Popular Music by Dan Zambas

Popular Music is easily definable as music that is popular. Although this category is generally saved for music that hits the Top 40 charts of its time, it can apply to any genre with a following. Society understands this term as chart music and may be met with some confusion when the claim ‘jazz is popular music’ is made. Musicologist Philip Tagg defined popular music with the following statement:

‘Popular music, unlike art music, is conceived for mass distribution to large and often socioculturally heterogeneous groups of listeners, stored and distributed in non-written form, only possible in an industrial monetary economy where it becomes a commodity and in capitalist societies, subject to the laws of ‘free’ enterprise, according to which it should ideally sell as much as possible of as little as possible to as many as possible’

Popular Music

This essentially shows the idea of popular music being a business and the foundation on which the recording industry is based. This leads to the question; can music which has not been designed for the industry become part of the industry?
The current economic climate in the music industry means that the no risk option is the most attractive and now is not the time to take risks on unproven forms of music. This is explained by Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records;‘Independent labels take nothing and make something out of it. Major labels buy that something, and try to make more out of it.’
As long as valid proof that a style of music has a following, the industry has the power to develop that initial stage into something of a much larger scale. This can be proven by the vastly experimental band ‘The Mars Volta’ who awarded by Rolling Stone Magazine as the best Prog Rock Band of 2008. Their debut album sold over 500,000 copies in the USA and they continue to record and perform.

Without the following generated by their previous incarnation; ‘At the Drive In’ would the industry have received them as well?

Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum auditioned for the hit American TV show ‘American Idol’ twice and both times was turned down. She later went on to be awarded with 5 Grammys. This can only add weight to the fact that the industry is very cautious and that in itself popular music cannot be truly steered, the audience controls the direction.
The industry aims to follow new trends which cover new territory, for example Lady Gaga has become a huge success and her musical style is an amalgamation of previous artists before her. Since her arrival on the music scene it can be surmised that similar styles from different artists have appeared and it’s possible that this is influenced by the industry to attempt to capitalise on the sound that is a trademark of Lady Gaga.
Popular Music can further stimulate the economy of different industries by form of advertising, films and video games. These related industries work alongside Popular Music to benefit both parties and further promote their work. For example, Peter Gabriel is credited for composing the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s film ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ for which Gabriel was awarded a Grammy. Gabriel embraces the film by merging his style with the period instruments and produced a soundtrack not unlike his usual work.

At times an entire franchise can embrace popular music. An example of this would be the James Bond films. These have had theme songs performed by artists such as Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner and Nancy Sinatra. These are so popular that they have become almost as important as the films themselves to its fans.

Within advertising popular music Moby licensed all 18 tracks from his album ‘Play’ to be used for various advertising campaigns, films, TV shows and to non-profit organisations. This sparked a debate questioning his artistic morals. Moby justified his decision by claiming that it was the only way that his music could be heard. This shows that by working with various industries Moby was able to promote himself successfully and the album sold more than 10 million copies.
The way in which music can enter the social consciousness and become ‘Popular Music’ is vast and there is no guarantee of success. The linking and bridging of social capital is evident and by working across industries it further strengthens the potential for a wider audience. The main criticism of these methods will always be artistic integrity and devaluation of their work as a reaction to a business mentality. At the heart of this method is collaboration and in its creative form it is often a very powerful endeavour.