Friday, December 19, 2008

Put Another Nickel In:The role of the Jukebox in popular music

Jukebox: The origin of the name
Somewhere in its early years, the coin operated record player acquired the name “Jukebox”. There are several theories about the origin. The most accepted is that the word “juke” is a corruption of the word “jook”, a black American slang term for dancing. The source of the music for this dancing would have been called a “jookbox”. A second version is that “jook” meant “sex” which may have made sense since brothels were some of the first establishments to install jukeboxes. A third source of the word may have been from the term “jute”, or “jute joints” where the jute picking workers relaxed, drank and danced. Whatever the source of its name, the jukebox of the 20s was generally associated with “speakeasies” and the “low-life” of prohibition since they were featured entertainment in such places.

Popular music first became a commodity through the entrepreneurial activities of carnival and penny arcade operators who made their own recordings and then charged admission to hear them on the newly invented gramophone. It was in response to requests by this group of users that the phonograph/ gramophone manufacturers began to produce prerecorded product.

This was an unexpected life line for the Columbia company that in 1890 seemed headed for liquidation, because the intended use of the phonograph as a dictating machine had been a dismal flop. Columbia and Edison began to realize that their market was somewhere else. They also recognized that in order to sell players, they had to produce and manufacture prerecorded product that the public wanted to hear. Initially the preferred programs for coin operated players were comic songs, bands, monologues, and whistling. The revenues from these “pay for play” machines was amazing in light of the fact that the quality was poor and the selection meagre. In 1891 some machines earned up to fourteen dollars a day, a lot of money at the time.

While accepting there was a market for coin operated carnival players, Edison feared they might create the impression that the phonograph was only a toy. His worries were unjustified, since the showman-operated players cultivated a consumer appetite for recorded music and a desire for home players.

As the turn of the century approached, the penny and nickel arcades were becoming an increasingly popular center for entertainment. There were hundreds of different coin operated amusements. The most popular of these machines were those that played music. Into this market came the Nickelodeon and the jukebox.

The first jukebox appeared close on the heels of the introduction of the phonograph. Louis Glas installed an Edison cylinder system at the San Francisco Royal Palace in 1889. In 1906 the Automatic Entertainer, which used flat disks recently invented by Berliner, was introduced by the John Gabel Company. The system was entirely mechanical but required regular winding of its spring mechanism. It was popular in spite of the poor quality.

In Paris, at the Pathe Salon du Phonograph, patrons could choose a musical selection, which would be played for them from the floor below where there were a battery of players. As in San Francisco, they would hear their selection through long listening tubes connected to the player's diaphragm. Claude Debussy after hearing this system for a few coins was concerned that the low cost of the disk and its availability would have the effect of cheapening the music. He did, however, acknowledge that the discs preserved a certain magic.

In 1913 Debussy wrote: "In a time like ours, when the genius of engineers has reached such undreamed proportions, one can hear famous pieces of music as easily as one can buy a glass of beer. Should we not fear this domestication of sound, this magic preserved in a disc that anyone can awaken at will? Will it not mean a diminishing of the secret forces of the art, which until now have been considered indestructible? ".

Debussy, like so many other classically trained musicians had fears that this new technology would impact on his beloved art, and probably his concert income. The jukebox and nickelodeon changed the way people heard the popular music of the day by placing the day’s hits within reach of the masses. Mechanical jukeboxes continued to be one of many amusement machines in these penny arcades, but in the late 20s with the introduction of the electric phonograph, motors and amplification, the modern jukebox became a reality.

In 1926, J.P. Seeberg, a Swedish immigrant to the U.S., invented an electric system that was coin operated and would play any of eight records. A year later Automated Musical Instruments introduced its electric jukebox. Unlike their mechanical predecessors, which could only be heard by fee paying patrons standing near the machine, these systems were capable of filling an entire room with sound. These innovations further popularised the jukebox and so began the modern jukebox craze.

The other two major manufacturers of jukeboxes appeared in the early 30s. Wurlitzer, a long time manufacturer of pianos and player pianos, introduced its first jukebox in 1933. And in 1935 David Rock-Ola (his real name), whose company had been building scales and coin operated games, introduced their first jukebox.

When the great depression occurred in the 30s, the jukebox business became the one bright spot for the record industry. For the public, a nickel would pay for six plays and like the movies of the day a few minutes escape from the depression.

