The Impact of Technology on Songwriting

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Arguably, music, musicians and songwriters, in general, have a credible social impact on culture. The messages in most songs have a direct and indirect influence on listeners. As such, social changes in culture influence the modes and styles of songwriting with time. In the same manner, the exponential changes in technology have had an impact on songwriting. From the wax cylinders, LP’s to mp3, technology has changed the song’s introductions, length, and so many other aspects.

Further, it must be noted that America’s earlier-year songs were mostly based on British styles though tended to assimilate other styles from countries such as Ireland, Italy, Scotland and African styles. However, Tin Pan Alley and other players evolved the manner that music was written and distributed. Therefore, this paper seeks to look into the manner that the changing technology, as well as social aspects of music, have influenced songwriting and recording.

Changing Technology Aspects in Songwriting

Technology has eased songwriting in a variety of ways such as pitching, presentation of demos and in collaboration between various artists.  In songwriting, various technical aspects govern the manner in which the trade is performed. From the creation of the phonograph and the gramophone in the 20th century by Berliner, music writing has been evolving, thereby bringing in profound technological aspects of songwriting. Some of the important elements that have changed over time in songwriting including the advent of instruments.

 The creation of the electric guitar, for instance, led to the advent of rock and roll from the blues they were used to such as the forms adopted by T-Bone Walker. Other instruments that changed the way of doing things were the synthesizers, recorders, samplers, turntables and finally the internet amongst others. The age of the internet has allowed people to stream live music of their choice from their phones, an issue that is seemingly seen to bring songwriting to a whole new level. According to Errico (Para1), streaming of music will most likely change the manner that people write songs regarding time. 

Changing Social Aspects in Songwriting

             Over the years, various songs have been written in a manner that has sparked social change. In essence, the fact that songs can be used to bring about social changes in the cultural systems, songwriting, in itself, has some changing aspects in the cultural systems. Against this backdrop, as noted by Baltin and Molinaro (Para 1), songwriting has influenced social culture and consequently defined the eras in which they happened. Notable examples, according to these authors are the likes of U2 (Silver and Gold) and Peter Gabriel (Biko) (Baltin and Molinaro, Para 2), who, on singing against apartheid in South Africa in the mid-80s drew public attention to the crisis, a factor that contributed to the eventual ending of the segregation. Considering the given examples, it is clear that the songwriters are the actual individuals who knew the right messages to spread and thus influence the social-cultural system.

Additionally, music communication has been viewed as a form of symbolic communication. For instance, Exemplifying by the Beatles is a group that has had a signifnat cultural impact in America. According to Helixon (Para 2), the Beatles arrived in the United States at a time when a lot of political upheavals were underway. Helixon notes that it was a time that President Kennedy’s assassination had just happened and there was a looming war against Vietnam amongst other societal and peace-threatening atrocities. When the Beatles arrived, attention switched to the four group members owing to the dressing codes and the hairstyles. From the long hair, high heeled boots and modes of clothing that were described as strange, The Beatles were loathed by most Americans during the visit, but yet still, the impact they left led to resounding changes in the manner many young Americans dressed. Despite the dull mood at the time, there was a direct impact on social culture by the Beatles’ style of songwriting.

Impactful early recordings before 1960s

Acoustic recording

In 1914, the process of acoustic had still a fair meaning as it had not been used for a certain period of time. In this type of recording, horn made of wood was used where the vibrations belonging to the singer were concentrated and there was an accompaniment down to the point of a needle which etched them into wax (Gordon et al).  Acoustical recordings preserved various sibilants and difficult consonants which were hard to identify. In this type of recording the singer had to sing into the very center of the horn and the producers making some marks using the chalks on the floor.

Electric recording

Electric recording started in the year 1925. It referred to the use of microphones. In this period, However, Lehmann did most of his recordings at Odeon Company (Gordon et al). During this period Lehman recorded “Rosen lieder” in 1926 and the company introduced the microphone in February 1927.

RCA recordings                                             

In 1947 and 1949, Romophone had released the last commercial Lehmann’s recordings where there were some renewed interests in the techniques that were used in the 1940s by RCA Victor (Gordon et al). From 1949, the mastering on a tape technique was applied.  ”A -1“ was used and signified the approval take for production.

