Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pushing Popular Music

In chapter 27 of our text, Duncan MacDougald Jr. said the music system in the 1940's was all aimed at one end: "The enforcement of material on the customer." He likened the distribution of pop music to that of non-essential consumer goods.

MacDougald also opined that Americans are interested in both being the best and flavoring the best when it comes to music. Much of his entry centered on plugging new music which became a method of creating a small subset of popular music which everyone was familiar with. In other words, those who had the power of promotion and those with a voice in the popular media were the ones deciding what was popular on the radio.

Has it changed today? This is an area I have argued with professors, co-workers and students a lot in recent months.

There has been a shift in the last 20 years from the purely singles-as-albums top 40, to today's song-as-single-file charts using new technologies. For example, in 1985 music on a top 40 radio station was furnished by record companies sending singles to a station and a small amount of call-in requests. For the most part, it was determined by someone else what you would listen to. Billboard magazine (also has been charting music hits since 1936 and it still does today. It uses requests and number of times played to determine its rankings. It is generally accepted as the most accurate radio chart available.

Flash forward to today and you have new technologies such as iTunes and Spotify. These two programs are free to use. Spotify allows free listening from your desktop to any song in their library while iTunes charges around a dollar per song to add to a personal library. These two services have the ability to literally track and post actual top songs played and/or purchased by its customers. These lists should be more representative of the tastes of the public (or at least those seeking out music). Or that is what you would think. Check out the latest lists:

Billboard's top six songs (as of Jan 31)
1. "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
2. "Locked out of Heaven" by Bruno Mars
3. "Ho Hey" by the Lumineers
4. "I Knew You Were Trouble" by Taylor Swift
5. "Scream and Shout" by and Brittney Spears
6. "Don't You Worry Child" by Swedish House Mafia

iTunes' top five singles purchased
1. "Thrift Shop"
2. "Scream and Shout"
3. "I Knew You Were Trouble"
4. "Ho Hey"
5. "Nothing Like Us" by Justin Bieber

Spotify's top five tracks played
1. "Thrift Shop"
2. "Ho Hey"
3. "Scream and Shout"
4. "Don't You Worry Child"
5. "It's Time" by Imagine Dragons

Maybe Americans gravitate towards certain songs. Maybe songs are better if we can listen to them together. Maybe the original plugging techniques still reign supreme and we haven't shaken loose from that format. Make your own interpretation of why these are so similar.

Lastly, here is an extreme modern example of plugging a song based on almost nothing. Pop star Justin Timberlake has not made an album of his own since 2006. Before the release of his new song, "Suit and Tie" a few weeks ago, he released this on his website and YouTube:

This video went viral, especially to fans of pop music, fans of Timberlake and most importantly, radio DJs around the country. It is not surprising, that within two weeks of this video, I have yet to hear this song on the radio without an above-and-beyond introduction of the song by a radio DJ. Between Lincoln's KFRX and Omaha's Channel 94.1 and KISS FM, this song has been the receiver of the plugging described by MacDougald.

In case you are wondering, Timberlake's "Suit and Tie" featuring Jay Z was released on Jan. 14 and is already #13 on Billboard, #12 on iTunes and #32 on Spotify.

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