An industrial musical is a musical performed internally for the employees or shareholders of a business, to create a feeling of being part of a team, to entertain, and/or to educate and motivate the management and salespeople to improve sales and profit. It can be used to increase staff awareness of public relations, advertising, marketing or corporate image.
Other terms for industrial musicals include the corporate musical or industrial show, but the latter can also refer to trade shows, which are publicity events organized by businesses in a specific industry to promote their products to potential buyers.
Industrial musicals are not restricted to corporations or to businesses involved in industry. They should not be confused with industrial music, or with musicals produced by businesses to be seen by the general public, for example, Disney's stage production of The Lion King.
Industrial musicals originated from company songs, anthems and jingles for promoting enthusiasm among workers. The songs were brought in by the management, as opposed to worker-created work songs. Internal musical groups could be formed to encourage company loyalty, keep employees happy, and to help advertise the company to the public. Early 20th century examples include IBM's internal songbook Songs of the IBM, and the Larkin Soap Company which organized community singing and had a women's drum corps, an orchestra, a ukulele club, and daily recitals on a pipe organ.
At some point, a collection of company songs was extended into a full musical theater format, and the industrial musical was born. Many of these musicals were made in North America during the economic boom that followed World War II, and this practice continued into the 1980s and 1990s.
The earliest known industrial musicals were produced by retail and automotive companies such as Ford, General Motors, and the Marshall Field's chain of department stores. By the end of the 1950s and throughout the 1960s, other types of businesses also began to put on shows. Some musicals were part of annual showcase events for presenting a company's new line of products.
Businesses could spend a lot of money to produce a musical, hiring talented Broadway composers and lyricists. The pay was very good, the task was challenging, and from the theatre's point of view, the production costs were much higher than a regular Broadway musical. Shows could have as many as 30 people in the cast and a 60-piece orchestra. Composer Hank Beebe estimates that the 1957 Chevrolet musical was budgeted at over 3 million dollars (U.S.), because it cost six times the amount it took to bring My Fair Lady to the stage that same year.
The song performances were rarely heard outside of the companies they were written for, but sometimes the employees would be given a souvenir record album. Some productions lasted for a limited number of nights, while others traveled from city to city for regional sales meetings. According to composer John Kander, who conducted several industrial shows early in his career and wrote the music for the 1966 General Electric industrial Go Fly a Kite (the complete score from which was issued on a 2 LP set that was given to GE employees), the cast albums for these industrial shows "were never intended for commercial release. [...] It was sort of a separate world." Yet it is largely through these rare albums that evidence of these shows has survived.
To date, the corporations which commissioned these musicals have never published information about them and there has yet to be an in-depth study of the industrial musical as a genre. Collector Steve Young doubts that a commercially-available anthology of songs would ever get permission to be sold. "Do I really want to approach General Electric's army of lawyers with hat in hand and say, 'Would you mind if we put out your in-house propaganda as a kind of funny little project?' I think they would see red flags all over that."
By the 1980s, industrial musicals were made less and less often. Jonathan Ward, a writer and DJ who collects industrial musical albums, theorizes that the reason for the decline was partially due to rising production costs for stage shows, and the availability of low-cost video and multimedia technology.
Ward thinks another reason for the decline was a change in work attitudes. In the 1950s and 1960s, employees might have expected to spend the majority of their working careers with one company. By the 1980s, employees and the management may have been less inclined to think this way. The feelings of company loyalty and community promoted in the song lyrics would have been met with more cynicism.
Some corporations, however, continued to successfully produce industrial musicals during the 1980s and 1990s and beyond. The Shaklee Corporation created its own in-house production company in 1980. Their team, led by producer Dale T. Hardin, director Craig Schaefer, and composer/lyricist Michael Reno created dozens of Shaklee Shows from concept to performance, and eventually branched out into in-house satellite TV. The Shaklee creative team created their own production company called "Command Performance Productions" that produced shows for other clients such as Charles Schwab and Marriott Lodging until 2000.
