradition of song publishing began in the late 1880s with such music as the marches of John Philip Sousa and the ragtime piano pieces of Scott Joplin. It continued through the first half of the twentieth century with the show tunes and vocal ballads of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and into the 1950s and 1960s with such rock-and-roll writing teams as Jerry Leiber–Mike Stoller and Carole King–Gerry Goffin.

SCOTT JOPLIN (1868–1917) published more than fifty compositions during his life, including “Maple Leaf Rag”—arguably his most famous piece.

At the turn of the twentieth century, with the newfound ability of song publishers to mass-produce sheet music for a growing middle class, popular songs moved from being a novelty to being a major business enterprise. With the emergence of the phonograph, song publishers also discovered that recorded tunes boosted interest in and sales of sheet music. Thus, songwriting and Tin Pan Alley played a key role in transforming popular music into a mass medium.

As sheet music grew in popularity, 
 developed in New Orleans. An improvisational and mostly instrumental musical form, jazz absorbed and integrated a diverse body of musical styles, including African rhythms, blues, and gospel. Jazz influenced many bandleaders throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Groups led by Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller were among the most popular of the “swing” jazz bands, whose rhythmic music also dominated radio, recordings, and dance halls in their day.

The first pop vocalists of the twentieth century were products of the vaudeville circuit, which radio, movies, and the Depression would bring to an end in the 1930s. In the 1920s, Eddie Cantor, Belle Baker, Sophie Tucker, and Al Jolson were extremely popular. By the 1930s, Rudy Vallée and Bing Crosby had established themselves as the first “crooners,” or singers of pop standards. Bing Crosby also popularized Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” one of the most covered songs in recording history. (A song recorded or performed by another artist is known as 
cover music
.) Meanwhile, the Andrews Sisters’ boogie-woogie style helped them sell more than sixty million records in the late 1930s and 1940s. In one of the first mutually beneficial alliances between sound recording and radio, many early pop vocalists had their own network of regional radio programs, which vastly increased their exposure.

Frank Sinatra arrived in the 1940s, and his romantic ballads foreshadowed the teen love songs of rock and roll’s early years. Nicknamed “the Voice” early in his career, Sinatra, like Crosby, parlayed his music and radio exposure into movie stardom. Helped by radio, pop vocalists like Sinatra were among the first vocalists to become popular with a large national teen audience.

Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay

The cultural storm called 
rock and roll
 hit in the mid-1950s. As with the term jazzrock and roll was a blues slang term for “sex,” lending it instant controversy. Early rock and roll was considered the first “integrationist music,” merging the black sounds of rhythm and blues, gospel, and Robert Johnson’s screeching blues guitar with the white influences of country, folk, and pop vocals.14 From a cultural perspective, only a few musical forms have ever sprung from such a diverse set of influences, and no new style of music has ever had such a widespread impact on so many different cultures as rock and roll. From an economic perspective, rock and roll was the first musical form to simultaneously transform the structure of sound recording and radio. Rock’s development set the stage for how music is produced, distributed, and performed today. Many social, cultural, economic, and political factors leading up to the 1950s contributed to the growth of rock and roll, including black migration, the growth of youth culture, and the beginnings of racial integration.

ROBERT JOHNSON (LEFT) (1911–1938), who ranks among the most influential and innovative American guitarists, played Mississippi delta blues and was a major influence on early rock and rollers, especially the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. His intense slide-guitar and finger-style playing also inspired generations of blues artists, including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Bonnie Raitt, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. To get a sense of his style, visit the Internet Archive’s Robert Johnson collection: 


The migration of southern blacks to northern cities in search of better jobs during the first half of the twentieth century helped spread different popular music styles. In particular, 
 music—the foundation of rock and roll—came to the North. Influenced by African American spirituals, ballads, and work songs from the rural South, blues music was exemplified in the work of Robert Johnson, Ma Rainey, Son House, Bessie Smith, Charley Patton, and others. The introduction in the 1930s of the electric guitar—a major contribution to rock music—gave southern blues its urban style, popularized in the work of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, B. B. King, and Buddy Guy.15

During this time, blues-based urban black music began to be marketed under the name 
rhythm and blues
, or 
. Featuring “huge rhythm units smashing away behind screaming blues singers,” R&B appealed to young listeners fascinated by the explicit (and forbidden) sexual lyrics in songs like “Annie Had a Baby,” “Sexy Ways,” and “Wild Wild Young Men.”16 Although it was banned on some stations, R&B was continuing to gain airtime by 1953. In those days, black and white musical forms were segregated: Trade magazines tracked R&B record sales on “race” charts, which were kept separate from white record sales, tracked on “pop” charts.

BESSIE SMITH (1895–1937) is considered the best female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s. Mentored by the famous Ma Rainey, Smith had many hits, including “Down Hearted Blues” and “Gulf Coast Blues.” She also appeared in the 1929 film St. Louis Blues.

Perhaps the most significant factor in the growth of rock and roll was the beginning of the integration of white and black cultures. In addition to increased exposure to black literature, art, and music, several key historical events in the 1950s broke down the borders between black and white cultures. And with the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, “separate but equal” laws—which had kept white and black schools, hotels, restaurants, restrooms, and drinking fountains segregated for decades—were declared unconstitutional. A cultural reflection of the times, rock and roll would burst forth from the midst of the decade’s social and political tensions.

Rock Muddies the Waters

In the 1950s, legal integration accompanied a cultural shift, and the music industry’s race and pop charts blurred. White deejay Alan Freed had been playing black music for his young audiences in Cleveland and New York since the early 1950s, and such white performers as Johnnie Ray and Bill Haley had crossed over to the race charts to score R&B hits. Meanwhile, black artists like Chuck Berry were performing country songs, and for a time, Ray Charles even played in an otherwise all-white country band. Although continuing the work of breaking down racial borders was one of rock and roll’s most important contributions, the genre also blurred other long-standing distinctions between high and low culture, masculinity and femininity, the country and the city, the North and the South, and the sacred and the secular.

High and Low Culture


A major influence on early rock and roll, Chuck Berry, born in 1926, scored major hits between 1955 and 1958, writing “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “School Day,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and “Johnny B. Goode.” At the time, he was criticized by some black artists for sounding white, and his popularity among white teenagers was bemoaned by conservative critics. Today, young guitar players routinely imitate his style.

In 1956, Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” merged rock and roll, considered low culture by many, with high culture, forever blurring the traditional boundary between these cultural forms with lyrics like “You know my temperature’s risin’ / the jukebox is blowin’ a fuse . . . / Roll over Beethoven / and tell Tchaikovsky the news.” Although such early rock-and-roll lyrics seem tame by today’s standards, at the time they sounded like sacrilege. Rock and rollers also challenged musical decorum and the rules governing how musicians should behave or misbehave: Berry’s “duck walk” across the stage, Elvis Presley’s pegged pants and gyrating hips, and Bo Diddley’s use of the guitar as a phallic symbol were an affront to the norms of well-behaved, culturally elite audiences.

Masculinity and Femininity

Rock and roll was the first popular music genre to overtly confuse issues of sexual identity and orientation. Although early rock and roll largely attracted males as performers, the most fascinating feature of Elvis Presley, according to the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, was his androgynous appearance.17 During this early period, though, the most sexually outrageous rock-and-roll performer was Little Richard (Penniman). Little Richard has said that given the reality of American racism, he blurred lines between masculinity and femininity because he feared the consequences of becoming a sex symbol for white girls: “I decided that my image should be crazy and way out so that adults would think I was harmless. I’d appear in one show dressed as the Queen of England and in the next as the pope.”18 Little Richard’s playful blurring of gender identity and sexual orientation paved the way for performers like David Bowie, Elton John, Boy George, Annie Lennox, Prince, Grace Jones, Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga, and Adam Lambert.

