Global Corporations and "World Music"
In Repeated Takes: A Short History of Recording and its Effects on Music, published by Verso in 1995, Michael Chanan undertakes a history of the recording industry that spans from the Edison's introduction of the tinfoil phonograph in the 1870s through the explosion of compact discs in the 1990s. A companion volume to Chanan's survey of the vaster history of music as a social practice, Musica Practica, here Chanan writes:
I have to tried to trace the connections between the development of recording, changes in the interpretation of classical music, and the rise of new forms of popular music. I relate the growth and development of the industry, both technical and economic; the changing quality of recorded sound and the aesthetics of recording; the effects of the microphone on interpretation and performance in both classical and popular music; and the impact of all these factors on musical styles and tastes.
In the excerpt below, from the book's final chapter, Chanan looks at the economic and aesthetic consequences of the then recent introductions of the cassette tape, the sampler, and the compact disc — and, in particular, their effect on the international record industry and the marketing of "world music" in the Global North.
Reproduction has produced the unhappy effects on musical perception of disembodiment and the destruction of what Walter Benjamin called the traditional aura of the artwork. The record industry has stimulated the formation of an enormous production sector of trite ephemera which damages musical sensibilities, if not our very ears. The musical world, like the cultural ethos that envelops it and to which it makes a major contribution, has been transformed. On the one hand, reproduction makes all music equally worn out and done to death; on the other, with the multiplication of media and the means of replication, the mechanism of the market has itself created a condition in which all music circulates more and more freely beyond its control — as musica practica has always done. In the new phase which develops by stages in the second half of the century, reproduction and the equipment associated with it begin to constitute a parallel agency of cultural production alongside traditional musica practica, and accordingly reproduction nurtures new creative potential of its own. And because this involves the increasing technification of musical production, this potential in turn extends the attack on the old traditions, while the endlessly expanding circle of consumption and reproduction throws everything back into play. This is the condition that has been dubbed postmodernism, in which the echoing imitation, instead of dying away, gets louder.
To be sure, as Adorno says, exchange value exerts its power in a special way in the realm of cultural goods like music. Since the very quintessence of the aesthetic effect hangs on the thread of illusion, the artistic product, even the quasi-artistic, appears to be uniquely exempt within the world of commodities from simple reduction to monetary value, but to survive and escape its insertion into the domain of economic consumption and godless materialism, The record, the broadcast performance or music video, the concert competing with them for the consumer's favour — these are simultaneously within and yet above the world of commodities, produced for the market and aimed at the market, which they manage, however, to penetrate and escape. All this has strange effects on the behaviour of music, and the relationship of music to society. Adorno argued that every pleasure that is capable of emancipating itself from exchange value takes on subversive features. What he did not realize was that this is not only true of Schoenberg but also of rock music — which at least in principle is equally defiant.
Music continually shows its resilience by defying the prognostications of cultural pessimists like Adorno, It displayed this resilience by riding out the economic crisis that hit the West in 1974, bringing the expansive ethos of the 1960s to an end; in spite of which the post-Beatles buoyancy of the record industry continued, with worldwide sales in 1973 of $4.75 billion rising to nearly $7 billion in 1978. The first glitch only came the following year when the market was overtaken by inflation with the second oil crisis of the decade. Sales in 1979 dropped suddenly, according to one source, by 20 per cent across the board. According to another, although the singles market remained buoyant, albums fell in Britain by "a staggering 25-30 per cent," and in America, which constituted half the world market, by 40-50 per cent. A third source says that total record sales between 1978 and 1983 fell by I5 per cent. 1
The effect was to reinforce the process by which the record industry coalesced with the globalization of media, electronics, and telecommunications. The 1970s were dominated by six major companies and another half dozen minors, which included new groups and new labels. The minors were mostly American but included the German Bertelsmann group, one of Europe's major magazine publishers. The big six were CBS, EMI, Polygram, WEA, RCA and MCA, EMI and Polygram were European, the other four American: all of them had diverse interests. For CBS these included radio and television broadcasting, and for EMI, television, cinema and electronics. Polygram was a joint subsidiary set up in 1962 by the German and Dutch electronics giants, Siemens and Philips. WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) was part of the Warner empire which had been acquired in 1967 by the Kinney Corporation, a conglomerate with diversified interests in funeral parlours, supermarkets, cleaning firms, plumbing, and car parks. RCA remained a media giant encompassing both television and electronics, while MCA (Music Corporation of America) originated in a pre-war artists' booking agency attached to Pye Records which had moved in on the movie agency business in 1938 and set up its own television production subsidiary, Revue, in 1949. MCA became the biggest independent television producer in Hollywood and in 1959 acquired the American Decca company and its Hollywood subsidiary, Universal.
One of the factors that has affected survival is a company's attitude towards innovation. On the one hand there is the drive to expand the market, which favours improved media. On the other, the market is highly volatile and the costs of innovation are ever increasing, with the result that innovation is driven less by the manufacturers of the software than those who produce the hardware. The former, if they fall behind, are liable to be swallowed up, like Decca, which after a period of decline in the 1970s was finally sold off in 1980 to Polygram. Polygram, as a joint subsidiary of Siemens and Philips, was in a much more powerful position. It was Philips who had conquered the market for a portable tape format with the launch in 1963 of the audio cassette.
The cassette was smaller than the rival cartridge formats introduced over the preceding few years, and its operation could hardly have been simpler; to ensure its success, Philips handed out manufacturing rights to anyone who wanted to produce the cassettes, provided that they used Philips' specifications. As a result, Philips not only captured the market but hugely expanded it. At the same time, the new format intensified the problems of the disc market. The original audio cassette, monaural and using 1/8" tape, was relatively low quality and no direct competition for the high-quality stereo LP. As a cheap and small machine running off batteries, it offered the lure of expanding the market by introducing a new sector of consumption, not yet conquered by open-reel 1/4" tape. But the latter, still limited to a fairly small aficionado following, nevertheless already posed a threat to the record companies, because in addition to home recording it provided for taping from disc and off air. This facility began to rupture the economic laws that the record companies exploited, because it promoted the circulation of recorded music outside the market — although in doing so it expanded the market for virgin tape and introduced a new element of competition between the record companies and the tape manufacturers.
None of this led to the demise of 1/4" tape, which not only transformed studio practice but also took recording out of the studio and into the home. By the late 1960s, studio quality 1/4" tape recorders were cheap enough for hi-fi enthusiasts and thereafter, says a writer on rock, the marketing of high-quality equipment for home recording was aimed at the musician trying to break into the recording industry. Typical of this strategy was an advertisement by Pioneer Electronics for a four-track tape deck in 1978: “For the price of a few hours in a recording studio, you can own one." 2 Ten years later, a Yamaha advertisement published in many music magazines (including titles like Music Technology and Electronic Musician) read: “Go to your room and play ... using the MT2X Multitrack Recorder/Mixer, you can layer your recording just as you would in a real studio — one track at a time ... So if you've been wondering where you're going to get your first big break in music, now you know. At home." The claim was not beyond the bounds of imagination. Some artists have recorded hit singles and even LPs in their bedrooms.
