Peterson, R. and D. Berger. 1975. “Cycles in Symbol Production: The Case of Popular Music.”

Peterson, Richard A. and David G. Berger. 1975. “Cycles in Symbol Production: The Case of Popular Music.” American Sociological Review 40 (April): 158-173.

Questions that cultural forms, here music, go through cycles. Analyzes 26 years of music, finding that periods of homogeneity concentrate the market, while competition in the market fosters diversity in music forms. Changes in music are predicted through long periods of concentration, followed by a burst of competition – market structure dictates cultural production. Alternations between “normalcy” and “revolutionary” periods of cultural production (Bensman and Gerver 1958, Peterson 1972)***. Schumpeter (1950) and economists note that innovation occurs out of oligopolist market, as innovation is difficult to finance. Stigler (1952) notes that competitive markets offer a chance for multiple firms to innovate. Historical study of ideological content of lyrics, structure of and development in music industry’s economic models. Music industries’ connections with television and film companies created monolithic press sets for artists. Use of “payola” – paying DJs to play a particular song repeatedly, or hype it up. Music industries’ connections with distribution – warehouses, dealerships, jukeboxes, salespersons created ability to monopolize – sometimes reputed to have used organized crime to ensure markets and sales of product. Using a company’s artist to co-opt and re-record a quickly popularizing song — all three of these ensure a homogeneity of product. Static markets draw discontent from consumers whose tastes are not met by a product. “Alternative” music flows and prominence through independent means, here, live performance – recordings to follow. Diversity of radio followed technological advance and introduction of better recording devices, television (competing technology). Public denunciation of diverse music as faddish, boorish, led by previous eras’ stars. Rapid turnover of performers in eras of diversity; increased lyrical light to social issues, sexuality, taboo discussions. Public acknowledgement that music evolved from a point of classist/anti-oligarchy protest into staged performances, self-conscious posed style (Melly 1971). Market consumers don’t necessarily get what they want, but tend to find exterior means or withdraw from market when tastes are not adequately represented.

Bensman, Joseph and Israel Gerver. 1958. “Art and the Mass Society.” Social Problems 6 (Summer): 4-10.
Melly, George. 1971. Revolt into Style. New York: Doubleday.
Peterson, Richard A. 1972. “A Process Model of the Folk, Pop, and Fine Art Phases of Jazz.” In Charles Nanry (ed.), American Music: From Storyville to Woodstock. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.
Schumpeter, Joseph A. 1950. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. Third Edition. New York: Harper and Row.
Stigler, George J. 1952. “The Case Against Big Business.” Fortune (May): 28-32.

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