The Country and the City

Rock and roll also blurred geographic borders between country and city, between the white country & western music of Nashville and the black urban rhythms of Memphis. Early white rockers such as Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins combined country (or hillbilly) music, southern gospel, and Mississippi delta blues to create a sound called 
. At the same time, an urban R&B influence on early rock came from Fats Domino (“Blueberry Hill”), Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (“Hound Dog”), and Big Joe Turner (“Shake, Rattle, and Roll”). Soaring record sales and the crossover appeal of the music represented an enormous threat to long-standing racial and class boundaries. In 1956, the secretary of the North Alabama White Citizens Council bluntly spelled out the racism and white fear concerning the new blending of urban-black and rural-white culture: “Rock and roll is a means of pulling the white man down to the level of the Negro. It is part of a plot to undermine the morals of the youth of our nation.”19 Distinctions between traditionally rural and urban music have continued to blur, with older hybrids such as country rock (think of the Eagles) and newer forms like alternative country—performed by artists such as Ryan Adams, Steve Earle, the Avett Brothers, and Kings of Leon.


Elvis Presley remains the most popular solo artist of all time. From 1956 to 1962, he recorded seventeen No. 1 hits, from “Heartbreak Hotel” to “Good Luck Charm.” According to Little Richard, Presley’s main legacy was that he opened doors for many young performers and made black music popular in mainstream America.

The North and the South

Not only did rock and roll muddy the urban and rural terrain, but it also combined northern and southern influences. In fact, with so much blues, R&B, and rock and roll rising from the South in the 1950s, this region regained some of its cultural flavor, which (along with a sizable portion of the population) had migrated to the North after the Civil War and during the early twentieth century. Meanwhile, musicians and audiences in the North had absorbed blues music as their own, eliminating the understanding of blues as a specifically southern style. Like the many white teens today who are fascinated by hip-hop, musicians such as Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Buddy Holly—all from the rural South—were fascinated with and influenced by the black urban styles they had heard on the radio or seen in nightclubs. These artists in turn brought southern culture to northern listeners.

But the key to record sales and the spread of rock and roll, according to famed record producer Sam Phillips of Sun Records, was to find a white man who sounded black. Phillips found that man in Elvis Presley. Commenting on Presley’s cultural importance, one critic wrote: “White rockabillies like Elvis took poor white southern mannerisms of speech and behavior deeper into mainstream culture than they had ever been taken.”20

The Sacred and the Secular

Although many mainstream adults in the 1950s complained that rock and roll’s sexuality and questioning of moral norms constituted an offense against God, many early rock figures actually had close ties to religion, often transforming gospel tunes into rock and roll. Still, many people did not appreciate the blurring of boundaries between the sacred and the secular. In the late 1950s, public outrage over rock and roll was so great that even Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, both sons of  southern preachers, became convinced that they were playing the “devil’s music.” By 1959, Little Richard had left rock and roll to become a minister. Lewis had to be coerced into recording “Great Balls of Fire,” a song by Otis Blackwell that turned an apocalyptic biblical phrase into a sexually charged teen love song. The boundaries between sacred and secular music have continued to blur in the years since, with some churches using rock and roll to appeal to youth, and some Christian-themed rock groups recording music as seemingly incongruous as heavy metal.

IN 1955, LITTLE RICHARD (LEFT) wrote and recorded his first major hit record, “Tutti Frutti.” The next year, Pat Boone (right) recorded a cover of “Tutti Frutti” that surpassed the original in popularity, reaching No. 12 on the Billboard Top 40 (Little Richard’s original peaked at No. 17). In a 1984 interview with the Washington Post, Little Richard argued that this difference reflected the racial attitudes of the time: “The white kids would have Pat Boone up on the dresser and me in the drawer ’cause they liked my version better, but the families didn’t want me because of the image that I was projecting.”


Battles in Rock and Roll

The blurring of racial lines and the breakdown of other conventional boundaries meant that performers and producers were forced to play a tricky game to get rock and roll accepted by the masses. Two prominent white disc jockeys had different methods for achieving this end. Cleveland deejay Alan Freed, credited with popularizing the term rock and roll, played original R&B recordings from the race charts and black versions of early rock and roll on his program. In contrast, Philadelphia deejay Dick Clark believed that making black music acceptable to white audiences required cover versions by white artists. By the mid-1950s, rock and roll was gaining acceptance among the masses, but rock-and-roll artists and promoters faced further obstacles: Black artists found that their music was often undermined by white cover versions, the payola scandals portrayed rock and roll as a corrupt industry, and fears of rock and roll as a contributing factor in juvenile delinquency resulted in censorship.

White Cover Music Undermines Black Artists

By the mid-1960s, black and white artists routinely recorded and performed one another’s original tunes. For example, established black R&B artist Otis Redding covered the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” Jimi Hendrix covered Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” and just about every white rock-and-roll band—including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones—established its career by covering R&B classics.

Although today we take such rerecordings for granted, in the 1950s the covering of black artists’ songs by white musicians was almost always an attempt to capitalize on popular songs from the R&B “race” charts by transforming them into hits on the white pop charts. Often, not only would white producers give cowriting credit to white performers for the tunes they merely covered, but the producers would also buy the rights to potential hits from black songwriters, who seldom saw a penny in royalties or received songwriting credit.

During this period, black R&B artists, working for small record labels, saw many of their popular songs being covered by white artists working for major labels. These cover records, boosted by better marketing and ties to white deejays, usually outsold the original black versions. For instance, the 1954 R&B song “Sh-Boom,” by the Chords on Atlantic’s Cat label, was immediately covered by a white group, the Crew Cuts, for the major Mercury label. Record sales declined for the Chords, although jukebox and R&B radio play remained strong for the original version. By 1955, R&B hits regularly crossed over to the pop charts, but inevitably the white cover versions were more successful. Pat Boone’s cover of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” went to No. 1 and stayed on the Top 40 pop chart for twenty weeks, whereas Domino’s original made it only to No. 10. Slowly, however, the cover situation changed. After watching Boone outsell his song “Tutti Frutti” in 1956, Little Richard wrote “Long Tall Sally,” which included lyrics written and delivered in such a way that he believed Boone would not be able to adequately replicate them. “Long Tall Sally” went to No. 6 for Little Richard and charted for twelve weeks; Boone’s version got to No. 8 and stayed there for nine weeks.

Overt racism lingered in the music business well into the 1960s. A turning point, however, came in 1962, the last year that Pat Boone, then aged twenty-eight, ever had a Top 40 rock-and-roll hit. That year, Ray Charles covered “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” a 1958 country song by the Grand Ole Opry’s Don Gibson. This marked the first time that a black artist, covering a white artist’s song, had notched a No. 1 pop hit. With Charles’s cover, the rock-and-roll merger between gospel and R&B, on the one hand, and white country and pop, on the other, was complete. In fact, the relative acceptance of black crossover music provided a more favorable cultural context for the political activism that spurred important Civil Rights legislation in the mid-1960s.

Payola Scandals Tarnish Rock and Roll

The payola scandals of the 1950s were another cloud over rock-and-roll music and its artists. In the music industry, payola is the practice of record promoters’ paying deejays or radio programmers to play particular songs. As recorded rock and roll became central to commercial radio’s success in the 1950s and the demand for airplay grew, independent promoters hired by record labels used payola to pressure deejays into playing songs by the artists they represented.

Although payola was considered a form of bribery, no laws prohibited its practice. However, following closely on the heels of television’s quiz-show scandals (see Chapter 6), congressional hearings on radio payola began in December 1959. The hearings were partly a response to generally fraudulent business practices, but they were also an opportunity to blame deejays and radio for rock and roll’s supposedly negative impact on teens by portraying rock and roll (and its radio advocates) as a corrupt industry.

