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“We Learned More from a Three-Minute Record Baby Than We Ever Learned in School”: Recorded Music 1950-Present PowerPoint Presentation
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“We Learned More from a Three-Minute Record Baby Than We Ever Learned in School”: Recorded Music 1950-Present

“We Learned More from a Three-Minute Record Baby Than We Ever Learned in School”: Recorded Music 1950-Present

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“We Learned More from a Three-Minute Record Baby Than We Ever Learned in School”: Recorded Music 1950-Present

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  1. “We Learned More from a Three-Minute Record Baby Than We Ever Learned in School”: Recorded Music 1950-Present CMAT 102 Prof. Jeremy Cox

  2. Top 40 radio arrives • Todd Storz, then-owner of KOWH in Omaha, Neb., is credited with inventing the format in 1951. • Heretofore, AM radio (there was no FM yet) consisted of long blocks of sponsored programs ranging from dramas to variety shows. • Local pop hits were worked in between the hits. Programmers fastidiously made sure that the same song didn’t play more than once per day.

  3. Legend vs. reality • The legend: Storz and his program director Bill Stewart got the idea during a bar visit in which they noticed that regulars kept playing the same songs over and over on the jukebox. Although she’d been listening to it all day, the waitress played the song again while she was cleaning up after hours. Storz programmed his station like a jukebox with 40 songs. • The reality? Storz picked up a 1950 University of Omaha study that found the primary reason people listed to radio was for music. • The reality? Storz switched another of his stations, New Orleans’ WTIX, to 40-song format in 1953 to lower costs. No DJ necessary.

  4. Government role • Historically, the Federal Communications Commission had denied new broadcasting licenses on behalf of the “public interest.” In reality, the practice boosted the entrenched powers: NBC, CBS, ABC. • In 1947, it gave up being protectionist and started giving out licenses. Many of the new stations were undercapitalized and filled the broadcast day with recorded music, rather than scripted programs or live performances from music halls. • The large broadcasters and their affiliated labels refused to play ball with the new competition, forcing them to look beyond the mainstream to hillbilly and R&B records.

  5. Role of record companies • At mid-century, the music people heard was controlled by an oligarchy (a handful of companies). • In 1948, the top four record companies – CBS-Columbia, RCA-Victor, Capitol and Decca – released 81% of all titles that reached the weekly top 10. • By 1958, that share had plummeted to 36%. • What happened?

  6. Rock n’ Roll happened • By the late 1950s, hundreds of small, independent labels had sprung up, successfully siphoning away market share from the oligarchs. • According to Peter Tschmuck’s “Creativity and Innovation in the Music Industry,” the emergence of rock n’ roll fueled the newly democratic regime. • The old guard hated rock n’ roll. Their talent scouts ignored rock acts, white and black. But their abhorrence was rooted largely in good old fashioned racism.

  7. “Race” music • Rock n’ roll drew from many influences, namely country and western (“hillbilly”) and rhythm and blues. • Rhythm and blues was a 1940s era white adaptation of earlier “race” music. • The major record labels didn’t want to be associated with anything they considered crass and obscene, which would describe their feelings toward black music. • They stuck with Tin Pay Alley music, an NYC-based powerhouse of artists and publishers that dated to the 1880s. Appealed to white, middle-class city dwellers (read: $$$).

  8. Tried-and-true TPA stars Jerome Kern Cole Porter Scott Joplin Irving Berlin

  9. Filling the vacuum • Since the big labels wouldn’t sign rock n’ roll and R&B acts, small, independent labels led by music outsiders snapped them up. Carl Perkins of Sun Records Chuck Berry of Chess Records

  10. No. 1 artist of the 1950s

  11. The No. 2 artist?

  12. Pat Boone • Born in 1934, Boone notched his first hit, a cover of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t that a Shame” in 1955 (helped by his producer’s disabused the English major of the notion of changing the song to “Isn’t that a Shame”). • Boone scored a number of hits during the early part of his career that were covers of songs originally by black groups. • The owner of his label, Randy Wood, played “race” music on his Nashville radio station, figured out what black audiences liked, then had the songs re-recorded by whites like Boone.

  13. Controversy • Critics accused Boone and his white contemporaries of stealing music and success from black artists. • "That's a perversion of history," Boone said. "The recording directors at the small R&B labels wanted to attract attention to their artists, and the covers expanded the impact of the song. Little Richard, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry were all thrilled because it made it possible for their songs to finally get heard, and Randy knew that."

  14. What do you think • Groups of five. Here are your topics. One for each. • If not the legal definition of theft, was it cultural theft? • Which version did you like better? Why? • How would you feel if you were a black artist whose song was covered successfully by a white musician? • Songs were recorded in the segregated South; is there more than a geographical connection there? • Do you think it’s still easier for white artists to score hits than black artists? • Pat Boone charted 60 songs and still holds the record for being on the Billboard charts for 220 consecutive weeks yet is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Should he?

  15. Let’s listen • “Long Tall Sally” Pat Boone version: • “Long Tall Sally” original Little Richard version:

  16. Payola • Yes, another 1950s scandal. (And you thought the ‘50s were so boring and clean.) • Record companies were vertically integrated, controlling everything from the raw materials to make records to the distribution of the final product. • The one thing they couldn’t control was the key factor that led to a disc’s eventual purchase: radio play.

  17. Payola • The term comes from a combination of the words “pay” and “Victrola,” the trade name of an early reproduction device made by RCA Victor. • Record companies paid larger stations to play their titles over and over again, which they hoped would lead to retail sales. • The practice went unchecked for years until the smaller labels got into the game. A congressional committee found in 1960 that between 1950 and ‘54, 255 deejays in 56 cities received bribes. One deejay admitted getting $22,000 to play one song. • As a result, most deejays were stripped of power. From there, stations would create playlists for deejays to play.

  18. Audience targeting • Independent adio stations in the ‘50s begin targeting certain audiences, much as magazines had begun doing decades earlier (“Ladies Home Journal,” “Boy’s Life”). • Independent labels and radio stations formed a symbiotic relationship that eventually toppled the majors. • In the end, the majors’ thinly veiled racism, abusive market practices (Payola) and reluctance to change led to their downfall.

  19. Today • Technological advancements (YouTube, iTunes, Garage Band recording software) has brought into fuller form the democratization of music that began in the 1950s. • You control who you listen to (Pandora), how much of it you buy (single song vs. buying entire album on iTunes) and you can even bypass the traditional label structure to release your own music to the masses (YouTube, MySpace). • Result: More music quantity, shakier quality. More consumer power, less corporate power. Loss of profits to music industry threatens to undermine the just about the whole thing.

  20. For next week • Read chapter 10 of Baran (on the Internets). • And do your second short essay. You will be given an episode number for “Lou Grant.” Watch it on YouTube and write a 250-word critique. • Don’t just give me a synopsis of the episode. Try to think critically about what you’re watching. Is the story line believable? What does it say about how media works and what do you think about that? What does it get right/wrong, based on what you’ve learned about the media so far?