The spread of the cassette not only introduced a new release format, but increased the problem of piracy, as we shall see in more detail below. It also encouraged further mutations in listening behaviour, above all when Sony introduced the "walkman" in 1979, which one writer has called "a symbolic gadget for the nomads of modernity." 3 The use of studio-quality headphones as a means of private listening began to develop during the 1960s, following the introduction of stereo. Headphones allowed the listener to attach their head directly to the source of the sound, dissolving the physical space of their body into the virtual space created by the music's stereo image. This has two effects: on the body of the listener, which loses its sense of location, and on the music, already disembodied, whose insertion into the listener's head is entirely illusory. As a result, the two merge together in a synthetic perceptual experience which provides the model for the computer industry's dreams in the 1990s of the creation of a helmeted virtual reality.
With the walkman it became possible to carry this virtual space around with you. Another writer likens this to “a latter-day equivalent of the flaneur" described by Walter Benjamin in his study of Baudelaire, the figure who strolls through the arcades of mid nineteenth-century Paris, assimilating the stream of objects, people and movements to his own pace and experience as a defence against the shocks of mass urban existence. 4 A third commentator points out that the walkman, as a private and mobile piece of audio technology, is one step on from the car stereo which enables bodies to be immersed in a box of sound whilst travelling along a motorway or through a city. The walkman enables its user to take music wherever they go and exclude the external world and other human beings. 5 It may have allowed Japanese commuters to cope with crowded subway trains, but by isolating the listener from the world through music it induces a sense of solipsism. This perhaps is the final coup in the negation that recording perpetrates on musica practica, where instead of music coming from bodies in front of the listener, it is reduced to an unreal and intangible space enveloping the isolated head.
The 1980s saw several American minors swallowed up by MCA in its efforts to catch up with its competitors, all of whom, with the threat of falling sales, poured a fortune into promotion both licit and illicit, desperate to get their records on the US "Top 40" radio stations. According to one analysis, US record industry spending on the shady business of promotion claimed at least 30 per cent of pre-tax profits. 6 With the business inflated by this enormous level of hype, profits fell, losses were made, and the bubble threatened to burst. The first to fall was RCA, acquired by Bertelsmann in 1986. CBS fell to Sony in 1988, Warner merged with Time in 1989 and in 1990 MCA went to Matsushita. In short, three of America's four majors are now owned by foreign corporations. The whole process was accompanied by continuing exchanges of ownership among leading independent labels. EMI, for example, bought Chrysalis and a couple of music publishers, SBK and Filmtrax, while Polygram, at one time best known as the leading classical company, acquired the A&M and Island labels.
As we have already seen, the rationale for the acquisition of smaller labels is not merely concentration in the classic fashion. According to a report in The Economist:
The record business divides into two: a relatively unsophisticated manufacturing and distribution business, where size and clout help, and the higher-risk "A&R" (Artist and Repertoire) side, where size looks relatively uncreative. To seem small and friendly to artists, the majors now all promote a variety of different labels, each of which runs its A&R separately. When a new type of music springs up — be it in Miami, Moscow or Manchester's Hacienda Club — the big record companies either buy up the new labels that produce it or invent their own. Even Britain's Virgin, the biggest independent record company [annual sales around $550m), has ten labels. 7
In plain words, the majors are too big for their own good, they never know where and when the next trend is going to emerge because they are not really in touch with the audience, and hence their reliance on smaller fry to take the risks and test the market. But woe to any independent that proves itself, for this inevitably leads to take-over.
The history of EMI is particularly instructive. In the 1950s EMI was still a traditional record company — the world's largest — with interests in allied technologies that were not always profitable. A new management regime installed in 1954 to revitalize the company reorganized the music division, streamlined distribution and bought the Los Angeles company Capitol Records to ensure access to the new rock 'n' roll market in the United States. The real breakthrough, however, came when they signed the Beatles: in 1963 sales rocketed by 80 per cent and shares in Capitol doubled (the parent company showed its gratitude to the Liverpool group by doubling their royalty from 1d a single to 2d). EMI now began to diversify: it purchased a theatre management firm, Delfont, and a small cinema chain, and then proceeded to the £64m take-over of ABC from Associated British Pictures, which gave it another 270 cinemas, Elstree Studios, and 25 per cent of Thames Television. Further purchases, including the music publisher Keith Prowse, quickly made EMI the biggest entertainment group in Britain. Its two main growth areas during the 1970s were big-budget film production (titles like Close Encounters, Death on the Nile, and The Deer Hunter) and electronics, a field in which its defence business was supplemented by the prestigious but in the end loss-making development of brain and body scanners, which integrated computers and X-ray technology.
Turnover in 1977/78 reached £350 billion; the company's interests included record manufacturing and distribution scattered across thirty-one countries in all continents; in Britain it was also a major defence contractor, held shares in various radio and television stations, was involved in film production and distribution, and owned numerous restaurants, hotels, and "leisure centres" like the Blackpool Tower. Nevertheless, music and records remained the core element in EMI's business — as late as 1973, the release of two Beatles anthologies accounted for 16.7 per cent of total profits for the year — and the downturn at the end of the 1970s was therefore serious. Failing to develop a roster of new artists capable of matching the Beatles, EMI began to contract while competitors were growing. (In 1968, EMI accounted for 31.6 per cent of albums sold in Britain; by 1978 the figure was 21.7 per cent.) By now the company was diverting profits away from its music division, and where the record business as a whole devoted an average of 12-13 per cent of turnover to A&R, EMI's investment in this area had fallen to 7 or 8 per cent. It was symptomatic. The music division had become sclerotic, and budding new singers and bands increasingly preferred the independents, not only because they had a more "intimate" set-up, but also because they were more flexible and more adventurous. As one journalist wrote, “The independents don't pay out fortunes in advances and often don't do long-term deals involving guarantees for several albums. But they can afford to let a good unknown band make a single or two, and if their ear for the streets is right, they'll make money." 8 In short, EMI had become uncomprehending of new trends. The classic instance occurred when they terminated a contract with the leading punk band, the Sex Pistols. "A few months later, the band had sold a million records on Virgin and a sheepish EMI belatedly embraced the new wave in the more 'acceptable' form of the Tom Robinson Band?"
Such responses came too late, however, and in October 1979 Britain's largest television rental group, Thorn Electrical Industries, launched a £150m take-over bid for EMI, which overnight added 30 per cent to the value of EMI's shares. Thorn's logic was simple: "Thorn has cash, EMI needs cash; EMI has high technology electronics, Thorn wants to move up the technology ladder; Thorn makes and rents TV sets, EMI makes TV, film and music products. Together ... the companies could sweep the home entertainment board in the new video age ... just around the corner."
What was actually just around the corner was, first of all, more of the same. One of the distinctive results of these developments is the new ecology of mass culture, based on recycling. Nowadays, when a new format is introduced, the old and worn-out is made new by tarting it up and reissuing it. The process is like a dog chasing its own tale, for with each new format the archives get bigger and bigger. The classical archives were the first to be exploited, with the introduction of the LP, when the latest 78s were re-pressed and thus remained in circulation. Some of them acquired the patina of "classic" recordings, like those of Toscanini, and have never been unavailable since, so that the Toscanini sound, for example, is as current in 1994 as it was in 1954, the year he retired. With CDs came a new generation of re-issues, recordings that had possessed a special aura and had stuck in people's memories, like the teenage Yehudi Menuhin playing the aged Elgar's Violin Concerto; or of historic interest as being original performances of new works, like Klemperer's 1929 recording of Kurt Weill's Kleine Dreigroschenmusik, the orchestral suite drawn from The Threepenny Opera. This stage of the process was partly instigated by the exploration of their record libraries by cultural radio stations like the BBC's Radio 3. But the CD seems also to have prompted a whole new wave of rediscoveries. Not only are stereo LP albums re-issued to keep the market supplied, and the bad old cut-price LPs recycled as bad new cut-price CDs, but pre-war 78s are being dusted over and given the newest sound. You can now buy digitized transfers of the original 1913 Nikisch Beethoven Fifth. Moreover, with the CD, pop music has embarked on the same process. You can now also get digitally remastered CDs of the originals of singles covered by the Beatles.
