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Music, Culture and Value of Music in a Digital Future

Info: 5424 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 12th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Cultural StudiesMusicTechnology

The uses of Music, Culture and the value of ‘free’ Music In a Digital future

“We’ve lost a whole generation of kids, who grew up downloading free music from the web and cannot fathom paying for it”


The past ten years have witnessed an enormous growth of musicology within the music and entertainment industry with questions concerning musical meaning and the extent to which it’s informed by cultural experience and socially derived knowledge. Groundbreaking developments are increasingly encouraging the demand for new products and platforms from consumer markets that have grown up downloading music knowing no better than to find their entertainment through the internet with the illusion that it is free.

This dissertation looks at the early forms and purposes of music up to present day, factors threatening the music industry and what has affected it over recent years. The increased use of the internet, cheap software equipment and other technological art forms, have changed the way we sell, listen to and buy new music. I want to investigate what effects will this have on the industry in the future and what does this mean for artists and the way music is created and valued.


Introduction will contextualise the central theme and notion of the work and describe my motivation and intensions.

I will focus the introduction on the chapters individually.

‘The industry has been hanging off the edge for some time’

(McQuinvey, J. Date. P.).

Chapter 1 – Talk about the development of technological devices related to new formats, and the main purposes of music up until today.

Chapter 2 – Talk about the technological developments which have an effect on the way we buy and listen to music. New devices and gadgets are demanding newer ways to attain music and how we consume new music.

Chapter 3 – Talk a little about the different types of people using and making music, how this is affecting record labels and what will happen in the future.

As the development and discovery of technology grows and grows from early dates to present day, enabling more and more possiblilities….

Cultures and social activities are affected by radical technological change…….

‘One of the primary proponents of this categorization was William. F. Ogburn. He argued that in most cases it is the sequence of technology that causes social change’

Over the past however many years, digital downloads have been fought against buy, major labels, causing decades of copyright and pirate copying of music films and entertainment mediums. 2005 onwards…

Today in 2008 the subject of digital downloading and the internet is being redefined and recognised by the major record labels hoping to create a future with easy access to new music quickly and cheaply. Starting new web sites for downloads etc. People want faster choices and ways to attain their entertainment.

The fast changing cultures within society

Growth of music technology

Internet sites- Amazon competing with major companies to sell a wider range of products as more and more people are buying online instead of using high street shops and other retailers.

Modes and categories inherited from the past no longer seem to fit today’s reality, experienced by a new generation.

Chapter 1 – (Progression of early forms of music, formats and purposes)

For centuries music has been the biggest form of entertainment within households, pubs, clubs and events ever since the recording of sound, but since the early days of music the purposes and the means to consume music has grown considerably up to the 20th century forcing formats, technology and the music industry to change with time. This chapter will outline the progression of technology associated with music and its means of use in relation to new entertainment.

When ‘Bartolomeo Cristofori’ became the inventor of the piano, identified as a stringed keyboard instrument with mechanically operated rebounding hammers, Cristofori’s invention became a success and around 1922, a survey was carried out which shows that the piano was the most popular instrument used in over 25% of the average household. Along with many other musical instruments dated before and after the piano, instruments were used for enjoyment and entertainment and at times for families and friends who would gather together to play and sing songs on special occasions.

When the very first phonograph was introduced by Thomas Edison around 1878 and the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company was established. The phonograph would be treated in the same way as a piano or organ as families would again sit around and listen to records or family stories within the home but Edison realised the opportunities he had created with his invention. Edison’s invention enabled the possibilities of using the phonograph to perhaps dictate a letter, dictate books for the blind, make family recordings of their voices, music boxes and toys, clocks that announce the time, and a connection with the telephone company to record conversations.

In 1857 Frenchman, Leon Scott de Martinville was the first to have invented his documented phonoautograph machine which was able to record sound waves but only created a visual analogue of the waves, until around 20 years later when Thomas Edison allowed two innovators to re-develop the later phonograph which became the gramophone. The gramophone used disk shaped materials to record onto which produced better recording quality and a longer playback time. American inventor Emile Berliner then created a process which allowed the sound tracing to be etched side-to-side in a spiral onto a zinc disk, this master would then be electroplated to create a negative which would then be used to stamp duplicate copies onto vulcanized rubber (and later shellac), a process which would change the means of music forever, a process now known as the mass reproduction of musical entertainment.

The process to record, duplicate and play back music opened endless forms of entertainment and the industry were set to take the world by storm, selling records and making profits to consumers. The gramophone quickly outsold and overtook the phonograph and by the end of World War 1 the disc had become the dominant commercial recording format. A technological development which has had a major impact on music in this century is sound recording.

