The Transformation of the U.S. Recording Industry
Tracing the cultural, technological, and economic shifts that shaped the transformation of the recording industry
Record Cultures tells the story of how early U.S. commercial recording companies captured American musical culture in a key period in both music and media history. Amid dramatic technological and cultural changes of the 1920s and 1930s, small recording companies in the United States began to explore the genres that would later be known as jazz, blues, and country. Smaller record labels, many based in rural or out of the way Midwestern and Southern towns, were willing to take risks on the country’s regional vernacular music as a way to compete with more established recording labels. Recording companies’ relationship with radio grew closer as both industries were on the rise, propelled by new technologies. Radio, which had become immensely popular, began broadcasting more recorded music in place of live performances, and this created profitable symbiosis. With the advent of the talkies, the film industry completed the media trifecta. The novelty of recorded sound was replacing film accompanists, and the popularity of movie musicals solidified film’s connections with the radio and recording industries. By the early 1930s, the recording industry had gone from being part of the largely autonomous phonograph industry to being major media industry of its own, albeit deeply tied to—and, in some cases, owned by—the radio and film industries. The triangular relationships between these media industries marked the first major entertainment and media conglomerates in U.S. history.
Through an interdisciplinary and intermedial approach to recording industry history, Record Cultures creates new connections between different strands of media research. It will be of interest to scholars of popular music, media studies, sound studies, American culture, and the history of film, television, and radio.
“At last, a scholarly study that integrates the history of phonography with radio and film, to show how the interlocking operations of these key media sectors worked to produce twentieth-century media culture. Solidly researched and full of colorful details.”
—Michele Hilmes, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Praise / Awards
"Barnett explores hybridity via Paul Whiteman’s symphonic jazz bands, the intersection of Black music labels and the Harlem Renaissance, and the discovery of 'hillbilly music' via WLS's radio program Barn Dance. The narrative is peppered with interesting facts."
—S. Lenig, CHOICE Connect
"Record Cultures: The Transformation of the U.S. Recording Industry fills an important gap in scholarship that has been vacant for far too long, and it is an excellent offering that hopefully will spur more conversation about the role of recorded sound in media history."
-Journal of Radio & Audio Media
Winner of the 2021 ARSC Award for Excellence in Best Historical Research on Record Labels or General Recording Topics
News, Reviews, Interviews
: Interview with New Books in Music
: Interview with Aquarium Drunkard
: Interview with Radio Survivor
: Interview with Music Journalism Insider
: Excerpt in Perfect Sound Forever
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