Monday, January 28, 2013

Fads! (57 - Meyersohn & Katz)

Rolf Meyersohn and Elihu Katz present an excellent glimpse of fashion, music and a look at fads in the 1950's. From the famous sociology department of Chicago University, these two scratch the surface into subculture research with this piece, "Notes on a History of Fads", which was published in American Journal of Sociology in 1957.  Katz and Meyersohn suggest that most fads are recycled or rediscovered rather than actually something brand new, which I think still holds true today. In addition, the authors use examples of big breeding and the worlds of fashion to show how "tastemakers", who ultimately dictate fads and trends, are influenced by the general public. Finally, they assert that music trends and fads in general are targeted at the teenage demographic and small niche subcultures, which also remains true today.  Test markets, essentially, are the hipsters and bohemians who gobble up the music, fashion and now all the digital media to go along with it.

In the post WWII era of consumerism and the fanning of suburban America there is a wanton desire to "keep up with the Joneses" that has given rise to endless consumer fads and trends. But where do fads come from? As Kats and Meyersohn assert, "In many instances they have existed all  along but not as fads". The prime example they use is the resurgence or birth of rock and roll. As "rhythm and blues" hits finally get circulated to white suburban America, this niche or pocket, as the authors call it, has already been around for years. This music was primarily popular within African American subcultures, but now as other white artists such as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis adopt elements of R&B, older records which are already on there on the shelves are getting bought. The same is true today, it seems. Many bands won't really "make it" until a second or third full length album. So when a hit comes up, the back catalog, along with similar sounds of the same niche or genre are easily accessible. An example to me would be in the early 2000's there was a sudden burst of lo-fi garage, rock sound that became popular. Bands like Jet, the Hives, the Vines, the Strokes, the Arctic Monkeys...all the "the" bands...were gaining notoriety. Their sounds all had a 60's or 70's garage rock revival to them and they collectively created a trend in the sound of popular music.

Another example of this music recycling happens all the time in advertising in commercials. Companies either pay big time money to use an artists' song that is popular and has a bunch of "hipster cred" or they find a knock off sounding song to use instead. This has been happening for a long time, but now the bands are fighting back.  The Black Keys recently filed litigation against a company who owns a number of casinos for ripping off their sound. This comes on the heals of winning successful cases against Home Depot, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. But this isn't new for recording artists. Tom Waits sued Frito Lay for cloning his "raspy singing voice"

Check out these two videos:
(fast forward the bottom one to :35  )

Outback Steakhouse did the right thing and paid Of Montreal to remake their little ditty for their ad. One local music critic things bands will have to make money on commercial advertisements and plugs in movies, etc to make money in the ever-changing digital landscape. Omaha music blogger Tim McMahan has been covering the indie music scene for over 12 years, runs and writes for the Reader. He suggests that musicians cashing in on royalties is the norm and a necessary evil these days:

"In the old days upon seeing an ad like this indie music fans would jump on top of their milk-crate book cases, rip off their flannel shirts and self-righteously pound their chests screaming “SELL OUT!” at their TV screens. But today, with the music industry drying up like last summer’s drought-baked crops, selling the rights to one of your songs for a TV commercial not only is grudgingly accepted, it’s recognized as just another necessity if you want to feed yourself by making music. In fact, having your music used in a commercial can even be something to be proud of as long as it’s not selling mundane products like baby-back ribs or maxi pads."

Another area which the authors don't mention but is a perfect example of recycling is with fashion. It seems so many "vintage" and "retro" shops pop up selling grandma and grandpa's old wool and polyester as trends in fashion once again cycles back through. Goodwill stores and second-hand shops are picked clean of the gems and resold for a healthy profit margin. This was probably not the case at the time, but provides a perfect modern example.

Also, as the authors mention, the target audience for fads and most trends is aimed at the teenage demographic. This, too, remains much the same.  MTV is aiming for the 18-34 demographic, according to this chart, but only because that's the lowest age bracket available. In reality, 12-20 is actually probably more accurate. And this demographic has the most disposable income compared to any other age bracket.  So in essence, the young high school age kids shopping in all the strip malls will determine music, fashion and other fads and trends, but also these movements exist in subcultures and niches.

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