Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Media Studies


Jonathan Burston

2nd Supervisor

Alison Hearn

Joint Supervisor


This dissertation examines the intensifying relationship between the digitalizing music industry and corporate brands. It analyzes the ‘crisis’ and recuperation of popular music’s commodity form in the digital era; in an increasingly post-CD music marketplace, it argues, ‘artist-brands’ tied to multiple revenue streams and licensed to brand partners constitute the foundation of music’s capitalization. Contemporaneous with key shifts in music marketing and monetization strategies, advertising firms have taken increased interest in branded entertainment strategies that employ popular music. These colliding commercial dynamics have produced a proliferation of what I term ‘promotional ubiquitous musics’: original music by recording artists used by consumer and media brands with the intent of promoting something other than the featured artist or music. The attendant collapse of popular music into marketing is interpreted through a neo-Adornian theoretical frame: it is argued that the ‘culture industry’ thesis assumes new and important relevance in the digital era, even as the ubiquitous circulation of diverse musics exemplifies post-Fordist flexibility. The instrumentalization of music under this branding paradigm has produced new levels of recording artist subordination and stratification, and has placed firm limits on popular musical expression. Deploying cultural and social theory and political economy, this critical analysis also draws on an interview program with executives at record labels, music publishers, advertising firms, and music supervision companies based in Toronto, New York City, and Los Angeles; rigorous tracking of trade press; and attendance at industry conferences.