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Influence and Integration of American Popular Music

Updated: Dec 1, 2020


The original people of the United States were Native American tribes, who played the first music in the region. Beginning in the 17th century, immigrants from the British Isles, Spain, and France began arriving in large numbers, bringing their musical traditions with them, new styles and instruments. African people brought musical traditions, and each subsequent wave of immigrants contributed to a melting pot giving birth later to American popular music. As long with the globalization of the economy, American popular music also named western pop music, has been produced, marketed and consumed throughout the world.

American music exposes the country’s multi-ethnic population through a varied range of styles. Rock, country, R&B and blues, jazz, and hip-hop are among the country’s most internationally renowned genres. Since the beginning of the 20th century, popular recorded music from the United States has become increasingly known across the world, to the point where some forms of American popular music are listened to almost everywhere. (Provine, Hwang and Kershaw, 2001).

The recorded music industry has grown over the last fifty years, as we know it today, from American born artist as Elvis Presley but also great international contributors like The Beatles, spreading American or western popular music throughout the globe. Today’s western (American) popular music has become a global industry worth more than $33 billion. (Global Recording Industry,, 2006). As American music, culture and artists have a large influence on the rest of the world, especially the Western world, many international musicians have influenced American music as is heard in many other countries. This is in severe distinction to the early days of the American republic, when the country was generally seen as an agricultural backwater with little to offer the culturally advanced world centers of Asia and Europe. Nearing the end of its third century, nearly every major American city offers both classical and popular music; dance performances, musicals and plays, etc. This development is a result of contributions from different cultures and socioeconomic growth having the ability of taking in influences from across the world and creating distinctively new methods of cultural expression. What has become American culture also exhibits a tendency to hybridize pop culture and generally questions normative standards for artistic production. This is likely an effect of the country’s open tradition, and the nation’s history of constitutionally protected freedom of speech and expression. It is important to mention, that while America tends to be a net exporter of culture, it absorbs many other cultural traditions with relative ease. It can be argued that this ability to easily absorb parts of other cultures and other languages is its greatest strength and helps American culture throughout its popular music to spread. At a first glance the American music industry in general do not worry about protecting their “indigenous culture” but instead eagerly create and adopt new things developing new products, artists and music to market them their own.

In this sense the United States is an enormous exporter of entertainment, from movies to music. This readily consumable form of culture is widely and cheaply dispersed for entertainment consumers worldwide. This brings up the so-called phenomenon of globalization. It enables foreign companies to distribute American cultural products, including popular music in markets abroad. In recent years, American popular music has consistently gained more and more audiences around the world.  The products of popular musicians are also likely to be distributed by non-U.S. companies such as Japan-German alliance Sony/BMG, France’s Vivendi, or UK’s EMI Group. It results remarkable to note that foreign media groups contribute to expand American popular music as well. Foreign corporations earn profits by selling U.S. products, and U.S. products become more accessible worldwide. Canada is one of the best examples of a country where U.S. music dominate despite the Canadian government’s efforts to preserve local culture. Canadian music artist account for just 4% of Canadian music sales, and the vast majority of the remaining 96 % is American popular music (Global Recording Industry,, 2006). Moreover, 70 % of the radio content is of foreign origin. The vast majority of foreign products in all of these categories are American. In most other countries, however, American cultural products are not as widespread as they are in Canada, and they face more domestic competition. In most cases, two general trends can be observed. First, many American cultural products tend to be popular with people of very different societies. Second, despite the popularity of American cultural products, other countries still produce a substantial amount of music. (CRIA, Canadian Music Report,, 2006). Although the US may play a central role within the phenomenon of music globalization, it is important to mention that this is not completely one sided. Many other countries also contribute to global music industry, including American popular music itself. Just as American popular music influences foreign cultures, other national cultures are influential within the United States and also increase their presence worldwide (Global Music Machine,, 2006).

In achieving their dominance in music revenues, the 4 Major Labels each own a large label’s catalogs, from formerly independent labels to large regional distributors among several territories. Although with exception to their market dominance of the market is India, where the large film music market has so far challenged these companies. Africa has also proved to be a complex market for the American-owned corporations, due to economic instability with exception of South Africa, represents not a lucrative market. For example, Gallo Records, one of the largest record labels in South Africa, licensees exclusively for Warner Music but also stands for African music successfully. (Global Music Machine,, 2006). Across the world, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry points to new sales patterns emerging, with the sales of American artists beginning to decline across the world. While, 93% of sales in the US market come from domestic artists, in 2001, sales of local repertoire across the world grew to 67.5%. Given this legacy, it is no surprise that much of the music industry’s power is concentrated in the US and the UK. A third of all recorded music is bought in the US, where all of the major labels are based, and 89% of recorded music is bought in the top ten markets in the world. (Global Recording Industry,, 2006).

As MTV network popularized the music video in the 1980s, continually playing out the big hits and their even bigger video budgets, the pace of change in popular music increased, as many artists became instant big sellers. This shift in buying patterns caused MTV Asia to change its music strategy altogether, shunning international acts to play up to 90% of domestic music in each of the countries in which it broadcasts. While in France, 17 of the 20 top selling albums for the year were by local acts. (Beau 2005).

The growth in domestic music sales in France has been the result of large levels of support from the French government. French artists receive social security, unemployment benefits, and subsidies for touring and rehearsal spaces. French radio stations also have an enforced quota, dictating that 40% of music must be French (Beau 2005). This system has also been taken up by other countries, such as Turkey, French-Canadian Quebec and the Netherlands, where a 1997 government ruling forced orchestras to play at least 7% Dutch music (Global Music Machine,, 2005). To further help the French arts, a 3.5% tax is levied on all concert box office sales. The revenue is used to support new artists, the export of music, and even the purchase of new equipment for artists. “The idea is to take money from the American artists who make a lot of money in France, and give it back to the French artists.” (Beau, 2005)

For better or worse, many nations now have two cultures: an indigenous one and a “globalized” – American popular culture influenced at great extension by American popular music. On the other side, while one society reflects on the market given a certain value to music and entertainment is not necessarily reflective of the “true values of culture” of its people or in another markets. Music industry globalization and popularization of American music is being driven by purely economic factors but rather than freely cultural choice of tradition.

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