Rock Formation: Music, Technology, and Mass Communication


Steve Jones

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  • Foundations of Popular Culture

    Series Editor: Garth S. Jowett

    University of Houston

    The study of popular culture has now become a widely accepted part of the modern academic curriculum. This increasing interest has spawned a great deal of important research in recent years, and the field of “cultural studies” in its many forms is now one of the most dynamic and exciting in modern academia. Each volume in the Foundations of Popular Culture Series will introduce a specific issue fundamental to the study of popular culture, and the authors have been given the charge to write with clarity and precision and to examine the subject systematically. The editorial objective is to provide an important series of “building block” volumes that can stand by themselves or be used in combination to provide a thorough and accessible grounding in the field of cultural studies.

    1. The Production of Culture: Media and the Urban Arts by Diana Crane

    2. Popular Culture Genres: Theories and Texts by Arthur Asa Berger

    3. Rock Formation: Music, Technology, and Mass Communication by Steve Jones

    4. Cultural Criticism: A Primer of Key Concepts by Arthur Asa Berger

    5. Advertising and Popular Culture by Jib Fowles


    View Copyright Page


    The research for this book was made possible in part by grants from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and the Association for Recorded Sound Collections.

    Material from Putting the Record Straight by John Culshaw, copyright © 1981 by Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.

    Material from The Recording Angel by Evan Eisenberg, copyright © 1987 by McGraw-Hill, Inc. Used by permission of McGraw-Hill, Inc.

    Permission to use an excerpt from a song lyric, George Michael's “Freedom 90” on Listen Without Prejudice, vol 1, has been granted by CBS, Inc.

    An excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article (Miller, 1987) is reprinted by permission of the Wall Street Journal, © 1987Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.


    For Jodi

    Series Editor's Introduction

    Music is central to the cultural practices of all societies. We know that, starting in the earliest period of recorded history, music in its many forms was an important source of self-expression, as well as being a staple form of popular diversion. It was used in the home for family amusement, and as formal entertainment by professionals outside of the home. It provided one of the sole sources of merriment for a significant portion of the population throughout most of human history, and it was used as a carrier of news and propaganda as well as simple declarations of love and romance. On occasion, such as in religious ceremonies, it is used as a means of creating cultural and social cohesion. Music has also been accused of inciting people to wild and lascivious behavior, as well as fomenting racism and violence. Increasingly in the twentieth century, it is music that has become the central pivot point around which much of our popular culture revolves. Particularly since the mid-1950s, rock music, and the attendant “rock culture” have become significant factors in all facets of modern cultural practice, shaping the political attitudes and the aesthetics of youth worldwide. It is surprising therefore that before this study, there has not been a serious, book-length examination of the influence of technology on one of our most important forms of popular culture.

    In this study, Steve Jones examines the significant role played by technology in the emergence of popular music as a major cultural form of the 20th century. While the author has concentrated the bulk of his discussion on the specifics of rock music, the book provides a detailed history of the various technologies which have shaped modern popular music. In fact, Jones sees technology as the central force behind the evolution of popular music, and each new technical development has allowed the emergence of a “new sound.” It is this constant search for new sounds which has brought about changes in the styles and content of popular musical forms.

    In a clear, accessible style, Jones provides a history of recorded sound, and lays out the arguments surrounding the question of “authenticity” of performance. The author poses several key questions which open up for discussion such issues as: How does technology alter the actual performance of the artist? What role does the record producer play? What do audiences know and expect from artists and their recordings? Other important issues such as copyright and sampling are also examined. In the end the reader is forced to confront the question of what is “authentic” in this popular culture form? Ultimately, this book makes a major contribution to increasing our understanding of the interrelationship between the public and music.

    Garth S.Jowett
    Series Editor


    This book is in some measure organized by my experiences as a record producer and engineer, and to some extent by my experiences as a fan and critic of popular music. During recording sessions, I often wondered about occasions when aesthetic decisions were made because of available recording equipment. There was a constant compromise between the recording artist, producer and engineer, based on the ability of a technological object to perform a given function. The issues raised here are based on ones that arose during some of those sessions.

    The writings of Simon Frith and Lawrence Grossberg are particularly influential in my thinking about popular music. Their ideas, coupled with broader issues of technology and electronic media that can be found throughout the work of James Carey and Clifford Christians, form the core of my thinking. I am greatly indebted to them, not just for their work but for their encouragement.

    Though intended as a social history of music recording, it is quickly apparent that recording devices could not be considered apart from musical instruments, sound reinforcing equipment and sound processing equipment. They are intimately related to recording. Synthesizers, computers, and other electronic devices are now virtually synonymous with recording, and leaving them out of the analysis would be foolish. Discussing recording without discussing auxiliary equipment would be like analyzing chess by looking only at the board and leaving out the pieces.

