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Popular music as a business enterprise

Much popular music is the product of the modern business enterprise, disseminated for the purpose of earning a profit. Executives and employees of popular music businesses try to select and cultivate the music that will have the greatest success with the public, and thus maximize the profits of their firm.

In this respect, popular music differs from traditional folk music, which was created by ordinary people for their own enjoyment, and from classical music, which was originally created to serve the purposes of the Church or for the entertainment of the nobility. (Today classical music is often subsidized by governments and universities.)

Although the controlling forces of popular music are business enterprises, young people who aspire to become popular musicians are certainly not always driven by the profit motive. Rather, they often want to find an outlet for their sense of expression and creativity, or simply to have fun. Historically, the conflicting motives of business people and musicians has been a source of tension in the popular music industry.

Debate continues about the status of popular music. Some emphasize the commercial motive and suggest the big companies manipulate the audiences and sell them products with no intrinsic value; others underline that the development of the demand for a particular type of music can articulate the needs and concerns of ordinary people. This is the debate about "authenticity" which rages whenever popular music is discussed.

Performance of popular music by amateurs

Many people play popular music together with their friends, often in garages and basements, on a casual amateur basis. This activity is one of the most widespread forms of participatory music-making in modern societies. As participatory music, "garage bands" are in a sense a resurrection of the old tradition of folk music, which in premodern times was composed and performed by ordinary people and transmitted exclusively by word of mouth. The difference between the old folk music and modern amateur performance of popular music is that the participants in the latter genre are well acquainted with the expert performances that they hear on recordings, and often try to emulate them.

The older folk music of a society often lives on in a popularized version, which is likewise performed by experts and commercially disseminated. Such updated versions of folk music often have heavy amateur participation.


It might be argued that, at least on the average, classical works have greater musical complexity than popular music. For instance, classical music is distinguished by its heavy use of development, and usually involves more modulation (changing of keys), less outright repetition, and a wider use of musical phrases that are not default length--that is, four or eight bars long (however, much minimalist music goes against these tendencies, thus are considered by many non-serious music).

This is not to say that popular music is definitively or always simpler than classical. The "default length" of phrases which classical music supposedly deviates from were set as the default by music of the common practice period. Jazz, rap and many forms of technical metal, for instance, make use of rhythms more complex than would appear in the average common practice work, and popular music sometimes uses certain complex chords that would be quite unusual in a common practice piece. Popular music also uses certain features of rhythm and pitch inflection not analyzable by the traditional methods applied to common practice music.

One may argue that it is normally only in classical music that very long works (30 minutes to three hours) are built up hierarchically from smaller units (phrases, periods, sections, and movements). Structural levels are distinguished by Schenkerian analysis. Fred Lerdahl (1992), for example, claims that popular music lacks the structural complexity for multiple structural layers, and thus much depth.

However, Lerdahl's theories explicitly exclude "associational" details which are used to help articulate form in popular music, while Allen Forte's book The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era 1924-1950 analyses popular music with traditional Schenkerian techniques. (Middleton 1999, p.144)

Bach had many contempories whose music was mediocre at best, and today their music is forgotten, surviving perhaps in libraries. The repertoire of classical music is skewed toward works recognized as excellent by listeners over long periods of time.

It follows that genres of popular music that have existed for a long time might also produce works that show staying power. For instance, the work of Scott Joplin, a popular musician of about a century ago, continues to be played--often, curiously enough, by classical musicians. The advent of high fidelity audio recordings in the 1950s meant that the actual performances of popular musicians could be preserved forever, and this has raised the possibility that certain works popular music will achieve permanent status in their original recorded form. This may be happening now in the case of the most outstanding artists.

Influences between classical and popular music Works of classical music sometimes achieve a sudden, hard to explain popularity, and thus take on the temporary status of popular music; for details, see crossover. Moreover, many popular songs over the years have made use of themes and melodies from well-known classical pieces; for a list of examples see List of popular songs based on classical music.

Songwriters such as Paul Simon have used classical techniques such as, during his early solo career in the 1970s, the twelve tone technique, though Simon actually only employs the full chromatic rather than strict tone rows (Everett 1997).

This article contains text and source material from Wikipedia

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