Music and Money: Examining Value in Music

Saturday, March 6, 2010
301 Philosophy Hall, Columbia University     map
Image Credit: George Grey Barnard, The Great God Pan, installed 1907, bronze, Gift of Edward Severin Clark (C00.825). Photograph by Roberto C. Ferrari, Art Properties, Avery Library, Columbia University.

CMSC 2010

The seventh annual Columbia Music Scholarship Conference takes place on Saturday, March 6, 2010—301 Philosophy Hall, Columbia University. The theme of this year's conference is Music and Money: Examining Value in Music

Keynote Speaker

Wayne Marshall
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
"Following the Musical Money Across the Social Web"

Presentations

  • Gavin Mueller, George Mason University
    “Streaming Music and the Re-assertion of Corporate Control of the Music Industry”
  • Lauren Flood, Columbia University
    “Building Technology, Creating Commodities”
  • Shanesha Brooks Tatum, Roger Williams University
    “’It’s not about the money’: Alternative Definitions of Success in Christian Hip-Hop Music and Culture”
  • Kathryn Lent, University of Leeds
    “Money and Phantasy: The Patronage of Walter Willson Cobbett”
  • Rachel Marie Mundy, New York University
    “Singing the Natural Wild: Field Divisions and American Birdsong”
  • Juliet Forshaw, Columbia University
    “Extreme Metal as Negation of the Culture of Pleasure”
  • Sheryl Kaskowitz, Harvard University
    “God Ble$$ Ameri©a: The Economics of an Iconic Song.”
  • Renata Pasternak-Mazur, Rutgers University
    “Disco Polo by Popular Demand”
  • John Kmetz, Holtz Rubenstein Reminick LLP
    “250 Years of German Music and German Music Publishing”

All events are free and open to the public.

9:30–10:00am - Breakfast & Coffee

Enjoy breakfast with your colleagues.

10:00–11:30am - Session 1

Money and Music in History.

Nathan Martin, moderator.

Money and Phantasy: The Patronage of Walter Willson Cobbett

Kathryn Lent, University of Leeds

An amateur violinist, Walter Willson Cobbett (1847-1937) retired from the British Belting Company at the age of 60 and dedicated the remainder of his life to English chamber music patronage. In 1905 and 1907 he held competitions for Phantasy compositions, which were to be reminiscent of the Renaissance English fantasy (or Fancie). Cobbett chose this non-traditional spelling of “phantasy” because he believed that using a “ph” and a “y” made it a truly British word. Following Cobbett’s guidelines, these phantasy pieces are relatively short, have sections that differ in tempo and meter, and have parts of equal importance, that is, characteristics that evoke early English fantasies. The importance of Cobbett’s phantasy patronage has been all but ignored since his death, and the impact of his financial contribution on British music has never been explored.

I argue that Cobbett’s patronage of the phantasy pieces instilled a sense of nationalism in ‘Das Land ohne Musik.’ During a time when most chamber music heard in Britain was imported from the continent, Cobbett’s patronage created a body of chamber work that was genuinely native to Britain. By drawing on the recognizably British fancie form, combining it with an etymologically British title and positioning the works within the modern chamber music idiom, Cobbett effectively created a new national music. The resulting phantasy pieces embraced the regeneration of British musical culture, and instilled a sense of national prominence in a new generation of British composers.

250 Years of German Music and German Music Publishing 
(ca.1500 to 1750): A Case for a Closed Market



John Kmetz, Holtz Rubenstein Reminick LLP

Economic pundits and financial analysts today talk about markets: markets that are “closed” and markets that are “open.” A closed market is simply one where there are a limited number of consumers; an open market is one where the consumers are virtually limitless. During the Renaissance there were closed and open markets as well. Wool, grain, wood, cooper, silver, tin, and iron were traded throughout Western Europe in an open market. The reason was because they were commodities, just as they are today. Books of printed polyphony or of lute and keyboard tablature were, on the other hand, not a commodity. They were luxury goods, and their marketplace was fundamentally a closed one. Indeed, as I have discussed elsewhere, it was closed to approximately 99.9 percent of the German-speaking population. Why was it closed? The answer is simple: barely one-tenth of one percent could read tablature or polyphonic notation or could afford to buy the books.

Having said this, I do not want to give you the impression that printed books of polyphony, of multi-voiced music, and of lute and keyboard tablature were not consumed in an open market. They unquestionably were. Petrucci’s alphabet series of polyphonic songs, Attaingnant’s chansonniers, and Gardano’s books of madrigals, to name just a few, were owned by many German speakers who collected such foreign music for pleasure or, on occasion, for profit. Yet, while German speakers were very fond of foreign music, foreigners who hailed from France, Italy, England, Spain, and the Low Countries were not very fond of German music. Indeed, there is little evidence to document that there was any interest in German music outside of the German-speaking realm in the 16th century. Actually, regardless of whether the music was German texted, Latin texted, or didn’t carry any text at all, as long as the music was German or published by a German, it rarely traveled outside of the German Sprachgebiet until the second-half of the 18th century.

