The Commodification of African American Music

By: Jala Stubbs

Sheet Music & Song Books

Sheet music is the printed or handwritten form of music. Sheet music is valued as a commodity due to the ability to distribute the music to various places and give credit to its original composer. Slave songs were recorded manually in a book consisting of about 136 songs, published in 1876. The book was the first of its kind and is the largest collection of spirituals. 

Live Performance & Radio

With the arrival of live performance and radio, a new commodity was tapped into. Live performances and concerts proved to be a very lucrative section of the entertainment industry, as consumers often went to shows and night clubs to hear their favorite performers play and/or sing. Radio play was also a very popular conduit for music listeners although, receiving air time for artist was a bit of a challenge. In order to receive air time, artist had to have the funds to secure their play time.

Record Companies

Record companies would characterize the monopoly of the music and entertainment business. As artists would sign to labels for the promotional and professional tools it takes to survive the entertainment world, record companies took steps to own and profit off the songs and creative works of their artists and teams. Although the trade of talent for professional support at first glance seemed like a good idea, a lot of artists lost a lot more of their intellectual property to greedy companies. 

Record Sales

As technology became more advanced, record sales also proved to be a lucrative outlet for musicians. Vinyl, cassette players, walkmans, and mp3 players made music portable. No longer were people tethered to a single device or location to hear the most popular songs of the era. Because people were able to purchase the music of their own accord, record sales were bound to do numbers. This medium of artists being able to sell their art directly created a new form of competition.

Streaming Services

In the digital era, streaming services created yet another volume of the commodification of music. In this day and age, artists make most of their money from streaming services and of course, touring and music festivals. Platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal have millions of listeners everyday creating revenue for their companies as well as the featured artists. 

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