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The Trouble with Music [Paperback]

By Mathew Callahan & Boff Whalley (Foreward By)
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Item description for The Trouble with Music by Mathew Callahan & Boff Whalley...

There is a crisis facing music. The signs are everywhere, from the saturation of public space by tuneful trivia to the digital downloading controversy. Quantity has replaced quality. The number of units sold is now the criteria by which music is judged and high-gloss, mass-produced, low-content music is everywhere. You can’t shop, eat, ride a bus or see a movie without hearing it as each day you are inundated with enticements to buy it. Like the replacement of essential nutriment by junk food, music lovers are expected to surrender their critical faculties and consume the phony McMusic that can be more effectively controlled and profitably sold than the genuine article.

Callahan unravels and elucidates the crises facing music as well as its liberatory potential. The Trouble with Music includes discussions of: technology and its effects on music making and listening; superabundance and the absence of critical thought; the development of radio; music criticism; copyright; the digital domain and the Internet; labor and music making; and the special relationships among words, dance, politics and music. A large segment of the general public seeks a relationship to music and an exceptional profit for those who own and control it. Callahan provides a means of evaluating music and a powerful critique of the music industry. Whether you whistle at work, sing in the shower or conduct concertos, this book will challenge and enhance how you think about music.

Includes introductions by musician and Dischord Records founder, Ian Mackaye; Rock and Rap Confidential editor, Dave Marsh; and an afterward by Boff, from the multimillion selling group Chumbawamba.

Mat Callahan has been a composer, musician, engineer and producer for 40 years.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   245
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 6" Height: 9"
Weight:   0.9 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 1, 2005
Publisher   AK Press
ISBN  1904859143  
ISBN13  9781904859147  

Availability  0 units.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Business & Investing > Economics > General
2Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Music > Business
3Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Music > General
4Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Music > History & Criticism
5Books > Subjects > Science > Mathematics > General

Reviews - What do customers think about The Trouble with Music?

Music makers, activists, and music theorists, please read this book!  Sep 6, 2007
While I am not a musician (unless you count playing the air guitar, in which case, I totally rock!), I found this book both highly educational and fun. Providing an inspirational left libertarian anaylsis of the corporate music industry, Callahan insists that if music is in crisis (which it is), it's because humanity itself is in crisis. Rather than reflecting our collective experiences of political struggle, human suffering, and celebration, mass produced music has become like fast food, inundating the market but providing no real nourishment. From the plight of pirate radio stations to the digital downloading controversy to the labor battles of musicians, this book explores the myriad ways that art and politics intersect in our culture. Because the ruling-class fears the radical potential of music to transform the world, music has historically been the target of censors. As the blacklisting of musicians like The Weavers in the United States and the murdering of folksingers like Victor Jara during the Pinochet regime in Chile have proven, music is not a marginal issue for civil libertarians.
Moreover, like land, like water, like DNA, music should belong to the commons to benefit all of humankind rather than being monopolized by a few corporations. As such, Callahan argues not only for a music of liberation, but for the liberation of music. Linking the erotic to the political, Callahan furthermore feels that we should root our music and our activism in our deepest feelings of interconnection, being alive, and being in love. The love he speaks about however is not the kind of shallow sentimentality bubble gum boy bands sing about, but the brave kind of love that energized the labor movement of the '30s and the anti-war and civil rights movements of the '60s. Though the corporate music industry oftentimes exploits sexuality for profit, it does not/can not allow sexuality to unify communities in pursuit of social justice. Because the power of carnival is connected to the slave drum and the power of political demonstrations, the ruling-class seeks to control communal gatherings that encourage the sharing of music, political ideas, and solidarity. Though activist musicians like David Rovics, Pamela Means, Mercedes Sosa, Michael Franti, Rage Against the Machine, Ryan Harvey, Sweet Honey In The Rock, Silvio Rodriguez, and Holly Near continue to make important music, sadly, very few individuals outside of the counterculture(s) even know that these musicians exist. As activists and artists, we need to popularize those forms of musical expression that empower us rather than just entertaining us, music like Nueva Cancion, anarcho-punk, and revolutionary hip-hop. By making participatory music that challenges injustice and creates a culture of peace, radical musicians are both the drumbeat and the heartbeat of our movements for social change.
Good arguments badly made.  Aug 6, 2007
The only thing worse than a ranting polemicist is a ranting polemicist with whom you basically agree. Because although I find much of Matthew Callahan's central thesis sound---that popular music today is vacuous and provides a relentless soundtrack to the doings of a world that's become more and more inundated by superficial crud---ultimately he comes off as tiresome and humorless as any true believer, left or right, who grasps at any straw that justifies his mission. He uses the term "anti-music" quite a bit in this book, but, like it or not, one person's "anti-music" is another person's grand symphony, and he fails to make a convincing case for his term of art.

