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Advertising and the Global Music Explosion, Part 1

The musical explosion that has characterized global culture during the past twenty years has had a profound effect on the form and practice of advertising. Advertising & Society Review is happy to be providing its readers with a double issue examining and documenting this phenomenon with original interviews and articles, including important advertisements that were part of this transformation.

In this issue, we begin the inquiry with an original article, “The Rise of the Jingle,” by Tim Taylor, an ethnomusicologist from UCLA. Taylor tells the story of the movement from print to sound in the evolution of jingles, a form of popular poetry that evolved into a distinctive advertising feature composed of memorable slogans set to simple melodies. From the introduction of MTV and the historic first licensing of a Beatles song by Nike in 1987, the balance between jingles and popular songs licensed for commercial use changed radically, until jingles nearly disappeared from the scene, putting many people out of work and studios out of business. In the new paradigm, the typical musical form in a commercial was a fragment drawn from a well-known hit song that conformed to a message in the advertisement. By the end of the 1990s, licensing comprised the bulk of the revenue stream to record companies and the traditional split between commerce and culture had been dramatically changed.

As the interview with Josh Rabinowitz documents, another important cultural shift followed, brought about largely by the digital revolution in music, especially as typified by the Apple innovations, iTunes and iPod. In this stage, the marketing of music came to be highly identified with the brands that introduced and promoted artists in the musical backgrounds of their advertising. Of particular import in this sea change was the marketing of Play, an album by Moby, where every track was licensed to at least one advertiser from the album’s debut. Though the album opened to a lukewarm reception, it built a following in an atypical pattern, bolstered by the number of times consumers heard tracks being played on commercials and in retail settings. Eventually, Play became the best-selling electronica album of all time and Moby became synonymous with a watershed moment in the relationship between music and commerce. As Rabinowitz recounts, the changes in this relationship had dramatic repercussions in everything from music rights to brand objectives. 

Though licensed music continued to be the order of the day through the first decade of the 21st century, other uses of music and sound, often categorized as “sound design,” came to the fore as a new, almost language-like, form of sound under commercial messages. The roundtable in this issue, with one of the leading sound design studies, Human Worldwide, documents this trend and provides several narratives and examples of how this change is manifest in the world of advertising today.  

In the next part of the double issue, Advertising & Society Review will introduce two new original interviews: one with Ira Antelis, an important composer of music for commercials and film, but also of jingles; as well as an interview with Keith D’Arcy, who has been at center of the licensing revolution. Finally, an original essay by Alan Bradshaw, a professor at Royal Holloway, the University of London, will analyze the cultural and political shifts implicit in this moment.

Linda M. Scott
Editor

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