Sound Exchange: Media and Music Cultures

Nabeel Zuberi. Handbook of Media Studies. Editor: John D H Downing, Denis McQuail, Philip Schlesinger, Ellen Wartella. Sage Publication. 2004.

Disciplining Music

Sounds have been recorded and played back through media technologies and music objectified in commodity form since the 19th century, yet remarkably, the study of mass-mediated music only became commonplace in colleges and universities during the 1980s and 1990s. Music teaching and research remain, however, scattered across such departments and programs as music, sociology, anthropology, ethnomusicology, cultural studies, media/communication studies, history, geography, education, and various ethnic and area studies. These academic formations have brought their own questions and analytical methods to bear on music as an object of serious study. The interdisciplinarity of music studies has been shaped by debates within and between disciplines about the relative importance of texts and contexts, social structures, and human agency. Arguably, we still do not share a clearly defined consensus about the direction of music studies.


The most obviously music-centered of the disciplines, musicology, has traditionally placed greater emphasis on musical form and style. But critical musicologists have displaced the written or notated score foundational to a Western musicology tradition that privileges classical or art music. Against the notion of music as autonomous art, the so-called “new musicology” has produced semiotic readings that historicize musical texts. Musicologists have also turned to the performance preserved in the sound recording and applied close reading methods to folk and popular commercial styles such as jazz, blues, rock, soul, funk, and film music. Rhythm and timbre have joined melody and harmony. Many musicologists were instrumental in organizing initial interdisciplinary discussions that resulted in the formation of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) in 1981. Like sociologists and anthropologists, musicologists who study recorded music agree that musical sounds are linked to social structures, cultural processes, and the histories of particular groups of people (Brackett, 1995; Leppert & McClary, 1987; Middleton, 1990, 2000; Shepherd, 1991). Yet the relative importance placed on texts as opposed to people and contexts still fuels disagreements with music scholars in other disciplines.


Sociologists contend that formalism provides a limited understanding of music. They stress music as social activity and experience embedded in power relations (Longhurst, 1995; Martin, 1995). Sociology considers the political economy of music—its industrial production, distribution, and consumption—a particularly important critical intervention in the recent context of media industry consolidation. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, the “big five” music corporations—AOL Time-Warner, Bertelsmann AG, Universal/Vivendi (UMG), Sony, and EMI—dominate the economy of musical commodities on an unprecedented global scale. Those sociologists influenced by Marxism have tended to be suspicious of aesthetics as textually determinist and aesthetic values as markers of social distinctions and hierarchies. So sociologists have focused on how people make musical judgments. How can we understand, as Simon Frith (1998) puts it, “the gap between the sensual experience of music and the discursive means by which it becomes pressed into an experience” (p. 128)? This has returned sociologists of music to the unavoidable question of musical aesthetics (Frith, 1996). Yet musicologists continue to criticize them for their concentration on discourse about music and contextual factors at the expense of the music itself and its bodily pleasures.


Ethnomusicology attempts to bridge the formal analysis of sounds à la musicology with the anthropological imperative to understand music “in the field,” within the fabric of cultures—the customs, rituals, and institutions of particular people in communities located in specific places. The discipline has not isolated music as performance, text, or practice. Ethnomusicology’s attention to culture as everyday life and its sensitivity to cultural difference have contributed to the development of music studies across the disciplines. By studying the music of “other cultures,” regarded by the classical Eurocentric musicology tradition as relatively primitive or undeveloped, ethnomusicology advanced pluralism in music scholarship. Researchers sought to record and preserve local and national music traditions threatened by a hegemonic Western and globalizing music industry. However, this meant that the discipline tended to be suspicious of technologically mediated and industrially manufactured music as “inauthentic” and corrupting. Nonetheless, ethnomusicology has been forced to address the ubiquity of mass-mediated music in many cultures around the world and, ironically, has grown alongside the development of “world music” as a popular music market category since the late 1980s (Feld, 2000). Like its parent discipline anthropology, ethnomusicology has also become more self-conscious and reflexive about the way it produces knowledge of the “other.” And with the impact of globalization discourse, the field has reassessed the notion of a stable, enclosed “local.”

Cultural Studies and Popular Culture

The interdisciplinary formation of cultural studies—fundamentally concerned with the relationship between culture and power—has cannibalized musicology, sociology, ethnomusicology, and anthropology and, in turn, has influenced these older disciplines. The widespread institutionalization of cultural studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s significantly shaped the emergence of popular music studies in the English-language academy. The term popular music remains a floating signifier that can mean any or all of the following: music liked by many people, music seen to represent particular populations, specific music genres usually derived from American and British rock and soul music, music that sells in large numbers or figures in polls and charts, or simply any music that is recorded and manufactured as a mass-reproduced commodity for the marketplace (Corbett, 1994, pp. 35-36). The latter open-ended definition tends to be favored by scholars in media studies.