Added to this is Callahan's inability to grasp some of the strange ironies in the world of pop music. For example, The Ramones, who he briefly refers to as one of many punk bands in the vanguard of revived rebellion against the established order, contained one rock-solid liberal (Joey Ramone) and one rock-solid conservative (Johnny Ramone) who hated each other (though I gather this was for more personal reasons than political). And since the dawn of time, there have been outbreaks of teenage rebellion, and what's "healthy rebellion" and what's "hooliganism" depends on whose ox is being gored.

One important point that Callahan does make well is that the venues musicians and their own ORIGINAL musical voices use for others to hear are drying up rapidly, and in too many cases it really HAS come down to the bean-counters calling the tune, literally, on most of what the public gets to hear. This is a topic where Callahan's vague discussion points give way to righteous rage about this state of affairs, and right-on, say I. Music is NOT just a commodity, it's an art form and all of its permutations deserve fair, open hearing in as many ways as possible. Anyone who says different is full of it.

So, love the spirit of the book, but I have a feeling that, although I don't know Matthew Callahan's music, it's probably more effective than his writing.
good but...  Jul 11, 2007
As a musician, I am not in the least interested in 'The Struggle' or 'Solidarity' with anyone.

I want to get rich and impress the girls. Live fast, belch hard and ultimately pass on to the great yonder in a great big comfy house surrounded by adoring children, a loving wife and concubines.

I can't do this in the socialist utopia of Mat Callahan's dreams. If I can't do it here, it's my own problem and responsibility which I accept whole-heartedly.

When the industry is run by sharks, learn about sharks. When the industry is changing as rapidly and unpredictably as it is today, relax and just keep writing the best damn songs you can.

What I really like about the book is when he talks about the physicality of music. He's on to more than he knows there, and should toss the 'free us from Babylon' politics and chase that thread with vigour.

A valuable contribution to music & politics...  Mar 12, 2007
The "inherent problem with music criticism" (and art in general) is taken head-on in the foreword by Boff Whaley (Chumbawumba). He notes that on one hand, there's something he doesn't like about Bruce Springsteen - a "common man" - but on the other, "There are thousands of bands and musicians I do like whose cultural contradictions, stylistic failings, political ignorance and all the rest are gently eased to one side, just out of my sight, in a place where I can enjoy the music." This despite being "a sucker for context" and political meaning. (pg xv)

Rather than become apathetic, the task at hand is to do the best possible, within the limitations of subjective trappings, in exploring the topic at hand. An insider to the business, Callahan explores this topic effectively, dealing with theoretical issues and incorporating empirical evidence into his argument. The scope ranges from the over-saturation of music product on the market to the day-to-day lifestyle of musicians; from corporate moneyed interests to the problem faced by the many poor starving artists.

Callahan approaches the topic with an obvious social perspective - akin to some sort of anarchism - which frames his argument. Of course, if you already believe that music saturating the radio and television is predominately expressive of that which is tolerable by corporate interests - exceptions notwithstanding - then you'll find this a cogent exposition. As Noam Chomsky put it, would you expect to see a sitcom of a family living under the Mohawk Valley formula (1930s, employed by James Rand, president of Remington Rand; well documented and uncontroversial, however distasteful it may seem)? Yet propaganda as a form of manipulation to combat union organization was a very real problem for those trying to secure a decent life.

