Music and Its Impact on American Society

Music and Its Impact on American Society

What is music? Defining music is a daunting task that many different people with varying professions and interests have attempted to undertake. Because music is often viewed as subjunctive, each person presented with the question will provide a different answer. Literally, music is a series of sounds perceived by the human ear, though not all sounds perceived by the human ear are considered music. With as many definitions and opinions on music that you find in society today, how has it impacted our lives? Music is such a driving force in the world that we as human beings, who have grown accustomed to its sounds and daily impression, would be lost and confused if one day music just ceased to exist.

Music fuses with several aspects of American social and cultural identity, through socioeconomic status, race, gender, religious beliefs, and even sexuality. The relationship between music and race is one of the most convincing factors used in determining the musical meaning of songs in the United States. Economic and social class divisions separate American music through both the innovation and absorbtion of music. Upper-class citizens tend to regularly attend symphony events while the generally poor performers of rural and ethnic folk music are lucky to have an audience consisting of members other than their family and neighbors. Country music is a commercial genre developed to appeal to the working class population of America, regardless of whether or not those listeners are acutally in the working class. Genres of music, such as opera, folk, or country, are often linked to their geographic identities–Country music is specifically rural in origin and function; whereas other genres, like gansta rap, R&B;, and hip hop, are generally understood as urban. To understand why relations between class, race, and genre in music exist, the evolution of music itself must be understood.

The development of music begins prior to the written word, and has had influence on man since the dawn of civilization. Though the earliest forms of music have been found in India, many other forms existed worldwide. Different cultures created music with varying methods; and each culture is influenced by music in its own way, primarily based on which instruments were used and in which manner. Popular music varies between cultures and the time periods in which they were developed.

American music began its evolution with the 17th century Native Americans, and the instruments they played. Native American music was known to be spiritual and often used as a form of worship, or performed in a ritual specific to their religion. The evolution continued when immigrants from the United Kingdom, France and Spain settled in the area, bringing with them new styles and instruments. African music traditions added to the vast mixture of musical culture that shaped America when slaves brought their instruments as well.

During the Colonial Era, upper class citizens enjoyed music composed by Mozart and other similar composers. Due to the complex geographical issues that the Appalachian Mountains posed–hard to cross with soil that was unsuitable for agricultural purposes, many of the lower class Europeans, primarily of Scottish and Irish descent, settled there. Celtic folk music developed into a melting pot of country blues, and jug bands and ultimately became country music. The Appalachian area is well known for its fiddling, which is accredited to a Scottish fiddler by the name of Neil Gow; who introduced the saw stroke that dominated Appalachian fiddling. The fiddling technique changed over the course of the next century due to heavy European influences.

Church hymns were the predominant form of music in the New England region of America during this Colonial Era, because the pilgrims brought the Ainsworth Psalter with them to the New World. The Psalter was abandoned as the derivative for most of the Church music in New England in the late 17th century due to claims that the music was too challenging to sing.

From the time America received its Independence from Britain in 1776, to the start of the Civil War in 1861, American music underwent a massive change. Folk music traditions began to diversify and expand across the nation. African American music became more popular with the emergence of Creole and Cajun forms from Louisiana. During the Great Awakening of Christianity in the 1830’s, a religious revival that focused on outdoors worship diversified American music even further. The African Americans had their own hymns, known as “Negro Hymns” because they were not allowed to participate in the white man’s religious ceremonies and rituals.

The Civil War caused American music to become even more complex, when soldiers from opposite areas of the country began mingling with one another in their army units, trading songs, techniques, and even instruments. This was also aided by the booming railroad industry and other developing technologies, which aided travel and communication. This cross-combination of music and the songs that resulted had the first features that could be considered unique to American music. These songs expressed various emotions about the war, and the war in every aspect. A gentleman named John Tasker Howard made the claim that the songs, if arranged in a chronological order, could tell the entire story of the war, its conflicts, events, and even the ideas of both sides, from start to finish. It was also during this era that many brass pieces were developed, such as the military piece, “Taps”. The popular song, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” came from this era, as well.

In the later 19th century, African American music became popular, with growth in the ragtime and blues genres. Tin Pan Alley-a group of songwriters and publishers from New York City, dominated the music industry at this time. The representatives of this group were spread out all over the country, and bought local hit songs for the publishers, traveling to rural areas and visiting music stores nationwide to push the music. Profits from the sales of sheet music drove the industry, because a piano was considered a must have item for any middle-class residence, or higher. Two major hits from the Tin Pan Alley were, “After the Ball is Over”, and “Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage”.

Tin Pan Alley continued to dominate the country into the early 20th century, with African American jazz, blues, and country trailing behind in other regions. African American blues and jazz began to appeal to the white citizens of the country and achieved some mainstream success by diversifying their sounds.