    One of the most difficult problems to overcome is the reconciliation of popular music, aesthetics, and recording. Discussing the aesthetics of popular music is not easy. Most such discussion takes place over a few beers, at a friend's house, while listening to records, or at a concert. But even if the conversation is about the latest Springsteen LP and its production values, it is, at root, a defense of one's own aesthetics and not only Springsteen's (or those of his producer, group, etc.). Popular music's elitism permeates all talk of aesthetics, and as a fan of popular music I cannot pretend to transcend that elitism. I do hope, though, that an awareness of it has prevented me from overindulging in personal tastes.


    Many people assisted with the research, development and writing of this book, people to whom I am indebted and hope to repay.

    The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Department of Journalism provided a happy home for several years while work on this book was in progress. I am particularly indebted to Dr. James Fields for his support, Gloria Wilson for her friendship, and Laura Jasper for her ability to recast even the gloomiest of outlooks as a shining opportunity. Ron Satz and the office of Graduate Studies and Research provided funding for travel to conferences where many ideas were reshaped and refined. Bert Spangler and Larry Glenn helped keep me abreast of the latest developments in the audio field.

    I have been blessed with colleagues in the University of Tulsa's Faculty of Communication who are not only bright, sharp thinkers, but friends. In particular Dr. Robert Doolittle has provided sterling guidance, and John Pauly has set many a derailed thought back on track. Frank Christel's advice and friendship are much appreciated. Jan Reynolds and her assistants, Amanda Smith, Matt Landis, Rachel Reynolds, and Juliette Tays provided help when time was of the essence, as did graduate assistant Barbara Buckley.

    I am obliged to Garth Jowett and Ann West for their encouragement and guidance during the book's writing and revision.

    The Association for Recorded Sound Collections provided funding for research at a critical juncture in the book's life.

    The University of Illinois College of Communications must be singled out for special thanks, especially for the intellectually nurturing and nourishing environment it provided while I attended graduate school. Julian Halliday and Keya Ganguly made that period of time most valuable and memorable.

    Steve Higgins's and Linda Strong's support and friendship made it possible for me to finish this book. They gave unflagging research assistance and opportunities to draw my mind in different directions at the most appropriate times.

    April Filak endured many weeks of writing and revising with nothing but kind words and support, and to her I'll always be obligated.

    I must acknowledge The First Things, who provided me with my first experience in a recording studio, and all the groups and musicians I've subsequently worked with and upon whom I've imposed my own sounds as they imposed theirs on me. In particular Mel Eberle, Lynn Canfield, Nick Rudd, and Henry Frayne have been most influential, as well as most companionable and warm-hearted. Scott Wyatt tutored me in the recording studio, providing for an apprenticeship I'll not forget and hope to pass along to another. Glenn Graham, Marian Kuethe Wyatt, Tim Hanafee and Jill Graham are, to this day, inspiration itself.

    Paul Marszalek, too, has been an inspiration and a valuable source of information about the music business, and Bill Cone gave the “inside poop” on the latest in the musical equipment trade. Perry Leopold and the Performing Artists Network (PAN) provided a gateway to the music business that let me be everywhere at once, and make many, many contacts—and friends. Those interviewed for this book deserve special praise for taking time out of busy schedules to return phone calls and correspondence, and to put up with prying eyes and ears during recording sessions. The staff at Paisley Park Studios, the Living Room, Faithful Sound and Private Audio have been most accommodating.

    The support and assistance of the following people is greatly appreciated: George Athanasopoulus, Elisa Becker, Norm Denzin, Woody Dumas, Earl Gray, Vicki and Stan Holden, Bill Knight and the Prairie Sun, Tucker Robison, Debbie Senn, Eileen Sohn, Martin Sorger, Diane Tipps, the Whites (each and every one), John Joyce, D. Charles Whitney, David Horn, Mandy Crane, Tim Vear, and the Eau Claire Thursday night club.

    The International Association for the Study of Popular Music, its U.S. branch and its members, have been a forum in which I could talk about my ideas about popular music when it seemed no place else welcomed any such discussion.

    Among the most significant people in my life I count; Steve Winner, who asked me to review records for the school newspaper and led me astray from life as a biologist; Joli Jensen, who made me understand that it is possible to pursue knowledge about that which I desire to learn; Richard Hildwein, for encouraging me to pursue that learning; Ted Peterson, who taught a goofy young journalist just how much more he needed to learn about writing and editing as well as to appreciate jazz; Joel Rutstein, who taught me to be myself; Kris Simonson, who taught me about friendship; and my mother and father, who have never left my side no matter the distance that has separated us. Without these people the thoughts embodied in this book would not have crystallized.

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    About the Author

    Steve Jones is Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has published extensively in the fields of popular music, popular culture, and mass communication. Jones received a doctorate in 1987 from the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois, and taught for several years at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He has been active in the music business since 1983 as a record producer, recording engineer, and performer, with numerous album and performance credits. Jones edits Tracking: Popular Music Studies, the journal of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM)/USA, and has held offices at IASPM's national and international levels. He is also active in a number of scholarly organizations, including the International Communication Association, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction, and the Society for Philosophy of Technology.

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