Summing it all up: German music publishers who flourished before 1750 went to market with only one market in mind, and that market was a German-speaking one. Why they chose to do this, and by so doing embrace the closed-market model I have described above, will be the subject of my paper.

Disco polo by popular demand: a market oriented musical genre as “bad music” of the transition from socialism to capitalism.

Renata Pasternak-Mazur, Rutgers University

In socialist countries folk was believed to be the natural idiom of choice for ordinary people and the music that captures the soul of the nation. National programs were developed to collect, preserve, and maintain the traditional music in what was believed to be its purest form. Under the socialist cultural policies, modernization of Polish traditional music was not allowed. Moreover, not the people but officially established masters of music were considered the highest authorities in the matters related to folk music. Ordinary people, devoid of power over their own music, started feeling disconnected from folk music and withdrawn from traditional forms. Spontaneously, they developed their own musical genre, disco polo, which was played and sung at provincial fun fairs, discos, wedding receptions, and other moments of celebration shared with family and friends.

When the socialist system dissolved, newly emerging private labels turned to music that was widely popular among people, but hardly accessible for sale. Rejected by major labels, denied access to record stores, and deprived of mainstream media exposure, disco polo dominated sonic space of Polish fairgrounds in the 1990s, generating sales in volumes higher than any other genre. At the same time, it became synonymous with bad music, bad taste, and business-inspired esthetic compromise.

My paper will discuss an emergence of the genre with relationship to a free-market economy and the idea of Polishness. Disco polo challenges conventional assumptions about popular music genres as produced in commodity form for a mass, predominantly youth market.

11:30am–1:00pm - Session 2

Music Means More than Money.

Alessandra Ciucci, moderator.

God Ble$$ Ameri©a: The Economics of an Iconic Song

Sheryl Kaskowitz, Harvard University

“God Bless America” may have attained the status of a national anthem, but its roots in Tin Pan Alley tie it inextricably to the world of commerce. Written by Irving Berlin, it has earned millions of dollars in royalties since it was first published in 1938. However, Berlin never made money on the song, having established the God Bless America Fund, through which all royalties are donated to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

This paper explores the song’s hidden economics, which garnered attention during two distinct periods when its popularity caused a spike in revenue: just before the U.S. entry into World War II and just after the September 11th attacks. Media reports from both eras often express shock that this patriotic song, which had been so embraced by the public, did not truly belong to the people. Initially, the song’s high royalty fees fueled an anti-Semitic backlash against it and its Jewish composer, and were used as evidence of songwriters’ greed during the epic struggle between ASCAP and BMI. The existence of the God Bless America Fund quieted much of this early criticism, but the fund itself became a source of controversy after 9/11, when some protested the song’s connection to the Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policies. 

This paper reveals the commercial underpinnings of “God Bless America,” exploring issues of ownership and collectivity in the complex relationship between the business of music and a song’s absorption into American culture.

“It’s Not About the Money”: Alternative Definitions of Success in Christian Hip-Hop Music and Culture

Shanesha Brooks Tatum, Roger Williams University

Over the past 25 years, Christian hip-hop artists have redefined what success means in the music industry.  Christian rappers such as Lecrae and Mahogany Jones engage in a musical, evangelical ministry that seems to define success not by how many albums are sold, but how many “souls” are brought to Christ.  This presentation is based on an ethnographic book-in-progress that explores how Christian hip-hop artists negotiate the sacred/secular divide in African American life.  Through interviews, participant observation, and music and performance analyses, the project illustrates how black, evangelical Christian hip-hop artists redefine success outside of the monetary terms that so characterize the mainstream hip-hop music industry and prosperity gospel churches.  These artists are often working-class, make their music “on the side,” and define themselves and their musical purpose against the financial and stylistic currents of the mainstream, secular hip-hop music industry.  Their definitions of success and their personal conundrums about fame and recognition tell us much about a musical, ministerial practice that inhabits and intersects the borders of church life and secular musical practice.

Extreme Metal as Negation of the Culture of Pleasure

Juliet Forshaw, Columbia University

Heavy metal's popularity has dwindled over the last two decades as the genre has employed increasingly unpleasant or obscure lyrics and perceptually challenging musical techniques. Metal both inflicts physical pain on the listener through its sonic force and limits the listener's comprehension through its use of growled and shrieked vocals. It thus opposes the ideals of pleasure and comprehensibility that many other genres of popular music hold dear, and it prides itself on its marginalized status in the music industry. This anti-commercial stance raises the question, “What does metal value, if not the listener's pleasure and comprehension?” Or, to put it another way, what value do metal musicians and fans see in discomfort and obscurity? In this paper, I will show that post-80s metal uses discomfort and obscurity as a means of inducing an extreme physical and psychological state akin to ecstasy in listeners. This feeling, the “rush,” is universally valued by metal musicians and fans. Because it is derived from pain, this type of pleasure differs from pleasure as conventionally defined. It has much in common with religious traditions, particularly certain forms of Christianity, which historically have considered pain a means of achieving or inducing psychological transformation. I will contextualize metal in terms of these traditions and discuss their opposition to the ideal of pleasure that dominates more commercially successful genres of music today. I will end with a consideration of the ways in which metal paradoxically buys into the culture of pleasure while seeming to negate it. Metal's inconsistent anti-commercialism will provide insight into the ways in which musical cultures define value and transmit that value to listeners.

