Presenting new sounds

five young men posing for a photograph

1975 publicity photograph for the Liverpool rock group Heroes,
courtesy of Carey Pring

For much of music's history, new sounds reached the ears of an audience mainly by means of live performance. In the 21st century live performance is still important to how new sounds are heard, but it is one element in a more complicated process. That process is dominated by what are often called intermediaries - persons and organisations who come between music-makers and audiences, and whose function is to turn new musical sounds into a form in which they can be presented to, and heard by, the audience.

Although the term intermediary is relatively new, the idea is an old one. The first intermediary to make a significant impact on the way new sounds were heard was the music publisher. In order to have his or her 'new sounds' performed more than once a composer (whether a classical composer like Beethoven or a popular songwriter like Stephen Foster) needed the services of a publisher, to take the music and present it to the public in the form of printed music notation. The published music then enabled the music to be performed - and the new sounds heard by the public - wherever it was available and there were musicians to play it. Another intermediary sprang up - the music seller or retailer - to convince the public that they could recreate the new sounds for themselves, and to sell them the music as the means to do so.

With the arrival of sound recording (see Sounds and technology for more on this subject), a whole new set of intermediaries appeared on the scene to link new sounds with the public. Instead of enabling new sounds to be recreated by different musicians in different places, a recording captures an actual performance of those new sounds by a particular set of musicians (or at least, appears to do so), and allows that performance to be repeated in different places. In the process the act of hearing/listening to that music becomes more significant, and as there are no visible performers, attention focuses more narrowly on the actual sound.

cropped photo of a man in a suit and tie holding his arm out as if offering to shake hands with you
© Wackerhausen

The main intermediary in this case is the record company. Like publishers, record companies are commercial organisations, and it is in their business interests to have a steady flow of sound products that they can market as in some way 'new'. Like publishers, they also need the services of retailers, but unlike the music retailers who sold sheet music, the record retailers do not have to market their wares only to customers who can recreate the music in performance. Hearing new sounds in recorded form does require ceratin skills, but being able to replicate a performance is not one of them - and so the record intermediaries are able to present the new sounds to a much wider audience.

Click on the following links to read more about how new sounds are presented to the audience, and those methods affect the way new sounds are heard: