Forget Home Taping: Evil Robots Are Killing Music!

from the i-for-one-welcome-our-new-innovative-overlords dept

The entertainment industry has a long and storied history of incumbents freaking out about every technological advancement that alters the market. From iPods and digital distribution, to VCRs and home taping, all the way back to player pianos, it seems like they’ve never met a device they didn’t hate and fear. And they’ve yet to be right about any of them: whenever a group claims something is going to destroy the music or movie industry, that thing ends up expanding it instead. In the interval, they churn out scare campaigns and sob stories like “Home Taping Is Killing Music”, or the laughably intense anti-piracy ads that run before feature films, or in the 1930s, depictions of a vicious battle between musicians and evil robots.

Yes, evil robots. Long-time reader Matt Novak points us to a blog post he wrote last month, showing off some vintage ads from a campaign by musicians against recorded music in movie theatres:

That must be a textbook symptom of technophobia. You should only be warning the public about robot tyrants if you are a) dangerously insane or b) John Connor. Of course, as we now know, synchronized sound massively expanded the film industry, which in turn created countless new opportunities for musicians—while at the same time, closely-related technology advancements were turning the recorded music industry into its own powerhouse. Today’s entertainment incumbents have reined it in a little, preferring somewhat-believable lies over utterly fantastic ones, and focusing more on issues of “theft” than a supposed decline in the quality of the experience (they leave the latter up to technicians and weirdos like Prince). And yet there are still striking similarities between their message and the copy that appeared on those 1930s ads:

The time is coming fast when the only living thing around a motion picture house will be the person who sells you your ticket. Everything else will be mechanical. Canned drama, canned music, canned vaudeville. We think the public will tire of mechanical music and will want the real thing. We are not against scientific development of any kind, but it must not come at the expense of art. We are not opposing industrial progress. We are not even opposing mechanical music except where it is used as a profiteering instrument for artistic debasement.

Note the consistent refrain—”we’re not opposed to technology and innovation, except that we totally are”—and the characterization of what they do as the entirety of “art”. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

(By the way, there are several other amusing ads in the original post, and I strongly recommend checking them out.)

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Comments on “Forget Home Taping: Evil Robots Are Killing Music!”

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wild_quinine (profile) says:

Not EVEN the ticket seller, actually...

The time is coming fast when the only living thing around a motion picture house will be the person who sells you your ticket.

Actually most of the theatres where I live have electronic ticket machines. There usually isn’t anyone to be seen until you get to the entry point, where apparently a robot would not be sufficient deterent to stop people sneaking in.

Where are the legal protections for those poor desk guys? Where is DOPA (Desk Operator Protection Act) when you need it?
It should be illegal to run a theatre without staffing at least three posts in reception! (Actually there really is a better case for this, because when one of the ‘robot’ ticket machines invariably goes wrong, you usually need some help from one of those obsolete humans…)

Nick (profile) says:

This isn’t quite so simple as resisting change. Though 1930 seems like a bit late to complain, the transition to sound, within about three years, put thousands of musicians out of work. Nearly every cinema in the world employed musicians, whether a single pianist or a large orchestra. Furthermore, in 1926, fully-silent films started to have recorded scores. It’s just like when factory automation results in massive layoffs.

We’re dealing with this problem again, this time, with live theatre. Every year, penny-pinching producers reduce and eliminate their orchestras, augmenting or replacing them with recordings. You wouldn’t say that the unions resisting this are Luddites, but that the live orchestra is an integral part of theatre. So it used to be with cinema.

The All Powerful Duke says:

I think this is pretty ironic. Musicians did go on to enjoy a healthy relationship w/ cinema and tv. All the movies/tv shows I enjoyed as a child featured a full big band and symphonic instruments (ie. working musicians/composers/arrangers/copiests and so on), until midi instruments came about. Now one single person can create all the “soundtracks” one needs to immerse themselves in the visual medium.
The real issue should be that we have allowed “mechanical” music to invade our lives and dumb down our appreciation of proper musical composition and performance. Long live Bieber!…sigh

Anonymous Coward says:


‘People’ would have a ‘dumbed down appreciation’ of ‘proper’ musical composition regardless of mechanical music.

Or perhaps you think, for example, everyone at the turn of the 19th century was a Beethoven scholar?

I assure you, whenever ‘art’ is ‘dumbed down’ it’s because the majority were ‘dumb’ already. I also assure you that the notion of ‘proper’ art is fucking ludicrous and you should be ashamed of your prescriptivist perspective.

Prisoner 201 says:


And if people like you were in charge, we would be enjoying healthy relationships with cave paintings.

I don’t know about you, but I feel that I can live with Justin Bieber given the abundance of great music that is made today. Sure there is an even greater abundance of music that I do not enjoy.

But hey, it’s 2012. Filtering the internet and other media to your particular interests on the fly should be spinal instinct by now.

There is no “proper” music. There is only what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy.

Being offended by the fact that there is a lot of music that you don’t enjoy is stunningly egocentric. Your taste is one amongst billions, and proportionally important. Focus on what you enjoy and let other people float their boats as they like.

There are so many new genres to choose from, thanks to talented people no longer needing 4+ other people and expensive equipment/contracts in order to share their creations with the world.

Progress. It happens. Deal with it or dinosaur.

Yes I just used dinosaur as a verb.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:


you now have explained why we have performance rights and mechanical rights.

