The Business: A History of Popular Music from Sheet Music to Streaming

Unbound. Feb. 2023. 400p. ISBN 9781783529377. pap. $18.95. MUSIC
Insider histories are always fun, particularly when the history being related is one as full of hustle, excess, and outright villainy as that of the pop music industry. Napier-Bell’s (Black Vinyl White Powder: The Real Story of the British Music Industry) sly, cheeky, and occasionally brutal book is centered on what the industry’s main business has always been: generating and retaining as much money as possible. While the commodification of music into fungible objects—from sheet music to CDs—the songwriting and publishing hub of Tin Pan Alley, the excess catalyzed by the 1960s rock revolution, and the pervasive and systemic racism of the whole entity are unlikely to be news to most readers, Napier-Bell’s focus on money builds insight out of repetition. The book was originally published in the UK in 2016 and is somewhat dated. It ends as two events in particular have since outpaced it: the rise of streaming not only to prominence but dominance (though Napier-Bell predicts this), and the rise of artists—particularly in hip-hop—who are far savvier about the business than their predecessors.
VERDICT Entertaining and wince-inducing by turns. For anyone interested in how the music industry operates.
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