The home phonograph, or gramophone, gave Tin Pan Alley sheet music some competition and became a dominating force in American music by the 1910’s. The first phonograph was invented by Thomas Edison in the 1800’s, and was a device for playing and recording music. It was the first device for playing recorded music. Many different versions of this technology were developed using different materials to accomplish the same task. The phonograph evolved into what is known as a “record player” in the 20th century.

According to, the record player was also the most common method of listening to music from the 1870’s until the 1980’s. The analog recorded sound medium consisted of a flat disc with grooves inscribed which contained the music.

By the 1920’s, radio broadcasts of music began to increase, providing more intense competition. The radio was developed in the early 1800’s, and there is much debate over who actually invented it. Looking back at history, it is easiest to show who was given credit for what contribution to radio. A man by the name of Nikola Tesla developed means to reliably and consistantly produce radio frequencies, transmitted long distance signals, and publicly demonstrated the principles of radio. Telsa holds the U.S Patent for the radio defined as, “wireless transmission of data”. Two men, Reginald Fessenden and Lee de Forest invented amplitude-modulated, more commonly known as AM radio, so that more than one station could send signals (as opposed to another method known as spark-gap radio, where one transmitter covers the entire bandwidth of the spectrum). Frequency-modulated or FM radio was invented by Edwin H. Armstrong so that an audio signal could avoid static interference from other electronic devices. Early radios ran solely on power through a carbon microphone. The most common type of radio until the 1920’s was the crystal set. In the 1920s, amplifying vacuum tube radio receivers and transmitters came into use. With the technology becoming simpler, the radio became a more common household item, thus allowing various types of music to become more widely known to the American public.

Caribbean music gained increasing popularity in the first half of the 20th century in the United States. Dominican merengue, Argentinian tango, and Trinidadian calypso, along with many other styles influenced American popular music during this time. Blues music dominated rurual communites, primarly the southern region of the United States. Many white female singers took over the genre during this time, and it was their first exposure to “race music”-as the African American music had been known to them before.

Jazz music, which relies more heavily on instrumentation, rather than lyrics, drew influences from New Orleans blues and Jewish American composers. During the 1920’s jazz bars gained popularity with the younger white American generation. Jazz music was blamed for the moral degeneration of the youth who listened to the music and/or visited the bars. In spite of the contraversy, jazz rose to become the dominating music of the country in the late 1920’s, with “watered-down” forms, known as swing and big-band music. Swing and big-band music were also blamed for deliquency and crime later on.

During the 1930’s and the Great Depression, the popularity of Gospel music was on the rise. People like Mahilia Jackson and Thomas Dorsey began taking Christian Church hymns and adapting them to jazz or blues beats. Due to the fact that the White American consumer group was reluctant to purchase records by African American artists, the process of covering was created; hiring white artists to sing black music. (Wilson, 280.)

In the 1940’s and 1950’s many styles of music merged and thrived because the influence of the radio created a mass market for music. World War II sparked mayhem in society, and much of the music from this time period shows evidence of such mayhem. Rock and Roll was born in this time period, from the combination of an electric guitar Chicago Blues adaptation, jazz, country, folk, swing, and many others. The style was developed by 1949, and its popular audience was primarily among the African American population of the country. The mainstream success of this genre was slow until Elvis Pressley came along, singing rock and R&B; songs in a “devoted, black style”.

Elvis Pressley rapidly became the most famous, best selling, well-known artist in American history. His music marked a cornerstone in the development of American music. His first hit was a song called, “That’s All Right (Mama), released in 1954.

The public who did not like him addressed him as “Elvis the Pelvis” because many viewers saw his hip gyrations to be too sexually explicit, and as a result, Elvis was not usually allowed to be filmed from the waist down on television. He is often referred to as the King of Rock and Roll.

A new form of promoting Top-40 music came along with the television show Bandstand that first aired in 1952 on a local network in Philadelphia. The show featured live teenagers dancing to the day’s hottest music. After the host was fired due to a drunk driving conviction, American Broadcasting Company, (ABC) picked up the show, changing its name to American Bandstand and hiring Dick Clark in the new host spot.

During the 1960’s, the Cold and Vietnam Wars, and the Civil Rights Movement caused even more chaos for American citizens. Music in this time period also reflects the unrest that many Americans felt at the time. The Sexual Revolution, environmentalism, and feminism influenced music from this time period, and ultimately the music became tied up in fighting for causes, and many opposing ideologies.

