Rock Music Business

June 10, 1977

Report Outline
Economics of Popular Music
Development of Rock ‘N’ Roll
Trends in Rock Music Today
Special Focus

Economics of Popular Music

Rock's Dominance for a Quarter-Century

From Its Beginnings in the early 1950s, rock music was a commercial product. Rock began as a hybrid form of American popular music called rock ‘n’ roll—a brash, loud music which found immediate disfavor among adults. But record company executives were quick to see rock ‘n’ roll's economic potential. Rock ‘n’ roll records were extremely popular in a segment of society that was emerging as a distinct force for the first time in the early 1950s, the teenager. The record companies brought out songs and performers aimed specifically at this new market. At first, the only record companies that embraced rock ‘n’ roll were the small, independent labels that existed in various cities around the country. When the independents found success in the new field, the large national recording companies gradually took over the business. Since 1955, record sales have increased every year, with most record companies reporting higher earnings in 1976 than ever before. The pace is continuing in 1977.

Rock ‘n’ roll has changed enormously from its infancy. The term “rock ‘n’ roll” describes only the particular form of popular music, derived from country and western and rhythm and blues, that was popular from 1953 to 1958. Observers of the music scene say that rock ‘n’ roll was dead by 1960, when the record companies changed the sound to a more acceptable, less offensively antisocial form of music. A number of neatly dressed and well-mannered singers replaced the outrageous rock ‘n’ rollers of the early 1950s. The new performers largely were accepted by both teenagers and their parents. The music was similar to early rock ‘n’ roll, but lacked the biting rebelliousness of it. This form of music remained popular until 1964. It has since come to be called “rock and roll.” The substitution of “and” indicates that the new music was similar to its predecessor, but was also slightly different and more conventional.

The next major change came in 1964, fostered by the unprecedented popularity of a British band, the Beatles. Their music borrowed heavily from some early American rock ‘n’ roll innovators, including Chuck Berry and Little Richard. In the mid-1960s, too, Bob Dylan—until then a folk singer-songwriter—began appearing with an amplified band and started singing his songs to a rock beat. Bob Dylan and the Beatles both worked in the rock-and-roll idiom, but enlarged the parameters of the music so much that it could no longer be classified as rock and roll. Its name has been broadened to “rock.” Rock music encompasses many different styles of popular music today and has evolved into a multibillion-dollar business. It is popular all over the world.

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