Music History

The Napster of the 1930s. Wait–What?

Think that music piracy is a 21st century issue? Try again, sunshine. People have been ripping off musicians and rights holders for decades. Stay Free Magazine reminds us of what went on in the 1930s.

In April 1930, in a raid on bootleg song-sheet peddlers on Broadway between 42nd and 43rd, Traffic Patrolman Broger made the first arrest: Mrs. Sarah Yagoda, age 80. After a Music Publishers Protective Association representative and the district attorney interrogated Mrs. Yagoda in a failed attempt to identify the sheet’s printer and distributors, she was allowed to go home.
Nine years later, nothing much had changed in Times Square. The New York Times noted that “on any afternoon or evening, if the magistrate sitting in West Side Court is known to be lenient, the area north of Forty-second Street is a beehive for the street sale of song sheets,” as well as watches, French pictures, neckties, jewelry, flowers, and suspenders.
Bootleg song sheets emerged in 1929 as newspaper-sized sheets of pop-song lyrics. Later, they evolved into song-lyric magazines. These products appeared in response to sweeping changes in the way Americans related to pop songs.
The recording industry had become a powerhouse; nationwide AM radio networks were in place, and movies with sound delivered musicals far beyond the Broadway theater district. Increasingly, people made music not by gathering around the piano and singing, but by singing along with electronic media: recordings, broadcasts, and films. Because musical notation was no longer essential, lyrics-only song sheets became popular. Instead of paying 35 cents for one piece of sheet music, music fans could get a sheet of lyrics to many songs for only a nickel or a dime.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38556 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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