In its neo-Gramscian mode, cultural studies engaged with popular culture as a site of ideological struggle within which popular music was one location for discussions of hegemony and resistance in civil society. In fact, much of U.S. media commentators’ animosity to the new field focused on the teaching of apparently trivial and ephemeral popular music, which apparently threatened the canon of great works housed in the humanities of the Western university.

For cultural studies, the problem of the popular is central to a critical and political engagement with culture. Scholars continue to argue about the democratic impulse in the popular as well as its troubling mobilization in discourses of market populism and authoritarian populism. Many of these debates focus on whether studies of consumption, audiences, and fans simply validate or critique increasingly market-driven consumer cultures that perpetuate economic and social inequities. In recent years, the sociological and political economy wings of cultural studies have emphasized the need to return to analysis of cultural production to offset the drift toward consumption-based studies.

In the disciplines and “postdisciplines” that I have outlined above, the struggle for the academic legitimacy of popular music studies was waged primarily by Western academics who belonged to a generation shaped in significant measure by post-Elvis Presley rock, pop and soul, the civil rights movement, and 1960s counterculture (Grossberg, 1992). In the British context of postwar public education, studies of popular music were motivated by serious consideration of working-class cultures (e.g., Hall & Jefferson, 1993; Hebdige, 1979; Willis, 1978). As well as examining social class, popular music studies more concertedly considered gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity in the 1990s when feminism, queer theory, multiculturalism, and postcolonial discourse ranked high as agenda items on and off campus. Courses on popular music integrating these political concerns sprang up as cultural studies gained a foothold in the curriculum. However, ethnic studies programs and departments such as African American studies and Latin American studies had also long studied music, though often without the same fanfare or support as new kid-on-the-block cultural studies.

Popular Music Studies

Today, popular music studies remain marginal and dispersed in many colleges and universities, even though professional associations, several journals (e.g., Popular Music, Popular Music and Society, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Perfect Beat), publishers’ series, Web pages, and a clutch of textbook readers are devoted to the field (e.g., Frith & Goodwin, 1990; Shuker, 1994). In one recent anthology, David Hesmondhalgh and Keith Negus (2002, p. 4) note that there has been no single synthesis of disciplines in an emergent popular music studies. A commitment to interdisciplinarity has not produced consensus about theory or methodology but led to the crystallization of the field around questions of musical meaning, value, power, industries, audiences, and place. Lawrence Grossberg (2002) contends that the inability of popular music studies to develop a specific theoretical framework around which to argue (unlike theory associated with the journal Screen in film studies) has been one of the failures of the field. Recent IASPM conferences attest to the continuing friction between musicologists and sociology/cultural studies academics. Each camp grapples with the other’s technical vocabulary. Some IASPM members worry that the field’s internationalism might lead to show-and-tell-and-listen about unfamiliar local music cultures with little sense of common theoretical urgency. Others complain that despite the wider spectrum of music represented and more cross-cultural exchange, the field is still dominated by the English language and by Anglo-American rock music (see Kärki, Leydon, & Terho, 2002).

If the struggle to have popular music taken seriously has (almost) been won, there is a growing sense that the emergent field might have made some major theoretical shortcuts along its path. In its efforts to institutionalize popular music in the academy, the field may have tried too hard to give its object a political use value as counterhegemonic. In celebrating the youthful, marginal, and spectacular, popular music studies might have been relatively deaf to the more ordinary, conflicted, and plural ways in which recorded music permeates the everyday lives of the vast majority of musicians and listeners.

Media Studies and Mediation

Given the arguments and anxieties in the early institutionalization of popular music studies that I have sketched above, what do media studies contribute to popular music studies? Anahid Kassabian (1999) notes that “popular music is not an established field in the discipline of communication studies” (p. 116). Indeed, in most academic locations, it is still a relative newcomer alongside its siblings/rivals—film studies, television studies, and even “new media” studies of computer-mediated communication.

Media studies’ emphasis on the apparatuses and techniques of particular technologies amplifies our understanding of music in films, videos, and the Internet; the material cultures of records, cassettes, compact disks, and radios; and the mediations of other hardware and software used in the recording and playback of music. The analysis of media technologies in situ might temper much of the present moment’s technoutopian hyperbole and force us to confront the continuities as well as discontinuities in the way different music technologies function in economic and cultural contexts. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin (1999) warn that in the current period of rapid transformations, “Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them” (p. 5). Music’s multiple technological mediations offer ways of approaching the reality of “multimedia” that do not presume technological “convergence” as a unique phenomenon of the digital age. A return to the concept of mediation would thus appear timely.

Drawing on Raymond Williams’s definition in Keywords, Keith Negus (1996, p. 70) argues that mediation should be considered in broad terms: firstly, as transmission (i.e., technologies used for the production, distribution, and consumption of the sounds, words, and images of popular music culture); secondly, as intermediary action by those cultural intermediaries involved in these processes; and thirdly, as the mediation of social relationships (i.e., differences in power relations that mediate the production and reception of music). Negus (1996) proposes “the concept of mediation as a way of starting to think about the range of processes, movements, relationships and power struggles that occur between and across the production and consumption of popular music” (p. 70). His approach has the virtue of not being technologically determinist, but it begs the question of how these different levels of mediation interact.

In an essay on mediation that indirectly returns to the textual/contextual tension between musicology and sociology/cultural studies, Johan Fornäs (2000) writes,

Mediation as a key concept in cultural studies is basically contested from two sides. In a reductionism of absence, structuralist positions have reified textual autonomy in relation to both subjects and contexts, both of which are subordinated or reduced to it, and thus annihilated … This has induced a sort of backlash in the form of a series of attempts to murder the text in order to regain space for either subjective experience or social reality … A reductionism of presence strives to abolish mediation in favour of ideas of direct routes to external or internal reality. In such an anti-textualist cult of immediacy, a recourse to real subjective experience or hard social facts seems to escape any need for interpretive practice. (pp. 48-49)

Against both these reductive tendencies, Fornäs (2000) argues that we need to consider the material relations between texts, contexts, and subjects carefully, for “in mediated action, people use texts as cultural tools to create collective and individual identities” (p. 58). But how do these actors and forces interact? Negus (1996) draws on Stuart Hall’s notion of “articulation” (Grossberg, 1986) to describe the links or connections made between different elements in an historical conjuncture, but Fornäs (2000) notes that the concept “unfortunately remains rather vague in its applications” (p. 53). John Downing (1996) has also pointed out that the term articulation is “either relatively banal, or bears such a gigantic weight that it cracks under the strain” (p. 214).

A modest critical step forward might first involve foregrounding the multiple technological mediations of music. Old and new academic formations have had to address the impact of sound-recording technologies and other media on music cultures. For scholars in media studies, these mediations usually offer the starting point for analysis. The strongest work in the field, however, is not media centric in its examination of the relations between music, media, culture, society, economics, and politics.

The Social Life of Music Technologies

Technologies consist of techniques, discourses and representations, processes and practices in everyday life, and the materiality of machines, devices, objects, and artifacts. In line with developments in other areas of interdisciplinary media and cultural studies, work on music technologies increasingly examines the social life of these technologies. Timothy Taylor (2001) argues for a “practice theory” because

any music technology … both acts on its users and is continually acted on by them; MP3s—or any software or hardware—have designed into them specific uses, which are followed by listeners, but at the same time, listeners through their practices undermine, add to, and modify those uses in a never-ending process. (p. 38)

Tia DeNora (2000) suggests that research into the ways that the specific properties of materials are appropriated in social and psychological processes illuminates “the social-technical mélange through which forms of agency and social order(s) are produced and held in place” (p. 36). Her Music in Everyday Life examines the uses of recorded music in hospital therapy, airplanes, aerobics, retail spaces, the romantic interludes of “intimate culture,” and collective gatherings such as parties. Michael Bull’s (2000) study of personal stereos in Britain combines a critical phenomenology of use with ethnographic methods, building on other studies of these mobile music devices (Du Gay, Hall, Janes, Mackay, & Negus, 1997). In her anthropology of Zambian radio culture, Debra Spitulnik (2002) points out that status, kinship networks, and economic factors make radio largely an outdoor device. Studies of karaoke singing illustrate the “liveness” of mediated performance in bars (Drew, 2001; Mitsui & Hosokawa, 1998). The emerging study of “piped” or background mood music as ways of ordering commercial and public spaces reveals new listening subjectivities in environments and activities filled with mediated music (Kassabian, 1999; Lanza, 1994). Such research influenced by theories of everyday life contributes to a critical theory of music technology as both commodity form and creative domain.

