Chapter 3: Sound Recording and Popular Music

Posted: February 6, 2011 in Chapter 3: Sound Recording

Case study: Radiohead and free music

  • Many people worried about file swappers who illegally download songs and thereby decrease recorded music sales
  • In 2007 Radiohead sold “In Rainbows” for whatever price fans wished to pay, including nothing at all
  • Radiohead was able to do this because they didn’t have a contract with a record company anymore
  • Radiohead didn’t disclose how many downloads they got, but a source claims 1.2 million copies were downloaded in the first two days.
  • Thom Yorke of the band told a newspaper that 50% of the downloaders took it for free.
  • A study estimated that Radiohead made an average of $2.26 on each download, more than the traditional royalties they might have earned.
  • After three months online, Radiohead released the album as a CD. It became the No. 1 album in the US and the UK.
  • Listen: Radiohead from the album “In Rainbows”
  • Discussion: What music have you bought recently and in what format did you buy it? How much did it cost?  What was the first album you ever bought, and how much did that cost?

Development of sound recording

  • in 1850s French printer Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville conducted first experiments with sound recording. He used hog hair bristle as a needle, and tied one end to a thin membrane stretched over the narrow part of a funnel. When he spoke into the funnel, the membrane vibrated and the free end of the bristle made grooves on a revolving cylinder.
  • VIDEO: Listen to Martinville’s earliest recording.
  • in 1877 Thomas Edison had success playing back sound. He recorded his own voice by using a needle to press his voice’s sound waves onto tinfoil wrapped around a metal cylinder about the size of a cardboard toilet-paper roll.
  • VIDEO: Example of Edison’s invention
  • by early 1900s, record-playing phonographs are widely available for home use.

Phonographs to CDs

  • Magnetic audiotape made possible sound recording and multiple-track mixing
  • now instrumentals and vocals could be recorded at one location and later mixed onto a master recording in another studio
  • in 1970s electrical engineer Thomas Stockham made the first digital audio recordings on standard computer equipment
  • digital recording translates sound waves into binary on-off pulses that stores that information as numerical code.
  • When digital recording is played back, a microprocessor translates numerical codes back into sounds and sends them to loudspeakers.
  • 1983: CDs enter the market.
  • by 1987 CD sales were double the among of LP record album sales
  • by 2000 CDs rendered records and audiocassettes nearly obsolete

MP3s and other Recordings

  • MP3 format developed in 1992 enables digital recordings to be compressed into smaller, more manageable files.
  • by 1999 Napster has a free file-sharing service that brings the MP3 format to popular attention, music files were widely available on the Internet
  • Music fans enjoyed the convenience of downloading and burning MP3 files to CD
  • Some listeners skipped CDs altogether, storing their music on hard drives.
  • in 2001 the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the music industry and against Napster, declaring free music file-swapping illegal and in violation of music copyrights held by recording labels and artists.
  • However, decentralized illegal file-sharing still happened, and illegal file-sharing still outpaced legal downloading in 2008 at a ratio of 20 to 1.
  • music industry realized that it would have to somehow adapt its business to the MP3 format and embraced services like iTunes, launched by Apple in 2003.
  • Discussion: Do you download music, and what services do you use? Have you obtained music for free? Is that stealing?

US Popular Music and the Formation of Rock

  • popular/pop music that appeals either to a wide cross section of the public or to sizable subdivisons within the larger public based on age, region, or ethnic background.
  • pop music today encompasses styles as diverse as blues, country, Tejano, salsa, jazz, rock, reggae, punk, hip-hop, and dance.
  • Pop also distinguishes popular music from classical music
  • Discussion: What music is most popular today?



Rise of Pop Music

  • Listen: Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag
  • In the late 19th century, the sale of sheet music for piano and other instruments sprang from a section of Broadway in Manhattan known as Tin Pan Alley, a term that is used to describe the way quickly produced tunes supposedly sounded like cheap pans clanging together.
  • in late 1880s we have John Philip Sousa marches and ragtime piano pieces of Scott Joplin
  • At the turn of the 20th century, now song publishers had the ability to mass-produce sheet music for a growing middle class, and popular songs turned into a major business empire
  • VIDEO: Sing, Sing, Sing
  • jazz develops in New Orleans
  • improvisational and mostly instrumental musical form, and encapsulated African rhythms, blues, and gospel
  • first pop vocalists of the 20th century start in the 1920s and 1930s. Bing Crosby was one of the first “crooners” or the singer of a pop standard.
  • VIDEO: Bing Crosby with David Bowie
  • Frank Sinatra arrived in the 1940s and sang romantic ballads.
  • VIDEO: Frank Sinatra sings “That’s Life”