The payola scandals threatened, ended, or damaged the careers of a number of rock-and-roll deejays and undermined rock and roll’s credibility for a number of years. At the hearings in 1960, Alan Freed admitted to participating in payola, although he said he did not believe there was anything illegal about such deals, and his career soon ended. Dick Clark, then an influential deejay and the host of TV’s American Bandstand, would not admit to participating in payola. The hearings committee nevertheless chastised Clark and alleged that some of his complicated business deals were ethically questionable, a censure that hung over him for years. Congress eventually added a law concerning payola to the Federal Communications Act, prescribing a $10,000 fine and/or a year in jail for each violation (see Chapter 5).

Fears of Rock and Roll as a Corrupting Influence Lead to Censorship

Since rock and roll’s inception, one of the uphill battles the genre faced was the perception that it was a cause of juvenile delinquency, which was statistically on the rise in the 1950s. Looking for an easy culprit rather than considering contributing factors such as neglect, the rising consumer culture, or the growing youth population, many people assigned blame to rock and roll. The view that rock and roll corrupted youth was widely accepted by social authorities, and rock-and-roll music was often censored, eventually even by the industry itself.

By late 1959, many key figures in rock and roll had been tamed. Jerry Lee Lewis was exiled from the industry, labeled southern “white trash” for marrying his thirteen-year-old third cousin; Elvis Presley, having already been censored on television, was drafted into the army; Chuck Berry was run out of Mississippi and eventually jailed for gun possession and transporting a minor across state lines; and Little Richard felt forced to tone down his image and left rock and roll to sing gospel music. A tragic accident led to the final taming of rock and roll’s first front line. In February 1959, Buddy Holly (“Peggy Sue”), Ritchie Valens (“La Bamba”), and the Big Bopper (“Chantilly Lace”) all died in an Iowa plane crash—a tragedy mourned in Don McLean’s 1971 hit “American Pie” as “the day the music died.”

Although rock and roll did not die in the late 1950s, the U.S. recording industry decided that it needed a makeover. To protect the enormous profits the new music had been generating, record companies began to discipline some of rock and roll’s rebellious impulses. In the early 1960s, the industry introduced a new generation of clean-cut white singers, like Frankie Avalon, Connie Francis, Ricky Nelson, Lesley Gore, and Fabian. Rock and roll’s explosive violations of racial, class, and other boundaries were transformed into simpler generation-gap problems, and the music developed a milder reputation.


As the 1960s began, rock and roll was tamer and “safer,” as reflected in the surf and road music of the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean, but it was also beginning to branch out. For instance, the success of all-female groups, such as the Shangri-Las (“Leader of the Pack”) and the Angels (“My Boyfriend’s Back”), challenged the male-dominated world of early rock and roll. In the 1960s and the following decades, popular music went through cultural reformations that significantly changed the industry, including the international appeal of the “British invasion”; the development of soul and Motown; the political impact of folk-rock; the experimentalism of psychedelic music; the rejection of music’s mainstream by punk, grunge, and indie rock movements; the reassertion of black urban style in hip-hop and R&B; and the transformation of music distribution, which resulted in an unprecedented market growth of music from independent labels.

The British Are Coming!

The global trade of pop music is evident in the exchanges and melding of rhythms, beats, vocal styles, and musical instruments across cultures. The origin of this global impact can be traced to England in the late 1950s, when the young Rolling Stones listened to the blues of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, and the young Beatles tried to imitate Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

Until 1964, rock-and-roll recordings had traveled on a one-way ticket to Europe. Even though American artists regularly reached the top of the charts overseas, no British performers had yet achieved the same in the States. This changed almost overnight. Following the Beatles’ journey to America in 1964, British bands as diverse as the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, the Zombies, the Animals, Herman’s Hermits, the Who, the Yardbirds, Them, and the Troggs hit the American Top 40 charts.

With the British invasion, “rock and roll” unofficially became “rock,” sending popular music and the industry in two directions. On the one hand, the Rolling Stones would influence generations of musicians emphasizing gritty, chord-driven, high-volume rock, including those in the glam rock, hard rock, punk, heavy metal, and grunge genres. On the other hand, the Beatles would influence countless artists interested in a more accessible, melodic, and softer sound, in such genres as pop rock, power pop, new wave, and indie rock. The success of British groups helped change an industry arrangement in which most pop music was produced by songwriting teams hired by major labels and matched with selected performers. Even more important, the British invasion showed the recording industry how older American musical forms, especially blues and R&B, could be repackaged as rock and exported around the world.


Ed Sullivan, who booked the Beatles several times on his TV variety show in 1964, helped promote the band’s early success. Sullivan, though, reacted differently to the Rolling Stones, who were perceived as the “bad boys” of rock and roll in contrast to the “good” Beatles. The Stones performed black-influenced music without “whitening” the sound and exuded a palpable aura of sexuality, particularly front-man Mick Jagger. Although the Stones appeared on the program as early as 1964 and returned on several occasions, Sullivan remained wary and forced the band to change the lyrics of “Let’s Spend the Night Together” to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” for a 1967 broadcast.

Motor City Music: Detroit Gives America Soul

Ironically, the British invasion, which took much of its inspiration from black influences, drew many white listeners away from a new generation of black performers. Gradually, however, throughout the 1960s, black singers like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Ike and Tina Turner, and Wilson Pickett found large and diverse audiences. Transforming the rhythms and melodies of older R&B, pop, and early rock and roll into what became labeled as 
, these artists countered the British invaders with powerful vocal performances. Mixing gospel and blues with emotion and lyrics drawn from the American black experience, soul contrasted sharply with the emphasis on loud, fast instrumentals and lighter lyrical concerns that characterized much of rock music.22

The most prominent independent label that nourished soul and black popular music was Motown, established in 1959 by former Detroit autoworker and songwriter Berry Gordy with a $700 investment and named after Detroit’s “Motor City” nickname. Beginning with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Shop Around,” Motown enjoyed a long string of hit records that rivaled the pop success of British bands throughout the decade. Motown’s many successful artists included the Temptations (“My Girl”), Mary Wells (“My Guy”), the Four Tops (“I Can’t Help Myself”), Martha and the Vandellas (“Heat Wave”), Marvin Gaye (“I Heard It through the Grapevine”), and, in the early 1970s, the Jackson 5 (“ABC”). But the label’s most successful group was the Supremes, featuring Diana Ross, which scored twelve No. 1 singles between 1964 and 1969 (“Where Did Our Love Go,” “Stop! In the Name of Love”). The Motown groups had a more stylized, softer sound than the grittier southern soul (later known as funk) of Brown and Pickett.

Folk and Psychedelic Music Reflect the Times

Popular music has always been a product of its time, so the social upheavals of the Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, the environmental movement, and the Vietnam War naturally brought social concerns into the music of the 1960s and early 1970s. By the late 1960s, the Beatles had transformed from a relatively lightweight pop band to one that spoke for the social and political concerns of its generation, and many other groups followed the same trajectory. (To explore how the times and 

 personal taste influence music choices, see “Media Literacy and the Critical Process: Music Preferences across Generations”.)


Music Preferences across Generations

We make judgments about music all the time. Older generations do not like some of the music younger people prefer, and young people often dismiss some of the music of previous generations. Even among our peers, we have different musical tastes and often reject certain kinds of music that have become too popular or that do not conform to our preferences. The following exercise aims to understand musical tastes beyond our individual choices. Be sure to include yourself in this project.

1. DESCRIPTION Arrange to interview four to eight friends or relatives of different ages about their musical tastes and influences. Devise questions about what music they listen to and have listened to at different stages of their lives. What music do they buy or collect? What was the first album (or single) they acquired? What was the latest album? What stories or vivid memories do they relate to particular songs or artists? Collect demographic and consumer information: age, gender, occupation, educational background, place of birth, and current place of residence.