Meanwhile, this process of economic revalorization, said to be one of the forces unleashed by postmodernism, has a number of aesthetic consequences, though not always distinct enough for the theorists of postmodernism to agree on what they are. They concur, however, that an altered state of cultural consciousness is involved, in which traditional meanings and values have been set adrift. The flux created by the reproductive technologies of previous generations is merely the precondition for this new state, which adds to the sheer proliferation of cultural products the technical ease with which they can now be recycled and placed in entirely novel contexts; a state, therefore, in which all active traces of the traditional relationship of signifier to signified disappear, as everything becomes a semblance or a simulation. In music, this is especially the vocation of the sampler.
The first modern device to fit this bill (though not yet using the terminology) was produced by the Australian company Fairlight at the end of the 1970s. A dedicated computer allowing sound to be fed in and manipulated, the software program it employed became, as one writer puts it, "the mother and father of all sequencer software." 9
The sampler is a by-product of digitization, by which sound, which starts out in the shape of a continuously variable analogue wave form, is broken into discrete bits of information by sampling the wave at a rate of thousands per second. Once again, there is a long prehistory behind the digital technology employed. As the composer Hugh Davies mentions in his short "History of Sampling," the first practical digital technique for the electrical transmission of information (though not yet binary in character like the electronic computer) was demonstrated by Samuel Morse in 1844, at the beginning of the age of telegraphy. 10 The first proposals for the digitization of sound were developed by the telephone companies in the 1920s, to improve the quality of the signal. The first system brought into operation in 1943 used the method known as pulse code modulation, devised in the late 1930s by a researcher at ITT called Alec Reeves. Pulse code modulation (other types were developed later) offers a way of transmitting signals, and amplifying them en route, with minimal noise or distortion. (It also vastly increases the capacity of the channel to carry many signals simultaneously, especially when combined with improvements in cables and the development of satellite communication links.) But for the purposes of recording, the technique remained impractical until the appearance of the microprocessor and associated systems of data storage, because of the enormous quantity of data involved. When viable methods were first introduced in the late 1970s, they reproduced the divorce between recording and replay which had been characteristic of the gramophone since the beginning of the century. At a cost of $150,000, the first digital tape recorders, produced by the tape manufacturer 3M and carrying thirty-two tracks, were used by the record companies for the remastering of the archives and for the mastering of new studio recordings. For the consumer, there was a new playback medium, the compact disc.
Digitization was to unify a whole range of evolving musical technologies, including electronic analogue instruments like the keyboard synthesizer. The prototype of the synthesizer is the electronic organ made by the American Lorens Hammond in 1929. Though not at all the first electrical instrument, it was the first one cheap and practical enough to be taken up in commercial popular music. Also, unlike the Theremin, which dates back to 1920, or the Ondes Martenot, which appeared in 1928, it was not a melodic instrument, producing a single continuous tone like a violin, say, but a harmonic one, on the model of the harmonium. 11 Hammond employed a synchronous motor to drive a series of tonegenerators, using alternating current to produce the component tones which are synthesized to create the instrument's timbre. At the side of the keyboard a harmonic controller enables the player to vary the timbre, providing eight harmonics in nine gradations of intensity. The instrument was so simple to play that it was taken up after the Second World War by a new generation of untutored popular musicians, who thus acquired enough keyboard technique to speed the adoption of the electronic synthesizer which arrived in the late 1960s, when the Moog and other similar instruments appeared. By the early 1970s, the synthesizer was a fully fledged popular performing instrument, its sound familiar from the keyboard wizardry of performers like Rick Wakeman of Yes.
The late 1950s had seen devices like the Mellotron, a small keyboard in which the keys operated individual tape loops, designed to produce the sound of, say, a string orchestra, and intended not for the studio but to provide backing in performance. The synthesizer is as far from such devices as it is from, say, a mechanical fairground organ. More than just an electronic organ or piano, the synthesizer became a instrument in its own right, which employs electronic circuitry to generate both the imitation of the sounds of other instruments and newly synthesized tones of its own making. It then underwent a new transformation when Yamaha, which now dominates the market, incorporated digital means to replace the oscillators of the original design. The appearance of the Yamaha DX7 in 1983, says one writer, signalled the rise to dominance of Japanese computer-based technologies. The technique employed in this instrument came from an American academic and composer, John Chowning: Yamaha took it on when he found no American company prepared to put in the necessary investment to bring the idea to the point of mass production. The success of the new instrument was extraordinary. "In 1989," says Andrew Blake in his book on The Music Business, "a series of eight BBC television programmes, Under African Skies, featured music from all over Africa. Among the many different percussion instruments, brass, and guitars, the DX7 appeared on all the programmes, as the only electronic performance keyboard in popular music groups from Ethiopia to South Africa." 12
Samplers and sequencers, on the other hand, are not performing instruments so much as gizmos which allow any digitally recorded sound to be fed into another device, including a synthesizer. Since 1982, this transfer of digital information is accomplished by means of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). MIDI, which was promoted by Yamaha through the singular method of making the patent freely available, solved the problem of standardization in the handling of data which continues to plague the rest of the computer industry, and together with the progress and decreasing cost of microprocessors and miniaturization, radically altered the mode of production of music in the process. By 1984, groups like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and producers like Stock, Aitken and Waterman, were issuing records that were fabricated according to a new formula. As Andrew Blake put it, "Holly Johnson's voice was sampled a few times singing a few words, the rest of the band did little or nothing, and the magic fingers of producer Trevor Horn did the rest, producing seven remixed versions in all of 'Relax,' the biggest single of 1984, with all seven featuring the massive drum sound which others have copied — usually by sampling the sound itself off CD." 13 These techniques became diffused very quickly. "Once upon a time," says another recent writer, Jeremy Beadle, "if you wanted a decent rhythm track, you had to play it, or hire session men to play it for you ... Usually it would be necessary to try and get at least one full performance of every element of a song that you wanted to record down on tape. With a sampler and a sequencer, two bars of a basic beat is more than a luxury; it's a positive extravagance." 14 As an article in Keyboard magazine in 1987 explained, this finally cuts the direct link between making music and muscular activity which began to break down in the late 1960s, when multi-track taping made it possible for musicians who had never even met to 'play together' by laying down overdubs, punching in phrases and even single notes so as to perfect their product." 15
Sampling has raised an extensive series of questions about musical originality and inventiveness, as well as issues about authors and ownership which had been gestating for a long time, with the result, among other things, that long-standing scholars of commercial popular music have begun to turn their attention to the complex problems of copyright. Sampling, says Simon Frith in a recent collection of essays on the subject, can be seen as a form of creative arrangement, or of creative exploitation, or indeed of creative criticism. 16 It is also a "threat to orderly ways of making money out of music." Samplers (the people), says Frith, adopted the long-established rule of thumb about "folk music" — a song is in the public domain if its author is unlikely to sue you. To avoid the risks of sampling something too easily recognizable, they began to make extensive use of sounds lifted from obscure old tracks, or from the repertoire of "world music," which it seemed could be lifted without needing clearance. But if the argument that a tune is in the public domain, and there is no one who can claim to be its author, is a familiar one in the copyright courts, then sampling, says Frith, suggests another reading that certain sounds exist in the public soundscape, and records are as much "found" sounds as recordings of a dog barking or a police siren. Moreover, "Some samplers have argued that their music represents not only a 'democratic' challenge to corporate control but also a new aesthetic." 17
The effects of sampling are thoroughly paradoxical. On the one hand, this is the ultimate negation of musica practica; on the other, it is like a new form of musica practica arising out of microchips and cables. Now it is possible for someone to create audible music without moving from their chair; not a score, like a composer at a desk, but a digitally constructed audile work; and not, like the composer in an electronic music studio, for a small discerning audience, but for a mass market. Bands like the Pet Shop Boys or Art of Noise appear, which start out as a solitary singer and a single computer programmer who, if they go on to perform live, are happy to appear, as Blake puts it, with not a guitar or drum kit in sight. "Musical power is now in the hands of the technologically aware, of the producer, sound engineer, mixer and remixer." 18
At the same time, sampling produces the effect that existing pieces are no longer fixed nor clearly authored; nor is sample music notated. Added to the practice of multiple mixes for different formats and media, sampling thus brings the manipulated echo of previous records, as if the new is simply another possible version of the old. Exactly the condition described by Adorno, where everything is new and yet the same. It is a paradox that these symptoms also suggest a return to the conditions of musica practica, in which music circulates freely, and tunes are adopted and adapted without restraint by the issue of ownership.