Bill Lear developed the 8-track tape cartridge as a new method of music distribution in 1964. The audio storage magnetic tape was popular from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. The invention of the 8-track tape was inspired by Earl Muntz’s 4-track tape, developed in 1962; and the 4-track was based on the 3-track cartridge system that was invented in 1954 by George Eash. The 8-track tape technology was based on an endless reel-to-reel audio tape recording system made available in the late 1940’s after World War II. The first versions of the technology in the ’40’s were big and bulky, and were much less convenient than a record player. No matter what version of the cartridge, it always played continuously without rewinding. However, there were pauses in the music and mechanical clicks when a song changed. The 8-track doubled the playing time of the 4-track, but reduced the sound quality of the audio because it made each track half as wide on the tape. 8-tracks were advertised as automatic because a sensor in the tape caused the tape to switch sides, without needing a person to manually change it.

The 8-track tape eventually evolved into the audio cassette tape, a smaller version of the same magnetic audio technology that was much more successful than its predecessor. The cassette was developed in 1963 in Europe, and introduced in the United States in 1964. It was the most popular format, next to the LP (a form of the record), and the compact disc for listening to pre-recorded music in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Cassette tapes greatly increased the amount of music playing time available. They were a great step forward in convenience from previous alternatives. A new feature was write protection, available on all cassettes-to help prevent re-recording and accidental erasure of recorded material. Blank cassettes were sold to the public for backing up music from other forms to the new media. This was the first evidence of a person being able to create a mixed tape based on what their musical tastes were. Pre-recorded cassette tapes are no longer in production, as the compact disc market took over in the 1990’s. Blanks are still sold by retailers today, though cassette recorders and players are becoming scarce with the prevalence of the compact disc and other new technologies available on the market today.

From 1960-1965, soul and R&B; music dominated American popular music. Many all-female groups, such as “The Angels” and “The Shirelles” aided in popularizing the music as mainstream, also while removing the gospel sounds that were once heard in the genre. Along with these groups, Elvis Pressley and other vocalists, such as, Chuck Barry (“Johnny B. Good”), Little Richard, (“Tutti Frutti”), and Jerry Lee Lewis, (“Great Balls of Fire”) began creating a generation of teens who started their own rock bands. Mexican pop, rock, and soul music drawing on Tejano influences also came to light in this time period. White rock music developed in Southern California, and in Britain during the ’60’s. Dick Dale invented the genre “surf rock” in California, while British groups such as The Who and The Rolling Stones focused on playing their own version of rock, which drew influence from American Blues pioneers. The early 1960’s saw four major musical innovations with The Beach Boys-one of the first surf rock bands to come from the Southern California creation of the genre-The Supremes and The Temptations-Detroit area Motown acts, The Bakersfield Sound-a division of the country music genre developed in Bakersfield, California in the late 1950’s-was now mainstream, and Nashville, Tennessee was coined as the country music capital.

The mid-sixties saw the invention of psychedelia-music influenced by counterculture and drug use. The Beach Boys soon fell out of the limelight they had been holding for the few years prior, when lead singer Brian Wilson’s mental problems lead to the bands imminent collapse, after releasing the album, “Pet Sounds”-known to be one of the most influential albums in history.

The British band, The Beatles went on to lead the psychedelic revolution of music, with few American contenders that could match them. Among the American artists that were able to challenge them were, Jimi Hendrix, and The Mamas and The Papas. The Beatles early songs such as “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” were very innocent and did not fall under scrutiny by the public eye. The same cannot be said for songs such as, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Hey Jude”. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is rumored to discuss the use of the then popular drug, LSD. The band denies the connection. “Hey Jude” is said to discuss the use of heroin; however, the band denies this connection as well. “Beatlemania” swept over America in 1964, with all of the top 5 singles in America being Beatles recordings in April of that year. The band dismembered in 1970, and continues to remain well known today. Michael Jackson went as far as to pay somewhere between 40 and 50 million dollars to purchase the rights to nearly every song the Beatles wrote.

The most psychedelic American bands, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane only achieved limited success. The Grateful Dead was America’s first “jam band”-bands whose concerts consist of primarily improvised music, and were considered America’s first cult act.

In the late ’60’s the psychedelic rock began dominating the black and white audiences of America. It was during this time period that the majority of America’s music for the next forty years would begin to develop: heavy metal, electronic music, punk and hip-hop. Two important developments came from the late ’60s-the popularization of the LP as an artistic statement, rather than a collection of songs thrown together with filler, and allowed an artist to say more in depth than a single song allowed. Also, the rules regarding what could be allowed in popular music were changed, allowing a song to last more than three minutes, singing could be different and lyrics were allowed to encompass more than just love songs, and stories. Popular music and its influence on its audience-how it could change the way one feels toward any particular issue, be it social or political-was being discovered more in this era.

