If you’re looking for a comprehensive history of the commercial revolution in American popular music, then the aptly named Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music by David Suisman is just that book. It wasn’t until I was more that two thirds through that I learned I was actually reading what some Colleges and Universities are using as a textbook, likely because – to me, the consummate DJ music geek – it read like a gripping novel.
For those who aren’t looking for such a comprehensive history, but consider yourselves big fans of music and history, this is a must read.
Today, it would be easy to identify iTunes and the associated Apple music playing devices like the iPod, iPhone, iPad and others as a sort of monopoly, cornering the music market. As true as this may be, it isn’t the first time. A full Century ago, the Victor Talking Machine Company had the bright idea to record music in order to help sell their Gramophones, basically monopolizing music and player sales with little competition. More so, the Victor Company can almost single-handedly be attributed with making music something that was created in a factory as opposed to in a live performance.
And hence, the “music industry” was born.
Although Suisman’s book doesn’t stop (or start) there. It begins before the Victor, Columbia or Edison talking machines covering how music came to be sold in the first place – on the printed page – with sheet music being perhaps the first medium of mass-commercialization in music. And then there are the artists – mainly Opera – who made recording music work long before the microphone came into existence.
And then there are the copyright laws of 1909 and 1971 which turned ideas into intellectual property, and laid the groundwork for the emerging industry of music to thrive and explode.
Even the invention of radio is discussed, and how it’s origins were not in broadcast, but point-to-point (like ship to shore). The broadcast aspect was merely an afterthought, very much like music was to the talking machine.
So, I suppose as a DJ, Musicologist and overall music lover, this book just hit the spot on countless levels. I almost feel as if anything I share would be a spoiler, so know this… If you’re interested in learning where the music “industry” began, this book is by far one of the most in-depth studies on the subject.
And why read such books one might ask, if not only for leisure and personal interest? Simply put, an ongoing study of ones craft, or perhaps more simply, to understand the origins of the “disc” in “disc jockey”. Understanding the laws that govern popular music, the origins of commercialized popular music and the tools used to play it, as well as advancing ones own knowledge of music itself derives from an unquenchable and passionate desire to learn.
Love what you do and immerse yourself in it, and you will achieve excellence. The question is, did Mr. Suisman love writing this book as much as I loved reading it.
P.S. To my good friend and colleague DJ Richie… I hope you enjoyed my newest book report.