Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Music Note #10: The McDonaldization of Music

What is McDonaldization? Developed by the sociologist George Ritzer, it is the theory that the American society and subsequently the rest of the world are taking on the characteristics of the fast-food restaurant. The four processes of efficiency, calculability, predictability (standardization) and control through technology, that McDonalds uses to create its food actually has harmful and irrational effects. McDonalds dominates the fast food industry and most of world culture. McDonaldization has spread to almost every part of our lives today, including the music industry.

First, efficiency, which is using the best and fastest method to get from one point to another. In this case, that is going from having no music to satisfying the music listeners with a ton of music. Music technology, like MP3 players and MP# downloads, have provided the fastest way to get a ton of music really quickly. No longer do people have to wait to hear music by putting on a record, tape or CD and they do not have to go to a store to buy it either. Also, music and computer technology makes it a a lot easier and faster to create music rather than actually playing the instruments or using analog. Second, calculability, which is more focus of quantitative aspects of the product (music) than the quality of the product. Today's music industry focuses much more on making the quick buck than the quality of the music. It does not matter how good the song actually is as long as the industry can convince people to buy it and make it a hit. So, just as the "bigger is better" concept with McDonalds (Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, large fries, large drink), music uses big theatrics and novelties (e.g. autotune,computerized beats) to sell a song. Do not get me wrong, once in a while using those are good, but when it oversaturates all of music, it becomes ridiculous. People might think they are getting a good song, but they probably have not really listened to how bad it sounds, just as McDonald eaters think they are getting a lot of food but actually it is not nutritional. Moreover, those who differ from the mainstream (but have quality music) and in result might not make as much money, are pushed to the side because music has become "calculable." It is based on how much one can make off of a song and using that same formula over and over again to make that hit and suck it dry.

Third, this leads to predictability (standardization) in music. Billboard charts, Top 40 countdowns, constant repeats of the same songs on the radio and artists that sound so similar that one can barely tell the difference between them are a few examples of the predictability in music. A music fan will hardly ever find songs that are alternative or underground on these. Music is slowly becoming full of "robots" as KRS-One put it. Listeners know what to expect when they hear mainstream music; just look at mainstream Hip-hop right now. Also, workers in McDonalds are taught to behave in predictable ways just as music artists (same subjects, same style of singing, etc.). They are told to follow certain rules to get a hit song and that diverting from the norm would not sell. Finally, control within the music industry. Due to technology of the different types of media, more options in mainstream culture appear to be unavailable. Anything that sounds or looks largely different is discouraged. In addition to that, as technology is replacing workers in McDonalds, technology is also replacing real instruments, real sounds and even real singers and rappers. "I don't need to be able to sing well as long as my voice can be fixed or enhanced by the computer and I do not need to be able to rap as long as I have a hot beat or sample in the background." Real artist are not needed, we have technology and we as listeners buy into that.

How does McDonaldization of music harm us? Well, a the rational system of MCDonalds produces irrationalities or deny human reason. It works the same in music. A song or artist that are actually good and have substance are not supported and bought, but music or artists that are basically of poor standard gets all of the attention, praise and sell millions. All over the world this is affecting the way we listen to music. McDonalds dominates world culture, and American mainstream music does too. Have you gone to another country and noticed the McDonalds restaurants more than the actual restaurants of the country? Are those restaurants seen here? No. Like McDonalds, our mainstream music is well known in many other countries, but other countries' music hardly ever tops the charts here unless the artist(s) come here. If a music fan wants to find out about music from another country or music that is not mainstream, he or she has to find that out on his or her own. However, since we are a "Culture of Now" (check my other blog later for that post), we are too lazy to actually want to search and few labels want to create the mediums to get them, so we keep listening to mainstream (like McDonalds customers going there because the food is fast instead of cooking at home or going to a healthier restaurant). Unless we make a conscious decision on what we eat and what we listen to, McDonaldization will continue to rule the world.

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