Written by Chase Chandler on May 17, 2016.

*Disclaimer: this article was written during my studies at Cal State University, Fullerton as a graduate student of music composition under Dr. Ken Walicki. My opinions have changed drastically since I wrote this article, but it serves a purpose. As controversial as this article can be, my greatest wish is to spark a conversation. If you agree or disagree, PLEASE start a conversation – with someone you know or with me personally by commenting below the article on this page. Happy reading! 

Music and Image - Music Philosophy

Music and Image: Art is Undead

Musical trends have shifted many times throughout history and with the inventions of the information age, music has always been at the forefront of entertainment in each new media outlet. Once the radio and recorded music became widely available, the attitude toward music shifted greatly. Professional level music was no longer a travel destination, but part of the readily available home appliance called the radio (or radio set). With the introduction of the television, the audience’s attention was no longer caught by mere sound, but by image – moving images. With image being the new medium for captivating entertainment, music could no longer stay on the “cutting-edge” without image; therefore, television forced image onto music. With the almost sudden introduction of available information provided by the internet and home computers, music is still changing to suit the times and attention of consumers. Unfortunately, image remains the primary means for selling music.

Music and image have a complicated relationship that has recently blossomed in the last half a century with the invention of the television. For aid those interested in music theory and music philosophy, I will be analyzing this relationship and the American society to learn how advertisers manipulate society. Advertisements are constantly trying to attract consumers by exploiting societal interests, so an assumption will be made: advertising can offer an accurate representation of the American culture’s values and aesthetics. The use of music has changed drastically over the last thirty years based on the role music has played in advertisement. Music has shifted from the quality of the composition to the attraction factor of the artist, from the strategy shift from jingles to singles, from music involvement and forefront to music background behind image. The value of music is not realized by society, while the power of music is exploited by advertisers. Art is not only dead to the unknowing American public, it is undead because it is continually used as a mere manipulating tool to attract consumers in a capitalist society. Music is forced to breathe.

Image and Advertising

Advertising began as a simple means to spread the word about items for sale, but with the emergence of the industrial revolution and the ever-increasing amount of businesses, the heavy competition for consumer attraction has placed an equally heavy importance on advertisement. The first printed advertisement was for a simple prayer book for sale in 1477, by the Londoner William Caxton, seen in Figure 1.

Notice there is no addition of image associated with the item being sold (apart from the tradition text style from the time period). Around this same time, labels were being placed on medicinal remedies and “official announcements, programs, menus, and guides” were being printed as a means for communication. It wasn’t until 1625 that the first newspaper advertisement was published promoting a book and even then, the reader’s attention was caught by the title word advertisement, included in the paper. The first paid newspaper ads in America began in the 1704 publications of the Boston News-Letter. Benjamin Franklin was the first to create ad illustrations for an American newspaper, Pennsylvania Gazette in 1760 seen in Figure 2.

It’s important to notice that the typography leads the eye toward names and products. The image-oriented advertising grew to consume much of annually printed materials such as local newspapers. In this 1884 ad seen in Figure 3 (below), its entire allotted section is dominated by an image of the product.

In 1911, magazine ads began to use sex-sells slogans (such as “A Skin You Love to Touch”) alongside provocative images of nude women (an example seen in Figure 4 shown below). Corporations began to seek ad involvement in every printed public publication.

As the radio became more a part of the American life, advertising was quickly changing to suit the new medium of entertainment. The first music groups to be advertised on the radio during the early 20th-century were the Browning King Orchestra and the Kodak Chorus (“Kodak” being the product name). With the success of radio advertisement, commercial expenditure rose to $310 million by 1945 (eventually rising to $18 billion by 2000). But advertisement soon evolved to meet the new medium for entertainment, the television.

By the late 1940’s, the television began to find its way into the households of American families and around ten years later, major television programs begun to move away from radio style formats (audio and static image), such as The Tonight Show hosted by Steven Allen in 1953 and Peter Pan in 1955. Psychological studies and analytical research grew more popular as the demand for retentive advertisement increased among the corporate competition. The Public Opinion Quarterly published in 1950, had interesting “factual” observations from the article Some Psychological Factors in Pictorial Advertising, which stated: “One function of mass pictorial advertising… appears to be to force the audience to regress to an infantile mental level… the consumer is then more likely to take the action demanded of him.” In 1958, the Journal of Marketing was already publishing articles about how to increase advertising success rates. For example, the article Effects of Injecting “Local Color” into Advertisements from the July, 1958 issue of Journal Marketing reads: “…the geographic locale of the person or thing featured in an advertisement is of much less importance than the subject matter… it is the what, not the where which counts.” But the psychology behind image drastically changed as a new venture toward music and image came about in 1980.

MTV (or Music Television) launched on August 1st, 1981 and forever changed the face of music and television. No longer was music merely listened to, it was watched. The art of the music video begun to emerge as the popularity of MTV increased. Artists were now seen, not just heard – not only was their sound idolized, but their appearance as well. The American culture began to take shape around the music and the bands that played on MTV. Corporations desperately tried to associate their brand name with the popularity of MTV and the now commercialized, profitable music. The first rock tour sponsorship took place with the perfume company, Jovan, and the Rolling Stones during their 1981 tour (the same year MTV first aired). This sponsorship deal consummated “the marriage of rock and advertising,” after which major endorsement became the norm (an example poster can be seen in Figure 5 below).

Corporations began to make more effort in involving their brand in popular trends, in turn increasing more advertising. As an example, Apple set the new standard of advertising in 1984 by spending $900,000 on a Macintosh promotion during the aired Super Bowl. The early 1980’s was a new beginning for corporate involvement on television. Soon the home computer became the next popular means of entertainment, and as with any new shift in technological advancement, advertising strategies quickly shifted to fit the new form of entertainment.

The home computer was more easily accessible and affordable by the year 1995 when Windows ‘95 was released to the public. More homes had computers and online traffic increased. Advertising had already made it on the web, as more people were “surfing” the internet by 1995. On October 27, 1994, the first HTML banner advertisement was created for the site HotWired (see Figure 6 below).

Notice the colorful typography and the demand for action (to click “here”). This set off a chain reaction of new ads: the first keyword ad in 1995, the first mobile ad in 1997, Google Adwords in 2000, pop-up/pop-under ads in 2001, in-video/participatory/pre-roll ads for YouTube in 2006, behavior-based ads for Facebook in 2007, in-text ads in 2008, finally arriving at the most recent creation of advertisement, the viral ad in 2010 (such as the Old Spice commercials). Though ways to block ads were developed, new ad techniques always rose to the challenge. Each new way to shine a company brand or product quickly became the norm, such as in-video advertisement. Ever since ads for online, streamed videos was invented for YouTube in 2006, almost every website with video streaming begun to take advantage of this new tool. Nowadays, every TV channel associated website involves in-video advertisement that is almost impossible to block or prevent.

Throughout the evolution of advertising, there has been a great shift in the use of image. The first ads were merely text but soon begun to involve images, which started a chain reaction to where we are today, where ads rely heavily on image. If you look at the use of branding, there’s one logo that represents an entire company, but even today’s standard logo style has simplified. Take the company Instagram for example. Their old logo had a clean-cut camera with texture, lens, and parts in detail. Their new, recently released logo is very simplistic, only involving shapes and colors (seen in Figure 7 below).

No longer do we have intricate logos. The last is now gone. It seems after 60 years of advertising psychology and commercial research, the marketplace is now unified through one ideology: the best distraction is simplicity. Fewer words, more simple images. I believe music has felt a similar wave of corporate realization, where simplicity is always better. If image is meant to persuade readers into buying, then music is a similar tool in commercialism. Image is the art of static moments, but music is an art felt and experienced over time. With simple music, listeners have less to organize and comprehend, leaving them vulnerable to a commercial’s message. Looking into the depth of the relationship between music and image always reveals the rippling effects of television and the introduction of music videos. And nothing changed the face of music and image more than MTV.

MTV and Image

With MTV came the popularity of singles and the associated band or image. Similar to the way presidential elections started gearing toward who “looks better,” the television also begun to add a new dimension to the music. MTV, or Music Television, aired on August 1st, 1981 with the first broadcast stating that music and television will be forever changed. And it was a very accurate statement indeed.

Why did MTV and the introduction of music videos really change the face of music and image? Image had already begun to shift to simplicity and eye-popping colors, but music was it’s own industry set apart from image before MTV (or really before the television). In the American consumer society, the industry of music lends a personal touch to each consumer. For instance, music is listened to over time and must be experienced; therefore, the music industry sells personal experiences. With the combination of the product “music” and the almost debilitating effects of image (or video), MTV utilizes both personal experience and distraction. Through the experience of music videos, MTV is selling proposed “trends” of music and culture. “Music consumers can be aptly portrayed as ‘individual consumers who have strong faith in their own taste,’” giving music the power of mass customization. But when MTV defines consumer “taste” for the consumer audience, it directly changes the game for the music industry. Popularity is set by MTV, and shows positive results in album sales. Once a single was played on MTV, it became popular and sold albums, making MTV a powerful tool. The original purpose for MTV was to sell more music through television exposure, in hopes for more tapes, records, and video sales to combat the recession of the music industry in the early 1980’s. But soon after they first aired, MTV became an “authority” on musical trends, using music and image to influence their vast audience.

