Popular music  

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This page Popular music is part of the music series.Illustration: Sheet music to "Buffalo Gals" (c. 1840), a traditional song.Maxim: "writing about music is like dancing about architecture".
This page Popular music is part of the music series.
Illustration: Sheet music to "Buffalo Gals" (c. 1840), a traditional song.
Maxim: "writing about music is like dancing about architecture".

"As old as the tension between art music and vulgar music is, it became radical only in high capitalism. In earlier epochs, art music was able to regenerate its material from time to time and enlarge its sphere by recourse to vulgar music. This is seen in medieval polyphony, which drew upon folk songs for its cantus firmi, and also in Mozart, when he combined peep-show cosmology with opera seria and Singspiel."--"On the Social Situation of Music" (1932) by Theodor Adorno

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Popular music is music belonging to any of a number of musical styles that are accessible to the general public and are disseminated by one or more of the mass media. It stands in contrast to art music, which historically was the music of the elite and upper strata of society, and traditional music which was disseminated orally. It is sometimes abbreviated to pop music, although pop music is more often used for a narrower branch of popular music.



Popular music dates at least as far back as the mid 19th century, and is commonly subdivided into genres. Different genres often appeal to different age groups. These often, but not always, are the people who were young when the music was new. Thus, for instance, Big band music continues to have a following, but it is probably a rather older group, on average, than the audience for rap. For some genres, such as ragtime music, the original target generation may have died out almost entirely.

With the increasing social and economic independence of young people, this "generation gap" has grown wider and wider since the second World War. Music hall and other forms before the 1940s were not so clearly marked by generation. From the Depression through the end of the war, Bing Crosby was the highest-selling recording artist in the United States. His fan base had no age division. The average Kraft Music Hall listener was 21 years old. But after Crosby's semi-retirement in 1954, a large generation gap emerged. Elvis Presley became the most popular recording artist among teenagers, while Frank Sinatra was most popular among adults.


"The most significant feature of the emergent popular music industry of the late 18th and early 19th centuries was the extent of its focus on the commodity form of sheet music" (Middleton). The availability of inexpensive, widely-available sheet music versions of popular songs and instrumental music pieces made it possible for music to be disseminated to a wide audience of amateur music-makers, who could play and sing popular music at home. In addition to the influence of sheet music, another factor was the increasing availability during the late 18th and early 19th century of public popular music performances in "pleasure gardens and dance halls, popular theatres and concert rooms" (Middleton). The early popular music performers worked hand-in-hand with the sheet music industry to promote popular sheet music. One of the early popular music performers to attain widespread popularity was Jenny Lind, who toured the US in the mid-19th century. During the 19th century, more regular people began getting involved in music by participating in amateur choirs or joining brass bands.

The centre of the music publishing industry in the US during the late 19th century was in New York's 'Tin Pan Alley' district. The Tin Pan Alley music publishers developed a new method for promoting sheet music: incessant promotion of new songs. One of the technological innovations that helped to spread popular music around the turn of the century was player pianos; these allowed people to hear the new popular piano tunes. By the early 1900s, the big trends in popular music were the increasing popularity of vaudeville theaters and dance halls and the new invention—the gramophone player. The record industry grew very rapidly; "By 1920 there were almost 80 record companies in Britain, and almost 200 in the USA" (Middleton). Radio broadcasting of music, which began in the early 1920s, helped to spread popular songs to a huge audience. Another factor which helped to disseminate popular music was the introduction of "talking pictures"--sound films—in the late 1920s. In the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, there was a move towards consolidation in the recording industry which led several major companies to dominate the record industry.

In the 1950s and 1960s, television began to play an increasingly important role in disseminating new popular music. Variety shows regularly showcased popular singers and bands. In the 1960s, the development of new technologies in recording such as multitrack recorders gave sound engineers an increasingly important role in popular music. By using recording techniques, sound engineers could create new sounds and sound effects that were not possible using traditional "live" recording techniques.

In the 1970s, the trend towards consolidation in the recording industry continued to the point that the "... dominance was in the hands of five huge transnational organizations, three American-owned (WEA, RCA, CBS) and two European-owned [companies] (EMI, Polygram)". In the 1990s, the consolidation trend took a new turn: inter-media consolidation. This trend saw music recording companies being consolidated with film, television, magazines, and other media companies, an approach which facilitated cross-marketing promotion between subsidiaries. For example, a record company's singing star could be cross-promoted by the firm's television and magazine arms.

In the 1990s, popular music was changed by the "introduction of digital equipment (mixing desks, synthesizers, samplers, sequencers)" which allowed the creation of "new sound worlds" and facilitated DIY music production by amateur musicians and " tiny independent record labels". By the 2000s, another trend which affected popular music was the increasing availability and use of computers and Internet connections, which facilitated the dissemination—both legal and illegal—of digital recordings and digital versions of sheet music and lyrics.

Problems of definition

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If European popular music exists, it is not defined.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Popular music" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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