Titles of industrial musicals
- The Mighty "O" — Oldsmobile (1953 for the '54 model year)
- 1000 and | One — Oldsmobile (1954 for the '55 model year)
- This is Oldsmobility — Oldsmobile (1957 for the '58 model year)
- Good News about Olds — Oldsmobile (1958 for the '59 model year)
- The Shape of Tomorrow — Westinghouse (1958)
- Who Could Ask for Anything More? — Oldsmobile (1959 for the '60 model year)
- Going Great! — American Motors (1963 for the '64 model year)
- Take It From Here — Xerox (1963 - for release of Xerox 813 copier)
- This is the Year That Is! — Plymouth/Chrysler/Imperial (1964 for the '65 model year)
- AM Route 66 — American Motors (1965 for the '66 model year)
- Diesel Dazzle — General Motors (1966)
- Go Fly A Kite — General Electric (1966)
- The Bathrooms Are Coming — American Standard (1969)
- You Belong in a Dodge - Dodge (1969 for the '70 model year)
- Building a Better Way to See the U.S.A. — Chevrolet (1971 for the '72 model year)
- Got To Investigate Silicones — General Electric (1973) (about Silicones)
- The Chevrolet Experience — Chevrolet (1976 for the '77 model year)
- The Spark of Imagination — The Shaklee Corporation (1994)
Composers and lyricists
- Hank Beebe
- Jerry Bock
- Michael Brown
- Sheldon Harnick
- Bill Heyer
- Max Hodge
- Kander and Ebb
- Sonny Kippe
- Lloyd Norlin
- Skip Redwine
- Michael Reno
- Raymond Scott
- Wilson Stone
- Thomas Tierney
- Charles Title
- John Kander in conversation with Frank J. Oteri, April 7, 2010 NewMusicBox
- Jonathan Ward, "Recruit, Train and Motivate: The History of the Industrial Musical," March 2002 Perfect Sound Forever
- Ebenkamp, Becky (2001). "Corporate America sings: musical shows about company products". Brandweek, April 23
- Fusco, Gary (1994). "The Making of Imagination". Shaklee. Discovery Saturday.
- Buttelman, Michele (November 3, 2006). "A Long Journey from Nowhere to Sister Act". The Santa Clarita Valley Signal.
- Barbaro, Michael (2006). A touch of Broadway near Bentonville. New York Times, June 3. (A musical at the 2006 Wal-Mart shareholder meeting.)
- Doane, Rex, et al. (2001). Corporate anthems. WNYC's April 7, 2001 broadcast of their radio show, On the Media. An interview with collector Steve Young and others.
- Ebenkamp, Becky (2001). Corporate America sings: musical shows about company products. Brandweek, April 23.
- International Business Machines Corporation (2004). IBM archives, Music chronology. Retrieved April 3, 2008.
- Kalish, Jon (2005). Industrial musicals offer odes to tractors, toilets. (Circulated to many newspapers via Reuters and Internet news sites in March 2005.)
- McLaren, Carrie & Prelinger, Rick (1998). Salesnoise: a timeline of music & advertising. Stay Free 15, 14-23.
- Ward, Jonathan (2002). Recruit, train and motivate: the history of the industrial musical. Retrieved April 15, 2005.
- Ward, Jonathan (2004). Top 5 musicals produced by the oil industry. Retrieved July 6, 2009.
- Take it from here — Xerox
- That's Show Biz! — Goodyear, for a plastic wrap for meats.
- Gotta get a car — Oldsmobile
- The Grip Of Leadership; People Power — Musicals for Coca-Cola
- Spirit of '66 — JC Penney
- A Chevrolet sales convention musical, a film in the Prelinger archives.
- Corporate and IT anthems, originally collected by Peter Judge at Zdnet.
- That Agency Thing, CBS Radio Spot Sales (1963), by Bob Thompson and Alan Alch.