The advertising age grew with more psychological studies and as early as 1939, Theodor Adorno was hired by the Princeton Radio Research Project and was documented as saying, ad psychology is an investigation on an “administrative technique [for] skilled manipulation of masses.” It is not just the power of song that makes advertising successful, but the way in which they manipulate music by “studying, indexing and aggregating the effects.” Because of corporate involvement in MTV, revenue was always on the mind of TV channel producers. In 1983, David Geffen of Interscope Records and Dreamworks Studios (at the time) defines the advantage of this new medium for art:

MTV is a very effective tool in exposing and breaking new artists. In turn, it’s stimulating and encouraging recording artists to expand their creativity both visually and conceptually. Now the music industry can become the predominant art form through which the new generation seeks to express itself. We – music in video – can monopolize the imagination of a new generation.

It is wonderfully coincidental that musicians and videographers have a place to shine their new inter-collaborative works while at the same time Viacom Media Networks (who own MTV) make a profit. MTV carried out its original purpose and did it well because they were “monopolizing” this new-found art medium. A.C. Nielsen released a survey in 1982 involving 2,000 respondents who were MTV viewers from the intended demographic group. Out of this survey group, 85% watched MTV and on average viewed it 4.6 hours a week. And from this same group, 63% reported purchasing “an artist’s album after viewing a clip featuring the artist’s music.”

With the great success of MTV, corporations from the entertainment industry took the hint and began following in their footsteps. Paramount Pictures produced music videos in order to advertise their movies such as Flashdance (1983). Gordon Weaver from Paramount Pictures later explained that $3 million was spent promoting Flashdance, incorporating music into all radio and TV commercials after realizing the target audience for motion pictures was the same for MTV. “If you have a single… the spots [or commercials] are like cross-pollination.” MTV began a domino effect, encouraging most of the entertainment industry to involve more music and better yet, singles like MTV was doing. Once a single becomes popular and well-known, then every commercial’s brand or product will be instantly recognized solely based on the music. That is why Paramount Pictures involved music in every advertisement they could – to provide as many recognizable and memorable cues as possible.

MTV took the next step toward promoting music through video and successfully altered the way advertisers utilized music. Manipulation of the consumer audience through image and music became a powerful force of distraction. Advertisement has always and will always ride the tail of public interests and popular trends. As soon as MTV proved singles and artists were popular, advertisement never looked backed and completely fell head over heels.

Corporations are expected to pursue monetary gain and use many tactics (often involving manipulation), but what about the artists and musicians backing up the new-found musical image created by MTV? The shift from quality of music to quantity of music production was not necessarily the artists’ fault. The quality of art is not as important as its ability to manipulate in advertisement and when it comes to selling, whatever is deemed popular becomes the next best thing to involve in a commercial. But when music first began to help to advertise, the technique was to make the music as catchy as possible. Lyrical songs were written specifically for commercials, also known as jingles.

Before 1981: Jingles

When the marriage of audio and visual began with the first television broadcasts, most commercials began with static images and radio-style announcements. As competition for consumer popularity increased, so did advertising creativity and captivation techniques. After taking a survey of 38 prevalent commercials from 1948 to 2015, the trend for music singles and utilizing the “rock band” image began immediately right after the first broadcast of MTV.

These 38 videos are listed in Figure 8 (see below). Out of these videos, there are three commercials that feature jazz music, five that feature an original jingle, seven with references to opera, eight with orchestral music, and thirteen with hit singles (all of which date after MTV). All commercials referenced in this paper are from this list of 38 commercials.

Music and Image

The television began to make its way into the American households by the late 1940’s and commercials evolved to fit the new medium. Because the transition originated from the audio-only radio programming, commercials only slightly took advantage of the moving image. One of the first commercials from 1948, portrays an image of the tobacco leaf with the Lucky brand of cigarettes. The only entertainment in this commercial is a jazz big band playing in the background. Apart from the added image, the simplicity of the audio sounds similar to a radio broadcast. In 1952, the company Listerine aired commercials for their mouthwash (or mouth antiseptic) and included research references and happy smiles. At the end of the 90-second commercial, there is a 30-second jingle of a woman singing about Listerine. Jingles were the new standard for commercials roughly four years after the television became widely popular. The longest standing jingle, which is still used today, is the original 1957 Mr. Clean jingle for their cleaning product. Apart from a quick ten-second break, the entire two-minute long 1958 Mr. Clean commercial is a strophic jingle explaining the uses of the product with demonstrations by the animated mascot (Mr. Clean) and a traditional American family (and even a wild squirrel that sings).

The Post cereal commercial of 1960, was very similar in that it also attracted to its audience by exploiting the image of the happy American family, only this time choosing the best and healthy (and “just a little better”) cereal. Though unlike most families, they were singing about their love for Post cereal. T