- Music and Capitalism: A History of the Present by Timothy Dean Taylor
Music and Capitalism, despite being rather brief for such an expansive topic, provides plenty of thought-provoking and useful insights about the ways modern capitalism has affected and interacted with the creation and consumption of music. Timothy Taylor touches on many aspects of the current music industry, including its relationships with artists and listeners, and incorporates the experiences of several different musicians. While the book covers a lot of ground in just over 200 pages, it also has gaps that leave a number of questions unanswered.
Taylor’s lengthy introduction orients the reader to the theoretical background for this book, his definition of and understanding of neoliberal capitalism, and the topics the book will cover. Taylor’s explanation of his theoretical background and his predecessors focuses mainly on the writings of Theodor Adorno, particularly Adorno’s views on the value of art and its commodification in Western capitalism. Moreover, these explanations are not limited to the introduction. Throughout Music and Capitalism, Taylor provides excellent summaries [End Page 531] and explanations of relevant writings by Adorno and other writers, so that even if readers are not familiar with the work of these authors, they will still gain the necessary background for following Taylor’s arguments. The book also places Taylor’s ideas within a richer and wider context of economic and political theory, which somewhat offsets the brevity of the book. In his introduction, Taylor also delves into the ways neoliberal capitalism acts not just as an economic force, but also as a cultural one that affects social relationships. He concludes his introduction by delineating the book’s constraints and what it will cover, including a breakdown of the topics for each chapter.
Although Music and Capitalism bills itself as a “history of the present,” chapter 1 provides a brief history of music and capitalism before the rise of neoliberal capitalism at the end of the twentieth century. Taylor tackles this history thematically rather than chronologically or developmentally, as capitalism “is not some kind of wave that uniformly engulfs everything in its path. Its progression is neither linear nor total” (p. 20). Taylor chronicles the emergence of the production of music and its commodification alongside the shift from the mass making of music to the mass consumption of it, a shift from the majority of people having an active role in music to their having a much more passive role.
In chapter 2, the author introduces neoliberal capitalism and the way it has shaped and continues to shape cultural industries. He takes a look at marketing, branding, and the harnessing of the concept of “cool” in the marketing and consumption of cultural products. The resulting increase in consumption has also built up its role in the construction of identity. In addition, Taylor examines the role of class in creating taste and culture. He notes the emergence of a new technocratic bourgeoisie and observes that their “notion of cultural capital stems from knowledge of the hip and the cool, and is no less exclusionary and no less contemptuous of those farther down the ladder” (p. 64) than that of the older bourgeoisie who based their cultural capital on knowledge of the fine arts. Finally, he briefly explores the commercialization of social relationships as a result of neoliberal capitalism’s ubiquity and long reach.
Chapter 3 covers the relationship of the current form of globalization to neoliberal capitalism and the international music industry. In covering this topic, Taylor focuses on the rise of world music as a genre, brand, and commodity. In the process, he also touches on issues of authenticity, collaboration, audience, and ownership. This is the first chapter in which Taylor makes use of a case study to illustrate and enlarge upon his points. Here, he looks at the way Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo navigates the milieu of world music. Employing such case...