The Many Killers Of The Music Industry: The Analog Era
from the all-industry-killer,-no-filler dept
Ever since the early cavemen looked for ways to “punch up” their stories of the Coelacanth that “got away,” man (and occasionally, woman) has expressed himself through music.
Progress was minimal during the next several thousand to several million years (depending on religious beliefs). It wasn't until a young composer named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart burst on to the scene that music was finally invented.
No sooner had Mozart invented music than he began to reinvent it through inappropriate hairstyles, setting his harpsichord on fire during live performances and marrying various 13-year-old cousins. His wild behavior and manic giggling led to him being credited with “singlehandedly destroying the music industry,” thus undoing all of the groundwork laid by him just earlier that afternoon.
After destroying the music industry, Mozart began to rebuild it, this time with him safely on the inside. After another manic, flaming performance, Mozart gazed into his piles of money and made an eerily prescient remark — “If ever there doth become an effortless way to perform these musicks at home, I am truly fuckt.”
Mozart relentlessly campaigned for protection of his musical ideas, which led to sheet music being horded by royalty, in order to protect their patronized income stream. However, as the price of paper, ink and quills continued to drop, an underground group of transcriptionists began distributing “copied” sheet music. A legislative effort to build so-called "royalty" fees into the price of these items had little effect on early "pirates" and Mozart was often seen hawking waistcoats embroidered with the inscription, “Verily, home transcribing is killing the musick industry.”
Fun fact: Emperor Joseph II was an avid home transcriptionist. His famous remark that Mozart’s music had “too many notes” was not a critique of the piece but rather a complaint about the pending transcription, as he was suffering from a case of “pirate’s elbow.”
Flash forward 50 years: innovations in mass production make musical instruments more affordable than ever. Soon every saloon, bawdy house and tenement has a minimum of one piano. And it’s not just piano companies that see a boost. Manufacturers of harpsichords, claviers, pipe organs and fiddles see exponential growth.
Advances in movable press technology allow sheets of music to be reproduced faster than ever. Early ASCAP pioneers bemoan these developments and attempt to collect performance royalties from bar owners and burlesque house pimps. Even homeowners are subjected to handwritten missives declaring them responsible for “rights and royalties for performance of popular musicks.” The singing telegram industry folds thanks to the crippling fees levied against them.
The Player Piano
As the 19th century wound itself down, another breakthrough in musical entertainment surfaced in the form of the Player Piano (or Auto Pianist), a piano that amazingly “played” itself using perforated paper. (This form of “musick” would later resurface rather noisily in dot-matrix printers.)
Bawdy house proprietors and saloon owners benefited greatly from this invention, firing their drunken, incompetent piano players and replacing them with slightly less drunken and dimwitted paper-loaders (usually an unattended child). The tireless tones of the Mechano-Piano were the soundtrack of the “Gay ’90s” and the less-unfortunately named “Nondescript Aughts.” As usual, this new invention, with its user-friendliness and low-cost, was saddled with the burden of “destroying the musick industry, starting with the extraneous ‘k’.”
The invention of the phonograph by multiple people (and its resulting patent suits) proved to be the “death blow” for the music industry, with its ability to reproduce the sound of a miniature, tinny band playing in your anteroom. No longer could people be expected to leave the house to simply hear music and the resulting struggle for market share saw tours bloom into full-blown juggernauts of light, sound and outdoor toilets.
The record brought music to the masses in a handy 12″ or smaller package, which most men found non-threatening and women found non-overwhelming. These flat discs could hold more than 20 minutes of music per “side” and were played via a “stylus” or “needle” when not being used to sort seeds and stems.
Due to its multiple formats and speeds, the record had something for everyone, from Jethro Tull 4-disc opuses to Flexi-discs from local punk bands whom no one other than the band members ever cared about. The record seemed to be the zenith of home audio. However, a change was coming, much like the prophet Bob Dylan warned, and the musical media landscape would never be the same.
Fun fact: Audiophiles still cite the medium’s “warmth” and “crackliness” as preferable to those formats that don’t make your music sound like it’s being performed in a fireplace.
During the mid-’60s, the music industry added another “horse” (and possible "industry killer") to the race: a three-legged Clydesdale called the 8-Track. Its peculiar formatting and general hideousness did nothing to endear it to the general population and its reputation was further harmed by its performance in auto-reverse decks, where changing from Side A to Side B resulted in a violent action that registered in the low 5′s on the Richter Scale and frequently left small children and pets dazed and bleeding.
Perhaps sensing that this format would never achieve the success of vinyl or sheet musick, the music labels altered their distribution scheme and began shipping 8-tracks directly to swap meet vendors and pawn shop owners.
Highly touted by everyone (but audiophiles) as more “portable” than records, if slightly less useful, the cassette soon proved to be the “medium of the people.” Blank cassettes, in particular, had universal appeal as even novices could record their bulky records or capture “streaming audio” via the radio. They could then give these “tapes” to anybody, including friends, family and that chick they were trying to score with.
Widely hailed as the “death of the music industry,” cassettes soon became a ubiquitous feature of shoulder-mounted boomboxes, which were replaced with slightly less spine-maiming Walkmans. The Walkman also added a headphone jack, thus allowing the user to keep their shitty music to themselves while blocking out your stream of obscenities as they repeatedly roller-skated over your foot.
Despite cassettes and home taping having been fingered for “killing the music industry,” (usually in the form of t-shirts, bumper stickers and PSAs), the music industry enjoyed the monetary reward of having three “horses” in the race, not to mention the royalty fee levied on blank cassettes (aka, The Hissing Killer).
Stay tuned (ha! that's probably some sort of radio joke!) for the thrilling conclusion of this breathtaking series, overdramatically titled "Part 2".