<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>Music Genres</b> <p> <p> I start every semester in my Sociology of Hip-Hop and Rap Music course by asking the students to tell me a story about the origins of this musical style. The collective narrative that emerges, cobbled together from episodes of VH1's <i>Behind the Music, Vibe Magazine</i> articles, and song lyrics, is that rap music's origins lie in the desire of inner-city, poor, black men to document their lives and critique the social order that blocks progress for our nation's minorities. In criticism of this, a second group of students argue that this political narrative is a smoke screen, masking and justifying the sexism, violence, and profligate lifestyle of rap songs and artists. <p> The terms of this debate would have been totally foreign to proto–rap artists in the mid-1970s when they were performing DJ sets in courtyards, parks, and community centers. Oral histories reveal a group of young men and women seeking to make money and a name for themselves as disco DJs. According to at least one account, the first "rap party" was a celebration of DJ Kool Herc's sister's birthday, organized as a fund-raiser for school clothes for the siblings. It was only years later that rappers began to bemoan the sacrifice of politics to profit. But the power of the political reading of rap has nearly obscured what early performers have said about this period, and about their goals in making music. <p> Evidence of the power of this account is found not only in my classroom discussions, or the popular media that teach students to view the music in this fashion, but also in the actions of canonizing organizations. For example, the first rap song added to the National Archive of Historic Recordings (in 2002) wasn't the first rap song performed, or even the first one recorded (an unabashed party song called "Rapper's Delight"), but instead was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's 1982 single, "The Message." This song's staccato vocal track describes the living conditions and frustrations of those mired in urban poverty. It is neither the best-selling rap single of the period, nor the song with the most radio play, nor, I would argue, the best loved by fans. It is, however, the first rap track that exemplifies the lyrical conventions that characterize a strain of politically oriented rap. <p> That the canonization process would define political, or so-called Black Nationalist, songs as the characteristic style within a genre dominated by African American performers should not surprise any student of twentieth-century U.S. history. It should also not surprise us to know that there are multiple, conflicting accounts of rap's origins. The adage that "history is written by the winners" suggests how strongly our present circumstances color the knowledge and interpretations we make of the past. So-called revisionist histories are required when the desire to explain the present as the necessary outcome of past events blinds us to other events and explanatory factors. Such thin historical accounts identify a small number of explanatory factors (think of "for want of a horse" accounts of King Richard III of England's death at the Battle of Bosworth) and prevent us from revealing "event structures" and the relationships that produce outcomes. Thin histories are flawed not because they identify the wrong events and people, but because they focus on too few of them, and because the importance of events and performers is determined by contemporary values. The need to revise thin histories in light of new discoveries or shifts in political and cultural attitudes means that we never get an "authoritative" history; rather, we accumulate multiple accounts of history and its significance. A thick account of history defocalizes the actions of individuals (e.g., charismatic leaders, kings and reformers, divisive wives) and shifts our attention toward social structures and collective action. <p> Music is particularly in need of thick histories. In most histories of music, the focus is placed on individual actors: genius performers, opportunistic promoters, or divisive wives. By attributing credit for bold innovations to single individuals, we have a fragile, thin explanation for the very complex worlds in which these innovators lived. Moreover, historians often identify and lay substantial credit at the feet of idiosyncratic events, serendipity, and luck (or their opposites). By defining acts of invention or providence as outside of history, as the product of individual genius and serendipity, these accounts suggest that creativity and innovation operate despite societal influence and social interaction. But if we take a closer look, each of these "great man" accounts has a shadow history in which geniuses depend upon the social systems in which they create their magic. As sociologists have shown time and again, great American art is produced by collaborative links between skilled practitioners. <p> If you've ever been a member of a music community—as a fan or performer—you know that it takes tens, scores, or even thousands of people to make that community work, for better or worse. Music is a participatory, community-based activity. At different stages of development, music communities are organized to lend themselves to different forms of participation. To return to the rap example, it is only after the community was large enough to sustain many, and many different, performers and songs that it was even possible to argue about whether the music "should be" seen as a political expression. As we look across musical communities, we discover more evidence that debates over the political content of music is keyed to