Radio Formats and the Transformation of Musical Style: Codes and Cultural Values in the Remaking of Tunes

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Remaking previous hits has long been a staple in commercial pop music. It is a formula that has repeatedly proven successful for both well-known and newly-emerging artists. A tune's commercial value increases if it can appeal, in a repackaged version, to a new audience. In producing such a tune, record companies carefully manipulate style features in order to guarantee successful acceptance within the target demographic. The medium that most easily delivers this music to an audience is radio.

Record companies and radio stations share a symbiotic relationship. Record companies generate sales through free exposure of their records on radio stations, and the stations that play hits score good ratings, thus insuring their ability to sell more advertising.1 Essential to this relationship is the broadcast format, defined by Rothenbuhler and McCourt as a "style, genre, or system that defines the musical or informational boundaries of what a station will present and its overall approach to programming."2

The choice of format is usually determined not by musical concerns, but by business concerns, particularly that of maximizing profits. A primary goal of a commercial station's program director is to find a format that will capture a sizable community of the desired target audience.3 Once identified, formats create and sustain communities of listeners that identify with the aesthetic values represented by the music and, by extension, the stations that play the music. In this arena, style signifies more than a set of musical features—it suggests demographic traits of the listening audience (for example, race, gender, age, and income) as well as psychographic traits (for example, values, social behavior, and life styles).4

According to George Lewis, research has shown that "musical preference . . . is a powerful cultural signal, a cue to much more than rhythms, melodies, and [song] lyrics."5 It can suggest the nature of relationships listeners have with certain styles, artists, and value systems surrounding the music. Music can help define the "identity and boundaries of groups and subcultures."6 In the words of Robert Pittman, who developed the marketing strategy for MTV: "When you're dealing with a music culture—say, people aged 12 to 30—music serves as something beyond entertainment. It's really a peg they use to identify themselves. It's representative of their values and their culture."7

Table 1 presents a list of formats.8 Down the left side appear types of formats. They group and subgroup into categories that appeal to a wide variety of style preferences. Over time, base audiences expand around the more successful formats and diminish around those not successful. In this way, musical style features that are broadcast by homogeneous format programming attain the ability to signify the type of audience most likely to be listening to it.9


Table 1. FORMATS

Formats cater to demographics (age groups, ethnicities, socio-economic status) and to different "taste preferences" (which may cut across age, ethnic, or socio-economic boundaries).

Format Type
Target Age, Ethnicity, and Gender
Rock & Pop
Adult Contemporary (AC); subcategories:
Full-service stations—"soft hits," news, talk, sports; what used to be MOR (Middle-of-Road)
"Gold"—safe, inoffensive rock 'n' roll oldies (post 1955)
"Lite"—love songs, vocal-oriented easy listening
Music-intensive—the mainstream AC subformat;
emphasizes newer artists and crossovers; lack of nonmusical services
Adult Alternative—basic AC diet plus jazz, soft-rock, some country, quiet storm, new age

Album-Oriented Rock (AOR); subcategories:
Classic Rock; Soft Rock
Hard Rock, Heavy Metal
"Free Form" (e.g., noncommercial college radio stations)

Contemporary Christian Radio (CCR):
musically, a format that is nearly indistinguishable from AC (except for text content)

Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR): what "Top 40" became; a broad-based format that borrows from other contemporary formats; emphasizes the newest hits; ballads and conventional pop material are downplayed

Easy-Listening Radio (based on non-rock music); subcategories:
Beautiful Music (Muzak, "elevator music")
Big Band
Nostalgia (pre-rock, exclusive of big band; e.g., 1950s popular song stylists)
Music of Your Life (syndicated; mostly big band)

Country: relies heavily on oldies (but rarely pre-1970!); subformat gradations range from traditional ("rootsier," old-time "rural" country) to upbeat (rock influenced)
Urban Contemporary (UC): a full
spectrum of "upbeat paced" Black music
Quiet Storm: less "upbeat paced"
than UC (softer R&B, ballads, mellow jazz)


