The Selling Sound

The Rise of the Country Music Industry

The Selling Sound

Refiguring American Music

More about this series

Book Pages: 306 Illustrations: 10 b&w photographs, 1 table Published: November 2007

Author: Pecknold, Diane

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Music > Popular Music

Few expressions of popular culture have been shaped as profoundly by the relationship between commercialism and authenticity as country music has. While its apparent realism, sincerity, and frank depictions of everyday life are country’s most obvious stylistic hallmarks, Diane Pecknold demonstrates that commercialism has been just as powerful a cultural narrative in its development. Listeners have long been deeply invested in the “business side” of country. When fans complained in the mid-1950s about elite control of the mass media, or when they expressed their gratitude that the Country Music Hall of Fame served as a physical symbol of the industry’s power, they engaged directly with the commercial apparatus surrounding country music, not with particular songs or stars. In The Selling Sound, Pecknold explores how country music’s commercialism, widely acknowledged but largely unexamined, has affected the way it is produced, the way it is received by fans and critics, and the way it is valued within the American cultural hierarchy.

Pecknold draws on sources as diverse as radio advertising journals, fan magazines, Hollywood films, and interviews with industry insiders. Her sweeping social history encompasses the genre’s early days as an adjunct of radio advertising in the 1920s, the friction between Billboard and more genre-oriented trade papers over generating the rankings that shaped radio play lists, the establishment of the Country Music Association, and the influence of rock ‘n’ roll on the trend toward single-genre radio stations. Tracing the rise of a large and influential network of country fan clubs, Pecknold highlights the significant promotional responsibilities assumed by club organizers until the early 1970s, when many of their tasks were taken over by professional publicists.


The Selling Sound is a fascinating and wide-ranging account of the rise of the country music industry. . . . [A] wonderful exploration of the many factors that contributed to the development of the most popular radio format in the US and one of the country's leading cultural exports.” — John Storey, Times Higher Education

The Selling Sound is a considerable achievement and an important contribution to the overall mapping of country music history. Through its emphasis on the audience and industry organizations, it adds a different dimension to the artist-centred approach of Bill Malone (Malone 1985) and Peterson’s production of culture orientation.” — Dave Laing, Popular Music History

The Selling Sound is important because Pecknold addresses both who controls the sound of country music and who values that sound. This is a serious book for serious students of a genre of music that has achieved respectability and cultural value through a complex interplay of commercial and artistic forces.” — Mitzie Collins, ARSC Journal

“[A] fascinating history of country music. . . . Pecknold proves that country music has always been about much more than everyday, working-class Americans simply consuming a product that expresses their beliefs, hopes and fears.” — Kiri Oliver, Feminist Review blog

“[An] intelligent, wide-ranging book. . . . Pecknold has written a rich cultural history whose thoughtful reconsideration of commercialism and class values in country music makes this book an important contribution to interpretations of the political economy of culture in the twentieth century.” — David Suisman, Journal of Southern History

“[The book] will enlighten serious scholars of American popular music and American culture. Highly recommended.” — D. Arnold, Choice

“Academic and scrupulously researched, The Selling Sound: The Rise of the Country Music Industry scholarly examination of country music's business tendencies proves enlightening as both history and pop culture. . . . [T]his even-handed tome deftly explains the phenomenon of country music's history as a commercial commodity.” — Ken Burke, Country Standard Time

“Despite continual interest in what the author describes as the ‘constructed naturalness’ of country music. The Selling Sound reminds us that the evolution of country music, as well as the historical agency of its many fans, has always been embedded in larger forces emblematic of the rise of modem America such as urbanization, technology, the centralizing forces of corporate power, and consumerism. . . . Pecknold's analysis of music and business provides students with a unique opportunity to think critically about the role of class in recent American history.” — Richard Hughes, History Teacher

“Diane Pecknold makes a significant, lively intervention in the fields of American studies, media studies, and country music studies. She offers a smart, historicized account of how complex the dynamics of commercialism and audience reception were in the formative decades of the country music industry. A valuable case study, her book should excite scholars invested in active audience models. It also demonstrates the effectiveness of media studies models which insist on the importance of analyzing the interrelations among production, consumption, text, and sociohistorical context in shaping meaning.” — Leigh H. Edwards, Journal of American Studies

