2020. Sociological Explanation of the Advent & Evolution of Music Genres in Iran: A Multiple Case Study of Genres, 1997-2019. Master Thesis. Shahid Beheshti University.

    • 2021. Honorable mention for Thesis of the Year, The 19th Thesis of the Year National Festival, Academic Center for Education, Culture and Research (ACECR).

In the history of Iranian music, no era has been at the mercy of the dynamics of new genres as much as in recent years. The present thesis studies the sociological factors underlying the advent and evolution of various genres in the field of music production. The goal is to answer these two questions: 1. Why did certain genres suddenly emerge from 1997 to 2019, and 2. why did some of these genres gain popularity while others were not well-received? To address these questions, I present a theoretical model examining the effect of four types of conditions (institutional, relational, political, and socio-cultural) on music production. This theoretical model is tested on multiple case-study designs in six genres (pop, rap, Talfighi, rock, metal, and jazz). Data was collected from three sources: existing documents, structured interviews, and previous research. The collected data was analyzed by various techniques, such as documentary analysis and network analysis, to discover accurate answers to research questions. While explaining the process of change in music production after 1997, the research results expand the knowledge about the factors associated with the rise and evolution of diverse genres.

Contrary to the prevailing perception among sociologists that macro-level changes predominantly influence fields such as art and music, the first drivers of the 1997 musical developments were micro-level changes. In this sense, the transformation of the market, namely the changing tastes of the people, was a fundamental factor in the post-revolutionary musical transformations. In the post-Iran-Iraq war, society had distanced itself from the extreme values of 1976, and a generational gap had materialized. As a result, the musical taste of the society going through revolution and war had changed. Traditional songs could no longer meet the demands of this society. Thus, public preference for non-traditional music was a significant necessity that morphed into a critical driver of change: a change in music politics.

The state’s cultural and ideological stances were influenced by the general change in the tastes of people. Despite the prevalent belief that the cultural and ideological approach of the post-revolutionary state of Iran has been consistently unchanged, this approach has altered in at least two periods. First, in 1989, the discourse of consolidation and cultural education, which had ruled over the country’s cultural sphere since 1976, was dismantled and replaced by cultural management and tenure discourse. Then, in 1997, cultural monitoring substituted the preceding discourse. As each of these discourses changed, the emergent genres of music in that period and the number of active artists underwent subsequent changes. The adjustment of the state’s policy, not constrained to the discourse level, also extended to its executive branches, i.e., organizations and laws. In this regard, the role of the two organizations, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (commonly called Ershād) and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), and their licensing strategies had a strong bearing on the rise and thriving of genres.

The music industry structure was also affected in the wake of changing organizations and music laws and policies. The industry endured a fundamental change in 1997, transiting from an oligopoly structure to a more competitive one. Before 1997, there were only a handful of music publishing firms, all of which released traditional music, revolutionary anthems, and lamentation songs. In this model, the market, which covered a vast breadth of audiences, was controlled by a few publishers. After 1997, nonetheless, music publishing companies mushroomed across the country, and start-ups their grips on the market. Although this structure eventually resulted in monopolistic competition, it cultivated a more competitive environment, at least between 1997 and 2004 – a sphere that in turn gave rise to a wide range of genres. This structure was also associated with the genres’ evolution.

Despite the restructuring of the music industry, the organizational structure of music companies remained intact. In this sense, the ways in which the in-house operations of music companies were managed remained unaffected. For this reason, music companies increasingly adopted a more conservative form. As a result, the patronage developed a tendency to favor the best-selling genres and artists at the cost of ignoring the innovations. Therefore, due to its consolidation, the organizational structure did not substantially affect the advent of genres. However, it did influence the evolution of the genres, though its impact was more negative than positive. In fact, it was the establishment of the organizational structure, not its transformation, that constrained certain genres and led to the prosperity of others.

The transformed structure of the Iranian music industry and its established organizational structure heralded the rise of new careers. Since 1997, at least three occupational patterns have maintained the trends of Iranian music dynamic: producing, singing, and apprenticeship. Producers offered new actors the opportunity to identify bestsellers through a trial-and-error approach, and singers, especially the rising stars, looked for professional musicians. Although these two contributed to the advent of new genres, they were eclipsed by the role of apprenticeship. From 1976 to 1996, only 22 private music academies were active in Tehran province, while this number tripled in five years, reaching 77 schools in 2001. Since 2001, music academies have always witnessed a steady upturn. In practice, they served as business centers for actors in genres such as pop, jazz, Talfiqi, rock, and metal, allowing them to produce new works in parallel with music activities. This expedited the advent of new genres.

In keeping with the developments of the Iranian music industry, technological changes, specifically the communication revolution by the Internet, changed the face of the world. Between 2000 and 2003, Internet penetration skyrocketed from less than 1 percent to 6 percent and continued to rise at an unprecedented pace in the following years. The spread of the Internet led to the democratization of production, distribution, and consumption of music while facilitating the creation of music. As such, in the absence of the Internet, the multiplicity of genres in the Iranian music scene was inconceivable. The Internet also raised the challenging issue of copyright because although a promising venue for presenting new works, due to the lax execution of the copyright law in Iran, it did a disservice to the music industry. On the other hand, the non-execution of the global versions of this law in Iran prompted music actors to create new creative works smoothly, regardless of its legal consequences.

In addition to these factors, at the micro-level, complex relationships were forged among music actors. The network structure of the various genres and their various structural measures – e.g., average degree, density, diameter, average path length, and clustering coefficient‎ – left a profound effect on the popularity of pop, rap, and Talfiqi, and the isolation of rock, metal, and jazz.

The results of this thesis showcase that musical transformations, especially in developing countries, are rooted in multiple and multilevel sociological causes. From institutional and relational causes to political, social, and cultural factors, each factor is in some way associated with the production of new genres of music. This organizes a complex set of relations, institutions, and causal chains, the outcome of which leaves its mark on transformations.