The Effect of Recording and Electronic Technologies on the Experience and Performance of Music before 1945. Paul O'Shaughnessy 12043796 Cian o connor 12150207

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The Effect of Recording and Electronic Technologies on the Experience and Performance of Music before 1945.

Paul O'Shaughnessy 12043796

Cian O"Connor 12150207

Dean Nally 12142115

Darren White 12027421


Recording sound and then the subsequent broadcasting and amplification of sound had massive impacts, both socially and technically, on the experience and performance of music and on musical instruments and styles.

The early part of the 20th century saw a dramatic change in the way people experienced music and how music was performed. This was due to new technologies being utilized in its’ production. The introduction of the phonograph was one of the first arbiters of this change. Before recorded sound, music could only be experienced in real time, in the presence of musicians and performers. The phonograph heralded the start of a change in the way people experienced music, but it was by no means the only technology that effected music. The period from 1915 onwards saw a massive expansion in radio broadcasting. The technologies employed in radio, as well as the commercial interests of that 'entertainment industry' influenced greatly how music was performed and also what types of music were heard. The electrification of sound production through the use of the electronic microphone and amplification of music and musical instruments also changed the character and style of music and eventually the nature of phonographic recording. These electronic technologies went on to changed the very nature of some musical instruments, which in turn effected how they were played and subsequently contributed to the birth of whole new musical styles.

By firstly examining the social impact of radio technology on music in broad terms and then examining specific music technologies, such as the phonograph, the electronic microphone, amplification and the electric guitar, this paper will examine the impact of technology on peoples experience, expectations and performance of music, before 1945.

The Importance of Radio:

How Radio Technology changed the experience of listeners and the styles of performers.

Darren White 12027421

The consequences and impact of radio cannot be underestimated” (Taylor 2002)

In the early 1920s, radio broadcasting on a national commercial basis increased exponentially. 1922 saw the sales of radio ‘receiving sets’ rise to “$60,000,000” and the number of stations “skyrocket”(Taylor 2002). This paper will attempt to look at how the commercial interests, technologies (specifically the electronic microphone), and musical programming, of that time, helped to shape the tastes, experience and expectations of the listening public. It will also look at how those commercial interests and technologies influenced changes in the way music was performed.

For the first time people didn’t have to leave their homes to be entertained. The performer came into their house” (George Burns 1999 as cited in Taylor 2002).

In America, broadcasting "followed a unique path in the world, partly because it was left in the hands of amateurs and private enterprise, instead of being made a public service". (Morton 2005). According to Douglas (1997), there were "6,103 licensed amateur radio broadcasters in 1920". A year later that figure had nearly 10,809. At this time these amateurs had begun to broadcast "not dots and dashes, but speech and music to their fellow operators.” However the potential of radio as a tool for marketing did not go unnoticed.

Larger electrical manufacturing corporations set up what were known as "networks". These were large chains of radio stations connected via the telephone cable network. Sometimes the networks would have as many as "120 affiliated stations" (Lockheart 2002). They were able to share content and appealed to advertising interests because they broadcast to large audiences over many stations and great distances. These large networks and the interests of their sponsors, (advertisers), soon had an all encompassing influence on the musical content of radio broadcasts.

The sales of all instruments increased in the 1920’s. The reasons for this is thought to be that people, who before were unaware of, or indifferent to, the existence and sound of certain music, or musical instruments, were now exposed to them on a daily basis via radio. Radio essentially broadened people’s horizons and interest in music and so lead to an increase in the number of people (especially children) taking up the playing of musical instrument. "1,500,000 children" more than ever were playing piano, (Baird. D.G. 1986 cited by Biocca 1990)

The technology used in the broadcast of music directly affected what styles of music were broadcast. The electronic microphone had a great influence on playing and singing styles. Before the era of radio, people’s exposure to music came via live performance of classical or ‘popular music-hall’ concerts or from the phonograph. The singing techniques employed by operatic or musical hall performers involved the utilizing of higher powered and over enunciated singing to project the sound of their un-amplified voice above the sound of often large orchestras. While these styles suited the acoustic techniques of earlier phonographic recording, they tended to overpower or distort when sung into the more sensitive apparatus of the electronic microphone. Acoustic recording up until this time had a recordable frequency range of approximately 168-2000kHz. The electronic microphone increased that range to 100-5000kHz, effectively making performances significantly louder and with an improved quality.

