Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

6/1/2007 - 5/31/2008

Funding Totals

$40,000.00 (approved)
$40,000.00 (awarded)

The Commercial Revolution in American Music

FAIN: FA-53332-07

David Suisman
University of Delaware (Newark, DE 19711-3651)

This project explores the rise of music as big business in the United States and its signal contribution to the development of consumer capitalism in the twentieth century. Today it is a truism that music has become a commodity. If this is so, how and when did it become one? And what kind of commodity is it? This interdisciplinary study answers these questions by showing how music entrepreneurs restructured the production of music as an industrial process and transformed the consumption of music through complex, innovative marketing. It moves from music publishing to grand opera to "race" records and shows how the rise of the music business also left an enduring legacy in advertising and the legal interpretations of intellectual property.

Media Coverage

Various reviews (Review)
Date: 1/7/2012
Abstract: The book was widely and favorably reviewed in the media. Newspaper and magazine reviews include: The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Nation, Wilson Quarterly,,, Los Angeles Times blog,, The Deal Magazine, Milwaukee Express. Journal reviews appeared in: American Historial Review, Journal of American History, American Quarterly, ARSC Journal, Popular Music, Notes, Bulletin of the Society for American Music, Social Text

Interviews (Media Coverage)
Date: 1/7/2012
Abstract: Radio interviews: American Public Media's "Marketplace"; WMBR, "Radio with a View"; WFMU, "Antique Phonograph Hour"; WVUD, "ArtSounds"

Associated Products

Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music (Book)
Title: Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music
Author: David Suisman
Abstract: From Tin Pan Alley to grand opera, player-pianos to phonograph records, David Suisman’s Selling Sounds explores the rise of music as big business and the creation of a radically new musical culture. Around the turn of the twentieth century, music entrepreneurs laid the foundation for today’s vast industry, with new products, technologies, and commercial strategies to incorporate music into the daily rhythm of modern life. Popular songs filled the air with a new kind of musical pleasure, phonographs brought opera into the parlor, and celebrity performers like Enrico Caruso captivated the imagination of consumers from coast to coast. Selling Sounds uncovers the origins of the culture industry in music and chronicles how music ignited an auditory explosion that penetrated all aspects of society. It maps the growth of the music business across the social landscape—in homes, theaters, department stores, schools—and analyzes the effect of this development on everything from copyright law to the sensory environment. While music came to resemble other consumer goods, its distinct properties as sound ensured that its commercial growth and social impact would remain unique. Today, the music that surrounds us—from iPods to ring tones to Muzak—accompanies us everywhere from airports to grocery stores. The roots of this modern culture lie in the business of popular song, player-pianos, and phonographs of a century ago. Provocative, original, and lucidly written, Selling Sounds reveals the commercial architecture of America’s musical life.
Year: 2009
Primary URL:
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Type: Single author monograph


Vincent P. DeSantis Prize
Date: 3/1/2011
Organization: Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Certificate of Merit, 2010 ARSC Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research, Best Research in General History of Recorded Sound Category
Date: 3/1/2010
Organization: Association for Recorded Sound Collections

Honorable Mention, 2010 Woody Guthrie Award
Date: 3/1/2010
Organization: US Branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music

2010 Hagley Prize
Date: 3/1/2010
Organization: Hagley Museum and Library and the Business History Conference

A CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title of 2009
Date: 12/31/2009

Black Swan Rising (Article)
Title: Black Swan Rising
Author: David Suisman
Abstract: Adapted from from a chapter in my book.
Year: 2010
Format: Magazine
Periodical Title: Humanities
Publisher: Natl. Endowment for the Humanities