Jazz (rarely found as a full-time
format on commercial stations)
New Age (New Age Contemporary, NAC):
mostly instrumental, atmospheric;
"beautiful music for yuppies" (Barnes);
often mixed with jazz, AC, or soft AOR
25-54 years old ("Boomers"); mixed ethnicity and gender target

Primarily women

Primarily 18-25 white men, but varies with subcategory

Teens and young adults;
mixed ethnic target

45 years and older; ideally mixed, but mainly white

35 and older; white; mixed

Black or white Christians; mixed
Hispanic; mixed
Young blacks

Primarily black adults

Generally older; mixed; mid-to-high economic standing ("upscale")
25 and older; like classical, can attract an upscale audience base
25 and older

Formats cater to different age groups, ethnicities, and socio-economic standings. In addition, formats appeal to different taste preferences (taste cultures) that may cut across age, ethnic, or socio-economic boundaries. For example, although the format "easy listening" taps into an older generation's nostalgic yearning for a pre-rock 'n' roll musical environment, its appeal is not necessarily limited to a specific social status or ethnic group. Likewise, fans of country music, although predominantly white, may cut across standard socio-economic categories.10

Formats are useful to the music industry in a number of ways. According to Ken Barnes, "trade publications create format charts by combining airplay data from similarly-formatted stations." Record labels then use these charts to track airplay of specific recordings and to exploit markets for new recordings in distribution. Radio stations bolster their "sales story" by citing attractive demographic and psychographic data that is associated with the format under which their programming is classified.11

Format categorization is useful to the music industry as a strategic tool in packaging music stylistically and positioning it into the life-style of a target audience. Tunes are crafted in the production process to fit into these predetermined formats. Radio stations are then lobbied by record labels to add these tunes to their playlists. In this way, formats act as filters in the process of transforming compositions into marketable commodities.

Likewise, this system of formats helps the mass consumer audience mediate their understanding of coded meanings. It allows the audience to organize the vast array of style features with which it is constantly bombarded into an orderly taxonomy of pop styles. This helps reinforce a listener's competency in instantly identifying style features associated with his or her preferred musical diet.12

Thus, the format is an "ideal reality,"13 designed and cultivated by the radio industry as a way to "manage audiences" and "sell air time to advertisers."14 In fact, you could say that the primary commodity in this arena is the audience itself, created by radio and sold to advertisers. Music plays an important role in this exchange, since "stations play music that is designed to lead the target audience to the commercials . . . ."15

This situation brings up three important questions: What effect do these format "realities" have upon the creation of music products, and upon the musical decisions made in transforming a golden oldie into a contemporary hit with an updated arrangement? How is music tailored to meet the demands of a format reality? And how is audience taste cultivated by this process?


* * * * *

The pop tune is a locus of cultural signs and codes, a sign system that conveys a matrix of coded meanings. "Sign" in this context represents both a signifier and that which is signified. Within a culture, this relationship must be learned somehow by members of that culture for communication to take place. Hence, "certain structured associations, or codes, must be learned in order to interpret the meaning of signs."16 Meaning is conveyed in a number of ways, including lyric content and stylistic features. The tune "speaks" a coded language on a number of levels, including artistic, psychological, social, and political.

The manner in which a previous hit tune is remade suggests a way to understand these codes, the machinations behind the manufacturing of a pop tune, and how audience tastes change from generation to generation. As suggested by Jody Berland, a remade hit tune "recontextualizes the past in the present."17 This is done technologically by updating the tune's "sound values" so that it sounds of the immediate present, even though text and melody, and perhaps even harmony, are recognizably of the past.18 Making old tunes sound "of the present" can involve a number of strategies—for example, putting a reggae beat behind Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe," turning "Tears of a Clown" into a fast soca tune, even having an established icon of the past singing an updated arrangement of an old standard with a hot contemporary singer, as was the case on Frank Sinatra's 1993 album of duets with performers such as Bono (from the rock group U2).

