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Songs during the Coming of Sound Katherine Spring Abstract: The confluence of the American film and music industries began as early as 1927, when Hollywood’s transition to sound encouraged the major film produc- tion companies to invest in the business of popular music. In print advertising and on film soundtracks, the studios promoted motion picture songs as discrete, self- contained moments of performance. It is now a question as to which has absorbed which. Is the motion picture industry a subsidiary of the music publishing business—or have film producers gone into the busi- ness of making songs? 1 Scholarship investigating the convergence of the motion picture and popular mu- sic industries of the United States tends to focus on the last two decades of the twentieth century, a period of high-profile mergers and acquisitions among enter- tainment corporations. 2 On the relationship between the two industries prior to 1980, there exist only a handful of sustained studies, such as The Sounds of Com- merce: Marketing Popular Film Music , in which author Jeff Smith shows how the emergence of pop film scores of the 1950s through the 1970s corresponded with the film industry’s increasing affiliation with music interests. 3 However, the coun- try’s film and music industries colluded as early as 1927, when Hollywood’s major studios began converting from silent to sound film. Over the course of the transi- tional period, each of Hollywood’s major studios invested in the business of popu- lar song publishing. By owning song copyrights, the studios evaded costly soundtrack licensing fees and profited from sales of auxiliary products, such as sheet music and phonograph records. The studios exploited their investments by including songs in an unexpected variety of nonmusical genres, including Westerns, melodramas, and comedies. 4 By 1931, changes in audience taste and the economic impact of the Depression led the studios to withdraw from the publishing business, but the four-year interim gave rise to norms of soundtrack design and methods of song marketing, which have endured. Yet, there has been little research on this early, 68 Cinema Journal 48, No. 1, Fall 2008 Katherine Spring is an assistant professor of Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. Her doctoral thesis, completed at the University of Wisconsin– Madison, is titled, “‘Say It with Songs’: Hollywood’s Use of Popular Music during the Tran- sition to Sound, 1927–1931.” This essay won SCMS’s 2007 Student Writing Award. © 2008 by the University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, TX 78713-7819
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This note was uploaded on 01/24/2011 for the course COMM 550 taught by Professor Cante during the Spring '10 term at UNC.

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48.1.spring - Access Provided by The University of North...

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