Music affects our emotions in ways that perplex us. It’s often hard to explain in words what a particular song makes us feel, though the force of its impact is impossible to ignore. On the other hand, songs can be used for very rational purposes. Singing things, instead of simply reciting them or writing them down, helps us remember them much more clearly. A simple melody– no matter how much we may despise it– can lodge itself in our minds in a much more lasting way than a list of items or a glut of information. Since the early 20th century, no group of people have exploited these two facts more effectively than advertisers. As America rapidly modernized over the past 100-plus years, a commercial soundscape grew to pervade public life, and eventually private life as well, mostly in the interest of persuading us to buy things. It’s equal parts art and science, and though there’s long been resistance to its scope and aims, music as advertising has proven adaptable across a wide range of social changes.
In his new book The Sounds of Capitalism, UCLA musicologist Timothy Taylor deconstructs popular music’s role in mass-marketing campaigns, from the earliest days of radio, through the rise of television and MTV, to turn-of-the 21st century branding campaigns. Light on theory and packed with anecdotes from industry professionals and illuminating archival finds, the book highlights many more continuities than ruptures between advertising’s earliest years and the current moment of “music supervisors” and lucrative TV synchronization rights.
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