If a tune's pitch syntax is essentially that of tonal music, a stylistic comparison between the original version and its remake may reveal very little difference in such parameters as melody and basic harmony. This is not surprising, since changes to a tune's primary structure would negate easy aural connection to the original and seemingly contradict the aims of the record producer. However, the tune's stylistic clothing does need to be updated to fit the demands of the format and the expectations of the audience. Stylistic repackaging occurs mostly within musical parameters such as dynamic level, sound processing, instrumentation, and timbre. These features tend to be perceived easily by members of the target audience as carriers of coded information necessary for aesthetic identification—for example, the presence of a loud distorted guitar signalling that the tune conforms to a Rock & Roll format. Whereas these parameters might be considered secondary in a traditional style analysis, they are essential ingredients of a tune's commercial appeal, and thus of primary concern in understanding how the transformation process operates when a tune is remade.


* * * * *

The 1965 song Downtown, originally recorded by Petula Clark, was a smash hit in Europe and the United States.19 The song was rereleased as a single in 1984 by Dolly Parton, and subsequently appeared on her album The Great Pretender.

Table 2 presents a sketch of the song. Note that there are three sections differentiated primarily by the text, which is crafted in the manner of a sales pitch. In section A, the vocalist/narrator identifies and sympathizes with the listener's problems. In section B1, the narrator advises the listener of how to solve his or her problems. After an interruption that baits the listener with the line, "How can you Lose?," the section continues with the narrator trying to convince the listener in more empathic terms that "downtown" will be the cure for his or her problems. Section C delivers the strongest arguments along these lines with the highest accolades of what downtown has to offer.


The rhythmic groove varies between a relaxed mild rock half-time feel to a more upbeat steady four-four.20 The upbeat groove coincides with the narrator's description of how great downtown is. Harmony, orchestration, and dynamic shaping all work together to articulate the changes in the narrator's message as well as to support the text's dramatic teleologic growth. As the narrator moves from intimate confidant of the listener to unabashed salesman for urban social life, the general orchestrational mix—that is, instrumentation, texture, and overall sound—increases from acoustic piano to a full ensemble of rhythm section, brass, and strings. This dramatic growth is also supported by a dynamic profile that fluctuates from piano to fortissimo levels. As with changes in the groove, the loudest dynamic level and brightest mixes occur behind the narrator's glowing descriptions of downtown.

The one-measure interruption ("How can you lose?") is articulated by a sudden relaxation in growth as well as a retrogressive harmonic motion from the vi to the iii chord. Thereafter, growth resumes at a quick pace, briskly carrying the listener along the path toward "Downtown."

With the exception of the example just cited, harmonic motion is primarily progressive in all sections, complementing the goal-orientation of the text. The high point of harmonic growth is found in section C, which is articulated harmonically by a long dominant pedal point. The need of tonic resolution in this section is heightened by melodic repetition, textual repetition of the word "downtown," and a dramatic registral expansion by successively higher dominant pedal points in the strings, all of which combine with the most intense rhythmic groove thus far. Resolution finally occurs on "you," the last word in this verse.

Dolly Parton's version of Downtown appeared in the wake of the early 1980s film Urban Cowboy. The success of this film and its soundtrack prompted record producers to target "demographically expanded audiences."21 One way of doing this was to market potential crossover hits—that is, tunes that are financially successful within two or more style formats.22

Parton has an impressive track record of crossover hits. As with many of her other recordings at that time, Downtown was positioned as a crossover tune targeting more broad-based formats like Adult Contemporary in addition to Country. Due to the crossover mentality infiltrating the Country format following the Urban Cowboy boom, Adult Contemporary and Country had evolved similar characteristics. Adult Contemporary was aiming at the 25-50 year-old demographic by playing "less abrasive contemporary hits." Country, meanwhile, was walking a tightrope with a similar age group, playing it "fairly conservatively [so as not to lose its older core audience] while trying to appeal to younger types."23 As a result, conservative familiar-sounding music became the norm.