There were two other historical events which helped the jukebox gain prominence. The repeal in America of prohibition in 1933 meant that there were now tens of thousands of bars, clubs and other drinking establishments that were installing jukeboxes for entertainment.

The second was the outbreak of W.W. II, and the relocation of millions of young soldiers to camps in far away locations. For entertainment, the armed forces installed hundreds of jukeboxes in PX’s and service clubs all over America and overseas. While these young people would have frequented their local jukebox back home, such machine would have had only a couple of types of music in the 24 available selections and these were chosen to suit the area and the jukebox’s clientele. But the military jukeboxes were unique in that they were stocked with a range of music to satisfy the varied tastes of those who had come from every part of the country and ethnic background. American blues, gospel, country and pop records were all thrown together on military jukes that introduced GIs to all sorts of new music that came from outside of their community and culture. Almost overnight, American regional music, never really heard on radio (which was extremely conservative at the time), was heard by those from every region of the country. Many of these young people were also musicians that would now explore, absorb, learn, appropriate, and embrace pop music styles they had never heard before. After the war this would have a significant impact on the coalescing of those musical roots that would form rock and roll.

On the home front during W.W. II, there was a growing juvenile delinquency problem with so many parents unable to pay attention to their teenagers. Dad was away at war, and Mom was working in a defence plant. During the early 40s, throughout America, youth centres were opened for after school and weekend activities. To bring in the teens, free jukeboxes were brought in, turned up, and rarely turned off. The program was successful.

But , by the late 40s, the jukebox had fallen out of favour with the conservative establishment and was increasingly considered a corrupting influence. One prominent critic wrote in 1948 that the jukebox was responsible for ‘the musical tastes of America’s youth starting on a steady decline." That year Frank Sinatra was the most popular artist in the country. For such critics, things would get far worse.

For many Americans, in the early 50s, rock and roll was the devil’s tool, and existed for no other purpose than to morally corrupt the youth. For the first time teenagers had their own beat and it could be found blasting out of the malt shop jukebox. By 1956 there were somewhere around 750,000 jukeboxes swallowing dimes in America. Since most radio stations were only playing the most sanitised rock and roll selections, the jukebox was the source for the majority of rock music, particularly those machines in racially mixed neighbourhoods. These machines had records of black artists who were singing rhythm and blues and early rock.

The public had heard from the pulpit and conservative press about the evil, passion firing sounds thumping from those machines at the end of the bar or in the middle wall of the malt shop, but when Evan Hunter’s book, The Blackboard Jungle, was made into a movie in 1955, the conservatives were convinced. They had not beaten Hitler to see their children's minds lost to the devil's music. When you added up the title song “Rock Around The Clock”, with the images in the movie, it was obvious to anyone over thirty that rock and roll equaled teenage delinquency. The jukebox had became an integral part of rock’n’roll imagery. It was a tangible object for conservatives to focus their concerns.

In many conservative areas of America, the government required a sticker stating that “Minors are forbidden by law to operate this machine”, but generally the jukes remained uncensored. However the jukebox operators were frequently placed under suspicion of jukebox stacking, a form of payola where they would be paid to put a record in the machine. Those who operate jukeboxes didn’t kick this image until the 70s.

Coin operated music delivery systems did not decline as gramophones became a common addition to the homes parlor. The opposite was the case. With the spread of recorded music reproduction systems within the upper middle class, and radio a desire was created for recorded music throughout the entire population. Coin operated systems allowed anyone for the price of a few pennies to hear their favourite and/or the latest record. Increasingly, these customers were the young. In general the first phonographs were controlled by older people (parents) whose musical tastes were toward classic and music of their generation. For what was new, the youth had to go to the juke at their local hangout. Not until the late 50s was the cost of reproduction systems, headphones, and the records themselves so affordable that young people could have a record player of their own that they alone could control. Most of them got that first record player with the detachable speakers as a Christmas present from a parent that never realised that from that day forward "turn it down" would become one of their most often used phrases.