That would be a good point if, and only if:

1) Performance rights covered human beings playing music.
2) Mechanical rights covered all music played by machines.

But that’s obviously not the case when the collection societies can strongarm small businesses into having to pay performance rights for playing the radio, and when the MPAA can shut down Zediva for infringing on their performance rights.

Try again.

PaulT (profile) says:


“Though 1930 seems like a bit late to complain, the transition to sound, within about three years, put thousands of musicians out of work. Nearly every cinema in the world employed musicians, whether a single pianist or a large orchestra.”

Once upon a time, buggy whips, horse trainers, blacksmiths and cart manufacturers were employers by the transport industry. Now, they’re not. Is this a problem?

“Every year, penny-pinching producers reduce and eliminate their orchestras, augmenting or replacing them with recordings.”

….and? Seriously, so what? If the experience of a live orchestra is so important to an audience, they will refuse to pay for recorded performances and demand the live musicians. If the audience don’t care, why should the producers pay extra to keep musicians happy?

Nick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Except paying for recorded performances is called “going to the movies,” “watching TV,” “listening to a CD,” etc. People go to live performances because they are live. I dunno about you, but I never hear anything but complaints when today’s flavor of the month lip-syncs. And I’ve never heard, “they’re performing to recorded music? Awesome, let’s go!”

Nick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Also, the sound transition wasn’t some gradual event. It was complete within three years! I don’t know how long it took for cars to become dominant, but certainly longer than sound film. TV took over 20 years to supplant radio. The transition from 35mm to video has taken about 15 (and is still ongoing), and only this year Kodak entered bankruptcy and Panavision stopped making film cameras. Silent to sound was a radical upheaval in cinema, and it continues to astonish me just how fast and complete it was.

PaulT (profile) says:

“We think the public will tire of mechanical music and will want the real thing. “

Indeed, which is why people still choose to pay for live music on top of the recorded experience they can enjoy at home. This reminds me of the usual shills that infect this site, they’re incapable of understanding that things can co-exist. It has to be everything pirated or nothing, everything either free or paid, everything recorded or live. Thankfully, reality disagrees and most people can get what they want either way, expect when the **AAs try gaming the system with artificial restrictions, of course…

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Disco Duck

In many ways this reminds me of the widespread reaction against Disco in the 70s as in Disco Sucks!!!!

(I was one of those!)

People, mostly straight males, justified this reaction by saying it wasn’t live and would be the death of live music. Of course it wasn’t. And we all knew that. But there was a lot of truth to that in that disco was infected by a larger than usual amount of pure crap because all you really needed was the dance beat. Not that the rock music of the period was infected with a ton of pure crap too.

Live music is still here, dance music is still here and so are alleged singers who lip synch their songs “live”.

The more things change the more they stay the same. 😉

sevenof9fl (profile) says:


One of the major joys of going to the theatre in fact was hearing a live orchestra and I started to notice about 20 years ago that recorded sound was being used more and more. I understood that what I was seeing was a touring company of the plays, but I lived in one of the largest metro areas of the country (Miami-Fort Lauderdale) and certainly we had sufficiently talented musicians to perform the pieces. As time went on I realized it was simply a matter of money and that I probably wasn’t going to be hearing any live orchestras in the future unless I went to New York to see a play. And for this reason, I stopped going to the theatre. Call me a Luddite if you will, but 1/2 the reason I went at all was disappearing.

Chargone (profile) says:


or, you know, plutocracy, of which any such thing would be a subset… and which is already a word. and the general state of affairs. (the aristocracy was not replaced by democracy, in most of the world, but by plutocracy. it just likes to look democratic when doing so doesn’t work against it’s purposes. less likely to end in uprisings and beheadings that way.)

Chargone (profile) says:

Not EVEN the ticket seller, actually...

here abouts, depending on the time of day, there may or may not be an usher or two about, may or may not (but Usually is) someone between the ticket counter and the theaters themselves checking your ticket, someone manning the candy bar, and some people selling tickets.

… it is not at all uncommon for this to be reduced to two people (one checking tickets, one selling them and the food and drink) during slow times of day. (… and just to confuse everyone, when there’s only one person manning the counter, they use the Candy bar’s cash register, not the ticket counter’s one. the two are connected and the relevant equipment is in place, but the signage makes it confusing.)

incidentally ‘candy bar’ is a terrible pun and brand name thingy. other theaters call it other things (and many just make mention that stuff is for sale in the lobby or something to that effect.)

so, yeah, no automated ticket machines yet, but close 🙂



One job the movie guys don’t seem to care about is that of projectionist. They have been pretty much eliminated today and the automatic projectors don’t work all that well. But they work for free. Hollywood has always hated unions so when the projectionists got the axe there was no sadness.

When I worked as a stagehand I covered the Xmas show with the Rockettes touring company. Yes, all the songs, music, even the jokes and announcments were on a CD. Only the dancers were live. They even had a shill in the balcony to whistle and cheer if the audience was a bit dead. Face it. It’s illusion. It’s theater. It’s a con. These folks aren’t there to create jobs.

Дмитрий (user link) says:


цифровые технологии забыли что они созданы человеком и есть ограничения языков много паскаль бейсик фортран и т.д. что-то около 101..и разробатываются ,но вообще-то есть еще язык нейронов коры головного мозга и общение с машиной интерфейс имеет значение стандартизация по физиологическим требованиям выполнена еще не всеми.

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