Radio Is Killing Music

from the by-special-permission-of-the-copyright-owner dept

Someone going by the name of "quickbrownfox" sent over a link to a delightful rendition of the song "By Special Permission of the Copyright Owner," by Smith Ballew, which you can listen to below:
I'd never heard the song, but the specificity of the phrase, and the fact that it has absolutely nothing to do with copyright -- other than mentioning that phrase -- immediately sent me searching for more info on the phrase and the song. It turns out that it's from the Broadway show, "The Gang's All Here," which was apparently a total flop (23 performances). According to the notes on another rendition of the song the show tanked in part because the star of the show would come out and warn the audience that the script was horrible, and the show should have been a revue, rather than a "book show." That version of the song has a few more lyrics at the beginning, which provide another clue to the oddity of the lyrics. It starts out saying:
Every time a radio is playing
they're saying...
"and next... you will hear us play
something with the publisher's okay."
Listening to this great announcer trilling
this thrilling...
new text!
Told me what to do
Try this very notion out on you...
And from there it breaks into the same lyrics in the first version above. So we're a step closer to understanding the details of the phrase. And then... I found this fantastic Time Magazine article from August of 1932 that explains how the music industry was dying because of radio, and that our friends at ASCAP required radio stations to not just get permission to play any song on radio, but also to make the statement that was the title of that song, with "no facetious trifling":
The American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers is Tin Pan Alley's clearing house. Its 800 composer & publisher-members own the copyrights to nearly all the music composed in the U. S. since 1914. It is affiliated with similar societies abroad. To many radio listeners and broadcasters the phrase "by special permission of the copyright owners" has been irksome. A. S. C. A. & P. used to insist upon it, permitting no facetious trifling with the announcement. Lately, however, it lifted this requirement. Most of its songs may be performed without special permission, but a number are restricted, for example musical comedy songs which the producers do not wish to be too soon familiarized.
That's ASCAP. Pissing people off for nearly a century. But what was a lot more entertaining about the article was the paragraph above this, in which it seemed to suggest that radio was absolutely killing music. Stop me if you've heard this before, but the refrain may be familiar:
Tin Pan Alley is sadly aware that Radio has virtually plugged up its oldtime outlets, sheet music and gramophone discs. The average music publisher used to get $175,000 a year from disc sales. He now gets about 10% of this. No longer does a song hit sell a million copies. The copious stream of music poured out by Radio puts a song quickly to death. The average song's life has dwindled from 18 months to 90 days; composers are forced to turn out a dozen songs a year instead of the oldtime two or three.
Has there ever been a time, ever, in which the music industry's established players weren't complaining about the industry dying?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Hephaestus (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 8:09am

    With reference to political alarmism, 'when we are alarmed with imaginary dangers in respect of the public, till the cry grows quite stale and threadbare, how can it be expected we should know when to guard ourselves against real ones?'

    Samuel Croxall

     

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    Prisoner 201, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 9:05am

    ...composers are forced to turn out a dozen songs a year instead of the oldtime two or three.

    Spoiled much?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 9:07am

    Radio is Killing Music

    And the Internet is killing Radio, saving Music! YAY

     

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    Lord Binky, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 9:08am

    It happens...

    "Has there ever been a time, ever, in which the music industry's established players weren't complaining about the industry dying?"

    Yes. It happens quite often, although it is promptly followed by complaining about dying themselves.

     

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    Beech, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 9:14am

    ...composers are forced to turn out a dozen songs a year instead of the oldtime two or three.

    Wait, you mean the state of the industry and copyright at the time was making musicians turn out more music? It almost sounds like they were being "encouraged" to make more "useful arts!"

     

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    cc (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 9:19am

    Larry Lessig told this story in his 2007 TED speech, didn't he? How the ASCAP cartel were being asses to the point that the radio stations were forced to circumvent them -- by starting BMI and recording public domain music that they played instead of ASCAP's stuff, thus pushing ASCAP out of the picture.

     

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    Tom The Toe, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 9:31am

    The T-shirt

    "ASCAP, Pissing people off for nearly a century" I know there's a t-shirt in this.