The meaning of music has been produced across the technological “sites” of print, photography, radio, film, television, video, records, cassettes, CDs, MP3 files, and so on, as well as amplified concert performances “mediated in the flesh.” For most of its life as media, music has circulated in various commodity forms across related media industries. Music cultures develop as assemblages of old and new technologies. Many academic studies across the disciplines attest to the uneven distribution of music technologies as artifacts from context to context. For example, 7-inch vinyl record singles retain powerful currency in Jamaican sound system culture (Stolzoff, 2000) but are no longer produced in many countries. Twelve-inch vinyl singles pressed in Europe and the Americas revolve in transnational dance music scenes and networks associated with hip-hop, house, techno, and their various subgenres, accruing different types of value and cultural capital as they travel and are grounded in particular locations (Fikentscher, 2000). Yet 12-inch vinyl has all but disappeared in India, one of the fastest growing national markets for recorded music. The compact disk may be the dominant legal format in Australasia, Europe, and North America, but the humble cassette remains the most common and affordable music commodity in the Indian marketplace (Manuel, 1993). This mix of old and new media use reminds us of the difficulty in constructing an “evolutionist” narrative of music technologies.

Technological Mediation and Discourses of Musical Authenticity

Despite more than a century of industrialized recording that enabled music to become mobile matter in time and space, music technology studies have had to tackle resilient popular discourses that pit the “authentic” presence of the “live” unmediated music experience (whether produced or consumed) against the inauthentic fabrication of mediated music. Fans and critics have judged the value of musical forms and practices along a continuum of different mediations that include instruments and various audio and audiovisual media. Anxieties about music’s commodification in devices and artifacts continue to haunt approaches to technology. Media studies keep returning (like a James Brown loop/sample) to the debates about art’s mass reproducibility between Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin, even though only the former wrote much about music. The tension between the economic rationalization of media technologies and their democratic potential reverberates through music media studies. Fears lurk that electrical, electronic, and now digital technologies of production, reproduction, transmission, distribution, and consumption wither the power and immediacy of music in the collective and communal realm, sacrificing its life as communication between musicians and audiences in public spaces for canned music in the more privatized spaces of headphones, homes, and automobiles (Attali, 1985). But as Frith (2001) points out,

The effect of twentieth-century media was less to privatise musical and other cultural experiences than to blur the distinction between the public and private spheres … Rather than talking about the privatisation of music we should, perhaps, see music as the medium through which we negotiate the complex relations between our public and our private selves … What has mattered for sheet music sellers and film star makers, for record companies and radio programmers, has not been the privatisation of music but its individualisation. (pp. 37-38)

Technologies and Musicianship

A number of historical studies describe how technological mediations were integral to the changing sound of music in the 20th century (Chanan, 1995; Gronow & Saunio, 1998; Jones, 1992). In the composition/production of recorded music, the electric microphone facilitated more intimate vocal styles and made certain instruments audible for the first time in recordings. Magnetic tape and multi-track recording made recorded sounds more malleable after the fact of performance in the sound mixes of Glenn Gould, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Miles Davis. The valve amplifier generated new sounds for instruments such as the electric guitar in live and studio performance. The studio console, with its many novel sound effects, became at least another musical instrument in its own right in the work of producers and engineers such as Sam Phillips, Phil Spector, Joe Meek, Brian Wilson, George Martin, Lee Perry, and King Tubby.

The academic rise of popular music studies in the 1980s and 1990s coincided with the dissemination of digital technologies such as sequencers and samplers, which enabled the production of new music through the almost infinite recombination and treatment of previously recorded sounds. Academics tried to come to terms with digitization’s effects on practices and discourses of musicianship. Andrew Goodwin (1992) argued that relatively inexpensive digital machinery facilitated greater access to the means of music production but that male-dominated cultures of music making still predominated. Paul Théberge (1997) contended that manufacturers of digital instruments such as Roland and Korg rationalize composition through their interfaces and programming options. Computer-made music may be indicative of broader developments in technical-creative labor, the “downsizing” and miniaturization of music production most sharply represented by the growing numbers of DJs, home studio producers and laptop musicians in commercial dance music, and experimental “electronica.” Elie During (2002) suggests that these musical fields mark a significant shift to a craft regime of authorship:

But contrary to the authorship of the author (composer or performer), the craftsman’s authorship does not function like a principle of rarefaction (limiting the circulation of cultural goods, and the proliferation of meaning); on the contrary it seems to authorise and to beckon unbounded reproduction and transformation. It is above all characterised by a certain ethic of musical work, manifested by increased control over the whole production line. (p. 45)

The discourse of musicians, fans, and journalists familiar with this new technological terrain often, however, invokes quite traditional romantic ideas about art, authorship, and creativity. And producers such as Moby, Moodymann, and Fennesz have developed hybrid modes of recording and performance incorporating analog and digital media—the playing of “real” instruments with “pushing buttons live,” as DJs Shadow, Cut Chemist, and Nu Mark put it in the title of one of their compositions.

