Commodification of culture

Tom Condit tomcondit at igc.apc.org
Tue Sep 26 11:15:15 MDT 1995


Dear comrades:

I've been looking at the various postings about leftwing bands,
etc., with considerable interest. Rather than add a few more of my
own, I thought I'd reproduce the original post which gave rise to
these little notes.  The acute reader will note that most of the
responses have been, as lawyers say, "off point".

*****

From: BOCOBO at SONOMA.EDU
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 1995 13:05:21 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: research topic

Hi, I'm a student at Sonoma State university in California and I'm
doing a research paper on class consciousness.  My topic is on the
commodification of inner city class consciousness, vis a vis rap
songs, movies, etc.  I'm interested in studying who profits from
the selling of this "hip-hop" culture, and if these profits are
invested back into the community i.e. schools, jobs, health care
etc...  I'm searching for any literature that I can use for my
research.  I'd appreciate any suggestions or resources I can get.
Thanks!

*****

I must say that I am myself almost totally ignorant on this
subject. I know the work of Simon Frith and Dave Marsh on
capitalism and rock-and-roll, and I believe that quite a bit of
stuff has been done on Motown.  Who does profit from hip-hop?  How?
What are the channels?  I'm just as curious as "BOCOBO".

One starting point with hip-hop, etc., is the role of lawyers in
taming "house music" by asserting the "intellectual property
rights" of the supposed originators of every "sampled" sound or
phrase.  It now can cost up to $30,000 in lawyers' fees just to get
copyright clearances before a record is even issued.  This has
effectively destroyed the grassroots character of the music.

(I say "supposed originators" because music is deeply rooted in
centuries-old traditions and almost everything is a variation on a
theme by someone else.  In the 1950s, the record industry began a
campaign to get as much music as possible out of the public domain.
If you will look at records of blues, country music, etc., up to
about 1950, you'll see an enormous number of tunes marked as
"traditional".  From the early 1950s on, "authors" begin to be
assigned to these tunes, followed by royalty claims against anyone
else recording them.)

Anyway, the band lists are nice, but does anyone have any help for
BOCOBO's research paper?

Tom Condit


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