It also seems like the domain of musica practica when Frith quotes approvingly a writer who says that the art of sampling is dependent on the sampler's musical knowledge: "being good on the sampler is a matter of knowing what to sample, what pieces to lift off what records; you learn that by listening to music." 19 He adds, however, that this makes it an extension more of fandom than musicianship, and the qualification is critical. For the evidence is that the technology of sampling has deepened the process of musical fragmentation induced, as we have already seen, by the machinery and procedures of the recording studio at least since the late 1950s.
Ironically, what samplers permit is for a sound of any type and from any source to be treated by the software to forms of manipulation which are logically indistinguishable from traditional musical principles like transposition, augmentation, diminution, and the rest. But while real musical knowledge might be thought an advantage, it is far from necessary. This, in Jeremy Beadle's words, is "music-making made supremely easy, if not supremely cheap." (It is not that expensive: no more costly today, says Beadle, than "the standard guitar, bass and drums necessary to start your own “beat" group in the 1960s or punk group in the 1970s.") 20 These possibilities, then, come to be employed by young and musically inexperienced tyros, who are often motivated by the rebelliousness of contemporary youth but constrained by limited musical skills, with a limited vocabulary of musical gestures, and musical horizons confined by the accelerated cycles of popular musical fashion. It is the product of an irrepressible desire for music-making among a young populace with restricted access to the means of musical education but easy access to mass-produced musical reproduction.
Conflict with authority is almost inevitable. The corporations have placed on the market devices that invite people to transgress the laws on which the market operates. The issue is not whether the idea of using existing music in new pieces is in any way original to the technology of sampling. It is not whether popular artists have always drawn their material from an existing repertoire of songs, which they adapt and mix with their own original material. It is not that the musical idiom itself consists of rhythmic, melodic and harmonic motifs which are constantly recombined in new permutations, a form of artistry which is second nature. Nor is quotation, reference and sometimes downright plagiarism foreign to the classical tradition, which on the contrary made an art of it even before the twentieth century, when it became a major trait of composers from Stravinsky to Berio. However, if these practices were in some measure always in potential conflict with copyright, then now that the domain of copyright has been expanded by successive international conventions to cover the products of technology, the issue assumes a new prominence. Digital technology not only blurs the boundaries between production and consumption, but also between the different kinds of artistic rights through which music as a commodity is defined.
In 1992, a US federal judge declared sampling to be theft, in a decision against Warner's WEA for using a sample from a Gilbert O'Sullivan track on a Biz Markie album called I Need a Haircut. In Britain, writes Beadle the following year, "no case of breach of copyright involving sampling has reached trial. To date every such case has been settled out of court." 21 These out-of-court settlements have established the parameters. Beadle cites the case that arose in 1989 when a release by The Beloved, The Sun Rising, took eight notes from a CD of compositions by the medieval religious composer Abbess Hildegard of Bingen issued by the specialist independent classical label Hyperion.
Hyperion's case would have revolved around the contention that the contribution of their Hildegard of Bingen disc gave The Beloved's single its distinctive quality. The case to be put forward by East West, the WEA subsidiary, was that the sample was “too brief to constitute a copyright issue." The matter had got as far as a preliminary hearing (when) Hyperion backed down, aware that unsuccessful litigation — or even successful litigation which didn't come up with a large enough award and full payment of costs — might be cripplingly expensive. 22
He adds wryly that Hyperion's releases will undoubtedly last longer than those of The Beloved, and "indeed, the sample may even have won the Abbess Hildegard some new and unlikely admirers." Perhaps. In any event, the record companies began in 1990 to impose the obligation on all recording artists to identify and clear all samples before release. “Most record companies now stipulate in their artists' contracts that if a recording is issued without copyright clearance and, as a result, money has to be paid out in compensation, then that money will be deducted entirely from the artists' royalties." 23
Meanwhile, digitization and the home recording studio have converged. Once again these developments led in various, sometimes opposite directions. On the one hand, owing to the malleable nature of the digital signal, it became possible to alter radically the musical material even in late stages of production, where producers could re-impose their own values. On the other, they threatened the established roles and identity of the producer and the recording engineer, as musicians themselves took over the control of the apparatus either in self-interest or the interests of expanding the frontiers of musical creation. Peter Gabriel has said that "the real pleasure in having a studio setup of my own is that I can experiment in a way that I could never afford to do in a commercial studio." 24 In this case the experiments are not primarily technical but come from buying time, allowing Gabriel to collaborate with other musicians, including some from Third World countries, without needing the say-so of the record companies. Other musicians, like Frank Zappa, gave up recording on tape altogether, storing the composition in the sequencer, which serves as a tapeless tape recorder. The successful musician who sets up their own recording studio has parallels in the screen star who becomes the producer and/or director of their own film. it helps them to control their own creation. Zappa was totally his own man, composing, producing, engineering and mastering his own highly idiosyncratic music. But these are only the most visible examples. According to the New York Times journalist Jon Pareles, writing in 1987, "affordable recording technology ... has made it possible to turn a bedroom or a kitchen into a studio for less than $1,000" and given rise to a large expansion in non-commercial recording which he calls a "cassette underground." 25 The gear is more basic and the musical results less sophisticated, but the results are readily diffused and just as influential.