Choosing what records would go in the jukebox was probably the origin of the “Hit Parade”, due to the limited number of records that could go into a machine, and the practice of installing new records weekly based on which ones were and were not played. The jukebox brought the choice of what music would be played down to who wanted to hear a song badly enough to spend a nickel. Often these would include recordings of local acts that were prominent in that specific community. By the mid 30s in every jukebox there was a smattering of local releases. By 1940, those who chronicled the U.S. record industry were recognising the importance of the jukebox. Jack Nelson wrote in Billboard that “coin operated phonographs, through a tremendously wide distribution, appeal to millions of individuals everyday, thus ensuring for this industry an important part in the next phase of American music”. The jukebox had become a significant centre piece anywhere small-town America gathered, and record sales to the jukebox operators were becoming significant.

The jukebox provided anyone with nickle instant grass-roots musical satisfaction. As Chris Pearce describes it , "It was the jukebox into which the lonely trucker at the coffee shop dropped his nickel to inspire dreams of his baby back home, the jukebox that the kids made for in Chuck Berry’s song when they wanted to hear something really hot, the jukebox that linked communities whose local operator stocked it with songs and dances from the old country".

From the 20s to the 60s, jukeboxes electronically and mechanically advanced by increasing the capacity of their changers, better amplifiers and speakers, selectors at each table, roll around selector, and so on. Of paramount importance was the “look” of the machine. The jukebox had to be visually exciting. The exterior design became a key to the jukebox’s success. Seeberg and Wurlitzer hired top industrial designers just when Modernism was coming into vogue. Translucent coloured plastic was starting to be widely used and was ideally suited for the illumination of the jukebox. Most manufacturers believed that the customer wanted to see the record changer work and a cabinet that lit up.

Wurlitzer dominated the post W.W. II market with its classic machine, the 1015, which featured coloured arcs and floating bubblers. But in 1948, Seeberg introduced the first jukebox to handle 100 selections, The Select-O-Matic 100. The number of records that could be played had gone from a couple of dozen records, to 50 records with both sides available for play. Until its introduction, the industry believed that 24 titles were all that were necessary for a selection of “pop” songs. The other jukebox manufacturers quickly redeveloped their mechanisms to accommodate more records when it became obvious that the customers wanted a wider selection. By 1956, 200 title were available in a jukebox. The expansion in capacity also meant that a wider variety of records could be available. Country and western, and rhythm and blues could finally live in the same jukebox with Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Bill Haley and Elvis.

Unquestionably the biggest change to hit the jukebox industry came in 1948, when RCA introduced the 45. Not only did they sound better than the 78s but they were lighter, smaller, and the centre hole was large and more suitable for automated operation. In short, it was the perfect record for a jukebox. The 45 in the jukebox of the 50s would become the focal point of the teenager and the first line source of rock and roll.

Until television forced radio to reinvent itself, it was the mass medium, and with few exceptions had generally ignored blues, country, and other regional or fringe music. The jukebox filled this void. In the fifties, it was the jukebox where teenagers would find the latest in music. They were doing what Teresa Brewer suggested “put another nickel in...” but they were selecting Chuck Berry whose advice was to go "up to the corner and round the bend, right to the juke joint you go in. Feeling the music from head to toe, round and round, and round you go. Hail, hail, rock and roll! Deliver us from the days of old!"

Teresa didn’t know it, but Chuck was saying her days as a pop artist were numbered as was the style of recordings she made.

These machines were more than music delivery systems, their external designs were trend setters in the art deco movement and an important aspect of their popularity. They offered the latest music at a time when most of the public could not afford to buy a record, much less their own playback system. The jukebox was key to the popular spread of country, hillbilly, rhythm and blues, and of course the development of rock and roll music. For a generation, the jukebox at the local hang-out was the only place that some of the “hippest” and latest rock and roll could be heard.

Their significance has declined over the last few decades but in the 40s through the early 60s they were an important focus for the young. Rock and roll might have been beaten down by the establishment if it had not been for the existence of jukeboxes in every bar, bowling alley and malt shop where young people congregated.

For some of those who were there, Buddy Holly and Bill Haley will never sound better then when they were first blasting from a jukebox after inserting a nickel in a Wurlitizer. For those who weren’t there, its hard to capture it all, since it wasn’t just the jukebox that held the sound, it was where it was happening in time and place when teenagers and rock and roll were being invented. As a 50s Wurlitzer ad stated “For millions, the jukebox was ‘America’s favourite nickel’s worth of fun’”.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Myth of the Singing Cowboy

Since country came from those living and working the land, it is only reasonable that those in countries with similar surroundings would relate to the same music and themes.

