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06 June 2016

Image in the Music Industry

Before I stumbled onto sociology as a junior, I was a music business major. I was (am) a fairly serious musician, but the competitive nature of music performance and pedagogy make majoring in music itself unpalatable. As part of my major requirements, I took Intro to Music Business as a frosh. I remember quite vividly a lesson from the course about how success in the music industry for artists is about image, not ability. It was a tough concept to accept as a naive and idealistic frosh, but now, it strikes me as decidedly sociological. When people consume "music," they are not so much consuming music as they are the identity of the artist(s). My professor, Larry Wacholtz, took the mediocrity of musical ability of many popular recording artists (e.g. Madonna) as irrefutable evidence for this hypothesis. I think that he was generally correct, but I also think things are more complicated than this. Specifically, I think the AgSIT trajectory of a given style of music divides the business involvement with image into two paths:

  1. Passive Exploitation of Artist Image
    One reason I was initially reluctant to accept the idea that music was about image is that I did not generally consume music from artists who were molded into an image. Bands from my formative years (e.g. Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, and Smashing Pumpkins) did what they did, and then were expoited as such by record labels.
  2. Active Cultivation of Artist Image
    The reason that I was convinced that music was about image is that much of the music that I did not generally consume (e.g. modern "country" music and pop music) were very consciously molded into an image that had been predetermined by market research to be profitable. Performers like Trisha Yearwood, Shania Twain, and Katy Perry did what record label executives told them.
I think there's a lot more here to investigate.

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