Much of the academic writing and serious journalism about digital music has focused on the practice of sampling. Initial approaches enthused about the punk-meets-postmodernism aesthetics of détournement and the “plunderphonics” of artists such as John Oswald, Steinski, the Bomb Squad, Prince Paul, and M/A/R/R/S. But studies of sampling soon turned to the increasing economic and legislative regulation of sound bytes. Debates about the concepts and legal definitions of musical creativity and originality, intellectual property, and copyright dominated this second wave of sampling scholarship (Frith, 1993). As the practice has become ubiquitous across music genres, studies focus more on the ethical dimension—the moral responsibility of music producers in the exchange, appropriation, or “rip-off” of sounds. Musicians in the wealthy nations continue to disproportionately profit from sampling the recorded music of those with less power in transnational music economies (see Born & Hesmondhalgh, 2000).

The debates around sampling remind us that technologies of music production, distribution, and consumption have been intimately intertwined and are not neatly separated domains in the history of recorded music. Tricia Rose (1994) argues that sampling technology enables history-and-memory work as it holds and releases sound fragments from the recorded archive. The impact of digitization on listening, popular memory, and music historiography has yet to be gauged in any comprehensive scholarly study. With music transformed into bits and bytes in a digital culture of miniaturization, the storage capacity of musical machinery accommodates an expansive sonic archive. Compact disk technology enables music companies to profitably mine the past with rereleases from their back catalogues. These labels, as well as DJs and compilers of CDs, can reorder and reshape the history and meaning of music movements, genres, and local and national music traditions. Archivist labels such as Strut, Soul Jazz, and Rhino also serve a pedagogic function with their compilations of old recordings.

Techno-Cultures, Identities, and Communities

Historical studies reveal that musical technologies and artifacts have played key roles in the formation of both subjective and collective identities. In her study of early women’s blues recordings in the 1920s, Angela Davis (1998) describes how the blues as “the predominant postslavery African-American musical form … articulated a new valuation of individual emotional needs and desires” (p. 5). As the blues “came to displace sacred music in the everyday lives of black people, it both reflected and helped to construct a new black consciousness” (Davis, 1998, pp. 5-6). Billie Holiday learned to sing the blues in large part from the records of Bessie Smith that she listened to, rather than live performances. In his exemplary history of early American phonography, William Kenney (1999) argues that social listening in women’s groups, gramophone clubs, and other social organizations acknowledged marginalized social formations whose expressive modes circulated on wax, contributing to the creation of collective memory and identity. These identities included emergent cultures as well as markets for hillbilly/country music and African American “race” records. The time-traveling capabilities of music media artifacts can change the course of music history. For example, Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music (1952) comprised a six-record set of almost forgotten recordings from the 1920s and 1930s, idiosyncratically compiled and annotated by a maverick record collector. Following its 1997 reissue as a six-CD box set by Smithsonian Folkways, Greil Marcus (1997) wrote that the Anthology presented a sonic history of the “the old, weird America” and inspired the folk music movement during late McCarthyism and the cold war.

Scholars now take for granted that music recordings contribute to the contours of popular memory (Lipsitz, 1990). A film such as Woody Allen’s Radio Days (1984) meditates on the relationship between private and public memory switched on by songs on the wireless. Radio imagined local, regional, and national communities of consumers and citizens who might never encounter each other in their local bars or musical venues. Thus, rhythm and blues crossed over to White America and was born again as rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s. Radio solidified mass markets for advertisers and then helped to fragment them into niche demographics at home and behind the wheel. North American scholarship on the medium waned as television usurped radio’s cultural and economic position in the 1950s. But Michele Hilmes (2002) notes a recent resurgence in interest because

radio’s demographically fragmented status made it a perfect arena in which to observe the operations of the many “subaltern counterpublics” … that had adopted the relatively low-cost and interactive medium as a place to mark out new forms of cultural identity and debate. (p. 11)

Free and pirate radio continue to provide models for participatory media communication taken up in the analysis of other technologies such as audiocassette tapes (James, 1992; Strauss, 1993). Bootleg tape trading by Grateful Dead fans, for example, constituted a networked community that became one template for the Internet file sharing of music.

Any utopianism about such technologically connected “virtual communities” needs to be tempered by analysis of the forces that structure and delimit their agency. In his account of hip-hop’s transition from the primary arena of live performance to mediated narrative, Greg Dimitriadis (2001) describes how “rap moved from a local, party-oriented art form to one driven by closed-song structure, self-contained texts, and popular filmic images over the past 20 years” (p. 33). Rap is now primarily studio art, distributed by a global music industry that relies increasingly on visual media for the promotion of its audio products. Brian Cross (1993) has represented a lively but still fragile and besieged Los Angeles hip-hop culture composed of open microphone sessions in clubs, turntables, record collections, mixers, and samplers in homes, tapes circulated amongst friends, a few radio shows, and the poetics of DJs, MCs, break dancers, graffiti artists, and rappers. Such local cultures have to contend with heavily regulated and policed urban environments with few venues to play and limited opportunities (see Rose, 1994, for a New York City comparison).

