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November 17, 2008

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The New Radio

My friend Bethany Klein, communications professor at the University of Leeds, has a terrific interview in the new issue of Miller-McCune about her research on the relationship between pop music and advertising:

[Y]ou get people flippantly saying, “Sure, what’s the big deal? This is what people do now.” But when you further investigate, you find that everybody has some kind of internal checklist: “What kind of product is it? What’s my relationship to the product? What type of commercial is it going to be? Who’s directing the commercial?” If it truly was just submission to hyper-commercialism and an embrace of advertising, would it really matter? The other interesting tension I noticed in the interviews was that all these musicians were, of course, huge music fans. Many of them saw their own work as not very precious, that it couldn’t possibly be a big deal if they licensed a song, but then if you talked to them about instances in which their favorite musicians had licensed to advertising, they couldn’t help but feel that sadness of a fan about it. There was a difficulty in reconciling these two positions, thinking nobody could possibly care that much about your own work but knowing how much you care about other people’s. In my book, I devote a chapter to The Shins. They licensed “New Slang” to McDonald’s, relatively briefly, maybe just during the Olympics a few years ago. And that case was an amazing example of “Oh, people do still care.” You could see in all the interviews that James Mercer, their singer, did about this — and it got brought up in every interview — he was really struggling with the idea: “What’s the big deal? This is just a commercial — it happens all the time.” And, on the other hand, he could recognize how painful it would be if, say, The Smiths got used in a commercial and how terrible that would make him feel as a fan.

Bethany also talks about one of my favorite examples in the music-movies-commercials nexus: Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” which rocked the soundtrack to Trainspotting (resuscitating Iggy’s catalogue and career), got picked up in one advertising campaign after another (demonstrating the commercial viability of that style of music), and eventually (I think) helped get all those garage-y classic rock bands like Jet major label contracts for ripping off the riff to… “Lust for Life.”

Miller-McCune is also just an intriguing journalistic model: a foundation+subscription-supported magazine about the intersection between academic research and current social issues/problems, like a combination of the Chronicle and Mother Jones.

Posted November 17, 2008 at 2:40 | Comments (9) | Permasnark
File under: Music


It feels like I'm violating Snarkmarket house style by using so many long blockquotes. But hey, that's how I'm rockin' it.

New blood! The NYT didn't used to run color photos. I say, bring it.

I saw Greil Marcus give a presentation on this topic a few years ago. I expected him to come out blasting against selling your songs to companies, but it was much more nuanced than that. He argued that it's ultimately a transformative process to move a song into the commercial realm like that, but sometimes it can be a good transformation. (His example of bad transformation was "Revolution" and Nike. I can't remember his examples of good.)

I like that a lot: buying/selling as transformative process. Like a glaze, or a coat of paint, or a remastering, except way more complicated, and operating on an entirely different level. But in all cases, the thing that goes in isn't the same as the thing that comes out.

One of the coolest parts of Bethany's research is the public reaction to things like Nike's use of "Revolution" -- if you think about it, that's one of the earliest public dust-ups over licensing rights and intellectual property.

People came away with a lot of misinformation: as BK points out, fans will often assume artists don't have licensing rights (the Beatles didn't) when most do; my dad likes to say that songs from the sixties are in the public domain when it isn't.

It's also a good example of thinking about ownership of culture. The example of The Shins and The Smiths shows that fans feel as if they have an ownership stake in the culture they consume, of a different kind from the legal/creative ownership that an artist has.

Re: buying/selling as transformative -- see Georg Simmel, The Philosophy of Money, or Michael Thompson, Rubbish Theory.

Sooo 'The Philosophy of Money' costs $50... but it looks super-interesting. Is there a good secondary source anywhere -- like a really nice clear *suummary* of 'The Philosophy of Money'?

There actually is a good, inexpensive selected Simmel, which excerpts big chunks of the Philosophy of Money. It also has "The Metropolis and Mental Life," which might be the very best essay about early twentieth-century cities. You can also browse the chapters in Google Books. Else, hie thee to a library, Sloan!

You know what's funny? I honestly completely forgot you could get books from the library. Wow.

Yes. If you have a membership card, they even let you take them home with you.

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