Artists who had once found themselves at the top of the charts, such as The Supremes and The Miracles, found themselves plummeting and unable to recover from the devastation toward the latter part of the ’60’s due to the rise of folk and psychedelia music. Other artists like The Temptations totally abandoned their original sounds to adapt to the new trend and continued to succeed well into the ’70’s. James Brown and other soul music artists fused their music with psychedelia funk, and achieved little popularity, while others were able to achieve great success with the fusion. Pure soul began to extend beyond their simple lyricism of singles to more socially aware, cohesive albums. The success of Marvin Gaye’s album, What’s Goin’ On, and Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly soundtrack are said to have begun the success of pure soul with this tactic. These albums described the harsh realities of ghetto life while maintaining a catchy beat that was easy to dance to, and led the dominant sounds of the soul genre into the 1970’s.

Progressive Rock began with two British bands, The Nice, and The Moody Blues. These bands had a small group of followers in the 1960’s. The two bands released a series of complex, concept albums that started the genre. Other British bands, Led Zepplin and Black Sabbath, came about with a hard, electric sound that introduced the heavy metal genre. Led Zepplin’s famous hit, “Stairway to Heaven”, along with many other songs released throughout history, brings to light the technique of backmasking-hiding messages in a song only heard when the song is played backwards. Though its existance is debated, it is speculated that phrases like, “I live with Satan” and “Here’s to my Sweet Satan” can be heard when “Stairway to Heaven” is played backwards. Ozzy Osbourne, lead singer of Black Sabbath, has repeatedly been sued by the parents of teenage suicide victims because of his song entitled, “Suicide Solution”. The parents of the teenagers claimed their children had been listening to the song at the time of death. The cases were thrown out of court.

The 1970’s was an interesting decade for the development of music, and left a tremendous impact on American music history in general. The ’70’s saw new forms of music-hair metal, formed by the combination of glam and heavy metal, and disco. Disco music is an electronically based dance music that by the end of the ’70’s dominated America’s music scene. Disco’s dominance was aided by the success of Saturday Night Fever, a 1977 movie starring John Travolta about a youth whose main activity is attending a discotheque-an establishment where customers could dance to a disc jockey playing popular music (Wilson, 287.) Disco created many new stars in the recording industry such as the Village People, (“Y.M.C.A”), and Donna Summer. The Bee Gees became famous because of the music they provided for the movie. Disco spent a few years at the top of the charts just as progressive and country rock were beginning to achieve mainstream success.

Country rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, and progressive rock bands like Chicago took major hold of the portion of the market that was not already overtaken by the disco craze with the use of long, blues based southern rock pieces. Country rock developed from British blues and added an element of popular country. The country charts were being dominated by outlaw artists Willie Nelson and David Allan Coe at this time, with their rebel and cowboy stories.

Heavy metal bands also began to attract some mainstream attention, and punk bands began influencing the glam rock scene. Glam rock, is a division of the Rock and Roll genre that was more a British statement than America’s. This form of music made less of an impression than others, and was mostly confined to select music cities in the United States. Glam rock is classified by the sparkles and glitter of the costumes worn by the performer, and the bouncy rock and roll music. Glam music reached its peak in the early 70’s, bringing with its fame artists like David Bowie, and Slade.

Hip Hop began when Jamacian immigrants, namely DJ Kool Herc moved to New York City and introduced their practice of speaking over isolated percussion breaks in popular songs during block parties.

The late 1970’s saw what formed as punk music with artsy singers like Patti Smith and grungy bands like The Ramones, coming from the New York City club CBGB’s (Country Bluegrass and Blues). While The Sex Pistols and The Clash were defining and popularizing the punk music genre in Britan, a similar scene was developing in America.

The recording industry suffered in the late ’70’s because record sales decreased-due to an oil shortage, (records were made with a petroleum byproduct), and because people were spending more money attending the discotheque, rather than acutally purchasing records.

In the early 1980’s, disco died, swiftly and quickly, being completely eliminated by 1982.The death of disco can be attributed to, among other things, the fact that it was limited to 128 beats per minute which eventually caused all disco songs to sound the same, and become unappealing as dance music. (Wilson, 287.) The New Wave genre of music quickly took its place. “The American music industry of the very early 1980s was in a state of flux, which Reebee Garofolo claims reflects the state of American society, in turmoil with the election of Ronald Reagan”.

New wave was a short lived trend in American music, soon overtaken by the hair metal genre with bands like Motley Crue, Van Halen and Quiet Riot. By the late ’80’s Guns ‘N Roses came into the music industry with a different type of short lived era, with more masochistic and harsh lyrics mixed with a ballad here and there.

The intertwining of music and television began as an idea for promoting albums and songs. Artists would film short promotional videos, and air them on television networks.