This underground included hip-hop. Rappers and DJs, says Tricia Rose, a professor of Black Studies in New York, "disseminated their work by copying it on tape-dubbing equipment and playing it on powerful, portable 'ghetto-blasters.'" 26 She adds that this creative adoption of consumer electronics by disadvantaged inner-city youth occurred at a time when budget cuts in school music drastically reduced access to traditional instruments. But while hip-hop "articulates a sense of entitlement, and takes pleasure in aggressive insubordination," this process takes place neither outside nor in opposition to the commodity system: “the hip hop DJ frequently produces, amplifies and revises already recorded sounds, rappers prefer high-end microphones, and both invest serious dollars for the speakers that can produce the phattest beats." 27
This music is also about the location of the individual in urban space. As Public Enemy's Chuck D explained in an interview in 1990, “rap has different feels and different vibes in different parts of the country." For example, since people in New York City do not drive very often, rap music in New York is "a headphone type of thing" with not too much heavy bass, while in Long Island or Philadelphia "where in order to get anywhere you gotta drive so people have cars by the time they're sixteen or seventeen years old," it is not only much more bassy, but also much more of a "wraparound" sound. As George Lipsitz explains in Microphone Fiends where he quotes these remarks:
Large car speakers adjusted to pump-up-the-bass jeep beats' of rap music travel freeways and city streets, claiming space by projecting out sound, while boom boxes similarly reconfigure street corners and subway cars through the invasive properties of amplified sound. It is no accident that while heavy metal videos tend to privelege stadium and arena concerts as ideal spaces of representation, hip hop videos more often take place on the streets of ... urban inner-city neighborhoods, reclaiming them as sites of self-affirmation. 28
Nor is it an accident that, in the same spirit, DJs in the South Bronx in the 1970s wired their turntables and speakers to street lamps to provide themselves with power, as if they were living in a Third World shanty town.
According to a report in The Economist in 1990, Wall Street entertainment analysts devote rather more space to the film business than the record labels, yet the record business is more profitable. In 1989 Warner's film division made profits of $312m on revenues of $2.7 billion, while profits from its recording activities were £500m, on revenues of $2.5 billion. 29 Moreover, the trend has been constantly upwards. Between 1980 and 1992, says the same magazine four years later, "sales of recorded music in the five biggest markets (America, Britain, Japan, France and Germany) increased from $9 billion to $20 billion, a rise of more than 40% in volume terms." 30 And in 1993, worldwide sales, according to another source, reached $30.5 billion, with the United States accounting for nearly a third. The United Kingdom saw nearly $2 billion worth, or 6.5 per cent of the total. The UK artists' share of the international market was much larger, at about 18 per cent. 31
The recovery of the record industry in the 1980s came about partly through technological renovation in the shape of digital recording and the compact disc; the results, in other words, of computerization. With the classical market as the chosen proving ground for the launch, the new format was touted as a superior technology employing miniature lasers. The difference in the quality of reproduction, if compared with the difference between acoustic and electrical recording, is minimal. The CD, like computers, is not trouble-free, and discerning musicians tend to complain that the sound is too analytic and clinical. (Film-makers often feel the same about the video image as compared to that of film.) But it enjoys the chic of high-tech and the result was to reconstruct the market — more radically than at any time since the introduction of electrical recording in the 1920s — and once again to enable the record industry to buck the trend of worldwide recession. In 1990, while many consumer sectors had contracted, The Economist estimated that CDs accounted for roughly half of the market. 32 At the same time, the financial pages reported that a "Resurgent EMI calls the tune despite the Thorn in its side," 33 and in March 1992, EMI bought Virgin Records from the entrepreneur Richard Branson, which put it back in third position globally.
The current rate of profit in the record industry comes very largely from the better margins on CDs than vinyl; sufficiently so that in Britain in 1994 it became the subject of a parliamentary inquiry, chaired by one of several record-collecting MPs (the newspapers never explained how they had time to listen). Also, said The Economist in 1990, because "like previous hardware revolutions, it allows the record companies to reissue old hits ... One record company says that its back-catalogue of old songs accounts for around a third of its turnover." 34 This is not only true of the pop charts; it has become a major trend in the classical field as well. According to a television report in 1992, classical sales in the United Kingdom doubled in the 1980s, and re-issues formed a large proportion. 35 But the market has expanded in several directions, including some rare spectacular successes. Nigel Kennedy made a mint as the lovable punk violinist, and the 1990 World Cup Three Tenors Concert has sold more than eleven million copies (CDs, LPs, and cassettes). Remembering, says The Economist, “that the average annual sale of a classical recording from the big companies is rather less than 10,000 units, the effect of this success on record company bosses is easy to imagine." 36
The arithmetic, says the report, goes like this:
In Britain, at British Musicians' Union rates, a full orchestra plus expenses and a 12% management fee works out at £8,500 ($12,750) a session. When recordings were made for LPs, three or four sessions were usually required to record music lasting 35-40 minutes. Because CDs can play for longer, they have to — buyers expect it. So four or five sessions are now usual.
Hire of an acoustically suitable venue, such as a concert hall, can cost up to £1,300 a day. Five sessions last three days because of union regulations on working times. With the cost of a recording team (say £300 a day), tapes (£500) and editing the recorded music (on digital equipment), the bill reaches £50,000 for the recording alone. Add in £10,000 for design, artwork and the printing of covers, plus the writing and printing of a booklet of notes in three languages ... The record company earns around £4 (before paying royalties) from each recording sold. Even if no royalties were payable, a symphony would have to sell 15,000 units to break even. Few titles do that in less than three years. Many never do.
Why they bother, the magazine explains, is because a company lives off its backlist, which in the case of EMI's international classical division represents about 70 per cent of its business. The American black independent producer Carmen Ashhurst-Watson, of Def Jam, says the same: "a record company can't survive without groups that have catalogue and future." 37
An expanding market, however, encourages risk-takers — which is what capitalists used to be in the nineteenth century — on the sole condition that they can find effective ways of cutting costs. The result (says The Economist) is that "in America, France, Germany, and perhaps most of all in Britain, enthusiasts-turned-businessmen have established their own record companies," with more than three hundred such independents worldwide. 38 Like their cousins, the "independent" television programme makers, whose numbers have also mushroomed since the early 1980s with the deregulation of television, these new entrepreneurs depend on the hire of the latest professional facilities at economic prices, including the use of the majors' own pressing plants. But the key to their success, we are told, is knowing how to make money while selling a small volume of each release. Five hundred units a year "is about average for many of them," but the number of their releases equals those of the market leaders. "They know they cannot pay the fees demanded by the most successful musicians. They also know that buyers exist for music which the majors, with their higher costs, cannot risk recording." 39 They therefore concentrate on a certain repertoire, effectively ignoring the rule that says the artist is more important than the music. These new classical independents have now themselves been hit by a new generation of price-cutters; the founder of one, Chandos, which started in 1979 and is now the largest independent classical label in the world, with 1,200 titles, admits to a journalist in 1994 that he has been hit hard by budget recordings from companies like Naxos. Naxos was set up in 1987 by a distributor of electronic hardware based in Hong Kong, as a series of standard repertoire recordings on CD but at LP prices. The idea, says The Economist, was to use "unknown musicians" and therefore avoid paying union rates. Whatever this means, it is also a market strategy based on repertoire rather than artists. The result is that "at Tower Records in Manhattan the shopper can choose from more than 22,000 classical musical titles," 40 but only about fifty in every duty-free shop in the world.
