The History of Music Media Vol. 1March 18, 2010
We here at Fancy Pants are proud to announce yet another series, to follow in the footsteps of so many other series that were introduced briefly and even more quickly abandoned, like so many wordy babies on the doorstep of WordPress.com. Behold, the History of Music Media, and its attendant Vol. 1, which, if nothing else, indicates that our optimism will nearly always exceed our reach.
The History of Music Media Vol. 1 – The Formative Years
Ever since the early cavemen looked for ways to “punch up” their stories of the Coelacanth that “got away,” man (and very occasionally, woman) has expressed himself through music.
As these tales evolved (along with the tale-tellers), the grunting became more rhythmic. “Hype men” were added, along with backup “grunters” and 60-piece orchestras.
Progress was minimal during the next several thousand/million years.* It was not until a young composer named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart burst on to the scene that music was finally invented.
*Depending on your religious beliefs/last grade attended.
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, only 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 dost become an effortless way to perform these musicks at home, I am truly fuckt.”
Due to his endless campaigning, sheet music was horded by royalty and traded with only other royals, so as to protect their patronized income stream. However, as prices of paper, ink and quills continued to drop, an underground group of transcriptionists began distributing “copied” sheet music.
This was met with a legislative effort to build royalty fees into the prices of these items. This, of course, had little effect. 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 for a case of “pirate’s elbow.”
Fun fact II: His rivalry with Salieri (whose work was universally hailed as “competent” and “adequate”) was the precursor to many musical rivalries, including: Beatles vs. Rolling Stones, Blur vs. Oasis, Jack White vs. Jason Von Bondie and Pickle vs. Nickelback.
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 moveable press technology allow sheets of music to be reproduced faster than ever and trims the error rate to a Six-Sigma Blackbelt level of 3 notes per 100.
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 after crippling fees are levied against them.
Among the early cash cows for ASCAP are Camptown Races (Stephen Freakin’ Foster) and Chopsticks (Some Annoying Bastard).
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 in dot-matrix printers, although audiophiles will point out that the “technology” removed the “soul” of the music and made it unbearably screechy. A quick note: whenever an audiophile refers to “soul” or “fidelity” or “warmth,” they are actually referring to a vacuum tube.)
Bawdy house proprietors and saloon owners benefitted from this invention the most, firing their drunken, incompetent piano players and replacing them with slightly less drunken and dimwitted paper-loaders. This new position was often filled by the nearest unattended child.
The tireless, dulcet 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’.”
Coming up next:
Volume 2: The Analog Age