In 1981, an all music cable/satalite network known as Music Television, (MTV) targeted for an audience of 12-23 year olds. MTV is a continous promotion of popular music, and weighs very heavily on the public’s music purchasing decisions. (Wilson, 288.) Today, there are many variations of the MTV network-because the orignal MTV rarely shows just videos anymore. Instead, there are MTV 2, (an alternative MTV that offers videos along with older MTV shows such as Beavis and Butthead) MTV Jams, (strictly rap and hip hop videos) and international versions of the network. Since the dawn of MTV, other cable networks have developed channels like VH1 and CMT for viewing music videos. VH1 is geared toward an older audience with soft rock being its primary genre, and CMT (Country Music Television) is a network airing only country music videos. Each network contains multiple divisions for various genres, and even other countries.

In 1982, an even newer, more effective music distribution was introduced to the public. The compact disc, is an optical disc designed for storing digital data. The disc still remains the standard format of playback for music today. The design for the CD stems from the record player, and was developed by Sony and Phillips. Standard discs hold about 80 minutes of music, and the discs used for singles hold about 20 minutes of music. The use of the compact disc as a storage medium for data began in 1985 with the CD-Rom.

As a result of the successful hair metal genre, a few more genres split from the heavy metal generalization, and created: Death, Power, and Thrash Metal. Thrash metal is known for its fast paced music and heavy agression. Death Metal is a dark, violent form of metal music which focuses on death in some manner, be it in the form of a metaphor, or story-telling. It is primarily known for its abrupt tempo changes, and complex drum and guitar work. Power Metal tends to be associated with optimistic lyrics, and songs which draw inspiration from religion, science fiction, and fantasy rather than the dark, violent lyrics of its cousins.

A fusion of pop and soul created the new genre of comtemperary rhythm and blues. The main driving forces of this genre were Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince, and Lionel Richie. This decade also aided Hip Hop in becoming a commerical force in the American music industry. LL Cool J and Kurtis Blow brought the sound of Hip Hop to white listeners, while others created new methods in DJ-ing, and MC-ing. Regional variations became popular in their respective localities, and influenced later artists.

2 Live Crew became well-known for their contraversial, and sexually explicit lyrics, with songs entitled, “Me So Horny” and “If You Believe in Having Sex”, among many other with inappropriate titles, on their 1989 album, “As Nasty as You Wanna Be”. 2 Live Crew underwent legal scrunity because of the lyrical content of the album. 2 Live Crew’s music was banned in Florida and Texas due to the explicit content. An African American store owner was sentenced by an all white jury when he was caught selling the album in Florida after the ban. (Wilson, 292.) Hip Hop gained popularity with a group known as, N.W.A (Niggaz Wit’ Attitude) that came together in 1986. Together all the members of this group redefined the face of Hip Hop and helped it to gain national exposure. This group was one of the first to achieve mainstream success for the genre. The most notorious song on the album, “F*ck tha Police” led the assistant director of the FBI, Milt Ahlerich, to write a letter to the record company, and its parent company advising the rappers that the police took exception “to such action.” This letter backfired, only drawing more publicity to the group. The group disbanded in 1990 due to irreconcilable differences, and each member maintained a solo career.

Gospel music of the 1980’s came to be known as Contempary Christian Music (CCM) due to its popular slick sound. CCM was heavily influenced by artists like Amy Grant, and MercyMe. This stage of Gospel/CCM was also influenced by traditional choirs, and dominated by groups such as The Winans and The Clarks.

The 1990’s brought on the decline of hair metal bands, and the rise of grunge music, with bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains. The success of the grunge bands, however, was limited because they were finding it difficult to stay with their alternative styles, after becoming mainstream.

By the mid-ninties, gansta rap took over as the mainstream popular music-with west coast artists like Snoop Dogg, and Tupac Shakur, on the forefront. Tupac Shakur was fatally shot on the Las Vegas strip in 1996, out on bail while waiting for a decision on his appeal for a 1995 conviction for the sexual abuse of a 19 year old woman. He died six days later. His album released after his death, The Don Killhuminati: The 7 Day Theory sold 664,000 copies the first week after release. This was the second highest record for first week sales that year. (Wilson 293).

Rappers began to arise from other regions, primarily the south, out of Atlanta, Georgia. These Southern rappers like OutKast and Goodie Mob did well at achieving mainstream success. In the late part of the decade, Eminem emerged as one of the country’s biggest stars. Coming into the mainstream world from Detroit, he was able to achieve success early in his career because of his pop like beats and radio friendly hooks that appealed to a wide audience. He quickly became the first white rapper to cross over to mainstream audiences without losing his critical viability. He is one to speak out against the government, bringing forth issues that he feels must be dealt with. His song “Mosh”, on his fourth album, Encore speaks heavily against the current situation in Iraq, with lyrics like, “Stomp, Push, Mush, F*ck Bush, till they bring our troops home”, and “Maybe we can reach al-quieda with my speech, let the president answer our anarchy, strap him with an AK-47, fight his own war, let him impress daddy that way… no more blood for oil we got own problems on own soil”. (Insert source for Mosh Lyrics here)

Much of the contraversy surrounding rap music derives from the vuglarity of the lyrics, however, when questioned, many artists say they are just bringing what is going on in the streets of America to the public’s attention. African American leaders say that only accounts for a small percentage of African American life, and the rap reflects upon African American life negatively. Leaders of the Stop of the Violence-Increase the Peace organzation, based in California, say that rap videos glorify gang members, and parents maintain that rap music destroys years of good child rearing.