For the rank-and-file musician in a country like Britain the effect of such developments is not at all positive. The CD provided an opportunity for enterprise by a variety of dedicated bands and ensembles, like those of the early-music movement, who learnt to launch themselves on the market, seek the grants and sponsorship needed to enable them to stay together, and build up a following; and one result is a very considerable growth in the range of musics now available. But another paradox is at work, for this was not to translate into the improvement of conditions for the working musician. One recent report says that freelance musicians in London whose mainstay is session work have suffered a serious contraction of employment, although recording sessions by the main full-time orchestras rose over the course of the 1980s by 87 per cent.
Many of the same conditions operate in the popular market (for which many of these session musicians also used to record), which has been severely shaken up by the terminal decline of the seven-inch vinyl single in the face of the multiplicity of other formats (and rivals for teenager money like video games). In 1989 the British Phonographic Industry changed the rules for the award of silver, gold, and platinum discs: now, instead of one million, you only need 600,000 to score platinum, and there are precious few of them (one hit of 1992 arrived at number one in the top ten on weekly sales of less than 30,000). The fate of the industry now lies almost entirely in the hands of the album, and there the majors are in equal trouble, leaving large holes in the market. As one independent producer puts it, “Some major labels won't consider re-issuing an album if it will sell less than 2,000 copies, but our overheads are lower, so it's more feasible for us." Another says the business is a creative one because "financial entry is not so daunting ... There are still studios where you can make a record for £10,000. There are dance records being made in people's living rooms for nothing." 41 Here too, according to Ashhurst-Watson, small companies do distribution deals with big ones, and some have production deals on top; the best (from some points of view) is the joint venture deal, when the major and the independent split the costs fifty-fifty. 42
But there is also a much more artisanal level of independent operators, who release their own mixes which cater to very specific markets, such as the labels that started up in Detroit and elsewhere in the late 1980s to bring out a sub-genre of disco music called techno. This completely synthetic dance music is largely directed at club DJs (who in turn, in order to get gigs, make demo tapes of their scratching technique). It has achieved worldwide diffusion in small editions by mail order through specialist magazines, or even by printing the information on the records. There is lively debate among aficionados of the clubs around this music, not about its musical qualities (or lack of them) but about the future of vinyl. One of the more successful of these labels, +8, has now bought its own vinyl pressing plant to guarantee production. 43
In the midst of this extremely fragmented market, the major players are now engaged in launching new digital recording formats, such as DAT recorders, DCCs (digital compact cassettes) and the MD, or minidisc, as well as CD-ROMs for computers. One of them, Sony, has meanwhile run into another kind of trouble, in the form of a high-profile court case brought against them by one of the artists they acquired when they bought CBS. In 1993, George Michael sued for release from his contract on the grounds that it unreasonably restrained him. Judgement was made against the singer in 1994, but as I write, the case has gone to appeal.
It was not entirely Sony's fault: they had not just acquired artists when they bought CBS but inherited the problems of a contractual system evolved in the 1950s, when the explosive rise of rock 'n' roll had first changed the ground rules. Where previously artists were paid session fees, they began to claim royalties. The level of the royalty and the size of the advance was related to market potential, and when an artist scored a hit a renegotiation followed, in which both might be raised. In the process the record companies, perfectly aware of the risks involved, extended the obligations of the artist by extending the duration of the contract: more money up front in return for more albums. The result? As George Michael himself summed up the situation, "Even though I both created and paid for my work, I will never own it or have any rights over it. There is no such thing as resignation for an artist in the music industry. Effectively, you sign a piece of paper at the beginning of your career and you are expected to live with that decision, good or bad, for the rest of your professional life." 44 According to the newspapers, Michael became convinced that he was being treated as software rather than creative talent.
The newspaper reports were accompanied by a breakdown of the sums of money involved. The figures confirm the enormous stakes at issue. The case cost Michael £3m. His gross worldwide royalties between 1987 and 1992 amounted to £16.89m. Sony's earnings from his records over the same period were £95.5m, thus confirming the rule that, however much the artist earns, the company always earns more. 45 In a television interview a few days later, he said that he intended to take the case to appeal, not for his own sake but for that of artists who had been caught up in the same difficulties but lacked the funds to fight the companies. That the problems are indeed widespread is confirmed by Carmen Ashhurst-Watson. 46 “Artists on all labels get exploited," she says, “some get exploited less than others. Really big-name stars get exploited less but what they get paid is not commensurate with the profits that they generate, and their creative control expands only as much as the company feel they can sell this new product."
"Most acts," says Ashhurst-Watson, "do not make it through the first contract. So the record company locks you up for a significant portion of your career, because the average pop group rarely makes it through half of an average contract. If a pop group makes three records, that's a successful act!" The new group arrives with little negotiating power, and promotion and distribution costs a lot of money:
To get the record distributed nationally — to get twenty copies of every record into every record store in the country — is a big financial undertaking. To get radio stations to play this record — every radio station has a forty-song cap on its three-week play list — to get your record to be one of those forty costs money...
Moreover, she continues, there are different formats, and new trends, like rap, require special treatment.
For rap, you have to put a lot of energy into underground stuff — making sure that DJs get it and play it in clubs so that people will start demanding it. You might have to put a lot of money into getting the video done so that it will be on TV and people will start demanding it.
The artist is sucked into a system with its own synergies much too fast to understand how it operates, and ends up signing away the income they will generate if they succeed in making a hit. The stories are legion and were widely quoted in the press coverage following the ruling in the George Michael case: Richard Berry, author of "Louie Louie," is said to have given his rights away for the price of a wedding suit, while Little Richard, possibly apocryphally, handed over "Good Golly Miss Molly" for the keys of a Cadillac. Peter Jenner, manager of the English singer Billy Bragg, sums up: "I went to Cambridge, I got a first in economics, I've been looking at rock contracts for 25 years, and every day I'm still learning about the slippery stuff they put in them." 47
It becomes very difficult for an artist to break out of these lengthy contracts. Small companies do deals with larger companies for distribution and even production, the larger companies they deal with are affiliates or subsidiaries of the majors, and the industry, says Carmen Ashhurst-Watson, becomes “very plantation-like. Every rung down gets less and less of the pie, and the artists are at the bottom." 48 And small artist-controlled labels, she concludes, are not going to change the balance of power in the industry,
especially now that the industry is owned by these multinational conglomerates who are utilising the entertainment industry to fuel much bigger enterprises. Sony bought Columbia records to help them sell hardware. It's not as if they had this burning desire to sell Public Enemy records. [Mutual laughter] They're trying to sell electronic equipment. Artists' work sells interactive television, it sells video games – each artist is a pindrop, a pinhead on this much bigger mosaic. The record industry is worried about its strategic positioning in relationship to the film industry or records versus television versus telecommunications versus phone companies; that's the kind of jockeying they're doing. They're not talking about Public Enemy versus Bruce Springsteen. 49
The chronic crisis of the record industry is compounded by a constant paradox, apparently inherent in the technology of reproduction, by which music is turned into a commodity only to see it escape. Every technique of reproduction is also a technique of recording, therefore of copying, of re-recording, yet the law of maximization of profits always drives the manufacturer to market the technology in both forms, adapting the latter to the mass market just as the technology becomes more capable and simple to operate at the same time. What happens to music in these conditions can be seen with particular clarity in the effects of the introduction in the 1960s of the audio cassette, which hugely increased the circulation of recorded music — and thus the products of the record industry — beyond the confines and control of the market, through both private re-recording and commercial piracy, and not only in the highly developed countries of the West but also in the Third World. The scale of both is enormous; the pattern varies in markets of different kinds.
