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7AAICC38 Readings of the Music Business

Module convenor: Dr Harvey Cohen
Credits: 20
Teaching pattern: Ten two-hour seminars
Module description:

This module will examine different periods and practices of the popular music business, principally in the US and UK.  Over the course of the last 140 years (but principally focusing on the twentieth-century), it will document musical trends, business trends and organizations, the financial importance of music publishing, the significance of independent labels and the people who run them, and how music delivery systems have changed over time (from the pianola and sheet music to high fidelity systems and the mp3), and what such technological shifts signify for artists, businesspeople, and the music itself.  This module will also provide students with some of the musical / cultural / social history behind the key genres of popular music, such as country, blues, R&B, SOUL, Tin Pan Alley music, Broadway musicals, jazz, rock and roll, punk, hip hop, etc.

This module will also bring students’ critical faculties to the study of the music business, encouraging them to think creatively and critically about how music and its attendant industries and marketing can be utilised as powerful and vibrant historical evidence that adds significance to social, cultural and historical studies.  It will students how to read, discern, summarise, analyse and discuss the key points in history readings, particularly full-length books, and their wider meanings in historiographical literature.  We will also discuss the attributes of effective cultural history books, while paying close attention to the evidence marshalled by each author.

In this seminar-based module, students will cover about 300 pages of reading for each week of class. Please only select to take this module if you are comfortable with this level of reading requirement for the entire semester. Students will need to actively participate in seminars in order to realise the full benefits of this module. 

It is my hope that that such efforts will be worthwhile, as the books I've picked are some of the best cultural history books I've read in the last few years, rigorously researched but also interesting and accessible, covering a wide variety of music genres and time periods.  

Core reading

  • Louis Barfe, Where Have All The Good Times Gone?: The Rise and Fall of the Record Industry (London, 2005).
  • Rich Cohen, Machers and Rockers: Chess Records and the Business of Rock & Roll (New York, 2004).
  • Fred Goodman, Fortune’s Fool: Edgar F. Bronfman, Jr., Warner Music, and An Industry in Crisis (New York, 2010).
  • Robert Greenfield, The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun, Behind the Music at Atlantic Records (New York, 2011).
  • Norman Kelley, Rhythm and Business: The Political Economy of Black Music (New York, 2002).
  • Preston Lauterbach, The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘N’ Roll (New York, 2011).
  • Greg Milner, Perfecting Sound Forever: The Story of Recorded Music (London, 2009).
  • Simon Reynolds, Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own Past (London, 2011).
  • Neil Taylor, Document and Eyewitness: An Intimate History of Rough Trade (London, 2009).


 1 x 4,000-word essay (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

 The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

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