     

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    fogbugzd (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 9:37am

    None of these stories about how "AAAA is killing BBBB" ever explains one simple thing. Why should the businesses, employees, and artisans of the BBBB industry be entitled to guaranteed jobs and income? The stories always mourn hardships of the wholesome, righteous people of the BBBB business, but they never celebrate the creativity and new opportunities of the AAAA industry. Change is always hard on someone, but in a true free market progress is driven by new industries and technologies replacing old ones.

    Should we all still be burning whale oil for lighting and listening to our music on gramophones?

     

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      Chosen Reject (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 9:49am

      Re:

      Should we all still be burning whale oil for lighting and listening to our music on gramophones?
      Are you crazy? Whale oil? Are you trying to kill the dairy industry?

      And gramaphones? My word. If you really wanted to support an artist, you'd hire them as your court musician! Gramaphones! Hmph!

       

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      wvhillbilly (profile), Nov 5th, 2011 @ 2:15pm

      Re:

      An analogy--RIAA is like a factory trying to squeeze more output from their rickety old steam engine by tying down the pressure relief valve and stoking up the fire some more. Sooner or later that overfired, overpressured steam engine is going to blow to kingdom come and their business with it.

      If they'd replace that rickety steam engine with electric motors they'd find things would run a lot more smoothly, but they're too stingy to put out the money to change.

      So it is with the record industry.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 10:02am

    "composers are forced to turn out a dozen songs a year instead of the oldtime two or three. "

    better get out the whoopin stick and *force* those composers to write more music.

     

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    John Doe, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 10:13am

    I feel bad for people in the music business

    The average song's life has dwindled from 18 months to 90 days; composers are forced to turn out a dozen songs a year instead of the oldtime two or three.

    Those poor song writers have to turn out a song per month. Oh the horror. How can any one person be expected to work that much? To sit down for a day per month and write a song?

    As for the performers, they have even a worse job. They have to tour this great country of ours in a luxury bus, perform for a couple hours 1 or 2 nights per week. And for what? Millions of dollars per year? Hardly worth it in my book.

     

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    OPR8R, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 10:36am

    Re: Forcing artists/composers to make more music

    You can't force an artist to art. It comes to them the way it does. This is why you spend $20 on a CD and only 3 of the songs are any good.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 10:41am

    Where... where are the trolls? Look at all the comments, but not a single troll yet.

    What is going on here? I'm going to crawl under my desk and hide for a bit just in case this really is the end.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 10:50am

    Personally I would be greatful if some of the popular "musicians" were only producing 2 or 3 works per year. If I never hear another Lady Gaga song it will be too soon.

     

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    Chris Hoeschen (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 11:10am

    The music industry must be dying of a really slow death.

     

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    TheRockinDonkey, Oct 7th, 2011 @ 8:00pm

    No longer does a song hit sell a million copies. The copious stream of music poured out by Radio puts a song quickly to death. The average song's life has dwindled from 18 months to 90 days; composers are forced to turn out a dozen songs a year instead of the oldtime two or three.

    The problem isn't just radio. It's the whole shebang. Artists that create disposable pieces are what's promoted by the industry at large (that includes MTV, radio, iTunes, etc). When you create something disposable, you're not going to turn a huge profit off that.

     

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    Jon (profile), Oct 8th, 2011 @ 3:12am

    X Factor Generation?

    Look at X Factor (and its peers). Designed specifically to find some "talent" then promote then with the specific purpose of selling as many records (or whatever they are called these days) before people get bored and move on to the next trend.

    Also, businesses like this do not like change. People will always listen to music, if the businesses are not moving with the times then it is the death of music, but only for them.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 8th, 2011 @ 6:58pm

    Let's sing it!

    I heard you on the wireless back in...aw, forget it. Too easy.

     

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    wvhillbilly (profile), Nov 5th, 2011 @ 2:01pm

    This sounds rather a bit like the music I used to listen to on 78 RPM records when I was growing up. A lot nicer than the hideous noises that pass for music nowadays. They can keep their copyrights on their so-called music and the music too, I don't need or want any part of it.

     

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    anonymous, Nov 27th, 2013 @ 1:53am

    If anything else had been suffering on the verge of death as long the music industry, it would have been mercy-killed long ago.

     

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