Downtown presented much potential as a Parton crossover vehicle. The song satisfied "older and familiar" criteria in many ways: (1) because it was such a big hit in the 1960s, the oldest members of the audience probably remembered it from their youth; (2) approaching age 40, Parton herself was older than many of the other popular female country singers at the time and thus was more familiar to the audience (yet constantly exuding a younger person's energy and persona); (3) the song's text speaks of issues impacting people over 25—loneliness, alienation and the cure offered by contact with the downtown social scene. The text is also a metaphor for the music industry's attempts to cure the commercial isolation of the Country format by urbanizing its sound and expanding its demographic base. The challenge left to the producer, then, was to repackage and update the sound values surrounding the basic song.

The stylistic transformation in the Parton remake involves much more than a substitution of 1980s country-signifying sounds for 1960s Top 40 sounds. On the most obvious level, the melody and basic harmonic structure remain the same (although a few significant changes have been made, which will be discussed shortly). Changes in instrumentation have been made, recontextualizing the tune's sound values into present time as well as positioning it to meet the demands of format crossover. Obvious country trappings like slide guitars and fiddles are avoided in favor of a drum-guitar-bass rhythm section overlaid with brassy-sounding analog synthesizer riffs and occasional tambourine hits. The sound of the guitar receives heavy emphasis in the mix. Even when accompanying the singer, the guitar sound is processed with distortion/overdrive, evoking the feeling of a loud overdriven amplifier, though the signal is compressed and mixed at a dynamic level of mezzo forte. When they occur, solo guitar fills are even louder in the mix, augmented by distortion/overdrive and flange-like processing.24 This type of sound manipulation speaks the language of rock and roll guitar, and of the urban country guitar sound influenced by it.

The kick drum is also a prominent element in the mix, sounding very similar to the steady four-four beat of disco. Drum fills are processed to sound especially heavy, and snare drum hits are processed with gated reverb, further augmenting their impact.25

This mix would easily adapt to the sound image of rock formats as well as to the Urban Cowboy country sound being promoted at the time. The type of instrumentation signifies the downtown sonic landscape of many mid-1980s cities, especially that found in nightclubs and dance halls—a standard rhythm section (1-2 guitars, bass, drums, perhaps electronic keyboard) backing up a singer. In addition, the tune's steady four-four groove would easily fit the atmosphere of any discotheque that remained in such cities.26 Compared to Clark's version, the alternations between four-beat and half-time feel have been eliminated (these, of course, would have been problematic for the disco environment), and the steady four-four groove never varies from its beat tempo of 126. (In this respect it sounds very much like Parton's big crossover hit of 1980, 9 to 5.)

Perhaps less obvious to the target audience is the fact that the dramatic dynamic profile of Clark's version has been eliminated. The dramatic crescendos have been flattened out, resulting in a more-or-less uniform dynamic level throughout the entire arrangement. Further, as compared to the original, there is less orchestrational and textural differentiation between sections. (Those differences that do appear come about because of increased synthesizer activity or slight dynamic increases in guitar sound.) The dramatic architectural growth of the original has been almost completely flattened out in Parton's version. Further undermining the original's architecture, the Parton version changes subtle yet significant aspects of the harmonic scheme. Tonic pedal points now underlie sections A and C, turning the chord movements above them into hierarchically subordinate embellishment. Harmonically, sections A and C function as static prolongations of tonic, with only the B section containing harmonic motion. The harmonic profile has thus been flattened out. The prolonged dominant found in Clark's section C, building the need for tonic resolution, is completely absent in Parton's version. All of this combines to lessen the dramatic impact and goal orientation of the text.

