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While researching folk music for the Dead Rat Orchestra's The Cut tour across canals of England, Daniel Merrill discovered that corporate songs were written to celebrate the feat of construction. Corporate Songs was an evening discussion that followed on from this initial research describing how corporate songs have evolved and developed since the early days of the canals.

City insurance worker sing IBM Auld Lang Syne outside The Lamb pub, December 2014

IBM Corporate Songbook, Auld Lang Syne, 1937 [1]

Presentation and Discussion

Daniel first presented songs that accompanied the opening of the canals, and later the railways and mused whether modern day corporate songs will become tomorrow's folk music.

What became striking was the way the songs appeared to have changed focus from organisations promoting themselves, as part of a community, to ones that became internalised. Early corporate songs focused on how the company’s success would benefit the wider community, bring prosperity or better conditions. Although working conditions were often more difficult for employees than modern day organisations, there did appear to be a concern how the company was perceived by the broader community.

Daniel distributed some pages, above, of the 1937 IBM corporate songbook, 54 pages of songs reappropriated to sing praises of IBM, one of the earliest computer technology companies. The more internal focus approach of the IBM songbook appears to coincide with the rise of personnel management and the formulising of organisational structures. Around this period the implementation of Fordist approaches and Taylorism were beginning to become widely adopted. These structures, that led the way for modern day multinationals, were being considered in academic, business and political circles, which may offer an indication to why there appeared to be a sudden upsurge in corporate song books.

Corporate songs continue to be written and sung right up to the modern day. In an era of supposed individualism and choice it can appear somewhat baffling for those not working in a corporation at the reasoning behind continuing to create such songs. Ernst & Young, an internationally recognised business consultancy, rewrote Oh Happy Day! (below) to be sung by a large number of new recruits. This orignal song was written in London during the 1700s to celebrate the Church and Christ. It has been reappropriated many times, for various purposes. In most recent times it is most strongly associated with black gospel music and memory of the slave trade. It appears somewhat odd to the outsider to wonder why such a song would be used as a bases for a corporate song. The video could be perceived as cultish or attempting to create a church. Is the video in someway intimating at replacement of religion or that by working at this particular organisation a new way of living will materialise for the employees or client? There was some confusion during Daniel’s talk at who the E&Y song is actually aimed; is it for internal consumption or external? During the research of the talk, it was discovered there are numerous modern corporate songs, although not all wish to be made public. There are threats of writs littering the internet against those wishing to show the KPMG corporate song video, reasons for this remains a mystery.

Ernst & Young, Corporate Song, Oh Happy Day!, 2006

The Corporate Song evening opened up a number of conversations regarding how and why they are produced. There was particular interest in the reasons corporate songs moved from being outward facing and community focused to more introspect. The Waste.Agency intervention plans to continue to develop this project to further understand the thinking that goes into making corporate songs and what can be achieved by creating them. As a line of enquiry, corporate songs could shed an interesting light on how large organisations consider teambuilding and look to create a corporate message.


[1] ars Technica, Tripping through IBM’s astonishingly insane 1937 corporate songbook

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