The Visual Economy of Music

Debates about what John Mundy (1999) terms the “visual economy of popular music” highlight the issues and anxieties around the increasing “convergence” of media and media studies. Record sleeves, promotional posters, press photography, film, television, and video have substituted the image for the musical body. Grossberg (2002, p. 38) suggests that live performance is no longer the primary source of musical authenticity. Fans, journalists, and critics routinely state that the primacy of the visual results in the subservience of the sonic to an alien technological regime. Paul Gilroy (2000, pp. 272-274) laments that the call-and-response sociality of Black music in public performance has receded with the two-dimensional limitations of the screen and musical “de-skilling” due to digital technologies.

Despite the long-established visualization of music and the filmic presence of jazz singers and other popular music since the advent of the “talkies” in the late 1920s (Gabbard, 1996), film and television studies have been quite slow to listen to the music in their respective domains. Genre analysis of the classical Hollywood musical examined the function of pre-rock music as spectacular song-and-dance interruptions in the industry’s narrative logic (Altman, 1981; Feuer, 1982). New musicology informed by feminism and psychoanalysis studied the musical semiotics of orchestral scores in response to the auteurist focus on composers (Flinn, 1992; Gorbman, 1987; Kalinak, 1992). The ascendancy of popular music in the Hollywood compilation score was signposted by American Graffiti (1972), Saturday Night Fever (1977), and Top Gun (1986). As music provides more marketing clout and potential revenues through the “synergy” of international films and soundtracks, a growing literature has emerged at the interface of film, television, and popular music studies (Robertson-Wojcik & Knight, 2001; Smith, 1998). This work is more open to the different identifications produced by the music of global Hollywood, as well as other cinema cultures such as Bollywood and Chinese and Egyptian film. Industries and texts address a broader range of listener competencies, taste cultures, and niche markets (Kassabian, 2001). With the digital convergence of musical and “nonmusical” sounds and images in bits and bytes, music is examined within the overall “sound design” of both film texts and sonic-viewing experiences in exhibition spaces (Brophy, 2000; Chion, 1994; Hayward, 1999).

Studies of television have primarily focused on music’s place in the development of youth television (Frith, Goodwin, & Grossberg, 1993). In the 1980s, music television gave us the new genre of the music video, an advertisement for the sound commodity. Surprisingly, the study of music in television commercials remains an under-researched area. Initial debates about music television revolved around the apparently emblematic postmodernism of MTV (Kaplan, 1987). Goodwin’s (1993) institutional analysis of MTV critiqued the visual bias of these studies and drew attention to sound and established discourses about popular music culture. Music video analysis is now a stalwart of the field. In recent years, anthologies and readers in popular music studies increasingly feature chapters on the globalization of music television. In what corporate-speak likes to call “glocalization,” MTV and Channel [V] have shaped musical imaginaries; remodeled local, regional, and national styles; and opened up new markets for youth- and middle-class-targeted goods in Latin America and Asia. Music television networks with linguistic roots outside the European-North American axis of mainly English-language pop also compete for markets with “Western”-owned companies.

Internet Music

As various permutations of network theory have spread across the disciplines, media and cultural studies have considered music’s distribution and consumption in peer-to-peer networks that organize widely dispersed listeners. The reproduction of previously recorded sounds is key to arguments about “piracy” and the “free” circulation of music through downloadable MP3 files and burnt CDs. Through software design, the major music corporations seek to secure digital rights and more efficiently manage customer information while cutting storage and transportation costs with the Internet. Through litigation and legislation, they hope to more tightly control and regulate the distribution of music. Both the big corporations and the smaller independents seek to organize an increasingly mobile consumer who operates in many regards like a sampler. In fact, Grossberg (2002) argues that the current popular music formation is dominated by a “neoeclectic mainstream,” an apparatus that “operates with a logic of sampling, in both senses of the term (i.e., as a production technique and a habit of listening)” (p. 48). As a technological practice of music consumption and production, sampling seems to anticipate the networking culture of the Internet. Sampling as cultural logic dominates the radio show, DJ set and remix, the CD compilation, the file server, and the programming facilities of various playback technologies. But resisting a potential technological determinism, Steve Jones (2002a) reminds us that “music online exists side-by-side with music offline and side-by-side with cultural and industrial practices and processes offline” (p. 228).

