“Popular” Music

Back in the mid-80s, when we were searching for something to call the first Symposium done by the New York Singing Teachers’ Association at Donnell Library, we tried Music Theater and Popular Music Styles. That was the alternative of choice then to “non-classical”. A lot of people didn’t like it.

Jazz artists don’t think of themselves as folk singers and folk singers don’t think of themselves as R&B artists, and Bluegrass singers don’t think of themselves as Broadway singers. And popular music was found on the top 40s radio stations of the day, and none of that music had anything to do with the other styles, so what was there to do? Why, of course, go back to “non-classical”.

Remember, in the Mirriam Webster dictionary “non” is defined as follows:

1. not: other than : reverse of: absence of  (nontoxic) (nonlinear)

2. of little or no consequence : unimportant : worthless (nonisssues) (nonsystem)

3. lacking the usual especially positive characteristics of the thing specified  (noncelebration) (nonart)


So all the styles of “not classical” music were relegated to being absent, of no consequence, unimportant, and lacking especially positive characteristics. Nice.

Fast forward to 2013 where the term “Contemporary Commercial Music” is making slow but steady headway into the minds of the musical world, both in academia and in the marketplace. In both worlds the terminology is still confused. There is still reliance on music theater as the default catch-all category (and it does cover most styles now), but one university has a new “popular music” program and I am sure there are other things floating around, too. The classical word seems truly shaken by the idea of commercial music. Using the world “commercial” makes them nervous. Some people  really do not know what to make of it.

An ad in the current issue (July) of Classical Singer Magazine talks about “Jazz, Broadway, Gospel, Commercial, Hard Rock and Heavy Metal”. Think maybe this person heard about something called “commercial” but didn’t bother to actually find out what that was? Anyone who calls himself “Professor” in an ad but doesn’t site the school at which he is an actual professor is already suspect in my mind. Whatever.

The young man in Australia who wrote an article in the Journal of Singing a while ago has decided that they are to be called “Popular Styles Music”. I suppose he thinks that his new term is needed because it is. He likes the idea of creating something. (“I will create new terms because I can.”) OK, good. But it doesn’t help us, does it? More words to describe what already is. Now what? Do we know anything we didn’t know before? How has that helped the profession at large?

So, let me say again, the term “Contemporary Commercial Music” or CCM is a GENRE description covering all styles formerly referred to as non-classical. It substitutes, if you will, for “non-classical”. It covers Music Theater, Jazz, Rock, Pop, Gospel, R&B, Folk, Country (and all off-shoots of these), rap and alternative styles. There is no “commercial” style per se, unless you are describing music written for TV or radio commercials. All of it is commercial. It makes much more money than any form of classical music. It is far more successful than classical music because it has many more fans. If you do not like this term, don’t use it. There are no “term police”. Understand, however, that the use of all manner of mish mash trying to corral all the styles born of the common people, mostly here in the USA, under one term’s roof is a daunting task. You can continue to call the styles cited “non-classical” and think of them as being less than classical music, or try calling them “popular styles” or maybe the “plaid group”, but sooner or later you will have to admit that there are more and more people leaving your camp and joining that other one. Your choice.

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