The Birth of the Music Business? Public commercial concerts in London 1660–1750

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The public commercial concert arose out of formal and informal occasions where music often formed part of other activities — public ceremonial of many kinds, social rituals and communal celebrations, church services and theatrical performances, in association with state and municipal ceremonies — and London played a pioneering rôle in its development. Here, public commercial concerts emerged in a fledgling form in the period following the restoration of Charles II in 1660, developing from private music meetings dominated by amateur performers and informal public performances by professionals in taverns via John Banister’s first advertised concerts in December 1672. By 1750 public commercial concerts in London may not have achieved their final form or the heights of popularity that accompanied the ‘rage for music’ of the 1790s, but London was becoming an important centre in an international market for music and ‘the foundations had been laid for later expansion’ (McVeigh, 1989: 4).
There is no doubt that the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century saw the beginnings of public concert life in London, but was this the birth of the music business? Here we see Atali’s (1985) network of representation in action with music beginning its move towards the market, or Baumol and Baumol’s (1994) transition ‘from the universal system of private patronage to the beginnings of a market mechanism under which the product of the composer and the performer became a commodity that could be bought and sold’, but earlier than the second half of the eighteenth century to which he ascribes these developments. The idea of music as a range of industries centred around music (Williamson and Cloonan, 2007) or a set of ‘overlapping and interconnecting networks’ through which the cultural product flowed and underwent a process of commodification are based on present-day realities (Leyshon, 2001; Leyshon et al., 2005), but they are, nevertheless, relevant to a certain extent to the situation arising from the growth of public commercial concerts in eighteenth-century London.
Musicians performing in London’s new public commercial concerts were not acting alone in creating this new business; they were part of a network of creativity in which music was composed and performed: composers, performance venues and sellers of musical instruments and musical supplies also formed part of this system. Some composers published their own work themselves, but there were also specialist music publishers who sold directly in their own shops rather than having any distribution network. However, like modern music distributors, music publishers ensured that their products were promoted and marketed through the limited channels available at the time, and often referred to performances of their publications in newspaper advertisements. The networks of consumption were restricted to those locations in which musical products were purchased, that is music shops, and the consumers who bought them there. Consumers can also be considered to bring the networks full circle; they form part of the network of creativity, co-creating music by their presence at concerts, subscribing to music publications, taking lessons, and supporting performers and composers in various other ways. Based on an in-depth analysis of some 6000 newspaper advertisements together with related information on theatres and publishers of both music and newspapers, this paper is a case study in cultural production and consumption and of the commodification of culture in late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, exploring the overlapping and interconnecting networks surrounding public commercial concerts in London.
However one might wish to label this concert activity in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century London, as a music business, a music industry or a music scene, it can definitely be considered as the start of a development which runs continuously from that time to this. There is a direct line of connection between these early musical entrepreneurs who supplemented their income by putting on concerts and the modern day music industries which are primarily concerned with the creation, management and selling of music, either as a physical/digital product, a performance, or as a bundle of intellectual property rights. Indeed the recent decline of the recorded music business in favour of Internet streaming is starting to close the circle as some musicians start to regain more control — recording, distributing and promoting their own music as well as composing and performing it. Far smaller and far less complex than today’s music industries certainly, but in London’s early public commercial concerts we can surely see the germ of what was to come: the birth of music as a business.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 28 May 2016
Event “Creativity and Entrepreneurship in the Global Economy”: Joint conference of the Association of Business Historians and the German Business History Society (Gesellschaft für Unternehmensgeschichte e.V.) - Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany
Duration: 27 May 201628 May 2016


Conference “Creativity and Entrepreneurship in the Global Economy”: Joint conference of the Association of Business Historians and the German Business History Society (Gesellschaft für Unternehmensgeschichte e.V.)

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