In the U.S., rock music has benefited from the
conjunction of various economic factors peculiar
to consumer societies. The inner logic of
capitalism demands that consumption should be
freed from the guilt inherent in it, turned even
into a civic duty justified by national economic
imperatives. The contradiction between
capitalism and consumption, which stemmed from
the Protestant foundation of American society,
died out. The overall process was amplified by
the post-war baby boom. A new class of consumers
emerged, the teenagers, freed from the work
ethic and commanding a huge monetary mass these
new customers were encouraged to spend rather
than save. They were being educated to consume.
To meet the demand, new products appeared, which
fitted adolescent life style and tastes.
Rock'n'roll was one of them, offering for a few
cents unpretentious commentaries on everyday
life topics (cars, school, parents, love etc.)
over a pleasant musical background.
At this point, a word should be said of the
consequences of the integration by capitalist
economies of cultural products. If cultural
production was to become a profit making niche,
it required the implementation of a mass market.
Now, cultural artefacts have no intrinsic worth,
their use value is purely hypothetical. Their
consumption depends on their symbolic value
based, in rock music as in the motion pictures
industry, on the star system which rationalized
consumer demand. This is why, as David Buxton
put it, "the consumer must be created
alongside the product."3 Hence the setting
up of various middlemen, "gate-keepers,"
such as critics, DJs or radio announcers whose
task it is to launch new fashions and mold
public taste. Such practices cannot of course
but comfort in their opinion those for whom rock
music is the soulless product of capitalist
Today, rock is solidly established as a major
component of mass culture. A few figures should
make this clear. Since 1969, overall rock
records sales have generated higher profits than
the other sectors of the entertainment industry.
From 1980 on, and despite fears of slumps and
recessions, rock related sales (records, videos,
concerts) have increased by an annual average of
13.2% (slightly less for rock shows alone,
8.2%), generating in 1993 a $13 billion
turnover. Rock albums (including rap) make up
52.1% of the market, as compared to 4% for
classical, and 3.3% for jazz. In 1993, 6 rock
albums were certified multi-platinum, i.e., more
than 2 million units sold in the year in the US.
Some even reached 10 million units (the
soundtrack of the film The Bodyguard). The same
year, 33 albums were certified platinum (above 1
million units sold).4 Cumulated figures for the
U.S. over several years are even more
impressive; 14 million units fot the Eagles'
Greatest Hits, 13 million for Pink Floyd's Dark
Side of the Moon, 43 for Michael Jackson's
Thriller and more than a billion for Elvis
Presley's complete recordings.
In the same time, the break-even point for a
rock album jumped from 20,000 units sold to
100,000. (Significantly, a look at France's Top
20 sales for July 1994 reveals that only 7
foreign records had entered the charts, 4 of
rock, 3 of dance music. Likewise, France
accounts for only 6.7% of the world market for
rock music, ranking 5th after the U.S., Japan,
Germany and the United Kingdom). The profits
generated by rock shows is also telling.
a single concert at New York's Yankee Stadium on
June 10th 1994, for instance, Pink Floyd grossed
an astonishing $3,765,090.5 Another significant
fact is the growing interdependence between rock
and movies. Among the all time top-30 American
films, 8 relied for their appeal on a rock
soundtrack: Batman, Ghostbusters, Grease, The
Exorcist, Pretty Woman, Rocky, Saturday Night
Fever and Ghost. It is obviously difficult to
determine in such cases which, the film or its
music, drew the crowds; their interaction, most
certainly. But choosing a well-kown artist or
song increases the prospect of success.