Over the past seventy years the concert audience has been transformed from musical amateurs to a large number of potential buyers. The birth of sound recording started as a mechanical process, and with the exception of the Telegraphone in 1899 this process remained until the 1920s when a group of groundbreaking inventions in the field of electronics revolutionized sound recording and the young recording industry. Sound transducers were introduced such as microphones and loudspeakers and a few various electronic devices were made for the purpose of amplification and modifications of early electrical sound signals resulting in the mixing desk. Inevitably, over time all these components and inventions have had an affect on the way musician’s record music, the uses of music and the growing demands of the music consumers to attain music.

These electronic inventions created the means for growth and development within the music industry opening a wide range of possibilities for the recording process. Although many inventions and ideas were yet to be discovered, early music and its uses had progressed from a means of confined entertainment within the household to a possible, world wide product with which Emile Berliner’s early duplication process played a large part when it came to distribution and portability of recorded music. As time passed, increasingly people were able to buy recorded music which would be played on a gramophone wherever it may be.

Emile Berliner realized the market wanted a range of music which can be bought, stored and played at any given point, the money earning potential would be high and with the importance of his discoveries, decided to start ‘his very own’ brand of recorded music which up until today, with the changes and the new strains on the industry has been extremely successful with the famous dog and gramophone design of ‘His Masters Voice’ (HMV). Music was now, not only being used just for enjoyment or purely for entertainment but was now, being recorded, duplicated and distributed to consumers around the world who are able to replay music over and over and enjoy their collections when ever and most importantly where ever.

The next major progression concerning music which would increase the needs of high quality equipment was the introduction of descriptive and respective music tracks within film. The years 1920-1928 were known to be the golden age of silent movies. Early movies were accompanied by music scores containing pieces usually played by an organist, pianist or an orchestra depending on the class of the theatre. Sound tracks however were introduced to cinema audiences around 1926-1927 even though technology to add sound to film was discovered in 1911 it took another 15 years or so to be introduced and implemented into movie productions.

The use of music within film during this particular period was predominantly used to raise the attraction of early movie productions which would change forever after the opening of Pandora’s Box in 1927 and the increase of technical achievements which led Al-Jolson to ad-lib a few spoken words in ‘The Jazz Singer’.

Recorded music for films then after became extremely successful within the movie industry and over the next few years Warner Bros. took control of this area (now a multi-billion pound industry) by producing ten all-talking films with accompanied sound tracks and scores leaving the silent movies on the shelf. This production process increasingly outlined the importance of having good quality sound systems to playback the music and sounds on film. Music will always essentially be a huge form of entertainment in many ways but now different music was being used for more reasons than originally supposed.

With the on going growth of equipment and technology music became a money making product after the discovery of sound recording, music began to be used to compliment or help describe a visual performance rather than being an individual form of entertainment, it was now coinciding with other art forms and was boosting the popularity and profits of associated productions. With the discovery of magnetic media music will be promoted on a mass worldwide scale and allow the public and potential music buyers to listen to broadcasts over the air.

The first radio broadcast which involved music was said to be in 1906 at Brant Rock MA, when Fessenden played his violin, sang a song and read a few verses from a bible into his wireless telephone on Christmas Eve 1906. It was classed as a broadcast because it was designed for more than one listener and was pre-announced rather than a one to one conversation. 1920 saw the first licensed radio broadcast, as Frank Conrad’s company was asked to go on air on a regular basis to send out music to the listeners and would sell radios to pay for the service.

Radios were advertised in local newspapers to households and within a few years there were hundreds of stations entertaining thousands of people who had bought or built their own receivers. It was no longer, that an audience had to sit in their own home and manually operate a gramophone, no need to necessarily buy records from HMV and will no longer need to worry about play back time of records as the public could listen to the radio everyday, and tune in to their favorite radio stations free of charge.

Growing factors underlined the importance of good quality equipment to further the success of music and the portability of music, which led to new discoveries of early formats and storage devices such as magnetic tape machines, cassettes tapes/players to audio cd’s. After the rubber and shellac records, which were the primary recording medium at the time, a new means for recording came about in 1934/35 when Joseph Begun of Germany built the first magnetic tape machine which was used for mobile radio broadcasting before creating the first consumer tape recorder which provided the ‘3M Company’ with a billion dollar industry.

Magnetic tape machines became very popular storage and recording devices in radio stations and recording studios as they offer higher quality recording and longer continuous playback of recorded material, the most beneficial aspect of the invention of tape was its portability. Eventually two track tape machines were introduced which extended recording possibilities within the studio but magnetic tape was never used commercially by consumers until the release of the first compact audio-cassette tape in 1963 by The Phillips Company of the Netherlands.

