John Rumble, a historian with the Country Music Hall of Fame, spoke with our class on January 15 about the history of American popular music from the late nineteenth century until 1960. Using the production of culture view of the media and popular arts, he explained the growth and evolution of the music industry over the 80+ years in which it was formed and cultivated as a dominant part of American culture and commerce.
Dr. Rumble described the key players who made the past 100 years the "century of American music." From the song-pluggers of Tin Pan Alley to the vaudevillian performers of the early part of the 20th century to the radio programmers, the American music industry has been in the hands of different gatekeepers. These gatekeepers played major roles in deciding what music the public would hear. The gatekeepers have long stood as sentinels of the hitmaking system, which consists of three major components: publishing, recording, and broadcasting.
(While broadcasting as we know it today consists of television, the radio, and other forms of media, it also could be seen as the performance aspect of the industry that fed it so well during the days of vaudeville, when the performers were introducing the music to the masses.) Focusing on the gatekeepers is important, as they were the ones who fed music to the public. And, from the beginning of music publishing up until today, this process has long been an interesting one, filled with corruption and under the table dealings. In 1855, the dozen music publishers in the US formed the Board of Music Trade. This was a fancy name for an organization that's main goal was price fixing through delegating publishing 'rights' in order to reduce competition amongst each other and keep prices and profits high.