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Entries in canned music (2)


Robots Will Kill Music! (1930)

With every important technological innovation a vocal group of people become alarmed that their industry will be adversely effected by it. People are understandably terrified when it seems like a new technology will put them out of a job. However, throughout the twentieth century, we've seen that the people who succeed in times of transition are those able to adapt to technology rather than fight against it.

Techno-reactionaries of the 1930s complained that automation and "robots" were going to put people out of work, and we hear identical cries today. But what is the "robot" of 2010? The Internet, of course!

Writer Andrew Keen claims that websites like YouTube have "infiltrated and infected" America, putting hardworking people out of jobs by giving a voice to the amateurs rather than those who have been the traditional media gatekeepers. In Keen's 2007 book, The Cult of the Amateur, he accuses the Internet and Web 2.0 culture of crippling the entire media industry; from newspapers to recorded music. What really gets me about Keen is his moral outrage over technology and the fearmongering that goes along with it, but I'll save that for another post.

Below is an ad from the Music Defense League that appeared in the November 24, 1930 Jefferson City Post-Tribune (Jefferson City, MO). The advertisement uses a robotic villian; a physical representation of the recorded or "canned" music that was starting to be used in theatres of the era. From the vantage point of 2010 it's a rather hilarious idea, because what is the institution of today being "destroyed" by new technology? Recorded music!

Efficiencies in distribution brought about by the Internet mean that moving recorded music around the world is simple and inexpensive. Any scarcity in newly recorded music is artificial because you no longer have to go to a store and pay for plastic discs to enjoy the music you like. As has always been the case, the innovators will thrive and those who try to put up artificial barriers will become irrelevant and die off.

Viva la technologie, etc.



Previously on Paleo-Future:



Robots vs. Musicians (1931)

This ad from the March 9, 1931 Simpson's Leader-Times (Kittanning, PA) is in no way subtle. The consequences of using recorded music at theatre performances rather than live musicians are, "Monotony in the theatre - corruption of taste - destruction of art." Yikes.

Here is a struggle of intense interest to all music lovers. If the Robot of Canned Music wrests the helm from the Muse, passengers aboard the good ship Musical Culture may well echo the offer of Gonzalo to trade "a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of ground." Are you content to face a limitless expanse of "sound" without a sign of music?


Monotony in the theatre - corruption of taste - destruction of art. These must inevitably follow substitution of mechanical music for living music.

Millions of Music Defense League members cordially invite you to join them in putting the Robot in his place. Just sign and mail the coupon.

See also:
The Future is Now (1955)
All the Music of the Centuries (1908)
"I Can Whip Any Mechanical Robot" by Jack Dempsey (1930s)
The Robot is a Terrible Creature (1922)
Gigantic Robots to Fight Our Battles (Fresno Bee, 1934)
Mammy vs Robot (Charleston Gazette, 1937)