In the developed countries of the West, when the record industry was hit by recession at the end of the 1970s, and the value of gramophone record sales fell by hundreds of millions of dollars while those of blank tape cassettes remained pretty constant, it became obvious what was happening: people were not only buying cassettes and recording off air, but also borrowing records and cassettes from friends and copying them. There can hardly be a reader of this book who has not done it — and the hardware industry colluded by making portable machines incorporating two cassette decks. 50 The record companies claimed that it costs them serious revenue, and brazenly demanded of governments that a special levy be placed on the sale of blank tape in order to compensate them for loss of sales (they generally remain silent about those entitled to royalties for the music itself). But legal or illegal, licensed or unlicensed, the real effect every time a piece of music is copied privately is to promote the circulation of the music. The significance of the individual act of copying seems to be dwarfed by the size of market, yet it affirms the music's autonomy. And it quickly mounts up.
In underdeveloped countries, meanwhile, organized piracy has had dramatic effects. According to a study by the ethnomusicologist Peter Manuel, citing reports published in the late 1980s, African countries have been hit particularly hard, "especially since their governments have been largely unable, and in some cases unwilling, to enforce copyright laws."
Cassette piracy has effectively destroyed the formerly lively Ghanaian record industry, inducing multinationals like HMV and Decca to abandon the country. Pirate cassettes made in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea are said to constitute 70-80 per cent of the market in Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria, Zambia, and Guinea. In Kenya, the former centre of the East African music industry, the proportion is the same or even more. The phenomenon has contributed to the wholesale migration of much of the legitimate African music industry to Europe, where recordings are made and marketed for emigrant Africans and European enthusiasts. 51
The diffusion of the audio cassette followed that of the transistor radio: it quickly penetrated to the most isolated village in the Sahara or the Andes — not to mention the shanty towns of Lima or Johannesburg — before such places might come to enjoy running water or mains electricity. Local centres of production and distribution have grown up in every capital city of the world. The authors of a study of the music industry in small countries, Roger Wallis and Krister Malm, cite the example of "the managing director of Polygram Kenya in his office in Nairobi [who] bemoans the fact that home-taping is undermining his attempts to sell records and pre-recorded cassettes. But in another wing of the same building a conveyor belt is churning out Philips radio cassette recorders, i.e. the very hardware that makes home-taping possible." 52 They also report a sophisticated version of the practice, a variant of piracy, found in the record bars of Sri Lanka: "A customer gives the shop a list of favourite songs in the morning and collects a cassette with his or her personal compilation in the afternoon." 53 Other writers report similar practices in places as far apart as Guadaloupe and Ghana; the latter, formerly a centre of commercial highlife recording, instead by 1989 hosted over 2,700 such dubbing shops.
On the other hand, in several countries the same technology has produced the growth of small, grassroots cassette producers, recording and disseminating genres whose commercial markets were in many cases too localized and specialized for multinationals and even regional record companies to survive. In the Andes, for example, where piracy has bankrupted many record companies and cassettes are in the process of altogether replacing vinyl, the rise of the cassette has been associated with a new genre of dance music, stylistically derivative of the traditional huayno and cumbia, and known by the Aymara word for maize beer as chicha music. In the Middle East, the cassette has enabled local musics to develop independently of radio. In Israel, Manuel reports, rock misrahi or "Eastern rock," associated with Oriental Jews, enjoyed ample dissemination on cassettes at a time when it was scorned by radio stations run by Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin). On the other side of the globe in Indonesia, an extant record industry has been entirely replaced by a vibrant and flourishing cassette scene. “As inexpensive cassettes and players spread throughout Indonesian villages and cities," writes Manuel,
they precipitated, as elsewhere, an exponential expansion of the recording industry as a whole ... the output of the state record industry, Lokananta, grew from 41,508 vinyl discs in 1970, to 898,459 cassettes (and 290 records) in 1975. Many of the several dozen private cassette companies that emerged in the seventies and eighties specialised in regional musics [but they] were instrumental in the emergence of at least one indigenous pop genre, the Sundanese jaipongan. 54
The effects of cassettes in Indonesia, he continues, are representative of many other countries as well. Regional musics began to acquire a new legitimacy, especially when they had never been marketed before. Local stars arose, and new standards of professionalism developed. At the same time, the proliferation of regional musics beyond their original domain has promoted stylistic borrowing and cross-fertilization between different traditions, which both enriches the music and leads to a certain homogenization.
Inevitably these new musical forms feed into the same global network as music like reggae and rap. According to Wallis and Malm, “Small countries fulfil a dual role for the music industry. They provide marginal markets for international products. They also, by virtue of their unique cultures, can provide the sort of talent that comprises invaluable raw material for international exploitation." 55 In many of these countries, the threat of being flooded by a characterless transnational music culture led to cultural resistance, allied with the political denunciation of cultural imperialism. Yet this could turn into very good news for the record companies. The only problem for EMI under the Popular Unity government in Chile at the beginning of the 1970s was being unable to get the millions of pesos they were making from popular protest music out of the country. 56 No matter. They made plenty more abroad after the coup by General Pinochet, when worldwide solidarity created a global market for Chilean music. And while Pinochet tried to ban traditional ethnic instruments as subversive, exiled or emigré groups of Andean musicians busking on the streets of London, Paris or San Francisco started selling their own cassettes on the sidewalk. 57
Whatever the political sympathies of the executives who run the corporations, the potential for political mobilization through music is ever present. It can be measured not only in the size of the worldwide audience claimed by the satellite transmission of events like the Free Mandela concert, but also in the concentration of energy in the live audience present at the event, whose excitement inevitably infuses the music. There is no question but that this event helped to hasten the end of Apartheid in South Africa, by bringing about an unparalleled demonstration of popular feeling throughout large parts of the world. Music here returns to one of its primary functions, the affirmation of society, but on a scale previously unimaginable. No longer at the local or even regional level but vastly enlarged by the global reach of the media which at the same time threaten its freedom.