With a cheap and easy recording medium such as the cassette tape combined with a cassette tape player, It could be argued that this sparked the ever destructive and ongoing battle of music piracy. Taperecorders/players were sold with built in radios as standard and by the touch of a button it was possible torecord sounds and music straight from the radio. After Phillips had patented the cassette tape in 1965 and decided to make it free of charge all over the world, companies then started to design new portable recorders and players to compliment the compact size of the cassette tape. One of the popular models of tape players was the Sony Pressman which was a monaural tape recorder released in 1977. The next year in 1978 Sony founder and chief advisor Masaru Ibuka requested the general manger of the Tape Recorder Business Division to start work on a stereo based model of the earlier Sony Pressman which birthed the Sony TPS-L2 headphone stereo Walkman in 1979 that would completely change the way consumers listen to music.

“They’ll take it everywhere with them, and they won’t care about record functions. If we put a playback-only headphone stereo like this on the market, it’ll be a hit.”

What made the Sony Walkman such a big hit was the portability that it was offering to its consumers. Ever since the invention of the piano/organ, phonograph, gramophone, record players, wireless recorders and receivers, although, all mediums allowed the consumer to listen to music in various ways, none of which actually enabled the listener to become portable, ‘on the move’ to be able to listen to their material literally wherever they wanted. Recording and listening to music from this point onwards almost became a hobby for a generation of people who would listen to the radio to try and catch their favourite song to record to tape, allowing them to repeatedly replay the material and start a collection of stored music.

Many types of storage formats have been introduced by this point but very few which are truly beneficial to the storage and quality of music mediums. After the magnetic media such as: wire, core memory, drum, card, tape, disk and OM disk came many floppy disk formats which played a great part in early computing storage formats. Different versions of optical mediums were introduced ‘optic data disk’ coming before Sony proposed a standard for the compact disk (CD) in 1980 but was followed by formats such as: DVD, HD-DVD, holographic, Blu-ray DVD and developments with OM disks.

The introduction of optical mediums saw Sony’s standard CD to hit the very top in high quality recording and storage mediums. CD-R’s are a ‘write once, read many’ optical medium (WORM) which is a recordable version of the CD and holds a high level of compatibility with standard CD readers unlike CD-RW’s which can be overwritten many times but has a lower compatibility level with CD readers and the disks are slightly more expensive. CD’s became the most popular medium of music and data storage due to its capacity and ease of recording but there is one flaw in its design as after a life span of around 2 years it’s possible for the CD’s data to degrade with time showing a coloured dye as a result. CD’s hold a standard capacity of 700Mb where as the introduction of DVD’s upped the capacity to 4.1 GB but was mostly associated with movies projects which contain much larger files. CD’s are still the highest quality recording/storage medium to attain or store music on outside of a computers hard drive but with newer, smaller compressed formats such as MP3 on the market the option of buying a CD compared to a smaller and cheaper alternative looks bleak with time, so we see the CD taking a backseat to let newer recording and storage devices into the scene.

Chapter 2 – (A demanding society)

In today’s society where consumers are demanding faster, cheaper and easier methods of gaining entertainment, they also demand a new outlook towards devices, gadgets and components with which to view or listen to their product. This chapter underlines the changes of which new technology has an effect, they way society and subcultures are shaped by technology and how technology is forced to develop and become more advanced to meet the needs and perceptions of its consumers.

In recent years the ‘compact disk’ has ended the forty year reign of the twelve inch LP, with which came consequences for production, distribution and marketing, and in turn disks and tapes have been threatened by technologies which can deliver high quality sound via cable direct to potential consumers, eliminating the need for the already established pattern of product marketing and distribution.

Although the invention of the phonograph and gramophones were considered important aspects in creating the a mass market for music and entertainment, “the record industry has been shaped by the need to cope with its volatile market so its established practices and institutions have been constantly undermined by technological innovations which not only offer new and better ways of doing things but, as we shall see, have generally had the effect of increasing the consumers choice at the expense of the industries ability to control its market”.

(Scott, D. Martin, P. 1995 p.209)

There are many important connections between technology, musical characteristics and social groups, and as it may be argued that the fundamental coordinates of a musical form are not determined by its social base, but each social group or subculture corresponds to certain acceptable genres. During the 1970’s and 1980’s the idea that the characteristics of a musical form could give life or influence to the social reality of a culture became more and more popular with incorporated sociological categories such as class, ethnicity and importantly age.

“In 1987 John Shepard extended this type of analysis to gender, arguing that different voice types or timbres in popular music gave expression to different kinds of gender identities”.