2. ANALYSIS Chart and organize your results. Do you recognize any patterns emerging from the data or stories? What kinds of music did your interview subjects listen to when they were younger? What kinds of music do they listen to now? What formed/influenced their musical interests? If their musical interests changed, what happened? (If they stopped listening to music, note that and find out why.) Do they have any associations between music and their everyday lives? Are these music associations and lifetime interactions with songs and artists important to them?

3. INTERPRETATION Based on what you have discovered and the patterns you have charted, determine what the patterns mean. Does age, gender, geographic location, or education matter when it comes to musical tastes? Are the changes in musical tastes and buying habits over time significant? Why or why not? What kind of music is most important to your subjects? Finally, and most important, why do you think your subjects’ music preferences developed as they did?

4. EVALUATION Determine how your interview subjects came to like particular kinds of music. What constitutes “good” and “bad” music for them? Did their ideas change over time? How? Are they open- or closed-minded about music? How do they form judgments about music? What criteria did your interview subjects offer for making judgments about music? Do you think their criteria are a valid way to judge music?

5. ENGAGEMENT To expand on your findings, consider the connections of music across generations, geography, and genres. Take a musical artist you like and input the name at www.music-map.com. Use the output of related artists to discover new bands. Input favorite artists of the people you interviewed in Step 1, and share the results with them. Expand your musical tastes.

Folk Inspires Protest

The musical genre that most clearly responded to the political happenings of the time was folk music, which had long been the sound of social activism. In its broadest sense, 
folk music
 in any culture refers to songs performed by untrained musicians and passed down mainly through oral traditions, from the banjo and fiddle tunes of Appalachia to the accordion-led zydeco of Louisiana and the folk-blues of the legendary Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter). During the 1930s, folk was defined by the music of Woody Guthrie (“This Land Is Your Land”), who not only brought folk to the city but also was extremely active in social reform. Groups such as the Weavers, featuring labor activist and songwriter Pete Seeger, carried on Guthrie’s legacy and inspired a new generation of singer-songwriters, including Joan Baez; Arlo Guthrie; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Phil Ochs; and—perhaps the most influential—Bob Dylan. Significantly influenced by the blues, Dylan identified folk as “finger-pointing” music that addressed current social circumstances. At a key moment in popular music’s history, Dylan walked onstage at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival fronting a full electric rock band. He was booed and cursed by traditional “folkies,” who saw amplified music as a sellout to the commercial recording industry. However, Dylan’s change inspired the formation of 
 artists like the Byrds, who had a No. 1 hit with a cover of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and led millions to protest during the turbulent 1960s.


One of the most successful groups in rock-and-roll history, the Supremes started out as the Primettes in Detroit in 1959. The group signed with Motown’s Tamla label in 1960 and became the Supremes in 1961. Between 1964 and 1969, the group recorded twelve No. 1 hits, including “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” “Come See about Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “I Hear a Symphony,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “Someday We’ll Be Together.” Lead singer Diana Ross (center) left the group in 1969 for a solo career. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Rock Turns Psychedelic

Alcohol and drugs have long been associated with the private lives of blues, jazz, country, and rock musicians. These links, however, became much more public in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when authorities busted members of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. With the increasing role of drugs in youth culture and the availability of LSD (not illegal until the mid-1960s), an increasing number of rock musicians experimented with and sang about drugs in what were frequently labeled rock’s psychedelic years. Many groups and performers of the psychedelic era (named for the mind-altering effects of LSD and other drugs), including Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin), the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Doors, and the Grateful Dead, believed that artistic expression and responses to social problems could be enhanced through mind-altering drugs. But following the surge of optimism that culminated in the historic Woodstock concert in August 1969, the psychedelic movement was quickly overshadowed. In 1969, a similar concert at the Altamont racetrack in California started in chaos and ended in tragedy when one of the Hell’s Angels hired as a bodyguard for the show murdered a concertgoer. Around the same time, the shocking multiple murders committed by the Charles Manson “family” cast a negative light on hippies, drug use, and psychedelic culture. Then, in quick succession, a number of the psychedelic movement’s greatest stars died from drug overdoses, including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison of the Doors.

Punk and Indie Respond to Mainstream Rock

By the 1970s, rock music was increasingly viewed as just another part of mainstream consumer culture. With major music acts earning huge profits, rock soon became another product line for manufacturers and retailers to promote, package, and sell—primarily to middle-class white male teens. Rock musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Elton John; glam artists like David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop; and soul artists like Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye continued to explore the social possibilities of rock or at least keep its legacy of outrageousness alive. But they had, for the most part, been replaced by “faceless” supergroups, like REO Speedwagon, Styx, Boston, and Kansas. By the late 1970s, rock could only seem to define itself by saying what it was not; “Disco Sucks” became a standard rock slogan against the popular dance music of the era.

Punk Revives Rock’s Rebelliousness

Punk rock
 rose in the late 1970s to challenge the orthodoxy and commercialism of the record business. By this time, the glory days of rock’s competitive independent labels had ended, and rock music was controlled by just a half-dozen major companies. By avoiding rock’s consumer popularity, punk attempted to return to the basics of rock and roll: simple chord structures, catchy melodies, and politically or socially challenging lyrics.

The punk movement took root at CBGB, a small dive bar in New York City, around such bands as the Ramones, Blondie, and the Talking Heads. (The roots of punk essentially lay in four pre-punk groups from the late 1960s and early 1970s—the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, the New York Dolls, and the MC5—none of which experienced commercial success in their day.) Punk quickly spread to England, where a soaring unemployment rate and growing class inequality ensured the success of socially critical rock. Groups like the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Buzzcocks, and Siouxsie and the Banshees sprang up and even scored Top 40 hits on the U.K. charts.


Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Minnesota, Bob Dylan took his stage name from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. He led a folk music movement in the early 1960s with engaging, socially provocative lyrics. He was also an astute media critic, as is evident in the seminal documentary Don’t Look Back (1967).

Punk was not a commercial success in the United States, where it was (not surprisingly) shunned by radio. However, punk’s contributions continue to be felt. Punk broke down the “boys’ club” mentality of rock, launching unapologetic and unadorned front women like Patti Smith, Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, and Chrissie Hynde, and it introduced all-women bands (writing and performing their own music) like the Go-Go’s into the mainstream (see “Examining Ethics: The Music Industry’s Day of Reckoning on Women”). It also reopened the door to rock experimentation at a time when the industry had turned music into a purely commercial enterprise. The influence of experimental, or post-punk, music is still felt today in alternative and indie bands such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, G.L.O.S.S., and State Champs.

Indie Groups Reinterpret Rock

Taking the spirit of punk and updating it, indie groups emerged from the do-it-yourself approach of independent labels and created music that found its audience in live shows and on alternative-format college radio stations beginning in the 1980s. Groups often associated with early indie rock include R.E.M., the Cure, Sonic Youth, the Pixies, the Minutemen, and Hüsker Dü. In the Pacific Northwest, a subgenre called 
 emerged in the 1980s. After years of limited commercial success, grunge broke into the American mainstream with Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the 1991 album Nevermind. Nirvana opened the floodgates to other “alternative” bands, such as Green Day, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Hole, and Sleater-Kinney.

Mainstream attention illustrates a key dilemma for successful indie acts: that their popularity results in commercial success, a situation that their music often criticizes. Still, independent acts like Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, and Belle and Sebastian are among many that have launched and sustained successful recording careers built on independent labels, playing concerts and using the Internet and social media to promote their music and sell merchandise.

SINGER SZA, born Solána Imani Rowe, is a neo-soul singer whose style combines pieces of many different types of music, including soul, hip hop, and R&B. She is seen here performing at the BET awards.