Bands such as Sonic Youth and Guided By Voices, and their associated success allowed the American indie rock scene to thrive in the early to mid 1990’s. Albums like Goo, Slanted and Enchanted, and Bee Thousand, are now noted as some of the best albums of the decade, though they went unnoticed by the general music consumer.

The early 1970’s sound of soul music began to rise again with a sub-genre known as neo soul. Artists like Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and Lauryn Hill took charge of this movement; after a decade thus far filled with R&B; recordings that were Hip Hop influenced, by artists like BLACKstreet, TLC, and Mary J. Blige. Many artists continued with the pop-style tradition that was set by Prince, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson, along with Boyz II Men, Babyface, and Mariah Carey. Some of the artists that succeeded due to the continued use of this tradition were, Destiny’s Child and Usher Raymond.

Recordable compact discs were introduced in 1990, allowing the public to back-up their collections. Backing up these collections to their computers launched the peer-to-peer file sharing that is causing a uproar in the recording industry. Without copy protection barriers, a person can take any song, and create a compact disc of their own, using cd-writing technology that is now standard on the majority of computer systems today–be it an exact copy of an album, or a mix of their own. Sales of records have since decreased because the records are easily attained elsewhere for free.

Many Peer-to-Peer file sharing networks, such as Napster, have been involved in legal action with the government for copyright infringment. Those that have not been shut down, have been forced to make sure members pay for the music they download. Options include a monthly membership, a lifetime membership, or paying on a song by song basis. These alternatives to purchasing a CD, are still often times cheaper, are also leading to the decreased record sales.

The 2000’s have seen the rise and fall of “Boy bands” like the Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, and 98 degrees, along with a few teenage female artists, such as Britney Spears, and Christina Aguleria who hit the scene with pop music that drew a large young adolescent following. While the “boy band” era has generally faded, most of the group members have gone on to solo careers with moderate success. Spears has periodically released albums; but for the most part has left the music fame for maternal bliss. Aguleria has crossed from the pop music of her early teen career, to a more hip hop, adult type sound. The 2000’s have ultimately seen the progression of several new artists in all genres-some have come and gone, and some have yet to reach their potential.

The craze for stardom has hit the American public with such force that many reality television shows have been created to aid people in their quests. Shows like Fox’s American Idol, which debuted in 2000, feature auditions in various locations throughout the country. While many of these people are sent home wallowing in self-pity, a lucky few make it to the big time in Hollywood, bringing them one step closer to a record deal. Many people are so desperate for a shot at the glamourous life, that they acutally end up embarrassing themselves on national television with their audition. The show progresses with periodic elimations, and the American public chooses who their next big star will be. The winner, and most often times, even the second and third runner ups, end up with a record deal, and release at least one album. The first American Idol, Kelly Clarkson has received the most success from the show, with three albums on the shelves, and massive radio play. As a result of American Idol’s success, rival television network, ABC has created a similar television show entitled, “The One: The Making of a Music Star” that follows basically the same premise, with the added twist of having the contestants live together during the course of the show. This show is in its debut season, so not much is known on how it holds up to its Fox competition.

The new milliniuem has also brought with it the new technology of MP3 players. MP3, Moving Pictures Expert Group 1 Audio Layer 3, is an audio format that provides the high quality sound of a compact disc at a reduced file size, approximately one tenth of the size on a CD. (Wilson, 301.) MP3 players come with varying amounts of memory, and many hold at least hundreds of songs. This technolgy has allowed consumers to make music even more portable than the CD player, and is slowly eliminating the need for such. The use of MP3 technology has taken off so much that even cell phone providers are offering services which allow customers to download music to their cell phones, or upload music from their computer to their phone for use as a ringtone.

The United States government regulates the music industry and enforces copyright laws and protects intellectual property. All recordings are protected as intellectual property as soon as they are fixed in a tangiable form. Many copyrighted works are filed with the Library of Congress, which maintains a collection of the material.