the scale of the community size. Debates over profit, authenticity, or politics are extremely common once any music community has reached a relatively mature state of development. <p> Documenting and understanding the attributes of music genre communities that emerge during different stages of development is the objective of this book. In looking across communities and musical styles, we can discover something that is rarely offered in musical histories: an analysis of how music communities <i>in general</i> operate: what shared obstacles and opportunities creative people face, what debates tend to characterize different states of the field, and so forth. These patterns are the grammar that allows us to understand the cultural language of popular music. Ultimately, my goal is to use the study of shared attributes across musical communities to provide a model of sociocultural classification. I seek a model that can be used to analyze many different cases in which people collaborate to draw boundaries around groups of things: ideas, artworks, people, organizations, to name just a few. <p> <i>Banding Together</i> is a study of the ideological, social, organizational, and symbolic attributes of twentieth-century American music. Three questions guide the investigation: (1) What are the common economic, organizational, ideological, and aesthetic traits among contemporary music genres? (2) Do music genres follow any patterns in their development, and if so, what explains their similarities and differences? and (3) Using contemporary American musical genres as a point of reference, how can we discover new genre forms and trajectories? I explore these questions in music in order to offer a comprehensive view into both classificatory schema employed to organize sound and sociocultural classification systems in general. <p> To identify these uniformities, I begin by isolating the formal characteristics of twelve attributes found across styles of music. These organizational, economic, interpersonal, and aesthetic attributes are used to differentiate one musical style from another, and a given style from one moment in time to the next. Drawing from an inductive coding of histories of sixty American market-based musical forms from the twentieth century, I demonstrate patterns of attributes. <p> <p> <b>What Is a Theory of Sociocultural Classification?</b> <p> Questions of symbolic classification have been central to sociology since its earliest days because distinctions between classes become the nucleus around which we develop identities, affiliations, hierarchies, knowledge, and conflict. Classifying rap as political, misogynist, or profit-oriented has enormous consequences for fans, artists, and promoters. Since the advent of their discipline, sociologists have generated systems of sociocultural classification for a diverse set of phenomena, including forms of organization, religious belief, fashion, gender, sexuality, art, race, and societies at large (to name a few of many examples). The sociological concern with systemic change in such classification systems is venerable, yet there is no robust and generalizable theory of dynamic change, though efforts have been made in domains including nation building, social movements, name-giving practices, and French cuisine. In the case of music, stylistic distinctions (between jazz and blues, for example) organize people and songs within a system of symbolic classification. While numerous studies chronicle the history of specific styles of music, none seek to document recurrent processes of development and change <i>across</i> styles. The objective of this book is to generate a robust theory of musical communities, culminating in a system of sociocultural classification that can be applied to a wide range of phenomena. Such a theory of classification should produce thick histories. <p> I study music to illuminate processes of sociocultural classification for several reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, my expertise lies in the sociological study of music, and rap music in particular. One of the reasons I chose to study rap music was that I found myself in an intellectually vibrant and progressive department during graduate school. While scholars in general were at pains to distinguish consecrated musical genres from "vernacular" ones, my colleagues encouraged me to disregard these distinctions and treat rap music as another case to which the tools of social science could be usefully applied. Second, I chose music because it helps me to have a lot of the right kind of company. Within the academy, music is a focus of experts across a number of fields, including those studying digital technologies, regulation and deregulation of industries, firm and market structure impacts on industries, taste, identity, history, censorship and surveillance, and authenticity. While some scholars might seek to avoid densely populated research fields, I was delighted to discover a wealth of primary and secondary data sources on which I could rely. These many histories of musical communities have provided the data for this book. Since they document the numerous features of music communities potentially relevant to a theory of sociocultural classification, this is a final and critically important reason for my selection of music for this study. <p> After more than ten years of research and teaching within the field, it became obvious to me that formal similarities across musical communities exist. For example, there are clear and recognizable differences between a "garage band" and groups making music for mass audiences. In the case of the former, performers play in front of small groups, have no consistent access to performance