Hip-Hop Redraws Musical Lines

With the growing segregation of radio formats and the dominance of mainstream rock by white male performers, the place of black artists in the rock world diminished from the late 1970s onward. These trends, combined with the rise of “safe” dance disco by white bands (the Bee Gees), black artists (Donna Summer), and integrated groups (the Village People), created a space for a new sound to emerge: 
, a term for the urban culture that includes rappingcutting (or sampling) by deejays, breakdancing, street clothing, poetry slams, and graffiti art.

In the same way that punk opposed commercial rock, hip-hop stood in direct opposition to the polished, professional, and often less political world of soul. Its combination of social politics, swagger, and confrontational lyrics carried forward long-standing traditions in blues, R&B, soul, and rock and roll. Like punk and early rock and roll, hip-hop was driven by a democratic, nonprofessional spirit and was cheap to produce, requiring only a few mikes, speakers, amps, turntables, and vinyl records. Deejays, like the pioneering Jamaican émigré Clive Campbell (a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc), emerged first in New York, scratching and re-cueing old reggae, disco, soul, and rock albums. These deejays, or MCs (masters of ceremony), used humor, boasts, and trash talking to entertain and keep the peace at parties.

The music industry initially saw hip-hop as a novelty, despite the enormous success of the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979 (which sampled the bass beat of a disco hit from the same year, Chic’s “Good Times”). Then, in 1982, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released “The Message” and forever infused hip-hop with a political take on ghetto life, a tradition continued by artists like Public Enemy and Ice-T. By 1985, hip-hop had exploded as a popular genre with the commercial successes of groups like Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, and LL Cool J. That year, Run-DMC’s album Raising Hell became a major crossover hit, the first No. 1 hip-hop album on the popular charts (thanks in part to a collaboration with Aerosmith on a rap version of the group’s 1976 hit “Walk This Way”). But because most major labels and many black radio stations rejected the rawness of hip-hop, the music spawned hundreds of new independent labels. Although initially dominated by male performers, hip-hop was open to women, and some—Salt-N-Pepa and Queen Latifah among them—quickly became major players. Soon, white groups like the Beastie Boys, Limp Bizkit, and Kid Rock were combining hip-hop and punk rock in a commercially successful way, while Eminem found enormous success emulating black rap artists.

On the one hand, the conversational style of rap makes it a forum in which performers can debate issues of gender, class, sexuality, violence, and drugs. On the other hand, hip-hop, like punk, has often drawn criticism for lyrics that degrade women, espouse homophobia, and applaud violence. Although hip-hop encompasses many different styles, including various Latin and Asian offshoots, its most controversial subgenre is probably 
gangster rap
, which, in seeking to tell the truth about gang violence in American culture, has been accused of creating violence. Gangster rap drew national attention in 1996 with the shooting death of Tupac Shakur, who lived the violent life he rapped about on albums like Thug Life. Then, in 1997, Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. Biggie Smalls), whose followers were prominent suspects in Shakur’s death, was shot to death in Hollywood. The result was a change in the hip-hop industry. Most prominently, Sean “Diddy” Combs led Bad Boy Entertainment (former home of Notorious B.I.G.) away from gangster rap to a more danceable hip-hop that combined singing and rapping with musical elements of rock and soul. Today, hip-hop’s stars include artists such as Vince Staples, who revisits the gangster genre, and artists like Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Future, Drake, and Lizzo, who bring an old-school social consciousness to their performances. By 2017, R&B/hip-hop surpassed rock to become the top music genre in the United States, with the majority of the top recordings and songs from that genre.23

KENDRICK LAMAR made history in 2018 when he became the first hip-hop musician—and, in fact, the first nonclassical or non-jazz musician—to win a Pulitzer Prize when his album Damn took home the award in April of that year.

ALESSIA CARA got her start on YouTube, uploading homemade covers of songs by artists like Amy Winehouse and the Neighborhood. Her videos amassed a devoted online following and attracted the attention of major record label Def Jam Recordings, with whom Cara signed a deal in 2015. That year Cara released her first officially licensed single, “Here,” which as of 2018 had over 145 million views on YouTube.

The Reemergence of Pop

After waves of punk, grunge, alternative, and hip-hop; the decline of Top 40 radio; and the demise of MTV’s Total Request Live countdown show, it seemed as though pop music and the era of big pop stars were waning. But pop music has endured and even flourished in recent years, especially with the advent of iTunes. The era of digital downloads again made the single (as opposed to the album) the dominant unit of music, and this dominance has aided the reemergence of pop, since songs with catchy hooks generate the most digital sales. The reemergence of pop was allied with the rise of electronic dance music (EDM), as deejays/remixers/producers like David Guetta, Skrillex, Calvin Harris, and Avicii collaborated with a number of other pop stars. Similarly, streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer have greatly expanded accessibility to music and new remixes. The digital formats in music have resulted in a leap in viability and market share for independent labels and have changed the cultural landscape of the music industry in the twenty-first century.


For many in the recording industry, the relationship between music’s business and artistic elements is an uneasy one. The lyrics of hip-hop or punk rock, for example, often question the commercial value of popular music. But the line between commercial success and artistic expression is hazier than simply arguing that the business side is driven by commercialism and the artistic side is free of commercial concerns. The truth, in most cases, is that the business needs artists who are provocative, original, and appealing to the public, and the artists need the expertise of the industry’s marketers, promoters, and producers to hone their sound and reach the public. And both sides stand to make a lot of money from this relationship. But such factors as the enormity of the major labels and the complexities of making, selling, and profiting from music in an industry still adapting to the digital turn affect the economies of sound recording.

Music Labels Influence the Industry

After several years of steady growth, revenues for the recording industry experienced significant losses beginning in 2000 as file-sharing began to undercut CD sales. In 2017, U.S. music sales were about $8.7 billion, down from a peak of $14.5 billion in 1999 but slowly growing again as subscription streaming music revenue continued to increase. The global music business was valued at about $15.7 billion in 2017.24 The U.S. and global music business still constitutes an 
: a business situation in which a few firms control most of an industry’s production and distribution resources. This global reach gives these firms influence over what types of music gain worldwide distribution and popular acceptance, although the rise of independent-label market share has challenged the dominance of the big music corporations.

Fewer Major Labels and Falling Market Share

From the 1950s through the 1980s, the music industry, though powerful, consisted of a large number of competing major labels, along with numerous independent labels. Over time, the major labels began swallowing up the independents and then buying one another. By 1998, only six major labels remained—Universal, Warner, Sony, BMG, EMI, and Polygram. After a series of acquisitions and mergers, by 2012 only Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and Warner Music Group remained. Together, these companies control about 62 percent of the global recording industry market share (see Figure 4.2). Although their revenue has eroded over the past decade, the major music corporations still wield great power, with a number of music stars under contract and enormous back catalogs of recordings that continue to sell. Despite the oligopoly in the music industry, the biggest change has been the rise in market share for independent music labels.



Data from: 


, 2017; Wintel Worldwide Independent Market Report 2017. Figures are rounded.

The Indies Grow with Digital Music

The rise of rock and roll in the 1950s and early 1960s showcased a rich diversity of independent labels—including Sun, Stax, Chess, and Motown—all vying for a share of the new music. That tradition lives on today. In contrast to the three global players, some five thousand large and small independent production houses—or 
—record music that appears to be less commercial. Indies require only a handful of people to operate them. For years, indies accounted for 10 to 15 percent of all music releases. But with the advent of downloads and streaming, the enormous diversity of independent-label music became much more accessible, and the market share of indies grew to more than one-third of the U.S. recording industry. Indies often still have business relationships with major labels; about 52 percent of independent labels use major labels to distribute their music (not unlike how independent film companies rely on major studios for distribution).25 Independent labels have produced some of the best-selling artists of recent years; these labels include Big Machine Records (Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts), Broken Bow Records (Jason Aldean), Dualtone Records (the Lumineers), XL Recordings (Adele, Vampire Weekend), and Cash Money Records (Drake, Nicki Minaj). (See “Alternative Voices” at the end of this chapter.)

