Noble work from Brewster Kahle, who founded the Internet Archive. They compiled a treasure trove of music recorded when the recording industry was in its infancy, and records were cylinders, or 78 RPM discs. From this collection I’ve learned so much about music that was made before I was born. Converting these recordings to digital storage is complex, and done by music-loving collectors. Serving these works on-demand is the Archive’s role, as the best music library on the planet. I found this stupendous recording by Johnny Dunn’s Original Jazz Hounds (not to be confused with Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds.) The trumpet work is great, once you’re past the 78 needle-noise at the beginning. “Hawaiian Blues” is performed by the first lineup of the Jazz Hounds, before they added Edith Wilson as vocalist.
The music industry is awash in confusion. Here’s why: Ancient laws based on Player Pianos and piano rolls.
The laws and business systems in place to provide royalties to music creators are woefully outdated. Some of these laws go back to the Player Piano era, with only minor updates in the years since. With technology (digital streaming) vastly outpacing these “old” rules, what we’re seeing is gaps in copyright law, unfair rates, and huge loopholes that allow corporations to profit off the work of creators without paying music creators a cent.
As a songwriter, I’ve seen my work played thousands of times on popular streaming platforms. The compensation for those plays is dishearteningly low, and noting how quickly income for music is shifting from sales to streaming, I’m concerned that with this lack of modern thinkings, music is going to remain in the dark ages.
Here’s some of the music business’s backstory, and my attempt to explain how we got to the current copyright law dilemma.
****There is one glaring fact: IT WAS A MECHANICAL WORLD BACK THEN, the home/bar entertainment system was advanced machinery called, pianos. Popular music was monetized in the early 1900s by the sale of sheet music to live piano players, who then played the hits of the day on their pianos. Think of humans acting like a jukebox. That version of the music industry was disrupted by the invention of a mechanical piano, that made these songs come to life without a human piano player. This invention contained a mechanism that operated the piano action via pre-programmed music stored on a perforated paper called the “piano roll.”
With a piano roll and one of those newfangled mechanical pianos, a dance song like “The Charleston” became a hit and would quickly generate a lot more income than old sheet music industry, but without replacing the sheet music industry. This mechanical piano and the paper-modeled performance technology changed music consumption forever. It allowed for the same exact performance everywhere! The sale of these Player Pianos and “piano rolls” became the new products of the music industry, rewarding the one artist whose performance was used to model the roll.
The roll I selected here was performed by piano expert, James P. Johnson, and it demonstrates his piano brilliance. The mechanical piano, armed with a number of interchangeable rolls, resembles the rudimentary ingredients of a primitive jukebox. This became the basis for the “mechanical license” (a metric used to pay songwriters for a music sale), and interpretations of this existing law from 1923 (and updated in 1976) are used as the basis for current music business copyright law and music compensation.
HOW NUTS! A copyright law affecting us today was written in 1923. Wow, truly insane when you think about it!
Here’s “The Charleston.” This piano roll is a hit. A great example of the past!
Jazz greats have to start somewhere, Louie Armstrong started here. Joseph Nathan Oliver, known as King Oliver, an excellent coronet player himself, gave Louis his 1st entertainment job in his creole band, took him under his wings, and taught him the music biz ropes. Tim Gracyk has made a sensational YouTube post of this song, and it includes some gr8 old images. I encourage you to expand your music horizons and give a listen.
What an inspired performance! I found this original performance of this classic at publicdomainreview.org. The former song-plugger turned composer wrote this song in 1924, and it still resonates today. I especially enjoy this version, and am very glad to share it with you.
In the American songbook, there are Standards and there are Standards. This would be a front cover of Standard Magazine. “All of Me” by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons was first recorded by singer Ruth Etting.
This was later recorded and performed by many others including Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and even Frank Sinatra. Mildred Bailey’s lilting vocal helped put this great song on the map, with this early recording by Paul Whiteman’s orchestra.