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12 May 2009

A brief quote about music under capitalism

(Diptych photos sourced from and

…consistently fascinated by the ties which bind music and the marketplace. This quote from a book review in today’s Wall Street Journal concisely framed the issue that faces record companies or any other content producers whose business depends on publishing content in fixed forms, then distributing it through closed, tightly-controlled networks:

    “Just as there is still a robust market for news though not through newspapers, people have not lost their appetite for music. Why else would ‘American Idol’ flourish or a Dutch company spend an estimated $200 million for hte catalog of Rodgers and Hammerstein? What has changed is our custom for paying for music when we can gain access to it so easily on the Internet. Neither the news nor the music industry has come to terms with the digital technology that makes their products freely available or cost next to nothing.”

Also good was this paragraph about the decadence that set in among such content producers at the end of the 20th century, especially in music.

    “Big is bad in Mr. Suisman’s book, and commercialism inevitably crass and coercive. The ‘soundscape of modernity’–the formation of which he chronicles in engrossing detail–is, in the author’s view, inimical to democracy. ‘Consumers relished the greater range of choices,’ he writes, ‘but insofar as musical activity was linked to consumption, the boundaries of music came to depend increasingly on what the industry decided to market.'”

As long as we live by capitalism — eyeballing it, I imagine that should last at least a few more hundred years — dealing with the marketplace is not only an inconvenient truth, it’s a situation all artists must reconcile themselves with, and a system they must find a way to function within. As reluctantly as they may do so, it is worse to hold one’s nose up and pretend this is not the case.

by Ken Emerson from “Music & Money” in the WSJ, a review of a book I have not read Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music by David Suisman

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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