Making, Selling, and Profiting from Music

Like most mass media, the music business is divided into several areas, each working in a different capacity. In the music industry, those areas are making the music (signing, developing, and recording the artist), selling the music (selling, distributing, advertising, and promoting the music), and dividing the profits. All these areas are essential to the industry but have always played a part in the conflict between business concerns and artistic concerns.

Making the Music

Labels are driven by 
A&R (artist & repertoire) agents
, the talent scouts of the music business, who discover, develop, and sometimes manage artists. A&R agents seek out and listen to demonstration tapes, or demos, from new artists and decide whom to sign and which songs to record. (Today, demos are typically in digital form.) Naturally, these agents look for artists with commercial potential.

A typical recording session is a complex process that involves the artist, the producer, the session engineer, and audio technicians. In charge of the overall recording process, the producer handles most nontechnical elements of the session, including reserving studio space, hiring session musicians (if necessary), and making final decisions about the sound of the recording. The session engineer oversees the technical aspects of the recording session, everything from choosing recording equipment to managing the audio technicians. Most popular records are recorded part by part. Using separate microphones, the vocalists, guitarists, drummers, and so on, are digitally recorded onto separate audio tracks, which are edited and remixed during postproduction and ultimately mixed down to a two-track stereo master copy for digital reproduction.


Latin Pop Goes Mainstream

“Despacito” ruled the summer in 2017, but its record-making run and groundbreaking contributions will last for years to come.

For sixteen weeks, the Spanish-language song by artists Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee was the No. 1 song in the United States, and it spent thirty-five weeks at No. 1 on the Hot Latin Songs charts. A remix with Justin Bieber helped popularize the song even further with English-speaking audiences. “Despacito” is the first Spanish-language song to hit No. 1 on the music charts since the dance-craze song “Macarena” by Los Del Rio in 1996.

At 2.7 million downloads, it was the year’s most purchased song; with 1.3 billion streams, it was also the year’s most streamed song.1 After the video topped more than 3 billion views by August 2017, it became YouTube’s most popular video. By April 2018, it had accumulated more than 5 billion views, putting the video in its own stratosphere. (Most fans opted for the original; the Bieber remix had 620 million views by April 2018—a huge number, but not close to the all-Spanish-language original.)2

The impact of “Despacito” was felt around the world, where it hit No. 1 in more than forty countries, from Argentina to Ireland, Israel, Russia, and India. The song itself has an international background. It was cowritten by Fonsi (who went to high school in Orlando and studied music at Florida State) and Yankee, both Puerto Ricans, and Erika Ender, a Panamanian-born singer-songwriter. Bieber cowrote the remix, which came out three months after the original release. The music video was shot in the La Perla neighborhood of San Juan, between the rocky coast and the old city walls, and features Fonsi singing, Yankee rapping, and actor and former Miss Universe winner (and Puerto Rico native) Zuleyka Rivera as the object of the singer’s love and desire (despacito means “slowly”).

The sound of “Despacito” emerges from the reggaeton genre—a Latin-Caribbean music style that combines elements of dance hall with hip-hop. The genre is popular in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean and now—with the success of “Despacito”—around the world.

“Despacito” is part of a bigger story of how Latin music has gone mainstream. Billboard magazine, the music industry’s top business publication, reported that in 2015, only three Spanish-language songs made it onto the Hot 100 chart. In 2016, just four made it. In 2017, with “Despacito” leading the way, nineteen Spanish-language songs made the Hot 100 chart, an unprecedented number.

Billboard argues that American Top-40 radio would never have promoted so many Spanish-language songs. But the now-dominant streaming music format means individual listeners are dramatically remaking what’s popular. “Streaming numbers are a large part of what informs the Hot 100, and it’s no secret that the global clout of platforms like Spotify and YouTube has allowed an increasing number of Latin tracks to seep into the upper echelons of streaming charts,” Billboard says.3

Two other factors have also helped popularize Latin pop around the world. First, “thanks to the impact of reggaeton, we suddenly have an avalanche of danceable Latin tracks with a pop feel, and the combination is universally appealing,” Billboard notes.4

Second, mainstream English-language artists have collaborated with Latin artists to make for more crossover success. Beyoncé did a remix of J Balvin and Willy William’s “Mi Gente” to raise money for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and other Caribbean islands, and the song moved high into the Hot 100. After “Despacito,” Luis Fonsi teamed up with Demi Lovato on “Échame La Culpa.” Similarly, Cardi B is featured on Ozuna’s “A Modelo.”

The trend of more Spanish-language songs in the Hot 100 continued into 2018. Americans and the rest of the world may have heard about Shakira and Enrique Iglesias, but based on streaming success, they may be soon be hearing more about other Latin music stars, including Ozuna, Nicky Jam, Romeo Santos, Maluma, and Wisin.

Selling the Music

Streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, and Amazon are the leading revenue generators in the music industry today and account for 65 percent of the U.S. music business.26 As recently as 2011, physical recordings (CDs and some vinyl) accounted for about 50 percent of U.S. music sales, but CD sales continue to decline and now constitute about 12 percent of the U.S. market. In some countries, however—such as Japan and Germany—CDs retain a much larger market share. Vinyl album sales have carved out a successful niche as a classic format in the United States, accounting for about 4.5 percent of industry revenues. Digital downloads of singles and albums are about 15 percent of the market, down from the days in the early years of the century, when the iTunes store was the dominant seller of music.

Dividing the Profits

The digital upheaval in the music industry has shaken up the once-predictable sale of music through CDs or digital downloads. Now there are multiple digital venues for selling music and an equally large number of methods for dividing the profits.

With streaming as the leading music distribution format, figuring out what counts as a “sale” of a song or an album is important. The music industry developed an equivalency standard, with 1,500 song streams from an album equal to one album sale, and 150 song streams equal to the sale of a single.27 The way in which songs are counted in music streaming is similar, but compensation can vary widely, depending on the streaming service. For example, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reports that Apple Music pays artists $12.50 per 1,000 streams, whereas Spotify pays $7.50 for the same number of streams. YouTube, which streams more music than any other service, pays only $1 per 1,000 streams.28 This does not sit well with the music industry, which accuses YouTube of “exploiting legal loopholes and shortchanging artists of their fair share.”29

For CDs, profits get divided more transparently. Let’s take the example of a CD that retails at $17.98. The wholesale price for that CD is about $12.50, leaving the remainder as retail profit. Discount retailers like Walmart and Best Buy sell closer to the wholesale price to lure customers to buy other things (even if they make less profit on the CD itself). The wholesale price represents the actual cost of producing and promoting the recording, plus the music label’s profits. The music label reaps the highest revenue (close to $9.74 on a typical CD) but, along with the artist, bears the bulk of the expenses: manufacturing costs, packaging and CD design, advertising and promotion, and artists’ royalties (see Figure 4.3).



Data from: Cary Sherman, “2016: A Year of Progress for Music,” Medium, March 30, 2017, 


; and Steve Knopper, “The New Economics of the Music Industry,” Rolling Stone, October 25, 2011, 




Alternative Strategies for Music Marketing

This video explores the strategies independent artists and marketers now employ to reach audiences.


Even with the ability to bypass major record companies, many of the most popular artists still sign with those companies. Why do you think that is?