The Parents Music Resource Center has been one of the most powerful lobbying groups to insure that some form of musical rating system become available. Formed by Tipper Gore, wife of former vice president Al Gore, in the 1980’s when her husband was still serving in the United States Congress as a Senator. The group pressed for a uniform rating system similar to the system currently in use by the Major Motion Picture Association (MPAA). The other alternative that they asked for is that the lyrics be printed on album covers. Many opponents of the group maintain that the job of censoring music belongs in the home, and not with the government. No federal laws have been passed regarding the required labeling of music; however, by the year 1990, more than 25 states had passed their own legislation that requires either labeling or printing of lyrics, and bans the public display of “obscene” music-and the recording industry began making the necessary efforts to comply with the legislation. (Wilson, 295) Some stores, like Wal-Mart, Blockbuster Video, and K Mart have taken the censorship one step further by refusing to sell certain records, and only providing clean/edited versions of those it does decide to carry. Because Wal-Mart accounts for at least one of every dozen CD’s sold in the country today, artists and record labels have created alternate versions of otherwise questionable album artwork, digitally removed objectable language, and dropped unacceptable songs from the album to get their albums on those shelves. MTV has chosen to ban some videos from air, like the “Smack My B*tch Up” video, with a few others through the years. “Smack My B*tch Up” was aired one time with a warning about the drug use, full frontal nudity, and violence the video contained. Some record companies have practiced forms of censorship for the sake of their corporate image. Time Warner sold its rap labels after receiving a number of complaints regarding the messages delivered by the music, and Walt Disney pulled several thousand copies of a rock album that was full of obscene language, in a matter of hours after the album’s release. While these companies have taken these steps to ensure that offensive music does not reach the public ear, the United States government has not passed federal legislation because of their duty to protect everyone’s first admendment right to free speech.

The American government has also used music to influence political campaigns. This techinique of communicating ideas to constituents and using music to provide entertainment at political functions greatly benefited the campaigns of William Henry Harrison. In later decades, theme songs were even chosen for political parties. The song “Happy Days are Here Again” has been associated with the democratic party since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 presidential campaign. The use of music in politics declined in the 1950’s, being replaced by televised campaign ads.

The music industry of the United States consists of a number of entities. There are major record companies, who are collectively represented by the Recording Industry Association of America, (RIAA), radio stations, and even community orchestras and local bands. The music industry generates about 40 billion dollars annually, 12 billion of which come from America. Recently, in light of illegal downloading of music, many artists associated with the RIAA have sought legal action against those who obtain recordings illegally.

Major record companies produce the material by an artist they have signed to one of their labels, which can be associated with a brand name for a producer. An example of a record label is Shady Records/Aftermath Entertainment, belonging to rap star Marshall Mathers (“Eminem”). He was granted the label by Interscope Records after the release of his first album, “The Slim Shady LP”. He has signed artists like Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson-who also has his own label, G-Unit Records, and D12. Record companies are also in charge of promoting and marketing their artists through television appearances, concerts and other advertising. Record companies are also affliated with other music and media companies that produce a product related to popular recorded music-tv channels, radio stations, and magazines.

Radio stations take charge of broadcasting popular music. Each station has a category of songs to be played, also known as a format, which is often different from the standard genre classifications. Many stations are locally owned an operated, and offer a wide assortment of music on their playlists, while others, operated by a larger corporate entity, stick to a small, repetitive playlist. Commerical music sales are tracked by Billboard Magazine-who compiles lists of sales for various fields of music.

The Grammy Awards, formally known as the Gramophone Awards, are held annually usually sometime in February. The Grammys are considered as an equivalent to an Oscar in the Film industry. There are currently 108 catagories, and 30 musical genres which are voted on by members of the Recording Academy as opposed to votes based on popularity with some other award shows. An album must be released by November 1st in order to be considered for that year’s award ceremony. The ceremony has been aired on CBS since 1973; however, ABC aired the show for its first two years. Many bands have received multiple Grammys, such as U2 with 22, and the Beatles with 13. There are still several bands, such as Motley Crue, and Guns ‘N Roses, and Queen that have yet to receive a Grammy.

The American Music Awards (AMA’s) launched in 1973, created by Dick Clark, for ABC to provide some competition for CBS and the Grammys. The AMA’s are based on a poll of music buyers. The awards do not currently have a Best Album/Single category. A Favorite Artist of the Year award was instituted in 1996, and given to Garth Brooks. Brooks in turn, made a short speech simply stating he did not deserve the award, and the award was discontinued. From its debut until 2003, the AMA’s have been held in mid-late January, but were moved to November to slow competition with other major awards shows.