Gennet records

The American record company is located in Richmond. Founded in the year 1917 by the Starr Piano Company, its first records where produced in October 1917 gaining widespread acceptance. 

Early recordings

Bessie Smith’s recordings.

Bessie Smith was one of the American blues singers nicknamed ”the Empress of the blues”. In 1991, Smith completed the recordings for a five-volume series which was printed in the 21st century. Later, Sony Legacy repackaged the five volumes in a compact. The recordings covered a decade-long span when Bessie was a selling artist.

Sophie Tucker’s recordings

Sophie Tucker is a singer, actress and comedian. In the year 1911, Tucker began adding some traditional Yiddish songs to her comic and risqué songs and many others which increased her popularity. In 1914- 1917, she adopted jazz styling and in 1920, Tucker was able to score hits with some songs like re-recording.

The Influence of Tin Pan Alley

The Tin Pan Alley industry has played a big part in the promotion of modernist music. In essence, the Tin Pan Alley publishers led to the profound sophistication in music marketing and also in commercialism. West (Para 1) notes that the Tin Pan Alley played a big role in the bridging of the gaps between the young and the old in participation and shared musical experience. Before Tin Pan Alley, American music, having been aped from the British, largely sounded British. Differences in the music started occurring in the 19th century when the American theatre became functional. At the time, music publishers and songwriters in the Americas operated from the streets where they also sold musical instruments and even accessories. Most music publishing companies, at the time, sought to fulfill each other’s needs and thus seemed to work together in unison (Kanter, 56).

Tin Pan Alley was born when popular music started being published in a wider scale towards the end of the 19th century. The proliferation of this group was mainly castigated by the success of the founder in 1881, an aspect that made other publishers flow suit in a very resounding note; in essence, there was more money and profitability in popular music. In consideration of the improving styles of songwriting and publishing in the United States, more songwriters started practicing more liberally and while aping their predecessors.

A notable point in time is during a period when artists such as Scott Joplin assembled a mixed race music exposition that took place in 1893 in New York. At that instance, they performed ragtime around the streets of New York, making the genre very much liked by most New Yorkers.  Notably, also, artists continued aping and improving on the manner that music was captured, a critical improvement from the time ragtime started, and people could only watch live bands. In consideration of the universal appeal courtesy of ragtime, music continued being transformed and songwriters embedded many classics together, tending the ragtime musical towards modernism.

In conclusion, Tin Pan Alley’s establishment intended to mass market the music, the fact that made music available to the society. The major appeal of the movement arose from the fact that the minorities needed to support each other; making use of old music that transited and new music started getting composed. The result was the rise and conquering of the contemporary popular music that has also transited through advances in technology. In essence, most popular musicians gain through adaptations of the Tin Pan Alley musicals albeit those that they could easily memorize and change the musical structures.

Works Cited

Errico, Mike. ”The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music.” Independent, June 2 2015. entertainment/music/features/the-future-of-songwriting-how-streaming-is-changing everything-we-know-about-making-music-10293084.html. Accessed 8 Oct. 2018.

Etzkorn, K. Peter. ”Social context of songwriting in the United States.“ Ethnomusicology

7.2 (1963): 96-106.

Gordon, Matthew J., and Christopher Strelluf. ”Evidence of American regional dialects in early recordings.“ Listening to the Past: Audio Records of Accents of English (2017): 232.

Helixon, Tracy. The Beatles’ Cultural Influences. Wink, Accessed 8 Oct. 2018

Kanter, Kenneth Aaron. The Jews on Tin Pan Alley: The Jewish Contribution to American Popular Music, 1830-1940. Ktav Pub Inc, 1982.

Molinaro, Monica and Baltin, Steve. 12 Powerful Songs that Inspired Social Progress. Cuepoint, June 22 2016. progress-dfe7a87f5852. Accessed 8 Oct. 2018

Music, All. N.p., 2018.. Web. Accessed 16 Oct. 2018

West, Susan. ”The songs of Tin Pan Alley as a social, musical and educational resource in the development of music making, based on a community-focussed social/altruistic philosophy.” Australian National University,

Accessed 8 Oct. 2018.

October 05, 2023

Music Science



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