John Philip Sousa was a famous American composer known best for his patriotic marching tunes. With the influx of phonographs and recorded music, Sousa and many others began to criticize the mechanization of music. As someone who wrote music that was intended to be performed live by a large band, Sousa critically claimed that recorded music was a,“substitute for human skill, intelligence, and soul.” (278) He essentially was arguing that a recording takes the soul out of music. While I agree that a recording takes spontaneity and the candid essence out of a musical moment, I think the soul is still there. I don’t think recorded music is meant to necessarily imitate live music, it is its own animal. It’s a time capsule for a song, while live music is fleeting and in the moment. They are fundamentally different in design. I think the technological reproduction of music makes music more accessible and integrative in daily life. I can just put my headphones and listen to songs wherever I am.
I think that that are some parallels between what Sousa is describing to be “soulless” and modern day technological reproductions of music. To me, a lot of the music I hear on the radio that is drenched in autotune is soulless in the way that many of those musicians are not very good live. I’ve been very lucky to have attended many concerts, and I find that many performers that sound perfect on the radio have little to no stage presence and are not as talented as they are painted to be.
I think a lot has changed with copyrighting since Sousa was alive, but I really emphasize with his struggles. The fact that musician cheated him by only buying sheet music and not having to pay anything for recording his songs and then selling them is ridiculous. Those songs were his brainchildren and he should’ve been compensated for every reproduction that was made. I’m really glad that copyright laws are much more strict today and protect the people who create art.