Music Industries, Work, and the Political Economy of Music

Studies of the music industry have acknowledged yet seriously questioned the Frankfurt school’s macro-theoretical and monolithic account of the “culture industry,” which has had to come to terms with structural changes in capitalism. The consolidation of the music industry has involved the decentralization of production with management in networked systems. Production is dispersed within various divisions of corporations and across the many smaller companies that function like subcontractors (Roberts, 2002). Organizational sociologists, mainly in the United States, have focused on the actors and processes by which music is produced in specific institutions. These so-called “production-of-culture” approaches address the particularity of organizational structures and production processes in industries producing creative work (Peterson, 1976). They focus on the interplay of technologies, the law, the market, industry structure, economies of scale, and occupational careers (Burnett, 1996, pp. 65-66). For example, Richard Peterson’s (1997) major study of country music describes how its styles and sounds were institutionalized between 1923 and 1953 through the intersection of performers, songwriters, agents, record companies, radio broadcasters, and film studios.

However, the production-of-culture approach tends to cordon off production within economic and organizational processes. Ironically, cultural context recedes into the background. As Keith Negus (1992, 1999) points out, culture in the form of social relations, defined by such axes of power as race, class, gender and sexuality, and so on, necessarily affects the way musicians and other workers in the music industry make decisions. Recent work on the “cultural industries” (Hesmondhalgh, 2002; Negus, 1999) has been influenced by the French sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and Bernard Miège. A branch of this sociology of music work centers on the notion of music industry personnel as “cultural intermediaries,” a category of worker deemed more significant in a global economy increasingly defined by “information,” “knowledge,” and the products of creative industries such as music, film, television, advertising, and design. Angela McRobbie (2002), for example, points out that the entrepreneurial economy of dance music and metropolitan club scenes in Britain has provided models for an emerging culture of individualized, mobile creative work marked by deregulation, longer hours, and a decline of politics. Studies of the degree of relative autonomy of small music organizations and changing notions of “independence” remain important for the construction of radical democratic modes of music work in generally hostile economic conditions.

Considerations of music policy have had to deal with issues of aesthetics and pleasure (Bennett, Frith, Grossberg, Shepherd, & Turner, 1993; Street, 2000). Therefore, cultural industries research has been generating sociological accounts of musical creativity and form that move beyond the romantic-genius discourses of authorship (Toynbee, 2000). One way to examine the relationship between industry and aesthetics has been to focus on genres. The social meanings of these relatively standardized music styles are negotiated between musicians, industrial forces, the media, and listener-consumers. Tracking the emergence of similar texts, their categorization and mutation as they travel can illustrate the various economic, cultural, and political forces that shape music forms in specific local and national contexts. Political economy approaches also register different points in the value chain of music commodities as they circulate in various media technologies and are grounded in listening experiences (Miklitsch, 1998).

Identity Politics

Popular music studies have shown us that, rather than reflecting the authentic voice(s) of a community in a particular place, music mediates subjective and collective identities. One of the influential legacies of the “Birmingham school” was its concept of “homology” (Willis, 1978). Academics examined the “homological” relations or fit between social position, music, sartorial style, and the activities within (mostly working-class male) youth subcultures. Critics have since taken apart subculture theory for the discreteness and internal coherence it attributed to cultures. The theory posited too rigid a resistance versus incorporation model, too neat a formulation of the “underground” against the “mainstream” (Thornton, 1995). Nevertheless, claims about authenticity, place, and identity continue to hold a strong currency in popular discourse within and about many music cultures. Therefore, Jason Toynbee (2000) argues that there is room to retain a modified concept of homology “as just one kind of link between community and musical practice … as an ‘authentic’ expression of social being in musical style” (p. 114).

In staking their claims, political, social, and cultural movements based on the struggle for the rights of women, queers, and racial-ethnic minorities have met with skepticism from some left-liberal critics. But as Robin Kelley (1997) argues, this is the weakness of a “neo-Enlightenment position” that characterizes “race, gender and sexuality as narrow identity politics while class is regarded as some transcendent, universal category that rises above these identities” (p. 109). Ron Eyerman and Andrew Jamison (1998) argue for social movement theory and history that integrate music as central to the cognitive praxis of actors within political and social movements.

Feminist and gay/lesbian/queer scholars have, to an important extent, redressed the masculinist bias of rock-dominated music studies and popular music culture itself. Debates about gender in popular music have proliferated since the 1980s (Whiteley, 1997, 2000). Poststructuralist theories that emphasize “technologies of the self” and the “performance” of gendered and sexual practices and identities have influenced writing on many genres, including the rock canon, country, disco, rave music, and “tweenie” pop for girls (Bayton, 1998; Schwichtenberg, 1993). Feminist and queer academics were largely responsible for a greater critical engagement with audiences and fans, particularly questions of affect, structures of feeling, and emotion (Lewis, 1992).