“Diane Pecknold’s The Selling Sound makes an important and lively foray in the field of country music studies. It offers a smart, historicized account of how complex the dynamics of commercialism and audience reception were in the formative decades of the country music industry. Her book is engaging because it gives a vivid account of country music fans who have always had complicated, deeply emotional connections to the genre. . . . Pecknold tells a vibrant and exciting story of the fans and the industry. Such a full account of both consumers and producers fills in the gaps in scholarly narratives of country music history. Her book is an important and welcome addition to the field.” — Leigh H. Edwards, Popmatters

“Diane Pecknold’s informative book charts the rise of the country music industry and the consumer base that accompanied, and in some ways constituted, its success. . . . [A]n important contribution to fan-based studies of popular culture. — Richard Elliott, Popular Music

“In The Selling Sound, Diane Pecknold has written an impressive business history of country music that has important implications for the cultural and social histories of the genre. The book not only fills several gaping holes in the scholarship on country music industry which were once only spottily covered by journal articles, genre histories, and a few works of urban history, but also promises to become the standard account of country music business history. . . . [A] smart, compelling, well-researched book that is bound to energize scholars and serve as a resource for generations to come.” — Peter La Chapelle H-Southern-Music, H-Net Reviews

“Pecknold is quite adept when analyzing both novels and films depicting the music business . . . . It’s a serious academic tome that will be of great interest to the student of the business and cultural context of country music.” — Publishers Weekly

“Pecknold's analysis is exceptionally well researched and enlightening, offering numerous insights into the role of economics in country music's evolution. . . . Pecknold has produced a groundbreaking work.” — Jeffrey J. Lange, Journal of American History

“This book offers an array of keen insights to complement its strikingly original methodology. . . . [Pecknold’s] in-depth research in numerous archives and a bevy of major and minor trade publications has unearthed material of great use to any scholar of American popular music.” — Shane Hamilton, Business History Review

“This is not an economic historian’s study of the rise of the country music industry, but by focusing on industry as a discourse about commercialism, Pecknold makes a unique contribution to country music scholarship that will be an invaluable resource for decades to come.” — Richard A. Peterson, American Historical Review

The Selling Sound is the best book on country music that I have ever read. It is an important, valuable, and pleasurable book, likely to set the standard for years to come. Diane Pecknold brings the past alive, painting a rich picture of the cultures of consumption behind the stars and songs that comprise most historical studies of popular music.” — Aaron A. Fox, author of Real Country: Music and Language in Working-Class Culture

“A thorough and thoughtful historical account of how country music was ‘made to mean’ by fans, producers, and social critics. Diane Pecknold offers a definitive analysis of how the genre’s status and values are intimately connected to commercialism and ‘consumer democracy.’ A remarkable contribution to our understanding of how social class, cultural authority, and mass mediation shape the meanings of popular music.” — Joli Jensen, author of The Nashville Sound: Authenticity, Commercialization, and Country Music

“Any intelligent reader will enjoy The Selling Sound. Tackling an element of country music that few other writers have addressed, Diane Pecknold redefines the relationship between the ‘financial economy’ and ‘cultural economy.’” — David Sanjek, coauthor of Pennies from Heaven: The American Popular Music Business in the Twentieth Century

“I know of no other book in the realm of country music scholarship quite like this one, and I can think of few topics more deserving or neglected. Focusing on country music since it first emerged as a commercial entity in the 1920s, Diane Pecknold argues that commercialism itself has been a means of establishing the music’s legitimacy in the world of American popular entertainment. I applaud Pecknold’s originality and creativity. All country music scholars should embrace this book and its ideas.” — Bill C. Malone, author of Don’t Get above Your Raisin’: Country Music and the Southern Working Class


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Diane Pecknold is a Postdoctoral Teaching Scholar in the Commonwealth Center for Humanities and Society at the University of Louisville. She is a coeditor of A Boy Named Sue: Gender and Country Music.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Commercialism as a Cultural Text 1

1. Commercialism and the Cultural Value of Country Music, 1920-1947 13

2. Country Music Becomes Mass Culture, 1940-1958 53

3. Country Audiences and the Politics of Mass Culture, 1947-1960 95

4. Masses to Classes: The Country Music Association and the Development of Country Format Radio, 1958-1972 133

5. Commercialism and Tradition, 1958-1970 168

6. Silent Majorities: The Country Audience as Commodity, Constituency, and Metaphor, 1961-1975 200

Conclusion: Money Music 236

Notes 245

Selective Bibliography 273

Index 287
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4080-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4059-1
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