A familiar sign of intensification common to pop music is modulation, especially up by half-step. In Clark's Downtown this effect articulates the third repetition of the song's form. Preceded by a mild abatement in sound level, the modulation's impact is sudden and dramatic. It is further energized by a louder, brighter mix featuring a trumpet solo that replaces the text in Section A of the form. A responsorial vocal riff answers the trumpet with an ascending variation of the Downtown melodic figure (vol37id32-vol37id32). In the script of the song's development, this is the point at which the actual musical sounds of downtown life, represented by hip, jazzy trumpet, are first introduced to the listener.

Although Parton's version retains the modulation, the subtle nuances that dramatize this juncture point in the earlier version are absent. Instead, tonic just moves up by half-step. Intensification is created by a thickening of texture. First, a marcato guitar arpeggiation is introduced, processed with compression, distortion, and flanging. Underneath this ostinato, brassy synthesizer riffs and distorted guitar chords are gradually added. Unlike the 1960s version, this arrangement does not introduce new instruments at this point. Instead, we get more of the same, just louder and heavier. The lack of a dramatic change in orchestration corresponds to a lack of change in locale. We have not moved to where the sounds of downtown can be heard. Instead, we have stayed in the same place and merely turned up the volume.

Parton's remake of Downtown didn't achieve the financial success of Clark's recording. In the year of its release it peaked at only #36 on Billboard's Country Chart and at only #80 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, a concomitant crossover chart.27 From a musical perspective, the intent to market the tune as a crossover resulted in an arrangement with a "confused" stylistic identity, consisting of a mixture of rock, country, and disco style codes. This lack of stylistic unity was seemingly unimportant to the producers, however. Perhaps reflecting Roland Barthes's idea that "a text's unity lies not in its origin but in its destination,"28 they marketed the recording assuming the presence of a "unified" demographic as the tune's destination. Supposedly, this was the same demographic that bought the same mix of image codes in Urban Cowboy.

How to explain the single's lackluster performance in the marketplace as compared to Clark's version? Was it rejected (on a blockbuster level) by musically discriminating listeners because of its confusing stylistic identity? Was it rejected because the arrangement lack dramatic appeal? Was the assumed "disco-dancing Urban Cowboy demographic" a pipe dream in the minds of the record label?

Or, is it impossible to compare equitably market performance between the 1960s and 1980s? By the eighties, the mass audience was even more fragmented demographically than it was in the sixties. Competition among formats had increased, yet the size of the "pie" essentially remained the same. Hence, it was harder for tunes to achieve the kind of blockbuster performance enjoyed by Clark's 1965 Downtown.


* * * * *

Parton's remake of Downtown can be seen as a marketing tool intended to sell something—for example, Parton's image, her latest album, a station's format, or a sponsor's merchandise. Viewing the repackaged tune in this way, from the perspective of an industry insider, allows us to bypass momentarily the view of the musical academic who might read Parton's version as proof of the music industry's shallow nature and reluctance to produce something really interesting and dramatic. That type of view obviously thinks of a pop tune as a musical artifact. Instead, if we take the music industry at its word when it says it delivers only what people demand,29 then we can adopt the view that a pop tune is a commodity, an object to be consumed, and as such is an index that can reflect the changing musical taste of an audience (at least as interpreted by the music industry).

Read in this light, then, Parton's transformation of Downtown suggests that the ideal Adult Contemporary audience values dramatic change and variety within a tune less than it did twenty years earlier. It also suggests that a tune's success with consumers depends upon the stylistic features of its packaging and the image it projects.

If the mass audience's sole exposure to stylistic variety is mediated by commercial radio, then the controlling influence of format conformity attains power as a pedagogical force. It teaches record producers that a tune's success with consumers depends upon its ability to speak demographically and psychographically, triggering calculated responses (favorable to the music industry) in an audience that has been studied in detail by industry analysts. It teaches listeners about stylistic norms: what's in fashion, and thus what's passé; what's acceptable and appropriate, and thus what's deviant and unacceptable; what's musically possible, and thus what's not possible. Format conformity cultivates the kind of reality necessary for its continued survival.