(Clayton, M. Herbert, T. Middleton, R. 2003, p. 7, p. 14)

The 1990’s saw different factors concerning the cultural study of music and the analytical evidence with particular social categories such as, class, ethnicity, age, subculture and counterculture. This had been replaced with a more embracing and persistent concern with social identity. With the concept of youth culture, it’s assumed that teenagers share similar leisure interests and pursuits and were involved in some kind of revolt against their parents and elders.

The arrival of youth culture is said to be linked with the growth and increased incomes of early working class youths which allowed greater spending power and the means to express their individual interests and styles which caused large markets to develop more interest for the youth culture, most notably resulting in music and fashion. It’s with particular music styles, genres and clothing styles and labels that predominantly place our identities within a culture or subculture, which technology helps shape and create aspirations in a similar way.

“Teenage culture is a contradictory mixture of the authentic and the manufactured: it is an area of self-expression for the young and a lush grazing ground for the commercial providers”.

(Hall, S. Whannel, P. 1964, p.????)

“The compressed file format known as MP3 is at the centre of debate towards file-sharing and digital downloading and is thought to be downgrading towards the level of audible quality in music. Yet the mp3 is also a cultural artefact, apsychoacoustic technology that literally playsits listeners. Being a container technology type for recorded sound, the mp3 proves that the quality of ‘portability’ is central to the history of auditory representation and shows that digital audio culture works according to logics somewhat dissimilar from digital visual culture”.

(Jonathan Sterne, 2006. New Media and Society, Vol. 8, No. 5, 825-842 DOI: 10.1177/1461444806067737)

Today’s young generation aren’t so aware of the historical factors and important issues which lead to the advances, demands and uses of audible quality music but more so, on the social aspects of consumption, portability and quantity of music.

A spokes person for the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand, Terrance O’Neill-Joyce, argues that:

“The problem is not with the actual technology of MP3, which he believes is being effectively used by many music producers, but rather the ineffective means of securing remuneration for artists. It’s a case of technology outstripping legislation and a lack of proper commercial framework being established as of yet”

(Shuker. 2001 p. 65)

MP3 is a technology encoding, recorded sound, so that it takes up less storage space than it would otherwise. The size of an MP3 file makes it practical to transfer high –quality music files over the internet and store them on a computers hard drive, where as CD quality tracks take longer to download and transfer. The MP3 file has become very popular as a way to distribute and access music even though there has been enormous debate over the economic and cultural implications of this new technology.

For the typical music consumer the MP3 file is considered a blessing as anyone can access a wide range and varieties of music mostly for free as well as having the option to compile their own albums of single tracks from their favorite artists without having to acquire the whole album itself. For artists and producers the MP3 allows them to distribute their music possibly to a world wide audience without tackling the political processes and mediation of the music industry. For mainstream artists on major record labels the MP3 raises concerns of profit loss from consumers due to illegal downloads which are free of charge and easy to attain. On the other hand for strictly internet distributed music producers and publishers the MP3 opens up many opportunities for smaller, more innovative labels and companies. (Shuker. 2001, Pg 65)

Each new medium of technology, communication or entertainment that’s introduced to a mainstream audience creates drastic changes towards the way in which we experience music, this also has implications for how we relate to and consume music. The changes and advances in technological recording equipment open, both constraints and opportunities relating to the organisation process and production of music, while the developments within musical instrumentation allow the emergence of ‘new sounds’.

Most important of all, each new recording format or device used for transmission inevitably alters the previously established process of music production and consumption; they also raise questions about authorship and the legal status of music as a property and the ongoing battle with piracy and profit loss.

Napster software was introduced in 1999, designed as a search engine, communication portal and file-sharing software that facilitated the sharing process by granting users access to all other Napster and the mp3 files they choose to share. Within a few months, transfers of music files using Napster reached millions per day, and at its peak, it was estimated that as many as sixty million people were using the site.

“Whereas Napster requires users to first log onto a central server to access other users MP3 files, these newer networks allow direct user-to-user (P2P) connections involving multiple file types. These innovations expand the universe of file sharing activity and make it virtually impossibly to track users of the files they choose to share”

(Garofalo, 2003 cited in Shuker, 2008 pg, 23)

Digital distribution continuously threatened the music business and the control of music by the record companies. This method also lowers manufacturing and distribution costs while putting pressure on marketing and other aspects of the process. With the industry failing to stop illegal downloads and P2P (peer-to-peer) distribution of recorded music over the last five years, record labels have finally decided to adapt their business to suit the way its consumers get hold on their music.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that albums and artists are making very little or no money in the music industry because of the lack of physical CD sales as the majority of money spent during the traditional production process goes towards many aspects such as the production, promotion, duplication and distribution of a product. Mainly within the music business P2P technologies are a positive means for consumers and creative artists because all costs of production, promotion, marketing and distribution are dramatically lowered.

