Globalisation and state music policy

According to Arthur Conan Doyle, “there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact”. Most of what we say about globalisation is that it obviously brings the world’s national cultures even closer together. Well that fact is not so necessarily obvious. In-fact it is argued in this article that not all territories necessarily welcome and some, if not most, actively try to resist globalisation blurring their national cultural boundaries. Some governments work diligently to control or restrict the effects of globalisation in various ways including regulation.

The problem is that less economically powerful countries feel invaded by the aggressive expansion of the cultural goods (film, music etc) of the  more dominant economic nations through powerful marketing and distribution techniques. There is the stereotypical juxtaposition of place (e.g. Bollywood v. Hollywood, white music v. black music etc), which suggests a competition or dominance and not a mixing of ideas. Most would agree that it would be preferable for a cultural exchange rather than a dominant cultural influence. The resistance to the perceived homogenisation of culture if viewed in this very simplistic way is not surprisingly being vigorously resisted.

In other words, there is a perhaps justified perception that mass cultural goods (music, films) are deliberately homogenised so that they are designed to have critical mass appeal. The objective is to appeal to the lowest common denominator and as a result local culture could potentially lose its authenticity or artistic identity.

But why do non-dominant cultures surrender to the cultural influence of dominant cultures? The first reason is technology. Technology in dominant societies, such as mass communication technology like the Internet supports the distribution of mass media. The Internet has extended the cultural reach of dominant cultures even further and with greater intensity. Mass production, audio, video & text are even more  available to everyone. Such technology enables culture to be consumed without an institution in the physical world like  art galleries or movie theatres. Unfortunately there is also virtually no quality control so it is mostly low culture that is being distributed through digital mass media.

The second reason is the sheer economic power of dominant countries. Dominant countries have the economic power and infrastructure and connections to enable the aggressive and extensive marketing of their cultural goods.

The third reason is the role of global corporations in influencing cultures. It would be fair to say that the power and influence of global corporations is significant. Some of these corporations form the very fabric of people’s  lives in all nations, not just the less powerful ones. The single most important issue for corporations is so called “returning shareholder value” which means “short-term profit”. As a consequence critical mass appeal is the best way to maximise profit efficiency. High fixed costs but low marginal costs is the most efficient profitability model.  As a consequence a few global stars like Beyonce, are far more profit efficient than several moderately selling artists.

Say for an example producing an LP was a fixed cost of £100k to make (including mastering, marketing etc) and then assume a unit cost £0.50 per sale. Assume a sale price of £10. If you sell 10,000 copies that is a revenue of £100k fixed costs of £100k and variable costs of £5k. That means a loss of £5k. In other words, you have to sell enough units to more than cover your fixed and variable costs to make a profit. So if your album goes platinum you would make revenues of £10m with fixed costs of £100k and variables of £500k giving you a nice tidy sum of £9.4m. The point is that say you sold 1 million copies of records from 10  different artists, you would not make a profit because you would also have 10 sets of fixed and variable costs. It is therefore in your financial interests to find the global superstar and start selling records like it’s going out of fashion.

The fourth reason is plain old fashioned subjugation or control. An explanation of cultural subjugation is beyond the scope of this article.

 Comment

The response of smaller economies to the infiltration of local culture by dominant economies include legislation like Spain’s imposition of film screen quotas for  European films. Additionally less dominant nations are increasing investment in their local cultural industries, examples can be seen in Spain, France, Canada, New Zealand, Nigeria, India and many more countries.

 

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