Category Archives: Music & Capitalism

Tim Anderson: Theorizing the social musician

Capital’s resilience as technologies and cultures change lies in the systematic priority placed on value development and extraction. However, this does not imply that actors in these systems clearly understand their roles in the process. As industries change, equal amounts of optimism comingle with confusion as practitioners experiment with new roles and practices that they had not anticipated. In this article, I explore such changes and adaptations in the music industry following the advent of digital technology and the Internet. Specifically, I look at how musicians have had to rethink where their value lies for listeners and how some have come to believe that it rests in developing and exploring online social communities.
Continue reading

Rajalakshmi Nadadur Kannan: Copyright, capitalism, and a postcolonial critique of Karnatic music

Karnatic music, or South Indian classical music, is understood as “religious” music, deemed to be “divinely inspired,” and performers are seen as embodying the divine. Because of its association with “religion,” Karnatic music is generally considered a shared traditional knowledge that has historically been bequeathed from one generation to another through oral teaching. However, at the same time, Karnatic music also has a complex history with capitalism, having been constructed by bourgeois-nationalist elites in the early twentieth century from traditions that formed an inseparable part of the operation of temples and courts. This history has recently become further complicated. Some contemporary Karnatic musicians, while adhering to the beliefs of the “religious” and “divine” nature of the tradition and indeed the creativity of musicians therein, now raise concerns about protecting individual creativity and performances—specifically against unauthorized recordings of performances in concert halls and the availability of such recordings on the Internet (Paitandy 2011).

Continue reading

Joseph Trapido: Music, ritual, and capitalism in west central African history

There was a strong relationship between music and political-economic power in the precolonial Congo basin. This was because music was an integral part of a ritual nexus that dominated social life. Those who controlled the ritual nexus became rich and powerful, and controlled trade between locals and an expanding capitalism (MacGaffey 2000). Here I will show how music was important to this interface.
Continue reading

Alan Bradshaw: Marxist music studies

In contemplating music and capitalism, we might imagine alternative framings to “art versus commerce.” Art versus commerce understands music as perpetually compromised between musicians’ desire to produce l’art pour l’art in a context in which they must be commodity producers. In this regard, the challenge facing musicians is to register discourses of truth, authenticity, and subjectivity within the structure of commodity production (Frith and Horne 1987). Arguably, the primary theoretical reference for such analysis is presented by Adorno and Horkheimer’s ([1944] 1997) culture industry thesis, which posits a negative dialectic between orders of culture and industrial production. By focusing on the possibility of artistic production autonomy, a shift seems to take place wherein the spirit or aesthetic possibility claimed by the artist becomes emphasized and the music is analyzed with such spirit in mind.
Continue reading

Ruard Absaroka: Alienation and ethnomusicology – revisited

David Harvey (2014) cites alienation as a catalytic concept fundamental to animating political action in order to displace and dispossess the many-headed hydra of late global capitalism. However, despite its position as a basic contradiction of capitalism, there is still only passing consideration in even Marxist music scholarship of the topic of alienation, even though music and capitalism in general is receiving increasing attention.

Continue reading

Andrew Green: Negotiating musical and capitalist divides in San Cristóbal

The literature on sustainable livelihoods in the field of development studies emphasizes the importance of fostering diverse sources of income for economic entities like individuals, families, and communities (Chambers and Conway 1992). Especially in rural areas, economic actors often cope with shocks and stresses by spreading their bets, using different forms of capital (such as human, economic, and physical) to produce specific livelihood strategies (Scoones 1998: 6–8). Some (see O’Brien Bernini 2015) have recognized the relevance of this approach to music making. Continue reading

Leah O’Brien Bernini: Capitalism and resistance in professional Irish music

Professional musical artists continually respond to and interact with the neoliberal social formation through the hegemony of the commercial music industry.1 This post presents findings from my doctoral study investigating the complex, entwined relationship between commercialized traditional music and neoliberalism in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The four-year ethnographic study engages over eighty prominent professional Irish traditional and Celtic musical artists and related industry personnel. This post suggests domination in the music industry is primarily achieved and reinforced through exclusion. This is accomplished by restricting access to three forms of capital identified by Bourdieu (1986): cultural, economic, and social, which correspond with the three modes of domination: ideological, material, and status. This work explores how, when, and why professional artists may utilize acts of resistance2 against different forms of domination when attempting to improve their relative social position.
Continue reading

Mark Berry: Richard Wagner’s revolution: “Music drama” against bourgeois “opera”

Contrary to widespread opinion, Richard Wagner started off his career as the most revolutionary composer of the nineteenth century, not just in a musical sense but also in a more straightforwardly political manner. Contemporary obsession with alleged anti-Semitism in his dramatic works, aided and abetted by the de facto prohibition upon their performance in Israel, has tended to drown out all other controversy, of which there should be more, not less, both in quantity and in quality.
Continue reading

Jayson Beaster-Jones: Music, labor, and value in Indian music stores

The Indian music industry of the early 2000s was extremely volatile, as the overproduction of new recordings and ready availability of pirated material led to a decline in overall sales and waning profitability for the physical circulation of recorded music. Indian music retailers had to navigate a complex social and business environment in which their customers could shop for music in a bewildering array of successful retail outlets, ranging from street hawkers to family-owned shops to large, organized chain stores, to mobile phone providers.
Continue reading

David Diallo: “Every day I’m hustlin’”: Rap music as street capitalism

In a 2004 article, rap scholar Mickey Hess remarked, “Making money is a legitimate goal for rappers, and one that is stated outright in lyrics” (635). Rap musicians, it is true, very often display a capitalistic frame of mind in their performance. They consistently refer to money—more specifically, to making money through entrepreneurial activities—and generally draw on a semantic field of capitalism. For example, EPMD—a rap group whose moniker stands for Eric and Parish Making Dollars and who released the albums Strictly Business (1988), Unfinished Business (1989), Business as Usual (1990), Business Never Personal (1992), Back in Business (1997), Out of Business (1999), and We Mean Business (2008)—clearly favored a business-oriented and capitalist discourse. Record labels like Cash Money in New Orleans and Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella, whose name explicitly references the capitalist heights rappers seek to climb, similarly point to this inclination. Whether they do it through their aliases or in their lyrics, rap musicians brazenly display a capitalist frame of mind and repeatedly brag about their enterprises, whether legitimate (like outstanding record sales) or criminal (particularly, accomplishments in the underground economy of the “hustle”).
Continue reading