Rock and Roll

  • Listen: Robert Johnson
  • started in mid-1950s
  • both it and jazz were slang for sex, which made it controversial
  • early rock and roll combined pop with rhythm-and-blues sound of Memphis and the country twang of Nashville
  • rock and roll simultaneously transformed the structure of two mass media industries — sound recording and radio
  • Listen: Annie had a Baby

Blues and R & B

  • migration of southern blacks to northern cities in search of better jobs during the first half of the 20th century
  • blues music, the foundation of rock and roll, came to the North
  • in 1930s electric guitar is introduced and helped musicians sound more urban
  • VIDEO: BB King
  • Trade magazines tracked R&B sales on “race” charts which were kept separate from white record sales tracked on “pop” charts


Racial integration

  • most significant factor in the growth of rock and roll was the beginning of the integration of white and black cultures
  • in the 1950s several key historical events break down borders between black and white cultures
  • in early 1950s, Truman signs an executive order integrating the armed forces
  • 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, where laws that kept separate schools, drinking fountains, restaurants, restrooms were unconstitutional.

Blending Cultures

  • in 1950s the race and pop charts start to blur
  • white performers like Johnnie Ray and Bill Haley had crossed over to the race charts to score R&B hits
  • VIDEO: Johnnie Ray
  • black performers like Chuck Berry were performing country songs, and for a time Ray Charles even played with an all-white country band
  • VIDEO: Chuck Berry

Loss of Musicians 

  • VIDEO: The Day the Music Died
  • Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper, along with other musicians, were on a two-week tour in February 1959.
  • For transportation, the musicians used a drafty bus that kept breaking down, and with dates in Wisconsin and Iowa, breaking down caused one backup musician to get frostbitten feet and had to stay behind in a hospital
  • On the trip between Green Bay, Wisconsin and Clear Lake, Iowa, the bus broke down again and the tour finally got into town only two hours before the concert. Buddy Holly, determined to fly to the next gig so there would be more time to relax, talked to a local charter outfit where a young pilot agreed to take him and his band to the next tour stop in Fargo, North Dakota. The other tour members heard about the chartered plane, and two of the backup musicians in Holly’s band agreed to give up their seats to the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.
  • That night at the airport, the air traffic controllers somehow forgot to tell the pilot that certain parts of the journey had visibility advisories.
  • The pilot had flunked his instrument certification a year earlier. After takeoff, the pilot lost his bearings and crashed the plane into a cornfield. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper, and the pilot all died on impact.
  • Don McLean’s “American Pie,” which chronicles the tragedy, became one of the most popular songs in the country in 1972.

Motor City Music: Detroit Gives America Soul

  • Video: Aint Nothing Like the Real Thing
  • Motown (short for “motor town”) was headquartered in the auto-making center of Detroit
  • Motown so successful that Detroit was known as Hitsville, USA
  • Marvin Gaye appeared on the Motown scene in 1962. Tall, skinny singer with a silky voice that he honed by singing in church. Had sex appeal onstage and caused women to swoon at his concerts. Ended up marrying a woman who was almost 17 years older than he was. Also found a singer partner in Tammi Terrell, who he recorded “Aint Nothing Like the Real Thing” with. In 1967, Gaye and Terrell were performing a duet at a college in Virginia when Terrell collapsed; she was soon diagnosed with a brain tumor. She died in 1970; Gaye withdrew from live performances for nearly four years, became involved in cocaine, had a series of personal misfortunes. In 1984 he was fatally shot by his father, a retired Pentecostal minister, over an argument. He had just had his first hit of the 1980s with “Sexual Healing.”
  • VIDEO: Sexual Healing

Alternative Sounds of Punk and Grunge

  • The Velvet Underground — made up of performers and musicians including Lou Reed and John Cale (group’s leaders), Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker. Reed had a background in pop, poetry, and journalism, and Cale had a background in avant-garde music. Reed’s lyrics, mostly about heroin, sadomasochism, homosexuality, and violence, were inspired by his experiences on the New York streets and had a beat-reporter quality to them that seemed real.
  • VIDEO: Velvet Underground
  • The Sex Pistols — five songs into the Sex Pistols’ first public performance at St. Martin’s College of Art in London in 1975, the school’s social secretary went backstage and cut off the band’s electrical supply. The Sex Pistols had already made their impact, however. Their act consisted of anger, energy, humor, nihilism, and rhythm; and even though it shook up the social order in Britain, it energized a whole new trend in music. The Sex Pistols were actually very much a manufactured band; British entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren almost single-handedly masterminded the punkrock music genre, rightly thinking that a new musical innovation would be profitable. He began with John Lydon, a janitor with no musical experience but charisma. Lydon became “Johnny Rotten,” and the lead singer of the band.
  • VIDEO: Sex Pistols
  • Discussion: What alternative or shocking messages do we hear today on the radio or from more independent bands? What does that say about today’s culture?


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