Remaking old tunes is a marketing technique that is here to stay. As Ken Barnes has noted, research has shown the radio industry that "most people like familiar older music better than familiar-sounding new music."30 However, do not expect the new arrangements of golden oldies always to be as exciting as the original. Dynamic fluctuation, changing grooves, and sophisticated harmonic schemes fight against the homogeneity cultivated by programming formats. As Parton's remake of Downtown shows, overall "flatness" can translate easily into stylistic predictability—thus, it sounds a lot like everything else on its playlist, and listeners will not be tempted to change the dial.31 Such a tune is the perfect tool to sell and perpetuate the image of the station's format. Stylistic transformation, then, plays an effective role in what Rothenbuhler and McCourt describe as the radio industry's use of formats to "institutionalize standardization and predictability."32

Comparison between original and repackaged versions highlights the different languages a pop tune speaks, and is thus a window into changing values, both within the commercial world shared by performers, producers, and broadcasters, and the world surrounding the consumer audience. It is also useful in tracking the intents and procedures used by the music industry in constructing and marketing its products. Ultimately, this type of investigation illuminates the ways in which format cultivation, consumer expectation, and industry intention intersect and bear upon the creation of musical style.



Barnes, Ken. "Top 40 Radio: A Fragment of the Imagination." In Facing the Music, ed. Simon Frith, 8-50. New York: Pantheon, 1988.

Berger, Arthur Asa. Media Analysis Techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1982.

Berland, Jody. "Radio space and industrial time: music formats, local narratives and technological mediation." Popular Music 9/2 (1990): 179-192.

Brackett, David. Interpreting Popular Music. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1995.

Lewis, George H. "Who Do You Love? The Dimensions of Musical Taste." In Popular Music and Communication, ed. J. Lull, 134-151. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1992.

Rothenbuhler, Eric, and Tom McCourt. "Commercial Radio and Popular Music: Processes of Selection and Factors of Influence." In Popular Music and Communication, ed. J. Lull, 101-115. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1992.

Sanjek, D. and R. Sanjek. American Popular Music Business in the 20th Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Whitburn, Joel. Joel Whitburn's Top Country Singles 1944-1988. Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research, Inc., 1989.

Whitburn, Joel. Joel Whitburn Presents the Billboard Top 1000 x 5. Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research, Inc., 1993.

1Ken Barnes, "Top 40 Radio: A Fragment of the Imagination," in Simon Frith (ed.), Facing the Music (New York: Pantheon, 1988), 39.

2Eric Rothenbuhler and Tom McCourt, "Commercial Radio and Popular Music: Processes of Selection and Factors of Influence," in J. Lull (ed.), Popular Music and Communication (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1992), 106.

3Barnes, 45.

4George H. Lewis, "Who Do You Love? The Dimensions of Musical Taste," in J. Lull (ed.), Popular Music and Communication (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1992), 143.

5Ibid., 135.

6Ibid., 138.

7Quoted in Lewis, 143.

8Based on Barnes, 25-39.

9For example, imagine a typical country tune by Waylon Jennings. Then picture a scenario involving a likely social venue in which the tune will be heard (a certain type of bar, perhaps) and the most likely audience.

10Contemporary American culture is so complex, full of contradicting, interlocking, and overlapping value systems, that music style features may become at times almost "referentless," creating what George Lewis calls a "surface sparkle of musical signs, symbols, and sounds that exist alongside one another yet signify nothing" demographically (Lewis, 142).

11 Barnes, 40-45.

12This skill comes in handy when such a listener visits a new city and, divorced from his or her favorite radio station, must "surf the dial" until a suitable substitute is found.

