Making music global

Models of the Beatles in the window of a fast food restaurant with Japanese writing on the sign

Beatles mannequins in McDonalds, Tokyo © ryu1710

Popular music has been described as "certainly the most global aspect of our 'global village' ":

"whereas consumption of other media products is often limited by geographical availability and consumer income, almost anyone anywhere can listen to popular music, often regardless of whether they want to or not. Most of us at one time or another have felt pursued by music itself." (Burnett, 1996:1)

Music is present in all countries and cultures around the world. However since the rise of the media industries, especially film, popular music and television, some music and musicians have become known globally - for example the Beatles, Madonna and Michael Jackson. What artists such as these have in common is that they are all 'signed' to major record companies. These companies have developed ways of distributing and promoting music internationally. Other companies have followed their example, distributing their products and brands within a global marketplace.

The term globalisation is often applied to the phenomenon of people recognising and buying the same products in many countries on most continents of the world. For example, in China people now buy a Pizza Hut pizza and a Starbucks coffee, just as North Americans have been doing for decades. But globalisation is a term that covers many different and long-standing processes, including:

  • The movement of people around the world, assisted by developments in travel and transportation. As people move they take music with them, helping to circulate music sounds and styles.
  • The development of communication technologies, from printing to the internet, which put us in contact with music events far away.
  • The emergence of global networks of media and business. These networks connect individual music entrepreneurs on the one hand (producers, publishers, managers and so on) with large multinational music companies on the other. They also enable the promotion of music through television and film, newspaper and magazine reviews and articles, radio programmes and the internet.

Because popular music is caught up in these networks and flows it is difficult to describe it as being either local or global. Instead, the term 'glocalisation' indicates the complex and dynamic interrelationship between local music scenes and industries and the international and global marketplace (Shuker, 1998: 132).

One issue to consider here is why certain local musical sounds and styles become globally dominant but not others. During the 20th century British and US sounds and styles became predominant first internationally and then globally. This was because world-wide recording and media industries were dominated by British and US companies. Also English is a globally dominant language and people in English speaking countries have been slow to buy albums recorded in other languages, whereas in many other countries this has been routine. Moreover, Britain and the US currently are large markets for music. In fact Britain has the highest sales of music per person in the world and the US is one of the world's largest markets for music.

Follow the links below to find out more about how popular music is promoted and marketed internationally and globally.