Intro to Music Biz Articles
by Frank Imani Jamal
Cornbread Productions
The Origins of Pop Music

What we know of today as "pop" or popular music evolved in American society over many, many decades. Pop music, which accounts for the majority of the music on today's charts, is an eclectic mix of many different styles of music--from jazz to country; rock and roll to rap; be-bop to hip-hop. Pop artists such as Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Outkast, Madonna, Maxwell, and others routinely blur the lines of these musical genres with their award-winning tunes. These artists push the boundaries of what is considered "avant garde," "cool", and "hip" and constantly re-invent the medium. For this reason, pop music has helped make the music industry a multi-billion dollar a year business, one whose influence is reflected highly in all forms of today's media including film, video games, TV, and the internet. Pop music is also a cultural force that resonates throughout the world, touching people and societies in ways those governments or politics cannot.

Pop music began with the publication of sheet music. In the mid- to late 19th century, many homes in America had as their "entertainment center" a piano. This instrument served as a social gathering spot for many families and often was the first instrument many children learned to play. Sheet music, which transcribed note-for-note many orchestral or symphonic scores for easy reading, sold briskly all over the country. For those families who desired to have piano music in their homes but had no one to play it, player pianos were invented. This device allowed the user to insert a cylindrical roll "punched" with the notes of a tune into a cavity of a specially equipped piano that would then strike levers within the instrument and "play" back the keys without anyone touching them.

Publishers of sheet music set up companies to meet the demand of those desiring their products, and would often scout out new composers and have their music made available in printed form for sale. This was the beginning of the music publishing industry as we know it today.

When pianos gave way to the phonograph around the beginning of the 20th century, popular renditions of music followed with them. Now instead of relying on mere piano music to provide entertainment, families could now hear what was then considered an accurate reproduction of an entire performance. Phonograph records allowed anyone--city dweller or farmer; rich man or poor --to enjoy music cheaply and conveniently. This opened new markets for music that would appeal to popular tastes, and the music industry began to expand in leaps and bounds.

By the mid 1920s, a new form of music began to infiltrate the American social fabric. Whereas before most "pop" music centered on classical music, church hymns, and Civil War era ballads, this new music called "jazz" began to bring a peculiar rhythmic beat to the scene that was “shocking” and “daring” to behold.

"Jazz" music was a uniquely African beat developed and nurtured by Black musicians in the south, east, and mid-west. Jazz music--and later another African-derived art form called "blues"--soon helped transform the music that was heard--and those who were hearing it.

Pop music now had begun to reflect more of the true multi-cultural fabric and diversity of America, but despite this glaring fact, many in the music industry tried to segregate the music by labeling jazz and blues with the derogatory title of "race music", or music that was created by or appealed primarily to Blacks, and everything else as "pop", for music that appealed primarily to whites. (Years later, the term "rhythm and blues" or "R&B" was chosen as a less-offensive way to describe music for and from the Black community.)

Yet despite the artificial barriers imposed upon it, music continued to grow, further blurring any lines of demarcation. Musicians whom many considered as "pop" musicians began to "borrow" heavily from the jazz and blues rhythms around them. By the early 50's, this cultural and musical intermingling resulted in a new music called “rock and roll”.

Rock and roll helped make American music--and the American music industry--into today's global phenomenon. Early rock pioneers like Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Louis Jordan, and Little Richard set a pace that artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Bill Haley, Elvis Presley and others imitated and emulated to an even greater degree of success, spurring on years later the ascension of such global acts as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Cream, The Who, Manfred Mann, Led Zeppelin, and others.

Pop music in the 70's 80's and 90's morphed even further as Disco, Acid rock, Dance, and Techno all contributed their influence. But perhaps no greater influence on pop music has occurred than that of Rap.

Rap music, a key component of the inner-city cultural movement called "Hip-Hop", emerged out of the 80's like no other musical trend in history. In the beginning, this art form was largely ignored by mainstream music companies, allowing it to develop like no other musical trend before or since. By the time mainstream America had placed it on its radar, Rap had become a sonic juggernaut crushing all other forms in its path. Over the last 25 years, Rap has consistently outsold Rock, Country, Gospel, and even Jazz and R&B. In fact, Rap music is second only to pop in terms of marketability, profits, and appeal. It therefore seemed inevitable that Rap would further influence the pop field, giving rise to such artists as Pink, Beck, Eminem, No Doubt, Kid Rock, Rage Against the Machine, and other top-grossing acts.

Pop music has now entered into the 21st century with no end in sight to its commercial appeal, cultural impact, longevity, or profitability. With each generation, Pop music will always be that arbiter of taste and refinement in that it accurately--for good or bad--reflects all that that society has to offer. To paraphrase another musical saying, "POP music is here to stay".

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