Monday, September 10, 2012

Commoditized Music?

In A Social Critique of Radio Music, Adorno lays out a foundation that posits that radio music has essentially become commodious, fueled by society's wants and needs rather than the individual message that each song is to represent. He claims that radio music has become standardized and that it "has ceased to be a human force" producing what he calls 'commodity listening,' in which "the listener suspends all intellectual activity when dealing with music and is content with consuming and evaluating its gustatory qualities--just as if the music which tasted best were also the best music possible" (Adorno 211).

In particular, he juxtaposes radio music with that of classical music with classical music being a high art form and radio music being the commoditized end product of a low culture. He mentions how radio music has become part of 'commodity listening' but to that defense, there are several outlets of media which allow for radio music listening that weren't available before. With programs like Pandora or Spotify, it's easier to find music and listen to it now than ever and who's to say that radio music isn't as high of an art form as classical pieces. Sure, radio music these days sound alike but I think that just like classical music, we can dissect perhaps not the melody or the beat or tonality of the piece, but of the lyrics which represent some form of uniqueness and add that special touch to songs that wasn't present in classical pieces.

Music has always been a form of entertainment and it has transitioned itself to fit the growing changes of societal wants and, yes in a way has become commoditized, but I wonder if music has become what Adorno considers passive listening simply because of the technology that has allowed us several means of access to radio music than before and because of that ubiquitous nature, has trained us to multitask with it in the background. We're in a age where people don't have as much of a luxury to really sit down and interpret music like how he believes classical music is interpreted so that you understand the complexities behind it but I believe that there are some hard core fans out there of radio music who will stand by their favorite radio song because it speaks to them in a way that nothing else really can and that doesn't "suspend all intellectual activity when dealing with music," but rather inspires them. (Adorno 211).


  1. Eileen,
    Glad you stood up for the radio! Adorno poses the question if something is lost in the mode of transmission, or the idea of transmitting good music altogether "Does a symphony played on the air remain a symphony? Are the changes it undergoes by wireless transmission merely slight and negligible modifications, or do the changes modify the very essence of the music?" p. 148 (reader). While of course listening to Beethoven's 5th in the 'Theater an der Wien' would have been ideal, there is an added benefit of the entire world being exposed to that type of music. There is intrinsic value in the ability to listen to Beethoven, or any other music, while not being at a specific performance. If its a radio playing in the driveway while you hang out with friends or one playing in your car while you sit on the roof and watch the sun go down on the coast, these are added benefits from the new technology. I guess I agree with Ryan Tee that Adorno is overly critical of the medium and the music. Freddie Mercury -"Id sit alone and watch your light/ my only friend through teenage night/and everything i had to know I heard it on my radio/ A refrain that summed up the sadness even a hint of betrayal, that radio had been displaced/ you had your time you had your hour/ you've yet to have your finest hour/ Radio." Douglas p. 39 (reader).
    Also thanks for bringing up Pandora here Eileen! I remember thinking how super cool I thought pandora was when it came out. It was the easiest application for finding a ton of new music. Then, a while later, the parade was rained on.. By Adorno. Now, where I used to skip through the streets with my phone blasting the best new independent artists and tracks all day, there is only one thing I can think "The less the listener has to choose, the more he is made to believe he has a choice, and the more the machine functions only for the sale of profit, the more must he be convinced that it is functioning for him and his sake only or, as it is put, as a public service." Social Critique of music p. 152 (reader). I have narrowed my music choosing methodology to thumbs up, thumbs down. With ads spinning all over the screen and the worlds cheesiest jingles playing every 5th song it is hard to dispute many of Adorno's problems with music as a commodity... He just didn't have to go and ruin Pandora for me, thats all.

  2. Good points all around, though I'm surprised no one mentioned the Rosen and her idea of "egocasting" (in relation to Pandora and related technologies). This seems to be an era of extreme personalization or customization, as well as standardization, so in a way, there is something to be said for a live, collectively experienced performance that isn't tailored to individual expectations.