We've all heard that the Internet is killing the music industry, just like home taping was supposed to kill it before. As it turns out, accusations
that technology would destroy music go all the way back to the 1930s, when musicians claimed tyrannical robots would churn out soulless music.
Synchronized sound may have been a wonder to theater audiences who saw 1927' The Jazz Singer, but to some musicians, it signalled the death knell of
live performances. In 1930, the American Federation of Musicians formed the Music Defense League, which launched a $500,000 ad campaign, asking the
public to petition for live musicians in lieu of "canned" prerecorded music. The ads featured robots playing instruments, accompanied by claims that
soulless machines would destroy the emotional art of music.
Even films were not exempt from these musical doomsayers, who believed that audiences would grow weary at the lack of emotion in filmed performances.
Said Joseph N. Weber, president of the American Federation of Musicians:
After the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927, all bets were off for live musicians who played in movie theaters. Thanks to synchronized sound, the use
of live musicians was unnecessary — and perhaps a larger sin, old-fashioned. In 1930 the American Federation of Musicians formed a new organization
called the Music Defense League and launched a scathing ad campaign to fight the advance of this terrible menace known as recorded sound.
The evil face of that campaign was the dastardly, maniacal robot. The Music Defense League spent over $500,000, running ads in newspapers throughout
the United States and Canada. The ads pleaded with the public to demand humans play their music (be it in movie or stage theaters), rather than some
cold, unseen machine. A typical ad read like this one from the September 2, 1930 Syracuse Herald in New York:
Tho’ the Robot can make no music of himself, he can and does arrest the efforts of those who can.
Manners mean nothing to this monstrous offspring of modern industrialism, as IT crowds Living Music out of the theatre spotlight.
Though “music has charms to soothe the savage beast, to soften rocks or bend a knotted oak,” it has no power to appease the Robot of Canned Music.
Only the theatre-going public can do that.
Hence the swift growth of the Music Defense League, formed to demand Living Music in the theatre.
Every lover of music should join in this rescue of Art from debasement. Sign and mail the coupon.
The robot of recorded or “canned” music had many guises, all somehow destroying the best things in society. Here the robot makes a lunge in its
attempt to steer “musical culture” away from a decidedly more pure course: