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Journal of the Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association

Volume 18, Number 1 (2018)

"Guided by Commercial Motives": Selling Songwriting

Christopher M. Reali

Ramapo College of New Jersey


Beginning in the early 1900s, authors working within the American music publishing industry wrote how-to books about popular songwriting for aspiring tunesmiths. On one level, these texts are simply the by-products of successful songwriters taking advantage of their celebrity. But while these instructional books are self-aggrandizing promotional tools, they also continue the tradition of musicians writing compositional manuals for his or her students. The utilitarian purpose of these how-to manuals adds to their historical importance. Examining these sources provides an avenue of inquiry into three related areas: how pioneering Tin Pan Alley writers such as Charles K. Harris and others wrote and thought about songwriting; the ancillary business practices of the music publishing industry; and the origins of popular music’s cultural dominance in the twentieth century. Ultimately, examining these how-to books provides a unique opportunity to view Tin Pan Alley from the perspective of music industry insiders.

Keywords: Tin Pan Alley, music publishing, popular song, Charles K. Harris, Irving Berlin, how-to, songwriting

Reali, Christopher M. Guided by Commercial Motives: Selling Songwriting.” Journal of the Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association 18, no. 1 (2018): 13-35. https://doi.org/10.25101/18.1

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