13"Radio is best at creating illusions, and making them come true. Good air personalities convey the feeling that they're talking directly to you, without the distance inherent in other media. Your favorite station creates a comfortable environment for you, assuring you that it shares your concerns and will supply you with whatever you need to get through the day . . ." (Barnes, 50).

14Rothenbuhler and McCourt, 106.

15Ibid., 105.

16Arthur Asa Berger, Media Analysis Techniques (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1982), 19-21.

17Jody Berland, "Radio space and industrial time: music formats, local narratives and technological mediation," Popular Music 9/2 (1990): 189.

18This "temporal narrative of immediacy and pastness" varies from format to format and is also related to distinctions between demographics and generations (Berland, 189).

19It sold over three million copies, was a number one hit on the Billboard chart at the time of its debut, and ranks 359 in Billboard's Top 1000 Pop Singles between 1955-1993. [Joel Whitburn, Joel Whitburn Presents the Billboard Top 1000 x 5 (Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research, Inc., 1993), 30).]

20The vernacular term "groove" will hereafter be used to denote a characteristic rhythmic/metric fabric that carries a certain ethos to which players continually respond and contribute.

21Russel Sanjek and David Sanjek, American Popular Music Business in the 20th Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 262.

22Ultimately, this proved to be financially unsuccessful. As country hits more and more "crossed over" into other formats and started sounding more like music played on Adult Contemporary and Rock stations, the traditional core country audience felt that something was missing. In the mid-1980s this prompted a return to more roots-oriented country music, represented by artists such as Ricky Skaggs, the Judds, and Dwight Yoakam (Sanjek, 262).

23Barnes, 26-32.

24A signal processor is a device (or electronic circuit) that alters the audio signal in some fashion. Common signal processors include equalizers, filters, reverberation units, compressors, distortion generators, and phase shifters, many of which are used primarily for special effects. A flanger is a device that recombines a split signal in such a way as to produce a more vibrant sound often described as "swishing" or "tunneling."

25A noise gate is a device that automatically decreases the volume of a signal once it falls below a certain threshold. When it is applied to a reverberation effect, it causes the initial attack of the reverb to sound very big and the tail of the reverb to cut off very quickly. Snare drum hits processed with gated reverb thus sound "punchier" and fatter.

26This steady four-four groove at beat tempo = 120 is not much different from standard country hits such as Waylon Jennings's Good-Hearted Woman.

27Joel Whitburn, Joel Whitburn's Top Country Singles 1944-1988 (Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research, Inc., 1989), 234.

28Quotation taken from David Brackett, Interpreting Popular Music (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1995), 16.

29"Commercial radio's mandate, dictated . . . by financial considerations, is to give its audience what it wants to hear. . . . Commercial radio is classic laissez-faire in action, and if that makes for lousy fare for the easily jaded opinion-makers who are privileged to air their feelings in print, it's of small consequence compared to a vast audience that is pleased with the comforts radio provides it" (Barnes, 40-50).

30Barnes, 45.

31"Listeners want reliability and reassurance from radio stations. They expect to hear their favorite song, or a bunch of others that sound a lot like it. The number of listeners who would be dazzled by inspired eclecticism is vastly exceeded by those who want to hear the top ten pop, country, urban, or rock hits" (Barnes, 44).

32Rothenbuhler and McCourt, 106.

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Last modified on Thursday, 18/10/2018

John W. White is currently Associate Professor of Music Theory, History, and Composition at Ithaca College. He has over twenty years of college-level teaching experience (primarily in music theory and aural skills development), and has published articles in journals such as College Music Symposium, Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, and ex Tempore. He is a co-developer of the Takadimi system of rhythm solfege and specializes in the analysis of vernacular musics, cover tunes, and free improvisation. In addition to being a professional jazz pianist, currently he is the music director and organist at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Ithaca, New York, where he also directs the contemporary gospel choir.


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