By Renny Logan
“Tin Pan Alley,” located in New York’s Union Square, served as the small beginning for the music industry. The name derived from the endless clatter of out-of-tune pianos as songwriters worked away at writing the next hit. As populations grew between 1860 and 1900 and communication improved, this small time alley became a big start.
Traveling troupes and vaudeville gave Tin Pan Alley a means to introduce the music being composed to the public. Before today’s bands, songwriters composed music for anyone to play, making money from the sheet music sold. In households, playing piano passed the time and provided entertainment.
Like any other industry, that of music has grown and undergone many changes. Recording which began in 1894, didn’t officially establish itself as an industry until 1914. Soon, however, radio became its rival, competing with its scheduled programming and live broadcasts. As a result, record sales plummeted through the end of the 1920s.
Then in 1917, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) won its first case for royalties. Before this, no regulations forced radio to pay fines for using songs owned by Tin Pan Alley songwriters or the ASCAP. Now, radio had to pay royalties to the owner each time it played a song. While this might have helped Tin Pan Alley and the ASCAP for a short time, the damage had already been done.
Soon, the film-making industry, located on the west coast, moved in. Since its start with silent films, the industry had always used popular music to attract audiences. And now that the music industry was down on profits, the film-making industry began purchasing publishing houses, which then moved to the west coast.
Today, the industry continues to fluctuate. From records to cassettes to CDs to mp3s, the form changes and the style may be new, but music is as loved as ever.
Still, have all these changes been for the better? The music industry, like its best melodies, transitions fluidly. It has kept pace with society and stayed up-to-date. But there’s a nagging nostalgia about the way music used to be. As a 21st century kid, I don’t know first-hand what it was like to be there and to experience the changes. However, even now there’s a detachment from performer to audience that began with the radio. I didn’t have to live through it to know that.
Of course today, you can go to a concert to feel connected… from across 20 rows of seats. There’s no intimacy. Even after radio was big, listeners wanted to feel a certain closeness to the performer. In the 1940s, Frank Sinatra was loved for his smooth, conversational voice. Sure, the quality of his voice was amazing, but listeners truly listened for the way he sang: as if he was speaking privately, individually to each member of the audience, across the airwaves.
Today, we don’t have many Sinatras. Now more than ever, performers are detached in more ways than one. They have become intangible and larger than life with their extravagance. Renny Logan is a writing coach for the HiLite. Contact her at email@example.com.