In America, Canada, Australia, and any other country with a similar anglo-Irish rural heritage droughts, floods, crop failures, poverty, and so on are all common to country folk regardless of the nation in which their country resides. Faith, hope and charity are also an important part of living and dying on the land (I think there’s a song there somewhere).

Country is, as Kingman states, “the closest thing to a universal ‘people’s music’.” A characteristic of country music is that nearly all songs share a few common themes. They will be about death of some sort (murders, hangings, suicide), love (requited, unrequited, divorcee, consummated, unconsummated), religion, trains and being on the road in general, and nostalgia (for the land, a life style past, a town, people, etc). DeWilde picks up this theme when he says “country music is a conservative view of life which is directly associated with a simpler time.” The last theme, nostalgia, is in fact an overarching patina which glazes the viewpoint of the other four themes, and one would have to consider nostalgia as a driving force behind the popularity of country music.

One must look to the initial commodification of country to see how nostalgic influences became a common thread throughout the fabric of country music.

European folk music immigrated throughout the U.S., but only took hold in the south. This may have been so because this type of music was more accessible to the mostly agrarian culture of the south compared to the classical tradition commonly found in the north.

In this part of America the industrial revolution was not quick in coming. Poor people, both black and white, had a subsistence living working the land. Change was slow and people clung to a heritage, and this was reflected in their music. This tradition brought with it a form of nostalgic recollection due to the very musical structure of many of these songs. The lyrics were often written and sung to melodies of earlier folk songs. In fact many of these song were first published in the mid 19th century as “broadside” lyric sheet to be sung to commonly known melodies that were reused over and over in new songs with different words. This practice continued in the folk songs found in the sparsely populated areas of the southern states of America.

D.K. Wilgus observed that, “a good many of the lyric songs of the early hillbilly tradition seem to derive from the nineteenth century sentimental parlour songs” such as the bluegrass song I’m thinking tonight of my blue eyes which has been the basis for several songs including “Great speckled bird, and It wasn’t God who made honky tonk angels”. The roots of the cowboy lament Bury me not on the old prairie was a repurposing of the old sailor’s tune Bury me not on the deep blue sea, while the archetypal western tune Streets of Laredo originated as a British song about a dying solder. Slim Dusty, the patriarch of Australian country, sang his most famous song, Pub with no beer to the melody of Stephen Foster’s Beautiful Dreamer. Many other examples are available. These melodies brought into a present time music reminiscent of the past.

This music as an oral culture thrived throughout Appalachia, and the highlands of the southern states. The mountainous geography of the region helped to give a name to this “hillbilly” music. The commercialisation of sound delivery mediums at the beginning of the 20th century dramatically changed all music, and (in America), by the early1920s hillbilly music was beginning to be recorded by traveling field recordists. They carried their equipment in the back of their cars, and would set up in hotel rooms, bars, and music halls and record the best local performers. Music that had never before been written down, documented or copyrighted was now being codified for future generation and more or less “fixed” in its version.

It also immortalised forever those emotions that previously were conveyed only in the presence of the singer’s performance. Once created, the records provided a musical recollection of the life and times of these hillbilly performers. A key starting point of this congealing came in the early 20s when Ralph Peer, working for Okeh records and equipped with a portable record cutter, went to Atlanta to record whatever he could find. His first sessions were with The Carter Family, and Jimmie Rogers.

In the same decade radio began to provide a soundtrack for the lives of people on the land. Radio could reach into places the industrial world had not effected. In 1922 WSB in Atlanta began broadcasting hillbilly music. In Nashville WSM started a “Barn Dance” program. The Grand Ole’Opry found it’s name by an off hand comment made on air sometime around 1927. In 1939 Opry went national over NBC. The format was to be copied in many stations throughout rural America and later in Australia.

But it was Hollywood that took hillbilly music and turned it into country and western, giving it its present day look and mythical persona. Eventually “western” was dropped from this music’s generic description.

Western/cowboy themes had been popular from the beginning of films. The idea of putting westerns and singers together to make a singing cowboy hero was the result of the popularity of western swing, the cowboy movie and the musical. A popular subgroup of hillbilly music that was sweeping out of Texas. Musical westerns was only made for about ten years, (From the mid 30s to the mid 40s) but in that time literally hundreds of them were released. Tex Ritter, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and the Sons Of The Pioneers were the most popular of the cowboys (and cowgirls). These movies portrayed a time when America seemed more innocent. There was still a frontier (sparsely populated with benevolent Indians), good and bad was clear-cut, and most heroes wore white hats and silver buckles. The popularity of the songs and performers in these Saturday matinee shoot-em-ups, became an agent for change as commercial hillbilly music turned into country (& western). Even many of the performers at the bastion of hillbillydom, Nashville’s “Grand Ole Opry”, took on these airs. While the historical accuracy of the Hollywood cowboys and girls is virtually non-existent, their look is the image of country music as we know it today.

As Vaughan describes; “Country had always relied on a bedrock of sentiment and nostalgia but the (film) cowboy took it even further. Their wistful visions of times past, rolling prairies and tumbling tumbleweeds would stay with country music throughout enormous musical changes over the coming decades.”

This is the model found under the cowboy hats of contemporary Australian country music, which by its fabricated origin reflects at least a partially imagined past. This is not to say that those involved with country music are living a lie, but one might say they are extending an image that has much of its basis in a manufactured creation that was from the onset tied to a nostalgic romanticisation of the past.

In fairness history is seldom absent of nostalgia and its influence, and even if it did exist would such a view be somehow more accurate and authentic. It is but one of many ways of viewing history, and as valid as any of the others.

Allen comments that “to many young and city people the bush ballad is outdated, and associated with an older and disappearing Australia”, however an increasing number of urbanites relate to country music themes. This century’s generations have had increasing difficulty finding new challenges and their own space, hence they often look to the past, to when there was “land, lots of land, and a starry sky above” (“Don’t Fence Me In”. 1945) Sung by Gene Autry in the movie of the same name.

The attributes of contemporary nostalgia as found in country music does have a certain point of recollective viewpoint. As Lowenthal observes such material, “They mainly envisage a time when folk did not feel fragmented, when doubt was either absent or patent, when thought fused with action, when aspiration achieved consummation, when life was wholehearted; in short, a past that was unified and comprehensible, unlike the incoherent, divided present.”

Much of traditional country music follows these precepts and is unswerving in its standpoint. “Country music is more concerned with individual experiences, family values, togetherness, and old fashioned solutions to current problems. Critics of country music say it lives in a past of long-gone glories- the space age, technology, the future, and even wars (with few exceptions) are usually ignored. ( Allen)”

Slim Dusty seldom sang songs that weren't nostalgic. From under his drover’s brim, he portrayed a time when things were simpler as he would recount old friends, and brave deeds. Both the Pub with no beer, and The rains came down in July are songs of past events. These songs satisfy what Rosenblatt would suggest is the listener’s “desire to get out of modernity without leaving it all together; ... to relive those thrilling days of yesteryear, but only because ...(they) are absolutely assured that those days are out of reach.” What makes country music so nostalgic is that much of it is framed as personal memories of the performers thus fitting into two popular forms of reminiscence; nostalgia and what Kenneth Hey describes as dis-history. Hey explains, “Nostalgia reduces the past to a personal memoir. It eliminates external balancing information and prefers to project anecdotal stories in place of the general historical knowledge. Dis-history reshapes the past to create an effective story for contemporary purposes. Accuracy matters less than impact, honesty carries less weight than persuasiveness, and integrity comes far behind the “sell”. Together, nostalgia and dis-history portray a manageable world.”

The perception of memories and nostalgia are as varied as the population, but country music holds a unique position since it reflects a segment of society that has an inherent stability attached to the timelessness of pastoral life. Country music is both forthright in depicting the frailties of people, and conservative in it portrayal of social values. Here too it’s text is a suitable nostalgic artifact. As Lipsitz explains, “Progressive and conservative elements interact in any memory of the past, and that the specific contexts in which these elements are deployed, rather than their focus on the past or present, determines their social meaning.”

Country music conveys a country life. Those in urban centres, are persuaded by these images, and many have a longing to be a part of it, if only vicariously through the music and associated images. As Rosenfeld puts it, “People look to specific music as symbolic anchors in regions, as signs of community, belonging and a shared past.”

