The Impact of Technology on Music in the 20th Century

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Matthew Hugenschmidt
LBST 3020-090

Final Paper

For centuries man has sought pleasure through music and visual arts. Until the last 100 years or so that required someone to go see a live performance, either locally or possibly to a larger metropolis with concert halls and theaters. The technological advances experienced in the last century have allowed the pairing of the audio and visual media for the masses, and have let them spread much farther than their local roots and changed their influence on society. Though essentially performing the same function, they have gone from merely allowing an escape from everyday life for very limited audiences to affecting American society’s values, view of its own culture, and consumerism. With the advent of the gramophone in 1901 people were able to listen to music inside their own homes, as well as were able to easily transport music from one area to another. (Savage 115) It was these earliest recordings brought with the American troops, or doughboys, in WWI that brought jazz, blues, and other American musical styles to Europe. These recordings would heavily influence the shape of the European musical landscape after the war, and also increase the overseas demand for American culture and style. The music and associated dances were completely new to Europeans, and combined with the care free attitude of the Americans it showed what was seen as a hopeful way of life that had all but been forgotten in the war ravaged continent. This craving for American culture would have a large effect on the coming European generations, and would help steer the musical course for the bands that started the British Invasion. Almost simultaneously, nickelodeons started to become popular in urban areas of the United States. Named after their admission price, a nickel, these places showed short motion pictures and were usually located in working class districts. ( Since the movies of the time were silent, the theaters usually had a piano or organ to provide music for the film. This was the first time there was a mass media distribution that included both audio and visual components, though the music played varied a bit from theater to theater. As movie technology improved nickelodeons soon became out of date, but they laid the ground work for audio and visual pairings in mass media. The rise of national radio broadcasts in the United States would play a huge part in the spread of music around the country. When the national broadcasts went to clear channel, it signaled the rise of weekly radio shows that became standard nationwide. Because of the limited variety of programming at the time, these programs had a very large audience base. One of these radio shows was Ozzie and Harriet, a family oriented radio show that was based on Ozzie and Harriet Nelson’s family. The show was quite popular on the radio since it portrayed the everyday stereotypical white suburban family. The major leap came when television became the new medium of choice. In 1957 Ozzie and Harriet moved from radio to television, and by this point their son Ricky had also become an integral part of the show. This was during the very beginnings of Rock & Roll, and Ozzie saw an opportunity to cross market his son as both an actor and a singer. At the time the genre was represented primarily by figures like Elvis and Chuck Berry who were by considered risqué by the elder suburban white population. Ricky Nelson was marketed as a wholesome alternative singing the same style of music, thereby appealing to both the youth and their parents. This was a major step in defining stars in pop culture since it cemented that the performers image could be more important than their musical ability and gave rise to the teen idol culture. Concurrently, since the national broadcasters had begun to focus on television, the local radio stations no longer had time occupied retransmitting the major station broadcasts....
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