“The most significant feature of the emergent popular music industry of the late 18th and early 19th centuries was the extent of its focus on the commodity form of sheet music”. The availability of inexpensive, widely available sheet music versions of popular songs and instrumental music pieces made it possible for music to be disseminated to a wide audience of amateur music-makers, who could play and sing popular music at home. In addition to the influence of sheet music, another factor was the increasing availability during the late 18th and early 19th century of public popular music performances in “pleasure gardens and dance halls, popular theatres and concert rooms”. The early popular music performers worked hand-in-hand with the sheet music industry to promote popular sheet music. One of the early popular music performers to attain widespread popularity was a Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind, who toured the US in the mid-19th century. During the 19th century, more people began getting involved in music by participating in amateur choirs or joining brass bands.
The center of the music publishing industry in the US during the late 19th century was in New York’s ‘Tin Pan Alley’ district. The Tin Pan Alley music publishers developed a new method for promoting sheet music: incessant promotion of new songs. One of the technological innovations that helped to spread popular music around the turn of the century was player pianos; these allowed people to hear the new popular piano tunes. By the early 1900s, the big trends in popular music were the increasing popularity of vaudeville theaters and dance halls and the new invention—the gramophone player. The record industry grew very rapidly; “By 1920 there were almost 80 record companies in Britain, and almost 200 in the USA”. Radio broadcasting of music, which began in the early 1920s, helped to spread popular songs to a huge audience. Another factor which helped to disseminate popular music was the introduction of “talking pictures”—sound films—in the late 1920s. In the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, there was a move towards consolidation in the recording industry which led several major companies to dominate the record industry.
In the 1950s and 1960s, television began to play an increasingly important role in disseminating new popular music. Variety shows regularly showcased popular singers and bands. In the 1960s, the development of new technologies in recording such as multitrack recorders gave sound engineers an increasingly important role in popular music. By using recording techniques, sound engineers could create new sounds and sound effects that were not possible using traditional “live” recording techniques.
In the 1970s, the trend towards consolidation in the recording industry continued to the point that the “… dominance was in the hands of five huge transnational organizations, three American-owned (WEA, RCA, CBS) and two European-owned [companies] (EMI, Polygram)”. In the 1990s, the consolidation trend took a new turn: inter-media consolidation. This trend saw music recording companies being consolidated with film, television, magazines, and other media companies, an approach which facilitated cross-marketing promotion between subsidiaries. For example, a record company’s singing star could be cross-promoted by the firm’s television and magazine arms.
The “introduction of digital equipment (mixing desks, synthesizers, samplers, sequencers)” in the 1990s resulted in what Grove Dictionary of Music dubbed the creation of “new sound worlds,” as well as facilitating DIY music production by amateur musicians and ” tiny independent record labels”