Similarly, mainstream media outlets are no shortage of songs about romantic relationships, good times, loneliness, social isolation, money and socioeconomic status; in short, a pallet of emotional experience and even some tales of injustice. Yet the true voice of struggle against power and authority, concentrated in the hands of corporate and political institutions, ensures that that dissent will be kept to the margins. Callahan quotes Prince on the subject: "The consumers of the commercial products of the entertainment industry r only as cynical as the industry has deliberately made them, by dumbing down their products, by xploiting artists, by making profit-driven choices and decisions, and by providing their own kind with obscene compensations and legal impunity that r completely out of touch with the real world of ordinary people." (pg 194)

The book concludes with a provocative discussion about intellectual property rights, downloading, and the public good. Callahan draws on original, time-honored sources of insight - like Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith and Karl Marx - in considering the production and consumption of music from a sociological perspective.

A side note: the review by "Sociologyman" misses the point completely. That this book be compared to "the National Enquirer" should tip you off that his review is more of a tantrum or diatribe with some references (instead of quotations from the actual book) than a perceptive critique. I recommend reading this book understanding that the nature of the topic at hand is especially prone to political perspective and evasive to the establishment of rule-based absolutes.

Kudos to AK Press for publishing this book.
The Trouble With This Book   Apr 14, 2006
The sociological study of music has been a subject of inquiry for the better part of a century. Previous sociological work has addressed some of the ways in which meaning is conveyed through music and has yielded key insights to the ways in which we understand music production and consumption as an important social activity (Adorno 1971, 1976; Becker 1951, 1974; Schutz 1951; Weber 1958). In general, the social scientific understandings of music operate on two basic assumptions, 1) music acts as a form of expression; 2) music acts as a socially significant realm of symbolic communication and studies in musical scholarship tend to lend support to these assertions (Frith 1978; Leppert and McClary 1987; Merriam 1964; Middleton 1990; Nattiez 1990; Nettl 1983). The aforementioned works in part contribute to the body of existent music discourse.

Discourse involves more than simply speaking and writing, but also the particular manner in which we talk and write (Schwalbe, Michael, Sandra Godwin, Daphne Holden, Douglas Scrock, Shealy Thompson, and Michael Wolkomir 2000). Music discourse then concerns the ways in which we create music, consume music and the ways in which we talk and write about music, each contributing to a framework to place music within, in an effort to better understand among other things the aesthetics of music (Kaemmer 1993). Research suggests that musical discourse is reflective of commonly held beliefs found in a particular culture and society (Kaemmer 1993; Merriam 1964; Negus 1999; Schudson 1989) and changes in this discourse are often understood in the variations of the replication of cultural norms (Adorno and Horkheimer 1993; Benjamin 1968).

Be warned that this book hardly contributes to music discourse and reads more like the National Enquirer. The trouble with this book is Callahan's blatant narcissism. All Callahan is doing in the book is rehashing and bastardizing previous well-written and researched (see above) work by musicologists, ethnomusicologists, and sociologists and for the most part not even giving them credit! Moreover, Callahan's theoretical perspective is weak at best. Callahan argues that the crisis with music today concerns what he refers to as "anti-music" or music that "deliberately diverts" the listens attention. Callahan flippantly attempts to define this type of music, which he so aptly dubs the "sonic equivalent of fast food." Hmmm...tasteful indeed!

The problem with "anti-music" (which is never really clearly or concisely stated) is that most any music could be defined as such (the forward is written by Boff Whalley of Chumbawamba which clearly speaks for itself). Moreover, Callahan notes that "anti-music" does not express any "authenticity" and lacks suffering, struggling, and rejoicing. Clearly there are Beatles (and a whole plethora of "authentic" artists) songs that fall outside of these three categories.

This book was awful and painful to read. I would not recommend this book to anyone.

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