spaces, meet and practice in private spaces like homes, and tend to be musically unsophisticated. Disagreements within these groups emerge when individual performers push their personal agendas—musical, social, political, and economic—on members of the small community. At the other end of the spectrum, popular musicians play in front of huge audiences, have difficulty getting booked in all but the largest performance venues, and meet and practice within formal organizational settings like recording studios. With the exception of lead performers, musicians cycle through a variety of groups because unanimity of performance conventions makes individual instrumentalists relatively interchangeable. As a result of widespread consensus over the conventions of musical performance, disagreements are highly interpersonal and unique, or technical. After noting that certain characteristics immediately differentiate moments in a musical style's trajectory, I began to document how the social organization of musical production changes over time. <p> Creating an exhaustive list of these characteristics or attributes required that I construct a conceptual template and then iteratively refine it. Identifying the attributes that characterize musical communities was a straightforward, but lengthy, process. First, there was the question of how to draw boundaries around the case—that is, how to define what "counted" as data, and what did not. These are common problems when scholars seek to produce "thick" histories of the sort I described in the chapter's opening pages. The simplest solution was to cast a wide net while ensuring that the sources of information are reliable. It was immediately apparent that music made outside the United States, and before the early twentieth century, faced drastically different circumstances during its birth and death, so I decided to exclude such music from consideration. The more difficult problem was to identify musical styles that could be properly analyzed as genres. <p> I define musical genres as systems of orientations, expectations, and conventions that bind together industry, performers, critics, and fans in making what they identify as a distinctive sort of music. In other words, a genre exists when there is some consensus that a distinctive style of music is being performed. You will immediately notice that I do not use the word "genre" to refer to musical idioms (e.g., polka or techno), and instead refer to such idioms as musical <i>styles</i>. I believe my definition of genre facilitates a deeply sociological approach to the subject, in that it focuses attention on the set of social arrangements that link participants who believe themselves to be involved in a collective project. <p> Genre communities draw together a diverse constituency of record labels and other complex organizations; fans, listeners, and audiences; musicians; and "historical legacies that come to us within broader social formations." Genre communities are art worlds: networks of cultural production, distribution, and consumption. Art worlds include technologies or artistic materials (e.g., cameras, brushes); regulatory systems (e.g., copyright law); distribution systems and display locations (e.g., compact discs, galleries); reward systems (e.g., sales charts, awards); organizations (e.g., record labels); systems of appreciation and criticism (e.g., college curricula that convey art historical resonance); gatekeepers (e.g., talent scouts, newspaper critics), and audiences. <p> Given this definition, genres are numerous and boundary work is ongoing as they emerge, evolve, and disappear. That is, while genres need some degree of consistency for coherence, they also must change: "genres do not work by simply reproducing the same patterns over and over; such repetitive logic would likely have little appeal to popular music audiences." The shifting boundaries of genres make them difficult to pin down. Musicians often do not want to be confined by genre boundaries, but their freedom of expression is necessarily bounded by the expectations of the other performers, audience members, critics, and the diverse others whose work is necessary to making, distributing, and consuming symbolic goods. For example, "'heavy metal' is a term that is constantly debated and contested, primarily among fans, but also in dialogue with musicians, commercial marketing strategists, and outside critics and censors. Debates over which bands, which songs, sounds and sights get to count as heavy metal provide occasions for contesting musical and social prestige." The genre within which particular songs, or performers, are positioned can change over time. These debates serve not only to sort bands and songs into groups but also to identify those who are aware of current distinctions from those who are outsiders or hapless pretenders. Within the stream of electronic and dance music, for example, keeping up with the introduction of new styles—more than three hundred in just 1998 and 1999—is an accomplishment only the most diligent and committed fan could achieve. The ongoing boundary work that characterizes music genres is therefore an attribute worthy of study, not a problem to be avoided in the endeavor of examining how genres work. In this book, I included every variant style, group, or performer that made a claim to a given genre community. Since my focus was on the formal attributes of music communities, there was no need to adjudicate the status of any particular band. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Banding Together</b> by <b>Jennifer C. Lena</b> Copyright © 2012 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. 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