This is the most visible part of what is happening. What goes on every day without drawing political attention to itself is the progressive transformation of the musics of different cultures which the market blindly throws into contact with each other. Musicians have always travelled but now recorded music does so too. Wallis and Malm offer an example going back to the 1940s and 1950s, when records of Caribbean music began to find their way to Africa through black intellectuals from either side of the Atlantic who met at universities in England and France and exchanged musical experience. Back in the capital cities of Africa, Afro-Caribbean music caught on, especially in Zaïre (then called Congo), to produce the new musical forms that provide the basis for East African popular music today. At the same time,
Musicians from Zaïre migrated to East Africa where a new cultural exchange process took place when the Tanzanians infused elements of local music into the Zaïrean sounds, producing Swahili jazz. This in its turn has been adopted by many Zaïrean musicians ... In the late 60s records [of this music) started appearing mainly in Zaire and Kenya ... Some of these records found their way to the Caribbean [and] were eagerly devoured by young musicians who, in the wake of the black power movement, were seeking their African roots... 58
This is the same kind of musical round-trip that reinfuses jazz with Afro-Latin rhythms and melody, mixes in a dose of zouk from Martinique, conquers New York and other growing Hispanic population centres in the United States, and then appears on the "world music" menu as salsa. The term "world music" is a marketing concept, which originated among a group of record producers and other interested parties meeting in London in 1987, a catch-all devised to try to exploit the proliferation of local cultural traditions in the interstices of the market. Borrowed from the ethnomusicologist Japp Kunst, and intended as a marketing term to be used on shelf dividers in the record stores, the producers were themselves surprised by the speed and breadth with which the term caught on. 59 But the notion corresponds to the globalization of mass culture at a particular stage of development: the moment when the same corporations that tout the "information revolution" become integrated with the established entertainments industry on the transnational level. A charity rock concert in a London sports stadium becomes a major international event, beamed live to television sets in Moscow, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, and Sydney. An English protest singer joins a young radio DJ to hit the trail with television cameras in the Andes; a Hollywood studio is bought by a Japanese electronics giant. The process produces a profound transformation, for when musical traditions come full circle and return to their sources in the ways I have described, they are no longer the same. Under the impact of electro-acoustic reproduction, musical cultures of every type develop new dynamics. Techniques are extended, new instrumental combinations are tried, fusions and hybrids appear and proceed to reproduce independently, in musical revenge against technological alienation.
A crucial set of questions arise. If our encounter in the North with the musics of Asia, Africa, and Latin America is a product of the times, what are the forces that have created this trend? Is "world music" only a commercial phenomenon, or does it represent an authentic cultural undercurrent? Is the idea just another form of cultural expropriation and exploitation or could it possibly represent a true growth of awareness of other musics? Is there any real cultural exchange involved? Is it changing our musical consciousness?
What could the answers to these questions tell us about the place of music in our lives? And about which forms of music are signs of social health, and which are symptomatic of alienation, frustration and resentment? And whether music is becoming denuded or truly being democratized?
These are the questions that arise from a position within the heart of the developed world. What they point to is an absence in the way that the history of the media in the twentieth century is usually told: another history which has had a merely shadowy presence in the present volume, in passing mentions to obscure figures like the Venezuelan Anzola, or musical styles like the Arabic dwar. A history written from any of these other perspectives would amount to a very different account of contemporary music but would reach the same conclusion. In the words of the American composer Elie Siegmeister at the end of the 1930s, in a pamphlet for the Worker's Music Association, capitalism has created the most magnificent apparatus for the production, distribution, and consumption of music that the world has ever seen. Yet this apparatus is so riddled with contradictions, which are basically economic in origin, that it continually negates its own potentialities. 60 Nevertheless, music somehow continually manages to negate this negation, to shake off the bonds of commercialization and escape to freedom: because it has its own inner resources for overcoming the contradictions of this, our disturbed and disturbing reality.
1. See Phil Hardy and Dave Laing, "Hard Day's Night at EMI," Time Out, 26 October– 1 November 1979; Robin Denselow, “The Sound of Falling Platters," The Guardian, 2 October 1979; and "Janus of the Turntable," The Economist, 11 August 1990.
2. See Steve Jones, Rock Formation - Music, Technology and Mass Communication, Sage, London 1992, pp. 138-9.
3. Iain Chambers, "A Miniature History of the Walkman," New Formations, vol. 11, 1990, pp. 1-4.
4. S. Hosokawa, "The Walkman Effect," Popular Music, vol. 4, 1984, pp. 165-80.
5. Keith Negus, Producing Pop, Culture and Conflict in the Popular Music Industry, Edward Arnold, London 1992, p. 35.
6. Fredric Dannen, Hit Men, Vintage Books, London 1991, p. 15.
7. "Janus of the Turntable."
9. Jeremy Beadle, Will Pop Eat Itself?, Faber & Faber, London 1993, p. 126.
10. Hugh Davies, "A History of Sampling," unfiled: Music Under New Technology, RER, London 1994.
11. For a more detailed account of these instruments see Michael Chanan, Musica Practica: The Social Practice of Western Music from Gregorian Chant to Postmodernism, Verso, London 1994.
12. Andrew Blake, The Music Business, Batsford, London 1992, pp. 50, 54.
13. Ibid., p. 79.
14. Beadle, p. 129.
15. "MIDI & Music," Keyboard, June 1987, p. 32.
16. Simon Frith, “Music and Morality," in Simon Frith, ed., Music and Copyright, Edinburgh University Press, 1993, p. 13.
17. Frith, p. 15.
18. Blake, p. 82.
19. Quoted in Frith, p. 19.
20. Beadle, p. 137.
21. Ibid., p. 199.
22. Ibid., p. 200.
23. Ibid., p. 206.
24. Music Technology, August 1986, p. 20.
25. Quoted in Jones, p. 168.
26. Andrew Ross and Tricia Rose, eds, Microphone Fiends, Routledge, London and New York 1994, p. 78.
27. Ibid., p. 82.
28. George Lipsitz, “We Know What Time It Is', in Ross and Rose, p. 21.
29. "Janus of the Turntable."
30. The Economist, 25 December 1993–7 January 1994, p. 122.
31. Roger Trapp, "Dance of the Music Majors and Minors," The Independent, 24 June 1994.
32. "Janus of the Turntable."
33. The Guardian, 20 November 1991.
34. "Janus of the Turntable."
35. Quoted on The Media Show, Channel Four Television, 10 March 1992.
36. The Economist, 25 December 1993–7 January 1994.
37. Tricia Rose, "Contracting Rap," in Ross and Rose, p. 125; italics in the original.
38. The Economist, 25 December 1993–7 January 1994.
41. Alan Robinson of Demon, which has the pre-Warners recordings of Elvis Costello in its catalogue, and Miles Copland of Pangea, a label set up by Sting and distributed by A&M, which is owned by Polygram; quoted by Trapp, "Dance of the Music Majors and Minors."
42. Tricia Rose, "Contracting Rap: An Interview with Carmen Ashhurst-Watson," in Ross and Rose, p. 135.
43. In the summer of 1994 these are almost the only vinyls still sold in leading outlets like the record stores on the Ku'dam in Berlin.
44. The Guardian, 22 June 1994.
45. "Judge Backs Star's 'Slave Contract,'" The Guardian, 22 June 1994.
46. Rose, “Contracting Rap," in Ross and Rose, pp. 122-4.
47. Jim White, "Where There's a Hit there's a Writ, A Rock Star's Guide to Staying out of Court and in the Money," The Independent, 24 June 1994.
48. Rose, “Contracting Rap," p. 136.
49. Ibid., p. 137.
50. See What They Telling Us It's Illegal For?, videotape by Birmingham Film Co-op, 1985.
51. Peter Manuel, Cassette Culture, Popular Music and Technology in North India, University of Chicago Press, 1993, p. 30.
52. Roger Wallis and Krister Malm, Big Sounds from Small Peoples, Constable, London 1984, p. 77.
53. Ibid., p. 56.
54. Manuel, p. 32.
55. Wallis and Malm, p. xv.
56. Ibid., p. 100.
57. The latest group of this kind that I encountered, on a visit to Berlin while completing this book in August 1994, was also selling its own CDs.
58. Ibid., pp. 297–8.
59. Personal communication from Steve Stanton.
60. Elie Siegmeister, Music and Society, Workers Music Association, London, undated.