These new technologies and approaches to digital distribution means old and new artists are able to earn more profits through selling singles and albums through P2P networks as the production process costs a fraction of the album or single. Because they can charge less they earn and sell more which means more artists will benefit financially and the industries broad range of music will receive a wider market to distribute to.

“It is easy to see that we are living in a time of rapid and radical social change, it is much less easy to come to terms with the fact that such change will, without doubt, affect the nature of those academic disciplines that both reflect our society and help to shape it”

(Hawkes. 2003. p.7)

The growing concern with the music industry today is focused heavily on the affects of digital downloads and the fall of physical album/record sales sold in high street music shops and online stores. The debate continues as sales in the US as well as the UK have fallen due to a number of factors involving the growth of technology and the way we consume our entertainment.

According to recent industry researchers, figures show that today’s music industry (UK), has suffered a drop of up to 11% of record sales in 2007, but download sales boosted the singles market by nearly 30% last year as single sales increased from 67m in 2006 to 86.6m in 2007, up 29.3%. Despite there being best-selling albums from artists like Amy Winehouse and Leona Lewis, only 138.1 million albums were sold in 2007, compared with 154.7 million in 2006.

Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black was the most popular album of 2007, with 1.85 million copies sold. Leona Lewis’ debut album Spirit came second, even though it was only released in November. Music industry body the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) put the 10.8% fall down to copyright theft and difficult retail conditions. Having the option of album unbundling is also a problem as consumers are able to select which tracks they want to download from each album, this means albums are not being sold as whole units and says a lot to the artists themselves about what their audience wants.

Music Industry Analyst Michael McGuire of Gartner Research told Agency France-Press news agency:

“It comes back to consumers being in complete control of their media experience”.

Mr McGuire said fans were sending artists a message:

“While you may have put a lot of thought into the sequence of the album, I only like these three songs”.

BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor said:

“The UK market has shown considerable resilience in recent years while global

recorded music markets have declined.”

Recording companies have a major influence on the music we listen to and shape what’s known as popular music within society. The term ‘popular music’ defies a precise straightforward definition and is usually over looked and the understanding of the term is taken for granted. To fully understand the term popular music it’s necessary to address the general field of popular culture within cultural studies. (See: Studying Popular Music Culture, Tim Wall). In this instance I refer the word popular music from the historical term for popular as the ‘ordinary people’, these days the meaning of the term has expanded, ‘all music is popular music’ meaning ‘music that is popular with someone’.

“Young peoples musical activities whatever their cultural background or social position, rest on a substantial and sophisticated body of knowledge about popular music. Most young people have a clear understanding of its different genres, and an ability to hear and place sounds in terms of their histories, influences and sources. Young musicians and audiences have no hesitation about making and justifying judgements of meaning and value”

(Willis. 1990: 59 cited in Shuker. p.98)

The music industry is big business, and international multi-billion dollar enterprise historically centred in the United States with the United Kingdom making a significant artistic contribution to the industry and developing trends as well as the emergence of Japanese media technologies playing a major part in the music industry for its commercial designs of gadgets and devices. Recording companies are the most important part of the music industry and fall into two main groups: ‘the major’ international labels and the smaller ‘independent’ labels who’s structures and operating processes take on a similar role, blurring the distinctions between the two. These differences I will try to evaluate later on in chapter 3.

The major labels are renowned for sourcing young talent, recording, promoting, marketing and distributing his/her music which has a powerful effect on the popular consumer, cultures and subcultures due to the image associated with that particular genre or style of music which is marketed, but its future is usually determined by the listener themselves.

“For after the commercial power of the record companies has been recognised, after the persuasive sirens of the radio acknowledged, after the recommendations of the music press noted, it is finally those who buy the records, dance to the rhythm and live to the beat who demonstrate, despite the determined conditions of its production, the wider potential of pop”

(Chambers, 1985: Introduction cited in Shuker 2001 p.23)

Consumers are becoming less influenced by the major record labels with the help from the internet as consumers have more freedom to discover new genres and styles which are delivered in new ways. Record labels will always have a certain level of influence to its popular markets but now its the customer who decides on what they really like and want to listen to without feeling outside of the ‘popular music’ category.

“I think there are many benefits for a musician not being signed to a label. I’ve seen first hand, from my experience at major labels, where they will sign up and coming artists b

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