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Monday, July 12, 2010

The 500 and The Public

    There are two key audience groups when considering popular music.  The first is "the 500."  This is the audience that actually listens to popular music seriously and overlaps with the people who market music to the second audience, "the public."  The public consists of everyone else, including large portions of the professionals who work in the music industry, producing and distributing music.  A key to understanding audience reception of popular music lays in understanding the relationship between the two audiences.

  For example, it is not fair to say that the 500 is the "vanguard" or "avant garde" of popular music consumption trends in the way that the "avant garde" presaged popular tastes in painting in the early part of the 20th century.  However, it is fair to say that the 500 produces a significant portion of the amateur and professional publicists for popular music.  Given the role that public relations plays in the production and distribution of music by the culture industries, this is a relationship at the center of the music culture industry.

  To the extent that amateur publicists of popular music consider their status apart from and independent of the public and the public's relationship with the public relations of the music industry, it is they who suffer from what Marxists would call "false consciousness."  Marxists always used false consciousness in conjunction with workers, and it was a label applied by Marxist intellectuals.  Here, it is the intellectuals who labor under the delusion.

   Amateur music publicists in the "500 audience" represent a kind of Kaffir Police of the music industry.  Their work is fraught with conflicting motives, poorly remunerated and subject to heavy emotions.  In tautological terms, amateur music publicists are AMATEUR music publicists. Most, if not all simply don't care about the existence of the other audience.  However, all professional music publicists care about the second, larger audience.  Even though they may be a member of that 500 audience, their professionalism requires them to develop consciousness about the second audience.  Thus, independent of actual job description, the difference between amateur and professional music publicists is their awareness of the functioning of the public an it's relationship with the music industry.  Note here that the difference is not that one has really great taste and the other is a shitty sell out bitch.

  The relationship between the music industry and the 500 is that the music industry wants to control the 500 and make them purchase their own products.  They want to deploy public relations in both clever and not so clever ways to assure that they have a monopoly on the purchases and hobby time of the 500.  While not necessary, it is in the interest of music industry professionals to participate in the rituals of this smaller group, since they can then relate that experience to other professionals whose taste more closely resemble that of the public,

    However, amateur and professional music publicists are bound by a heightened interest level in popular music, and that connection binds the two groups across time and space.  The public, on the other hand, displays a low interest level in popular music.

   Deploying broad concepts like "the 500" and "the public" should be understood as rhetorical devices created for the audience, not as a concrete reflection of reality.  For example, "the 500" is a much larger group then 500- more along the lines of thousands.  The public is not one entity but reflects a vibrant market with diverse tastes divided  across a geographical spectrum.


Anonymous said...

more music biz gold. wonderful macro/micro analysis.

Jaysee said...

Scott, did you coin the term "the 500" or is it something that has any historical explanation?

catdirt said...

ah it's like a rhetorical device? it's meant to create allusions in the mind of the reader, but doesn't have a specific reference.

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