The rise of pop music
In the 1950s, Elvis Presley paved the way for the rock and roll era, in which young and talented singers influenced by blues and country music reached new levels of international fame.
Influenced by the exciting sounds emanating from rock ‘n’ roll era USA, a four-piece rhythm and blues band called the Quarrymen played to small audiences in the North-West of England. They changed their name to the Beatles, and over a period of eight years sold millions of records, gaining as much adulation as Elvis Presley. They also earned vast fortunes for anyone with a stake in their empire.
Critics and music fans the world over generally acknowledge that Elvis Presley and the Beatles are the two most important acts in creating contemporary pop music culture. They paved the way for the multi-million selling artists of today, and helped to create a global industry in which, although there are many pitfalls, a share of a US$30 billion global market awaits those who are successful.
Ever since the teenagers of the 1960s succumbed to the worldwide effects of Beatlemania, the pop world has played a large part in cultural shifts. As the industry and its companies grew, so individual artists became more popular themselves. The public became as interested in the artists as celebrities, putting them on a par with Hollywood’s idols.
The shift towards celebrity status for artists became more evident as musicians concentrated as much on their image as their music. As MTV and its associated television channels popularised the music video in the 1980s, endlessly playing out the big hits and their even bigger video budgets, the pace of change in pop music increased as more and more artists became instant big sellers.
Given this legacy, it is no surprise that much of the music industry’s power is concentrated in the US and the UK. A third of all recorded music is bought in the US, where all of the major labels are based, and 89% of recorded music is bought in the top ten markets in the world. Meanwhile, every member of the UK’s population buys an average of four CDs every single year, more than any other country in the world.
Pop acts the world over concentrate on breaking into these two markets. Across Europe, artists see the UK as being a major breaking ground for success, while UK acts and labels spend vast amounts of time and money attempting to break into the US market.
It is estimated that 90% of album releases fail to even break even. What is it, then, that makes the pop industry attractive to companies and investors?
The 10% of releases that do become profitable end up making enough money to write off these failed investments several times over. With the reward for success so high, there are far more people willing to attempt to take their chances at creating pop music than there are slots for superstardom.
The culture around pop music is constantly changing. It is difficult to predict where the next success will come from, and what the audience will buy into next. It is perhaps this lack of predictability that makes the pop world so alluring, attracting new generations of fans willing to buy the next wave of products.
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