While most other popular music seems to continually feed on its past through a never ending deconstructive then recontrustructive process that often neglects to recognise its sources, country music builds and acknowledges its past. This provides a historical continuum. While the country image has its roots in the media generated singing cowboys, and the sound of the Nashville music machine, its moral fibre is genuine. Most of the people in country music have grown up in the bush, and intrinsically understand the fundamental values and philosophy of this lifestyle. Their songs reflect a pride in the past, imagined or real.

Country music as a commodity has become a means of contextualising a certain history. Folk rock artist Steve Stills once cautioned “Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now”, but it is that past which gives some stability to the lives of those living in the late 20th century.
“In a world devoted to progress and change, the past becomes ever more precious the more it disappears. Human beings act to change and ‘improve’ the world, but as a result, many feel the sting of disconnection from the past, seeing the villages of our childhoods turn into what Berman calls ‘little worlds emptied out.”(Lipsitz)

Present society’s interest in history feeds this nostalgia in several ways, chiefly, the vast number of media and industrially created artifacts that are available. The plethora of real, looks like, or in the style of artifacts, memorabilia, and reproductions makes it possible for everyone who has a yearning for it to have a piece of the past.

Country songs are even more unique because they are an acquisition of the mind, and for most people a physical holding of the vast majority of these recordings is not important. Only to hear the song stimulates a nostalgic recollection. While large numbers of people are leaving (or are being forced to leave) the country life, and cities become further concentrated, there exists a yearning within many urban cowboys for a life in a time when there was more independence, more resourcefulness, less ambiguity, and simpler. Country music portrays a present that reflects back to “a halcyon prototype of yore that we all can share in”. (Jacobson)

Allen, M., (1993) Country music in Australia, in Seal, G. & Davel, G. (eds). The Oxford companion to Australian folklore, Melbourne: Oxford press. (From Mus 12 course notes, p.87)
Attali, J. (1977, English translation 1985: Translated by Brian Massumi). Noise: The political economy of music. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press
Clarke, D. (1990). The penguin encyclopedia of popular music. New York: Penguin Books.
DeWilde, C (1996) Third week of lecture series: American Music and Popular Culture, ABC: Open Learning
Hey, K.R. (1987, Nov.) The Reel World: Nostalgia and Dis-history, USA Today, New York
Kingman, D. (1990), American music: A panorama. Schirmer books: New York
Lipsitz, G. (1990). Time passages, Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press.
Lowenthal, D. (1985) The past is a foreign country. Cambridge. In Chase, M., & Shaw C (Eds.), (1989) The imagined Past: History and nostalgia (P. 1). Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Lowenthal, D. (1989) Nostalgia tells it like it wasn’t. In Chase, M., & Shaw C (Eds.), The imagined Past: History and nostalgia (pp. 18-32). Manchester: Manchester University Press
Jacobson, M (1987, Oct.), The Way We Weren’t, Esquire, New York
Rosenfeld, A.H. (1985, Dec.) Music, The Beautiful Disturber, Psychology Today, New York
Stills, S. (1969) song Suite Judy Blues Eyes (inspired by a love for Judy Collins)
Vaughan, A. (1992). The world of country music. London: Studio Editions.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Popular music's Sound- A commodity of fashion and style

The sound of popular music can be clearly compared to other forms of seasonal commodities such as fashion and style. "The sound” in later times provides a key identifier in time stamping that music, much as bell-bottoms, the hula-hoop, and whitewall tires have become fashion statements associated with certain periods. Like fashion, some of these sounds periodically reemerge; some become an on going fabric of music production, while others are never heard of again.

As in any other commodity/ consumer paradigms consumerism and commercialism drive this thirst for new sounds. The predominately young music consumer seems to have a never-ending appetite for the latest products from the music industry. Unlike the fashion industry where styles are seldom worn past their season until a generation later when they may be rediscovered, greatest hits collections and classic albums from every period remain part of the active playlist of life. In fact, the greatest hits of any year will be on the market by midyear. These recordings form sonic postcard collections of previous times.

Before records and technology’s impact on music production, musical passages and phrases, a good story, and a memorable chorus were the primary identifiers of a pop song. They are still important, but these “hooks” now include “the sound”. Those in music production often refer to the sound of a recording separate from the song. A recording can have a good or unique sound and at the same time the song may be inconsequential.

The public is equally interested in “the sound”, and their desire to hear every bit of it is reflected by their willingness to buy expensive home and car stereos and the proliferation of the personal delivery systems, the iPod phenomena.

