Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
Selling Sounds

Selling Sounds

The Commercial Revolution in American Music

David Suisman

ISBN 9780674064041

Publication date: 05/07/2012

Request exam copy

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.


  • This book is music to my ears-- a much needed history of the rise of the commercial music industry in the first decades of the twentieth century. Deeply researched, smartly argued, and engagingly written, Selling Sounds will sweep you off your feet.

    —Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America


  • 2010, Winner of the Hagley Prize in Business History
  • 2011, Winner of the Vincent P. DeSantis Prize


  • David Suisman is Associate Professor of History at the University of Delaware.

Book Details

  • 368 pages
  • 5-11/16 x 8-15/16 inches
  • Harvard University Press