Free «On Popular Music» Essay Sample


On popular music thesis, by Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969) is one of the most popular academic papers that provide a foundation on deep knowledge of popular music. Many writers have used it as a point of reference with some of them agreeing with it and other having a contrary opinion. Despite many artists, producing music every day, very few among the produced songs become hit songs. As a result, there emerge a substantial difference between the ordinary music and popular music. The thesis suggests that, for one to get a clear distinction between serious music and popular music, it is essential to understand the characteristics of popular music.

In the paper, the writer claims that, many people take the difference between popular music and serious music for granted, claiming that the values within are totally independent. The thesis focuses on some specific characteristic of popular music, including the music material, advertising and presentation of music to the audience.

The material

Adorno also suggest that, the material used to produce music determines whether the music is popular or ordinary. Material focuses on three areas which include specialization, cultural originality and the lyric arrangement.

The two spheres of music

The difference between the two types of music can be traced by looking at their origin. The paper suggests that, the difference can be achieved by looking at the historical backgrounds of the two types of music and its roots. This argument corresponds to an order idea published in 1832 which suggested that, the background of a music genre determines if the song will be a hit or not. The background determines the music expected audience which is directly proportional to the popularity of the released music. Adorno claims that simplicity and complexity cannot be used to provide a difference between the two types of music. According to Adorno, popular music is serious music. He claims that for a song to become popular, the artist should ensure that the music content has meaning. He claims that music classical comprises of the music that has educative content and an appealing tone. "Every detail derives its musical sense from the concrete totality of the piece which, in turn, consists of the life relationship of the details and never of a mere enforcement of a musical scheme" (1941, 1970) on the other hand, unpopular music processes poor content and, which in most cases do not make sense.

Other characteristics that can be used to distinguish between ordinary music and serious music are standardization and wording. According to Adorno, standardization refers to the construction of the melody or the tune of the music tune and the method that underlies the lyric presentation. In his paper, he suggests that standardization determines hj9ow the audience differentiate the music from others making it original with no copy right issues. The importance of standardization in music is still part of the literature of popular music.

The paper also focuses on how music becomes popular. According to Adorno, a song becomes popular due to massive advertisement and also performance on different events. Music distribution also affects its performance due to its presence in the market. 

However, David Allen, an assistant professor at Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia has a remarkably different opinion as compared to (Adorno 1941). Though in his paper, he suggests that, his paper is not meant to be an attack on Adorno it is clear that he has a contrary opinion as to that of his fellow professor.

In his paper, Adorno claims that popular music are being constantly used for advertising in various media houses. He claims that, most advertisers look for the popular music in order to make their adverts better and increase the audience targeted by the audience. Adorno seems to be surprised by the rate at which, the use of popular music for advertising was growing at claiming that it might have an effect on the music industry in the future.

David Allen posses a different opinion regarding to the use of popular music for advertising. According to him, advertisers do not use popular music for advertising, but rather make ordinary music popular by using them for advertising. He proceeds to claim that, the many pop artists in United States of America are now using television adverts to market their music and make it popular. Research shows that, more than 40% of pop music artist are taking their music for advertising on various media houses.

Allen also suggests that, most of the today adverts   use original music, but utilizes the popular artist to sing them. From my understanding, there is no point of contention in these papers, one published in 1941 and the other in 2003. As a result, the music industry has greatly evolved from the analogue age to the now digital age meaning that the difference is just a part of the expected change.

On how music becomes popular, Allen disagrees with Adorno suggesting that, the radio does not only play the popular music. In his work, Adorno had stated that music becomes popular due to frequent air time given to it on various radio stations. At that time, radio station was the only popular broadcasting Medias. Today the industry has greatly evolved with the introduction of more popular forms of media which includes the television and the use of the internet. Allen suggest that, if Adorno would be alive today, he would change his thesis from “On popular music” to something like “the effect of popular music in advertising “so as to keep it touch with today’s advancing world.

The other fact that rules out radio broadcasting as the reason why music becomes popular is the various regulations that govern how music presentation on radio station. Allen suggest that, Radio station plays or types of music both popular and normal music and it is always the work of the audience to judge which kind of  music is popular and which one is ordinary.

A further difference also emerges when it comes to Adorno and then cultural theory. In the theory, Adorno claims that it is impossible to separate the cultural buyers from the audience since they are inter related. Though Allen disagree on many occasion with Adorno, in his paper he acknowledge Adorno s work as a foundation when it comes to looking at the difference between popular music and ordinary music. He further proceeds to say that no one can write about popular music without having a background study of Adorno work. Other writers have acknowledged this work including (Gorn 1982)


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