As Dick Clark once commented “[the sound is] what the kids listen for... the more different, the more original, the more unique the sound is, the more chance a record has of becoming a hit”.

To place some indication on how much sound has become a marketable, and identifiable commodity, geography plays a part. At various times a collection of hits emerge from a certain geographical region and the style becomes identified with that place. The sound of New Orleans, Chicago, Motown, San Francisco, Merseyside, Londonbeat, Memphis, Liverpool, West Coast, Mid Atlantic, Nashville, Jamaican, Brazilian, Euro, are just a few of the places associated with a certain style of sound that have received world wide attention during a certain period of time.

“The sound”, in many cases, could be described as a formula that in and of itself is marketable commodity that is in the first instance sold by a producer to the record label. The ingredients, which make up this formula, come together as new devices become available and naturally enough each subsequent wave of music producer builds on and modifies earlier formula. Often they are so identifiable with the state of the technological art of the time that the trained ear can place the year of production based on the sound.

Sound and music became a commodity incrementally starting at the beginning of this century, but a large leap occurred when Les Paul made the recording studio a place of creation not merely of documentation. He was the first to use the technique of overdubbing, a cornerstone of the modern pop music sound, and was years ahead of what has become common practice. Essentially, an artist records a vocal (or other instrument), and then, while listening to what they have already recorded, they record another track. In the case of vocals, this creates a bigger then life sound. It also makes it possible for a solo musician to play every part in a recording. Using this technique Les Paul teamed up with vocalist Mary Ford and they changed the way pop music sounded. Together they had 28 hits between 1950 and 57. The best known are "How High The Moon", "Mockin’ Bird Hill”, "Vaya con Dios”, and "Tiger Rag”.

By and large, the music industry saw multi-track and the “overdubbing” technique as Les Paul’s sound, and not a general tool for music production. In the early 60s the Beatles and the Beach Boys would change all that.

Countless examples abound where a sound production technique becomes a bankable commodity. They are often associated with sounds that people have never heard before. In the 50s Ross Bagdasarian had been making records as a songwriter and arranger. He had a particular knack for writing novelty songs. In 1958 he had a hit with "Witch Doctor” in which he sonically conveyed a shrunken head singing, by recording the vocals at half the tape speed used to record the instruments and playing it all back at normal speed. The singing went up in pitch by an octave. Later that year he invented an alter ego, David Seville, and introduced a vocal trio using the technique as on his earlier hit. “The Chipmunk Christmas” sold 3 1/2 million copies in five weeks. Alvin, Simon and Theodore, between 1959-1980 made eight chart albums selling over 30 million copies. In more recent times they continue to be seen on Saturday morning toons.

Phil Spector created another landmark pop sound. His work is note worthy because he may be considered the first record producer to have attained “star” status for the sound he achieved. Spector’s “wall of sound” hits with The Crystals, The Righteous Brothers, The Ronettes, and Tina Turner’s classic "River Deep- Mountain High”. All had his distinctive sound. This sound was exclusively associated with the reverb chambers at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood. Many other top artists of the era also used the Goldstar chambers, including Sonny & Cher, The Iron Butterfly, The Stones, The Beach Boys, and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. The Goldstar chambers were so popular that the owners built two copies and leased them to other studios that would run high-quality telephone lines to Goldstar in order to use them. The Phil Spector sound and those chambers were a commodity for a while in the 60s.

In this decade a substantial percentage of records have some production aspect or sound taken from the past— the sound of nostalgia. We live in a time of interchangeable parts, music is in an advanced state of industrialization where mass produced components are used and reused in everything. The vast reissue on CD of long lost catalogs has allowed all previous decades to be available in our time. The 1990s was the redecade of reissue, review, reflection, reuse, and reprocess.

Today’s record producers have the texture, style and tone of all the other decades to draw on. And, Deja vu is the prevailing vu for most of the population. Songs and fragments of songs from the past in the latest music stimulate the recollection of countless personal histories.

For the music producer, the latest techniques and “sounds” are directly associated with the hardware that creates the components from which they construct musical productions. Hundreds of production equipment manufacturers jostle for market share. The most popular processes have become commodities in the marketing and application of these devices with other manufacturer quickly copies these features.