Another prestigous honor given is induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is located in Cleveland, Ohio commerorating many rock and roll artists, producers, and others who had major impact on the industry in some form. Though the Rock and Roll Foundation was developed in 1983, the groundbreaking for the Museuem did not take place until June 7, 1993. The annual induction ceremony occurs in New York City, usually in August. The first group of inductees included: Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Elvis Pressley, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers. The induction ceremony occurred on January 23, 1986. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducts members in the following catagories: Performers, Non-Performers, Early Influences, and since the year 2000, Sidemen. Performers are obviously the artists themselves, and non-performers are producers, industry executives, songwriters, journalists, and disc jockeys among others. Early Influences include artists from earlier time periods and other genres that inspired rock and roll music. The sidemen category consists of session and concert veterans that are selected by a large committee of producers. There are many regulations that must be met prior to receiving a nomination. The group or artist is not eligible for induction until the 25th anniversary of the release date of their first album, and they must demonstrate a significant impact on the history of rock and roll in some form. Inductees for the performers group are chosen by a committee of about 1000 experts in various music related fields; any peformer receiving more than 50% of committee votes are chosen, with about five to seven chosen annually.

The 2006 inductees are: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, Blondie, The Sex Pistols, and Miles Davis. The Sex Pistols announced in February 2006 that they will not be attending the ceremony being held this month.

The Billboard Music Awards were created in 1990, and have aired on the FOX network since inception. The ceremony is held annually in December, and awards are given based on popularity for the best selling artist, album, and single in each genre, as according to the Billboard charts. A Billboard Century Award was added in 1992 in order to pay tribute to some of the best artists of each decade.

Although the major record labels account for most of the American music industry, independent record labels, known as “indie music” do exist. The indie music industry is based for the most part on local record labels that have very little, if any, distribution outside the local area. There are a few lucky indie artists that gain enough exposure to be signed by a major record label, and a few that choose to remain on an indie label throughout the span of their career. Musicians on an independent label frequently release their music on the internet for users to download and listen to, to help themselves gain exposure. Indie music can be similar to the mainstream music but is usually unacessible due to the distribution challenges that the record labels face.

The music industry also includes many people who are professional musicians, which do not actually record their music, like night club DJ’s, wedding and lounge singers, and orchestras. The American Federation of Musicians-founded in 1896, is the country’s largest labor union for professional musicians, though only 15% of the membership roster holds steady music employment.

The impact of music on society has lead to music becoming an integral part of the nation’s education system, being taught in most of the schools all around the country. Music classes are often times mandatory at the elementary school level, and elective courses in the later years. High schools offer choral courses, as well as band for learning about instrumentation. Other programs, such as the drama program, and the sports program, often incorporate music in their plays, and in games, with the marching band at football games, for instance. Music is offered as a field of study at many of America’s universities. Music can be studied at the college level in various aspects, from music history, to music theory.California State University at Los Angeles began offering a course called Music Video 454 after the MTV craze began in the 1980’s; and, after the death of Tupac Shakur in 1996, a course was offered at the Berkeley campus on his poetry.

Many American holidays generally tend to have some sort of music associated with them. For instance, there is the “Happy Birthday” song, and many Christmas Carols. Each state has a song, and the country as a whole has the “Star-Spangled Banner” as its anthem. Holidays that are not celebrated nationwide, like Mardi Gras, held in New Orleans, Louisana, even have their own music. Many rights of passage, such as marriage, graduation, and even death, have music specifically associated with them.

Songs are known to have effects on personal relationships, with many couples choosing a song to symbolize the love and affection they hold for one another. Everyone seems to be able to find the “perfect” song to express any given emotion toward any person at any particular time, whether it be a love song, a song about faltering love, hatred, joy, etc. When one cannot find the words, leave it to music. Somewhere in the vast lyrical archives of thousands of artists and genres, the words one seeks are there.

America has many music festivals ranging from large festivals operated by record companies with many artists that have national recognition, like Ozzfest, Lalapalooza, and Woodstock, to small localized festivals, such as Bele Chere, in Asheville, North Carolina, with primarily local artists.

For much of American history, creating music has been considering primarily woman’s work. Ironically, women in the 19th century were barred from symphonies and orchestras, yet it was considered proper for them to engage in novice singing and piano playing. Women were also a major part of early popular music performance, though recorded traditions quickly became increaslingly more dominated by men. Even in genres that were prodominatly controlled by men, such as heavy metal and gansta rap, female artists are known.

Music is the heartbeat of American social and cultural identity. It flows throughout American history altering its path like a river to the flow of time. Music both unifies and segregates our society, with patriotic music bringing us together, and stereotypes of listeners of each genre separating us. The editoral statements that can be heard in each song bring forth truths about our society that some of us may not want to face. Its contraversy and messages give us something to ponder, and leave us yearning for more.

Nancy Vawter
Nancy Vawter

Nancy Vawter has been a reporter and writer since shortly after her graduation from the University of Arizona. She spent seven years with the New York Post, working as a national feature writer in New York. She later taught journalism as an assistant professor at American University in Washington.