This class will analyze how specific changes in the way popular music was produced, distributed, promoted, and categorized during the 1980s led to the economic and legal challenges which began to erode existing business models within the entire multinational music industry through the 1990s and beyond.
As we listen to songs like Blondie's "Rapture"(1981), The Clash's "The Magnificent Dance," (1981), "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics (1982), Talking Heads's "Slippery People" (1983), Run DMC's " It's Like That" (1983), Shannon's "Let the Music Play" (1983), Dhar Braxton's "Jump Back" (1986) and Keith Sweat's "I Want Her" (1986), students are expected to become familiar with the major changes in musical taste and production techniques that occurred during that landmark decade. That includes the innovative role that specific digital drum machines and sampling keyboards (Linn, Juno, Casio, Roland) played on breakthrough singles like Devo's "Whip It" (1980), D Train's "You’re The One for Me" (1981), Soul Sonic Force's "Looking for the Perfect Beat" (1983),) and Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done For Me Lately" (1986), that changed the dominant sound of '80s studio recordings and remixes.
Students are expected to assess how bedroom MIDI studios, cheap sampling technology, and the cost of commercial CDs vs. rampant bootlegging would later bring troubling new legal concerns to bear upon record companies during the 1990s. We’ll consider how these intellectual property issues culminated in battles over the paradigm-shifting file sharing software that prefigured today's music streaming systems. From a business perspective, students will also learn about the significance of changing regional and national trends in music radio through the 1980s (based on R&R ratings and ad rates), and will better understand how music video outlets, major label promotion strategies, and multiple recording formats (vinyl, cassette, CD) popularized new artists. (Hello, mixtape culture!) Guest speakers appearing over this 7-week course will include producer/indie label owner Aldo Marin (Cutting Records), the club-savvy mastering engineer Herb “The Pump” Powers, and veteran promotion man Bobby Shaw (MCA).
A major aim of the class — which will focus on pivotal changes in R&B and rap music — is for students to develop a greater understanding of the impact of socioeconomic factors on '80s pop music trends. By the end of the class, students should have a greater general recognition of the volatile dynamic of systemic racism on national chart position, radio formats, and record sales. Feminist initiatives will be viewed through a more culturally inclusive Post-Colonial Womanist lens. The rising popularity of reggae and other “world music” will see us discuss issues of cultural imperialism, authenticity and appropriation. We’ll also look at the impact British post-punk and new wave artists like The Clash, The Specials, Art of Noise, Soft Cell and Adam Ant had on both classic and college rock radio in the U.S. as well as how economic damage from AIDS and drug epidemics reshaped the American dance music market. Students should be able to trace how multimedia documentation and corporate sponsorship by companies like Swatch Watches (Fresh Fest) and Budweiser (Superfest) helped mainstream the hip hop underground. Students will recognize and appreciate how a sudden pivotal influx of black music executives facilitated more artist-owned imprints and more artist rights.