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The impact of new technologies in the evolution of the music industry

The impact of new technologies in the evolution of the music industry

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Published by jgavignet
This thesis investigates the challenges for the recording industry in view of the changes that happened in the last two decades. It takes a look at the role that new technologies played in the evolution of promotion, distribution and piracy.
This thesis investigates the challenges for the recording industry in view of the changes that happened in the last two decades. It takes a look at the role that new technologies played in the evolution of promotion, distribution and piracy.

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Published by: jgavignet on May 12, 2010
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03/17/2014

The next turning point in the history of the record industry is the 1950s and the arrival
of Rock and Roll. Because the market grew bigger with the social changes of the 50s
(teens had more money and became a real market, they defined themselves both socially

2 Charlton, Katherine. Rock Music Styles, a history. Fifth Edition. New York: McGraw Hill Companies Inc., 2008. Ch. 1 & 2
3 History of the recording technology, Recording History. www.recording‐history.org, page 3. Retrieved on Monday
March the 8th

J. GAVIGNET – THE IMPACT OF NEW TECHNOLOGIES ON THE RECORDING INDUSTRY

5

and economically…), major records saw a real opportunities to revive the industry.
However rock and roll was not accepted by the society because it was too crude, went
against the good values of the USA and some was sung by black people. As a result, the
recording industry began to divide and saw the appearance of the first “independent”
labels.

Major labels such as RCA‐Victor, Columbia or Decca were the ones distributing the
socially acceptable music of America. They produced 75% of the hits between 1948 and
1955 and included popular artists that reflected the tastes and values of Middle America
such as Frank Sinatra, Patti Page & Perry Cuombo. The music was inoffensive,
conservative and most importantly, mainstream. Those labels had been well and alive
for many decades yet and had the financial stability needed to use state of the art
recording equipment, they had ownership of the record presses, used a system of
warehouses and wholesalers and promoted their artists through the radio, movies and
TV.

On the other side of the industry began to appear independent labels as a response to
the major’s failure to offer what the people wanted: rock and roll. It was not the first
time that independent labels had a significant importance (Race Records in the 20s) but
definitely reflects the next decades of the industry. The independent record labels were
a niche market that gathered recorded artists of music for the audience that the majors
did not serve. This was jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, country and of course Rock and
Roll. The main people responsible for this kind of music to be recorded and released
were predominantly white club owners, retailers or sound engineers; they served
different musical tastes that did not correspond to the mainstream society. However
because they were pretty new in existence they did not have the financial capabilities
that major labels had. As a result they had to use outdated equipment, garage as studios
and needed to be highly innovative in recording techniques to cut costs. Thanks to those
labels the 50s were a period of great technological innovation in terms of recording:
multi‐track recording, tape slicing, overdubbing, echo, reverb and other effects.4

The main independent labels were focusing on specific styles. Atlantic Records (created
in 1947 in New York City), owned by Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abrahmson, were

4 Landgrebe, Junauro. Class: Rock Music History, MUSC1101, Northeastern University Spring Semester.

J. GAVIGNET – THE IMPACT OF NEW TECHNOLOGIES ON THE RECORDING INDUSTRY

6

focusing on Rhythm and Blues, Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Soul, Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Sun
Records (aka Memphis Recording Service, was created in 1944 in Memphis), were
owned by Sam Phillips and focused on Blues, Country, Rhythm and Blues and Rockabilly,
they were at the helm of Rock’n’Roll during the fifties. Finally, Chess Records was
created in Chicago by Phil and Leonard Chess and was mainly a blues record (Chicago
Blues artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Aretha Franklin…).

Independent labels promoted their music mainly through radio as local radio stations
turned away from mainstream music to reflect tastes and interests of their audience. For
example WDIA Memphis was in 1948 the first radio station to adopt all black
programming. To do so they had to pay DJs such as Alan Freed (who first coined the
term Rock’n’Roll in 1956 through his movie Rock, Rock, Rock. The problem is that under
US law 47 U.S.C. §3175 it is highly forbidden to bribe DJs to play songs on the radio. As a
result, the career of Alan Freed was thrown into the dumpsters for being accused of
being bribed. The payola scandal was a first example of the battle between major and
independent label, a pattern repeated often in the second half of the century.

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