The sounds that these devices create may be as clearly identified as a specific preset program on a digital effect, or it might be quite beyond a layman’s description. In either case, the sound created will be tangible to those who care, if by no other way then through some comparison to earlier recordings.

The desired sound may come from a state of the art device, or a vintage piece of equipment, because unlike other types of technology that drop older state of the art in favor of the latest innovations, sound producers prize vintage microphones, sound generators and processor devices for the qualities they have. Some of these qualities are so characteristic that modern digital multi-processors have presets that attempt to create the attributes of these vintage devices. The manufacturers of production equipment, have in a sense, made a commodity of sound processes. An example is the preset on a device by Aphex that is “Tubesence” which supposedly delivers the sound of a valve amplifier. And of course there is a major reemergence of the manufacture of valve audio equipment.

Over the past three decades, signal processing has become significantly more elaborate, diverse, and much more than merely an enhancement of the sound entering the microphone. It has become an integral part of the overall production. Today, where the “musical instrument sound” ends and the “effect processor sound” begins is in most cases seamless. The variety of effects would seem to allow an infinite number of sounds to be used on the myriad of recordings made, however, in practice this has not been the case.

The desire of producers to make records that sound commercially familiar has created a remarkable number of productions that sound alike. The phenomenon has been made easier by the variety of pre-set programs that come with most sound generators and processors. By switching from one setting to another, the sounds from dozens of records can be heard. The preset computer program in the processor generates nothing except in response to a signal passing through it. Here we have sonic artifacts that have become marketable commodities. For instance reverb sound are cataloged by the type of instrument that might go through it as suggested by the manufacturer. A gated reverb snare exists on every processor made today. Most reverb device retain pre-set term that reference devices of the past. For instance, "plate" reverbs.

At the heart of rock and roll is guitar distortion; in this case a common denominator is the Celestion G-12 speaker that is in an overwhelming number of guitar amplifiers made by a number of different manufacturers. Ken Bran, the engineer who headed the introduction of the Marshall amplifier that was first made famous by Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, acknowledged that without Celestion they couldn’t have accomplished half of what they did.

In the beginning, Celestion was probably unaware of the desirability of speaker distortion. They had spent decades trying to build distortionless speakers, but the company quickly understood that speaker distortion was a key selling point.

As Celestion's promotional material states, “The paper edge cone of the classic G12 and its resonate break up characteristics are the starting point from which many of the modern guitar loudspeakers have been developed”

This speaker was first introduced in 1969 and continues to be sold with the assurance that the characteristics of its distortion hasn’t changed through the years. Here is the subjective, absolutely unquantifiable attribute of some form of unique distortion that has become a marketable commodity.

During the past few decades, an abundance of performance processors have been invented to add distortion to the sound coming out of a guitar. Two are particularly noteworthy. The fuzz-tone effect pedal was first marketed in 1963. Charley Watkins described, "It was an exciting sound- as if the speaker cone was being torn apart." In 1963, Hold Me by P.J. Probe was one of the first chart records to use a fuzz-tone, but the record to place fuzz-tone effects at the top of any guitar players shopping list was the 1964 debut single for the Rolling Stones, the classic Satisfaction. Interestingly, Keith Richards dismissed the prominence of the fuzz effect as a gimmick.

The second is the Cry Baby Wah Wah pedal which can make the guitar sound as though it were speaking. As the pedal is rocked back and forth a notch of frequencies are enhanced. The wah wah remains a backbone sound of rock blues soul music and became a recognizable commodity when used by Jimi Hendrix on All Along The Watch Tower and Eric Clapton on Cream’s 1967 hit Tales of brave Ulysses.

Stereo became a fashion statement soon after it was introduced in the late 50s when the first generation of "ultimate" playback systems appeared on the market. People would fill hi-fi stereo shows that were held in most major cities. This was triggered by the introduction of stereo, the LP, and the microgroove record. A great many successful recordings were produced for the stereo enthusiast. Trains would race from one speaker to the other. No matter how small the listener’s accommodation might have been, the infinite space of recorded music could overlap and open the confined space the listener occupied. The two spaces would conflate to create an environment with no walls to restrict the many worlds that could be presented between those stereo channels. The sonic image of space had become a commodity.

Today surround sound has allowed the consumer hi-fi industry to reinvent itself as the consumer now sits in the showroom and hears why 6 speakers are better then two when space ships wiz around the room.