New artists typically negotiate a royalty rate of between 8 and 12 percent on the retail price of a CD, while more established performers might negotiate for 15 percent or higher. An artist who has negotiated an 11 percent royalty rate would earn about $1.93 for each CD with a suggested retail price of $17.98. Therefore, a CD that “goes gold”—that is, sells 500,000 units—would net the artist around $965,000. But out of this amount, artists must repay the record company the money they have been advanced (from $100,000 to $500,000). The financial payout is more certain for the songwriter/publisher, who makes a standard mechanical royalty rate of about 9.1 cents per song, or 91 cents for a ten-song CD, without having to bear any production or promotional costs.

The profits are divided somewhat differently in digital download sales. A $1.29 iTunes download generates about $0.40 for Apple (it gets 30% of every song sale) and the standard $0.09 mechanical royalty for the song publisher and writer, leaving about $0.60 for the record company. Artists at a typical royalty rate of about 15 percent would get $0.20 from the song download. With no CD printing and packaging costs, record companies can retain more of the revenue on download sales.


The Music Industry’s Day of Reckoning

What will the Grammys look like in the future? The 2018 Grammy Awards amounted to a day of reckoning for the music industry. In a year that had so many women writing, performing, and contributing to an astonishing number of standout songs and records, the spotlight should have been shining on these women. But it was not. In fact, this became the main narrative after the 2018 Grammys: the lack of women in the music industry.

First, there was the miniscule number of women awarded Grammys during the award ceremony itself: Alessia Cara won for best new artist, and Rihanna won as a featured artist (not in a solo capacity) on Kendrick Lamar’s song “Loyalty.” And that was it for the major awards—most women were shut out. In the best pop solo performance category, in which most of the nominees were women—Pink, Kesha, Lady Gaga, and Kelly Clarkson—the award went to Ed Sheeran (who wasn’t even there to pick up his award). SZA was nominated in five categories but did not win a single Grammy. Cara was the only woman to accept a televised award.

Beyond the awards themselves, women were cut out of the program’s onstage performances. Every male Album of the Year nominee—Bruno Mars, Childish Gambino, Jay-Z, and Kendrick Lamar—was granted a solo performance during the show. Lorde, the only female nominee, was only invited to perform as part of an ensemble to honor Tom Petty (in other words, she sang Tom Petty’s music).

The Grammy Awards ceremony did acknowledge the #MeToo movement with a performance by Kesha. She had been in a five-year battle with her producer, who she alleged sexually harassed and assaulted her. Kesha sang “Praying,” her acclaimed comeback single, live with Camila Cabello, Cyndi Lauper, Julia Michaels, Bebe Rexha, and Andra Day. Despite that moment of personal triumph, another story emerged in the days following the Grammys, centered around the music industry’s dominant male power structure, the need for change, and women in the industry who have had enough:

· The hashtag #GrammysSoMale appeared, inspired by the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag created in the wake of criticism following the 2016 Academy Awards.

· Former Sony Music employee Tristan Coopersmith revealed in an open letter that her former boss, music industry executive Charlie Walk, had sexually abused her and even cornered her in his bedroom, pushing her down on the bed. Other women wrote in with tales of Walk’s sexual lewdness, prompting Walk to resign.1

· A coalition of female music executives demanded that the president of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow, resign over comments he made immediately after the awards. When asked by reporters about the paucity of women nominations and awardees, Portnow told them that women needed to “step up,” suggesting they weren’t working hard or weren’t talented enough. Pink was one of many women in the recording industry who was enraged by Portnow’s comment. She tweeted an image she wrote on a whiteboard the next day:

PINK’S WHITEBOARD message in response to the Recording Academy president Neil Portnow’s suggestion for women in music to “step up.” Four months later, Portnow announced he would step down from his position in July 2019.

WOMEN IN MUSIC don’t need to “step up”—Women have been stepping since the beginning of time. Stepping up, and also stepping aside. Women OWNED music this year. They’ve been KILLING IT. And every year before this. When we celebrate and honor the talent and accomplishments of women, and how much women STEP UP every year, against all odds, we show the next generation of women and girls and boys and men what it means to be equal, and what it looks like to be fair.

Music critic Ann Powers added, “Women need to step up? Maybe Neil Portnow needs to step down” (he has been in his post since 2002).2 Iggy Azalea floated the idea of a boycott of next year’s Grammys, telling women to consider “stay[ing] at home in PJs.”

In fact, the music industry does even worse than Hollywood in terms of gender equality. A study released by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California found that of the 899 Grammy nominees in the last six years, only 9 percent were women. The report also analyzed top Billboard songs from 2012 to 2017 and found that women made up only 12 percent of songwriters and a mere 2 percent of producers.

The Grammys has previously dealt with criticisms related to issues of racial diversity. The institution did not recognize rap until 1989 (a decade too late), and even then did not televise the best rap category, leading to boycotts by the world’s leading rap artists. Beyoncé lost Album of the Year three times: to Taylor Swift in 2010, to Beck in 2014, and to Adele in 2017. And black artists were collectively enraged as hip-hop artists Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (who are white) swept the rap and new artist categories (overlooking Kendrick Lamar) in 2014. At the same time, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study found that of the 1,239 performing artists analyzed, 42 percent were from minority groups—a significantly better statistic than the gender breakdown.3

As Annenberg Inclusion [email protected] posted on Twitter the day after the 2018 Grammy Awards (and Neil Portnow’s ill-conceived comment): “Instead of asking women to ‘step` up,’ what about asking about the systemic obstacles they face when trying to achieve sustainable careers in the music business? (And then, of course, ask the entire industry to take steps to demolish those barriers.)”4

KISHI BASHI is the stage name of singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Kaoru Ishibashi. A member of several indie bands—including Jupiter One and Of Montreal—Ishibashi has performed at major festivals, including SXSW and Austin City Limits. His original songs have been licensed in major commercials for Microsoft, Sony, and Smart USA.

Songs streamed on Internet radio, like Pandora, Slacker, or iHeartRadio, and satellite radio follow yet another formula for determining royalties. In 2003, the nonprofit group SoundExchange was established to collect royalties for Internet radio. SoundExchange charges fees of $0.0022 per stream for subscription (premium) services, and $0.0017 per stream for nonsubscription (free) services. Large Internet radio stations can pay up to 25 percent of their gross revenue (less for smaller Internet radio stations and a small flat fee for streaming nonprofit stations). About 50 percent of the fees go to the music label, 45 percent go to the featured artists, and 5 percent go to nonfeatured artists.

Alternative Voices

A vast network of independent (indie) labels, distributors, stores, publications, and Internet sites devoted to music outside the major label system has existed since the early days of rock and roll. The indie industry nonetheless continues to thrive, providing music fans access to all styles of music, including some of the world’s most respected artists.

Independent labels have become even more viable by using the Internet as a low-cost distribution and promotional outlet for downloads, streaming, and merchandise sales, as well as for fan discussion groups, regular e-mail updates of tour schedules, and promotion of new releases. Consequently, bands that in previous years would have signed to a major label have found another path to success in the independent music industry, with labels like Merge Records (Arcade Fire, She & Him, the Mountain Goats), Matador (Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, Pavement), 4AD (the National, Bon Iver), and Epitaph (Bad Religion, Alkaline Trio, Frank Turner). Unlike artists on major labels who need to sell 500,000 copies or more to recoup expenses and make a profit, indie artists “can turn a profit after selling roughly 25,000 copies of an album.”30 One of the challenges of being an independent, unsigned artist is figuring out how to sell one’s music on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Google Play, Tidal, Amazon, YouTube, and other digital music services. TuneCore and CD Baby are two of the leading companies that have emerged to fulfill that need. For a fee, the companies will distribute recordings to online music services and then collect royalties for the artist (charging an additional percentage for recovered royalty fees).

Some established rock acts, like Radiohead, Macklemore, Nine Inch Nails, and Amanda Palmer, are taking another approach to their business model, shunning major labels and indies and using the Internet to directly reach their fans. By selling music on their own websites or selling CDs at live concerts, music acts generally do better, cutting out the retailer and keeping more of the revenue themselves. Artists and bands can also build online communities around their websites, listing shows, news, tours, photos, and downloadable songs. Social networking sites are another place for fans and music artists to connect. Myspace was one of the first dominant sites, but as a place to discover new music, it has been eclipsed by a number of music websites, such as Hype Machine and SoundCloud, as well as by video sites, including YouTube and Vevo.


From sound recording’s earliest stages as a mass medium, when the music industry began stamping out flat records, to the breakthrough of MP3s and Internet-based music services, fans have been sharing music and pushing culture in unpredictable directions. The battle over pop music’s controversial aspects speaks to the heart of democratic expression. Nevertheless, pop—like other art forms—also has a history of reproducing old stereotypes: limiting women’s access as performers, fostering racist or homophobic attitudes, and celebrating violence and misogyny.

Popular musical forms that test cultural boundaries face a dilemma: how to uphold a legacy of free expression while resisting giant companies bent on consolidating independents and maximizing profits. Since the 1950s, forms of rock music have been in a recurring pattern of breaking boundaries, becoming commercial, then reemerging as rebellious. The congressional payola hearings of 1959 and the Senate hearings of the mid-1980s, triggered by Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center (which led to music advisory labels), are just two of the many attempts to rein in popular music, whereas the infamous antics of performers from Elvis Presley onward, the blunt lyrics of rock and roll and rap artists, and the independent paths of the many garage and cult bands from the early rock-and-roll era through the present are among the things that pushed popular music’s boundaries.

Still, this dynamic between popular music’s clever innovations and capitalism’s voracious appetite is crucial to sound recording’s evolution and mass appeal. Ironically, successful commerce requires periodic infusions of the diverse sounds that come from ethnic communities, backyard garages, dance parties, and neighborhood clubs. No matter how it is produced and distributed, popular music endures because it speaks to both individual and universal themes, from a teenager’s first romantic adventure to a nation’s outrage over social injustice. Music often reflects the personal or political anxieties of a society. It also breaks down artificial or hurtful barriers better than many government programs do. Despite its tribulations, music at its best continues to champion a democratic spirit. Writer and free-speech advocate Nat Hentoff addressed this issue in the 1970s when he wrote, “Popular music always speaks, among other things, of dreams—which change with the times.”31 The recording industry continues to capitalize on and spread those dreams globally, but in each generation, musicians and their fans keep imagining new ones.

Chapter 4 Review


One of the Common Threads discussed in 
Chapter 1
 is the developmental stages of mass media. But as new audio and sound recording technologies evolve, do they drive the kind of music we hear?

In the recent history of the music industry, it would seem as if technology has been the driving force behind the kind of music we hear. Case in point: The advent of the MP3 file as a new format in 1999 led to a new emphasis on single songs as the primary unit of music sales. In the past decade, we have come to live in a music business dominated by digital singles and streams.

What have we gained by this transition? Thankfully, there are fewer CD jewel boxes (which always shattered with the greatest of ease). And there is no requirement to buy the lackluster “filler” songs that often come with the price of an album, when all we really want are the two or three hit songs. But what have we lost culturally in the transition away from albums?

First, there is no physical album art for digital singles (although department stores now sell frames to turn vintage 12-inch album covers into art). And second, we have lost the concept of an album as a thematic collection of music and a medium that provides a much broader canvas to a talented musical artist. Consider this: How would the Beatles’ White Album have been created in a business dominated by singles? A look at Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums and Time magazine’s All-Time 100 Albums indicates the apex of album creativity in earlier decades, with such selections as Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced (1967), the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust (1972), Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988), and Radiohead’s OK Computer (1997). Has the movement away from albums changed possibilities for musical artists? That is, if an artist wants to be commercially successful, is there more pressure to generate hit singles rather than larger bodies of work that constitute an album? Have the styles of artists like Kesha, Nicki Minaj, OneRepublic, and Ed Sheeran been shaped by the predominance of the single?

Still, there is a clear case against technological determinism—the idea that technological innovations determine the direction of the culture. Back in the 1950s, the vinyl album caught on despite its newness—and despite the popularity of its competition: the 45-rpm single format. When the MP3 single format emerged in the late 1990s, the music industry had just rolled out two formats of album discs that were technological improvements on the CD. Neither caught on. Of course, music fans may have been lured both by the ease of acquiring music digitally via the Internet and by the price—usually free (but illegal).

Yet we may be seeing a revival of the idea of the concept album. Beyoncé’s Lemonade (2016), Jay-Z’s 4:44 (2017), and Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN (2017) have all been critically acclaimed as cohesive works of art. Can you think of any other albums of the past few years that merit being listed among the greatest albums of all time?


The definitions for the terms listed below can be found in the glossary at the end of the book. The page numbers listed with the terms indicate where the term is highlighted in the chapter.

· audiotape

· stereo

· analog recording

· digital recording

· compact discs (CDs)

· MP3

· pop music

· jazz

· cover music

· rock and roll

· blues

· rhythm and blues (R&B)

· rockabilly

· soul

· folk music

· folk-rock

· punk rock

· grunge

· hip-hop

· gangster rap

· oligopoly

· indies

· A&R (artist & repertoire) agents

For review quizzes, chapter summaries, links to media-related websites, and more, go to launchpadworks.com.


The Development of Sound Recording

1. The technological configuration of a particular medium sometimes elevates it to mass market status. Why did Emile Berliner’s flat disk replace the wax cylinder, and why did this reconfiguration of records matter in the history of mass media? Can you think of other mass media examples in which the size and shape of the technology have made a difference?

2. How did the music industry attempt to curb illegal downloading and file-sharing?

3. How did sound recording survive the advent of radio?

U.S. Popular Music and the Formation of Rock

4. How did rock and roll significantly influence two mass media industries?

5. Although many rock-and-roll lyrics from the 1950s are tame by today’s standards, this new musical development represented a threat to many parents and adults at the time. Why?

6. What moral and cultural boundaries were blurred by rock and roll in the 1950s?

7. Why did cover music figure so prominently in the development of rock and roll and the record industry in the 1950s?

A Changing Industry: Reformations in Popular Music

8. Explain the British invasion. What was its impact on the recording industry?

9. What were the major influences of folk music on the recording industry?

10. Why did punk rock and hip-hop emerge as significant musical forms in the late 1970s and 1980s? What do their developments have in common, and how are they different?

11. Why does pop music continue to remain powerful today?

The Business of Sound Recording

12. What companies control the bulk of worldwide music production and distribution?

13. Why have independent labels grown to have a significantly larger market share in the 2010s?

14. Which major parties receive profits when a digital download, music stream, or physical CD is sold?

15. How is a mechanical royalty different from a performance royalty?

Sound Recording, Free Expression, and Democracy

16. Why is it ironic that so many forms of alternative music become commercially successful?


1. If you ran a noncommercial campus radio station, what kind of music would you play, and why?

2. Think about the role of the 1960s drug culture in rock’s history. How are drugs and alcohol treated in contemporary and alternative forms of rock and hip-hop today?

3. Is it healthy for or detrimental to the music business that so much of the recording industry is controlled by just a few large international companies? Explain.

4. Do you think the Internet as a technology helps or hurts musical artists? Why do so many contemporary musical performers differ in their opinions about the Internet?

5. Consider the platforms through which you most often listen to recorded music (and live music, too). Which of these modes delivers the most money to the artists you enjoy? Which of these modes results in little or no compensation for the artists? How should these modes be fixed to support musical artists?


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