Music has been a part of US presidential contests since George Washington first campaigned across the newly independent nation. In time, the country grew, the voting public was augmented, and new technologies and industries were invented. In the midst of these changes, both small and profound, music remained constant, but its role and uses underwent transformation. This article examines three advertisements in Presidential campaigns during the mass media age, from 1960 to the present, where music culture was an essential element of the message. These examples, a pro-Civil Rights ad featuring Harry Belafonte for John F. Kennedy in 1960, Will.i.am’s “Yes, We Can” for Barack Obama in 2008, and a tweet by Dan Scavino, Trump’s social media coordinator in 2020, all differ in their media platform, content and relationship to voters. Each analysis centers the socio-economic changes that accompanied each period and examines the relationship between the production of knowledge in industrial and post-industrial capitalism. These ads, their content, appeal, and codes are read through theories of industrial and post-industrial epistemology. Here, music serves as an entry into understanding the effect that economic change has on cultural production and reception. Music is a necessary feature of campaigns, but as the production and reception of knowledge change, so does the use of music by campaigns. The efficacy of these three ads depends on different relationships among campaigns, voters, and cultural products, and this relationship is always affected by dominant modes of production.
The Changing Political Economy of Music in Presidential Campaigns
Justin Patch is associate professor of music at Vassar College, where he is also affiliated with American studies, media studies, and Asian studies. His research focuses on sound and emotion in contemporary US political campaigns. Discordant Democracy: Sound, Affect, and Populism in the Presidential Campaign, was published in 2019 (Routledge). In 2022, he and colleague Tom Porcello published the first textbook on sound studies, Re-Making Sound: An Experiential Approach to Sound Studies (Bloomsbury Academic). Currently, he is completing a monograph on citizen-made partisan art in contemporary US populism, titled The Arts of Populism: Signs, Sounds and Fury (Routledge).
Justin Patch; The Changing Political Economy of Music in Presidential Campaigns. Journal of Popular Music Studies 1 March 2023; 35 (1): 67–84. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jpms.2023.35.1.67
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