The ‘crooning’ style of singing developed in response to these problems It was a quiet and lower keyed style of singing that utilized the power of the microphone rather than the power of the voice. Taylor (2002) argues it was this style of singing that changed the public’s perception and relationship with music and it’s performers. Radio was, he argues, being “ integrated into the individual lives, into individual private fantasies”. The crooning style of singing created a very intimate sounding performance, which became popular with people listening in the private space of their home. It gave people the sense that the relationship with the singer was unmediated and thus more personal. The style also fed into the perceived need of broadcasters to “lift the spirits of the audience” (Lockheart 2003), in the harsh socio-economic conditions of 1920s and 30’s America.

The singers were comforting too, by virtue of the soothing music they sang, the lyric content of the songs, (sentimental and romantic or cheerful and optimistic), and their voices, intimate, conversational, one to one.” (Lockheart 2003).

These change in style to accommodate the medium of radio, can be seen in the realm of Jazz music. Before the 1920's and in the early years of that decade, the fast, frenetic and free styles of the "Hot Jazz" fell out of favor with the listening public. Tunes for larger and more rehearsed jazz orchestras were carefully arranged in complex patterns. Electrical amplification and microphones played a part in this. Its broader frequency range and more powerful (louder) reproduction "could reproduce the subtler sounds of sweet jazz" (Millard 2005). Jenkins (2008) argues the general rise in the popularity of jazz can be attributed to the ability of an interested white audience to access 'Black' music (via radio) without actually having to associate with the African American population in what was a racially divided country. Talking of the 'white' population Jenkins (2008) states, "They admired and wanted to observe the supposedly primitive aspects of African Americans, but those same primitive aspects made it desirable to maintain boundaries, boundaries that were under no circumstances to be crossed".

In conclusion, it can be seen that radio underwent a massive expansion in the United States in the early years of the 1920s. The very nature of the promotion of the medium, led to a change in the publics experience and expectations of what entertainment should entail. The commercial interests of radio's sponsors influenced the types and styles of musical content broadcast. It was aimed at the widest audience possible and worked hard not to alienate or offend any one constituency of listeners. The nature of the technologies radio utilized changed the way people played and sung music. The audience's perceived relationship with the performers became more personal, due to the intimate styles of singing adopted, (crooning) and the fact they listened in the private space of their own home. Other aspects of the entertainment industry were effected with the rise of radio, for the simple reason people no longer needed to leave their homes to enjoy a programmed music concert or play.

Biocca.F. "Media and Perceptual Shifts: Early Radio and the clash of Musical Cultures" (1999) Journal of popular culture.

Douglas.S.J (1997). "Inventing American Broadcasting 1899-1922" John Hopkins University Press

Jenkins.C. "A question of containment. Duke Ellington and early Radio" American Music, Vol 26, No. 4 (Winter, 2008), pp. 415-441.

Lockheart.P. "A History of Early Microphone Singing, 1925-1939: American Mainstream Popular Singing at the Advent of Electronic Microphone Amplification" Popular Music and Society, Vol. 26, No. 3, (2003)

Le Roux.G.M. (2005) “Whistle while you work”: A historical Account of Some Associations Among Music,Work and Health” American Journal of Public Health, Vol 95, No. 7

Morton. D.L Jnr. (2004). "Sound recording. The life history of a technology" The John Hopkins University Press.

Millard.A (2005). "America on Record. A History of recorded sound" Cambridge University Press

Perry.S.D (2011) “Radio Promotion history: Crafting image and loyalty via philatelic ephemera” The Radio Journal, Vol 9 No. 2.

Taylor. D.T "Music and the rise of Radio in 1920's America: Technological Imperialism Socialization and the transformation of intimacy." Historical journal of film and Radio Vol 22. No.4 (2002)

Taylor.T. Katz.M Grajeda,T (2012) "Music, Sound and Technology in America. A documentary History of early phonograph, cinema and Radio" Duke University press London.

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