The Commodification of African American Music

by Mariah Wolfe

What is Commodification?

Commodification describes the process by which something without an economic value gains economic value that can replace other social values. In music, commodification is music made for the sole reason of making money not for the uniqueness of the artist or hearing new tunes. This process effects many African American artist and have been causing trouble for many years. 

How it Started?

During slavery, negro spirituals saw the first attempts at commodification. Enslaved Africans frequently sung songs and produced music to pass the time, worship, interact, and escape dehumanization. When slave owners and white Americans learned about the popularity of such music, they were captivated by the Africans' ability to utilize music to communicate emotions as well as varied sounds from various instruments. White Americans were so amazed by the new sound that they composed a negro songbook full of all the songs that African slaves sang and sold it to other White Americans. The slaves that created the songs never seen any of the earnings gained from their musical refuge.



Quartets experienced the same issues when it came to not getting recognition from white Americans.  Many white recording labels often times stole the music and style of black quartets and would sell their music to white artist like they were their own. Many black artist took heed to this and began selling their own music. The most well known artist to do this is, Scott Joplin also known as “The King of Ragtime.”


Motown Records is a black-owned American record label owned by the Universal Music Group. It was founded by Berry Gordy Jr. as Tamla Records on January 12, 1959, and incorporated as Motown Record Corporation on April 14, 1960. The ownership of a record company by a Black man signified a substantial shift from the traditions of the American music business.Despite the fact that Motown represented a break from the industry’s previous tendency of white ownership, white artists and executives continued to benefit far more from Black music forms than Black artists themselves.

Commodification Today

Today, technology is the most typical method of commodification. There are now hundreds of music streaming services available such as Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal. These music platforms have given consumer the opportunity to listen to their favorite artist directly from their phone. The radio is another form of commodification, used to introduce listeners to new forms of music. Social media plays a significant role in providing information about new music since the early 2000s and continues to do so now. TikTok continues to use black creators’ video without giving them credit. White makers on the app frequently utilize the sounds and songs of Black creators without giving due credit. Even Black dancers on the app, oftentimes get their choreography stole and performed on the app by white creators. 

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