2:30–4:00pm - Session 3

Changing Values with Merging Technologies and Techniques.

David Novak, moderator.

Singing the Natural Wild:  Field Divisions and American Birdsong

Rachel Marie Mundy, New York University

At the end of World War II, British ornithologists took a machine developed by the American military and used it to replace musicians in the notation of birdsong.  The machine was called the “sound spectrograph,” and it returned to the United States in the hands of Peter Marler, a young ornithologist whose impressive studies of finch dialects cemented the new gadget’s status. Today it remains the primary tool in birdsong studies and, at least ostensibly, ensures that these sounds fall outside the sphere of “music.” 

But on the commercial front, birdsong is a different story.  The same people publishing and teaching ornithology are successfully marketing birdsong as a commercial enterprise not so different from a hit album.  To name one example, Donald Kroodsma’s“Backyard Birdsong,” an interactive book with birdsong available at the press of a button, ranks over 130 times higher than Olivier Messiaen’s composition devoted to American birdsong, “Des canyons aux étoiles,” on Amazon.com’s website.  It is the fourth most popular book about animals that Amazon sells.

This paper examines the way interactive media like “Backyard Birdsong” have used technology to distinguish themselves from music scholarship.  Recent field recordings, Cornell University’s sound spectrograph program, as well as written and recorded accounts of birdsong in music and ornithology, suggest the way the sonic culture of birdsong came to be a lucrative possession of the sciences since the purge of musicians from ornithology in the early 1950s. 

Building Technology, Creating Commodities: The Economics of Do-It-Yourself Music Technology in New York City

Lauren Flood, Columbia University

The independent engineering of music technology outside of the design labs of mainstream musical equipment manufacturers has proliferated in recent years. While 20th century American musicians and inventors have a rich history of tinkering with electronics, a number of emerging factors have transformed their design and construction processes, including community-based educational programs, social networks surrounding do-it-yourself music technologists, and the increasing availability of “how-to” information on the internet. In numerous instances, the “DIY” approach is tied to an anti-consumerism stance that posits independently created items in opposition to mass-produced commodities. Although many DIY music technologists intend their creations as a means for self-sufficiency, distributing such items for various levels of profit often presents a challenge to this stance. From fledgling small businesses to websites advertising do-it-yourself kits, musicians who independently build music technology exemplify a unique scenario regarding the time-honored quandary of “selling out.” Using case studies of New York City guitar pedal builders, circuit benders, and producers of “sound art,” this paper examines individual and collective modes of engagement with “the product” as both a labor of love and a commodity for sale. I will trace how DIY music technologists determine which designs to build, which to sell, and which methods of distribution remain appropriate. I will also consider how these products circulate through formal and informal economies, as well as how my interlocutors negotiate economic necessities with ideological factors.

Streaming Music and the Re-assertion of Corporate Control of the Music Industry

Gavin Mueller, George Mason University

“It’s a streaming future,”  goes the conventional wisdom of music distribution, and recent high-profile corporate takeovers of music streaming services such as Lala and imeem would seem to bear this out. While the official rationale is that streaming is more convenient and less wasteful of hard drive space than downloading mp3s, I will argue that the corporate push for streaming services represents a larger strategy to re-enclose digital music within the realm of corporately controlled private property.  Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file sharing, the predominant mode of online music distribution, both legal and illegal, allows users to possess all the hard data of a recording. Users can not only listen to music, but put the music to creative use and redistribute music to others. This model presents a radical challenge to the notion of music as private property, as evidenced by the extreme difficulties the recording industry faces monetizing P2P. Streaming solves this problem for the industry by re-establishing the industry as gatekeepers on multiple levels of distribution. This paper will analyze the potential effects of moving from a P2P model of music distribution to a streaming model on contemporary music practice, consumption habits, and corporate control of music, as well as the ethico-political implications of such a move.

4:15pm - Keynote

"Following the Musical Money Across the Social Web"

Wayne Marshall, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Wayne Marshall is an ethnomusicologist, blogger (wayneandwax.com), and DJ, focusing on the musical and cultural production of the Caribbean and the Americas, and their circulation in the wider world. Currently a Mellon Fellow at MIT, he's writing a book on music, social media, and digital youth culture. He co-edited and contributed to Reggaeton (Duke 2009) and has published in journals such as Popular Music and Callaloo while writing for popular outlets like XLR8RThe Wire, and the Boston Phoenix.