African American sounds have been integral to the history of “Western” popular music, and some of the recent academic literature on Black music reveals current arguments about identity politics more broadly. Studies of rap and hip-hop culture assume that the music contributes to a mediated Black public sphere in the post-civil rights/post-soul era (Neal, 1999, 2002). The genre has become a focus for debates about Black modernism and postmodernism (Potter, 1995) and for working-class and sexual politics as they intersect with questions of race in America (Perkins, 1996). Paul Gilroy (2000) criticizes the nationalist paradigm in African American rap and its academic studies. He conceives of rap as part of a transnational Black Atlantic counterculture of modernity. Increasingly, studies of “Black music” stress the multicultural interactions and complex power relations involved in the affiliations and antagonisms, aesthetics, and commerce of musical forms and practices between Black and White, African Americans and Jewish Americans (Lott, 1993; Melnick, 1999). Tony Mitchell (2002) points out that the wider globalization of rap and hip-hop has produced distinct, unique, and hybrid cultures around the world that are ignored by the parochialism and imperialism of most American studies of the genre.

Spaces and Places

Cultural geography and spatial theories of globalization have brought to the fore the question of place in music studies. Ideas of place have always been central to music cultures. The sound of music has been sold as representative or evocative of the local—for example, Mersey Beat, Philly Soul, and the Bristol Sound. A genre such as hip-hop also self-consciously projects locality as a crucial element in its sound and the discourse around the music (Forman, 2002). Ethnographic and other anthropological approaches have detailed the ecology of musical place identities in a literature on specific music forms and “scenes” in particular locations (Bennett, 2000; Cohen, 1991; Finnegan, 1989; Leyshon, Matless, & Revill, 1998; Mitchell, 1996; Shank, 1993; Stokes, 1994; Swiss, Sloop, & Herman, 1998). Dance music cultures have become sites for debates about the policing of youth, the struggle over public space, and the desiring “politics” of hedonism (Gilbert & Pearson, 1999; McKay, 1998). The geographical influence in youth culture studies has been more marked as music venues, events and festivals, urban leisure, and tourism become integrated in service economies from Glasgow to Goa (Skelton & Valentine, 1998).

Music studies increasingly mediate the local and the global through conceptions of music scenes and cultures as mobile networks and circuits rather than as geographically bounded structures and processes. These include diasporic and linguistically based networks such as those for salsa, Arabic, Cantonese, and Hindi film pop, as well as marginal electronic dance music genres that, enabled by Internet communication, circulate through distributors to specialist record shops in the higher ranking Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations. In the emerging literature, places are represented as nodes in the network or “dangerous crossroads” that produce syncretic or hybridized forms and practices (Lipsitz, 1994). Though not completely disavowed, the concept of national music is turned inside out by much of this work (Perrone & Dunn, 2001; Zuberi, 2001).

The greater volume and rapid interconnectedness that marks today’s music cultures often involve neocolonial encounters and transactions. Cultural imperialism may be insufficient a term to understand the complex trajectories of these mediations, but critical analysis continues to focus on power relations and the “exotic” desires that motivate the “placing” and trafficking of music in various networks (Hayward, 1999; Sharma, Hutnyk, & Sharma, 1996; Taylor, 1997). One challenge for an international popular music studies is to move beyond “the West and the rest” to consider the many alternative circuits and trade routes through which music travels between people and places—for example, Hindi film songs in the Maghreb and salsa in Japan.


In a networked globe of scattered centers and peripheries—one in which music is on the move more rapidly than ever before—music studies are likely to pursue more interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and relational analyses. This convergence will not be a smooth operation. Sociological approaches to music, including those of media studies, will have to be more sensitive to the specificity of musical forms and experiences. The more anthropological return to music production, distribution, and consumption in everyday life offers methods that historicize, localize, and situate musical cultures in a world characterized by “spaces of flows.” Academic popular music studies will need to more actively engage with (largely anti-academic) music journalism and explore how talk and writing about music in various media institutions and public life might affect academic rhetoric and vice versa (Jones, 2002b). These debates might affect the discourse of multicultural music education in schools, colleges, and universities. Can we talk seriously about music without the specialized jargon that musicology and the other disciplines have handed down? Questions of power will remain central to critical popular music studies as they examine the social life of technologies in increasingly digital media economies. We will continue to listen to the musical noises in the foreground but need to be more attentive to the sounds in the background and to the silences in between.