- The Sounds of Capitalism: Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture by Timothy D. Taylor
Advertising has cluttered our public spaces, shaped our values, and defined our politics, yet perhaps there is nothing more emblematic of the saturated union between advertising and our selves than the jingle that stubbornly refuses to leave your head. Timothy D. Taylor’s The Sounds of Capitalism: Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture contributes to the history of American advertising a thorough account of its music, and thereby demonstrates how essential popular commercial music has been to the formation of consumer capitalism and vice versa.
Taylor’s scholarship does not challenge the dominant framework that informs existing histories of advertising and consumerism, a subject of continued interest in media studies and cultural studies. Indeed, this book hits the seemingly requisite historical totems for engaging in critical investigations of the advertising industry also discussed in Gary Cross’s An All-Consuming Century (2002) and Stephen Fox’s The Mirror Makers (1997): experimentation with instructional forms of advertising in the early years of the twentieth century, the escalation of consumerism after the Second World War, Freudian approaches adopted during psychoanalysis fever, the explosion of the youth market and advertising’s rebellious styles during the 1960s and after, and consumer industries’ interpellation of a neoliberal ‘democracy’ of consumer-citizens at the century’s close. Rather than trouble established approaches to this roughly century-long timeline, Taylor’s work illuminates what has been hidden in plain sight in existing advertising histories: the essential work of music and musicians in realising what Taylor refers to as the ‘conquest of culture’, or capitalism’s cyclical production of culture via an ideological orientation persistently defined by hipness, trendiness, and relevance (239–40). The Sounds of Capitalism contributes a vital history only tangentially referred to in other approaches to the same consumerist century. But Taylor’s greater accomplishment for musicology and media studies is his demonstration of the growing convergences between the music and advertising industries.
Taylor focuses on the development of musical styles, practices, and formats within the broadcast media of radio and television. The history he sketches can be summarised by three major developments within and between these media, realised across the book’s nine chapters: radio’s integration of product-oriented music and musicians into its programming [End Page 223] in order to produce ad revenue, radio and television’s invention of the popular jingle, and finally, radio and television’s now thoroughly entrenched employment of pre-existing and composed songs from popular music genres. In the former and latter developments, Taylor surveys comparisons across media that helped determine music’s particular uses in advertising – namely, radio executives’ early attempts to create a sonic version of print advertisements, and television advertising’s belated implementation of rock music, which didn’t emerge into popular use until the early 1980s (by this point, rock that had already enjoyed a lucrative presence in cinema and on television programming for decades).
Where previous consumer histories have focused primarily on print ads (see Marchand 1986; Lears 1994; Ewen 2001), Taylor attends to the underexplored area of products promoted via ‘ads with sound and moving images’ on radio and television (3). The author unearths an array of archival material – interviews with musicians, memos and records from advertising agencies, industry discourse in trade magazines, instructional pamphlets for advertisers, and other primary resources – all wielded to illustrate processes he refers to as ‘the production of consumption’, or producers’ means of forming consumer identities and shaping a consumer culture (3). Taylor acknowledges several apparent strictures of this approach. The book’s thorough survey of industry materials makes little room for considering or even theorising about how such messages could have been received and decoded by audiences; instead, Taylor is more invested in the culture industry’s moulding of consumer subject positions. Furthermore, interested readers might be disappointed to find only occasional textual analyses of individual ads here, a methodological choice that is particularly unfortunate when Taylor alternates his investigation between radio and...