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CANCELLED - Spring 2020 Course D The History of the Recording Industry

Alumnae Continuing Education
Norris University Center
Thursday, Apr 2, 2020 at 12:45 PM (CT) to Thursday, Jun 4, 2020 at 2:45 PM (CT)

Dear Alumnae Continuing Education student,

Regretfully, The Alumnae of Northwestern University Continuing Education Program is cancelling all four spring 2020 courses.

Northwestern University is taking significant steps to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on its campuses and protect the health and well-being of students, faculty, staff, and guests. Because the university is not having spring classes onsite for the foreseeable future, we cannot hold our classes at Northwestern, precipitating the cancellation for spring. At present, we do not offer our courses online.

A full refund will be forthcoming. Those of you who paid by check or cash will be sent a check for a full refund from The Alumnae of Northwestern University. The Norris Box Office will be issuing full refunds to those who paid by credit card. The refund will appear as a credit posted to the original payment card used for the registration.

Under these circumstances, there is no need to purchase a cancellation fee.

If you have any questions, please contact The Alumnae's voicemail (847-604-3569) or The Alumnae email:

The Alumnae Continuing Education Program

Course D. The History of the Recording Industry

Thursdays, 12:45 - 2:45 p.m.

Jacob SmithProfessor, Radio-Television-Film
Director, MA in Sound Arts and Industries

This course meets on Thursday afternoons beginning on April 2nd


This course will explore the history of the recording industry from the invention of the phonograph in 1877 to recent developments in digital audio. We will examine the social, cultural, and technological factors that have shaped the development of the recording industry, and consider musical genres such as jazz, blues, rock, swing, muzak, dub, EDM, rap, and K-pop. We will consider the production, distribution, and reception of recordings, tracking the changing ways in which sounds have been produced, sold, and consumed. Recordings of popular music will be our primary focus, but we will explore synergies with the film industry, radio, television, and various digital forms. Some of the themes of the course will be the relationships among sound industries; the tension between independent and major labels; questions of copyright and creativity in popular music; the relationship between technology and innovation in sonic arts; and the increasing mobility and cultural ubiquity of recorded sound. Looking back across a “century of sound” allows us to gain a deeper appreciation of our current immersion in recorded music, and to better understand some of the central debates and dynamics that have shaped the recording industry.

Apr. 2 — Fugitive Sounds
We begin with pre-modern conjectures about how sound might be captured and preserved. Several of those ideas can be followed into the modern era and the invention of Thomas Edison’s phonograph in 1877. From there, we consider some of the first reactions to, and proposed uses for this remarkable new technology, listen to some of the earliest recordings, and track some of the recording industry’s first “hits” and “misses.”

Apr. 9 — No Class

Apr. 16 — Icons of Phonography

The first era of studio recording is known as the “acoustic” era, because sounds were recorded without electronic amplification or microphones. With the aid of listening examples, we focus on several “icons” of this first era of recording, and by extension, the importance of genres such as opera, blues, and jazz in early industry catalogs. In addition to thinking about African-American musical forms, we will cover some of the first African-American-owned companies and industry figures.

Apr. 23 — Empires of Sound
We move to the second era of recording technology this week, with the arrival of radio, microphones, loudspeakers, and other electronic technologies. The “electric” era of recording is characterized by a new set of musical forms, performance styles, and links to media like radio and the new “talkies” being produced by the Hollywood film studios. The rise of new media conglomerates was a result, and these “Empires of Sound” were one factor in helping the record industry to survive the market crash of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Apr. 30 — Revolutions in Sound
The postwar era was marked by a number of technological revolutions in recorded sound, including the dawn of magnetic tape as a recording medium. The flexibility of tape played a key role in the emergence of new sounds, new genres like rock and roll and musique concrete, and new independent record companies. Rock and roll also represented a shift in the industry’s approach to audiences, as well as a new cross-media relationship between record companies and television.

May 7 — Multitrack Masterworks
The creative possibilities of tape, first explored during the 1950s, flowered in the 1960s. We track the work of several influential producers and artists, but also expand beyond popular music to think about a number of uses of recorded sound during the era of the “long-playing” (LP) record: spoken word, comedy, and “environmental” records.

May 14 — Cassette Culture 
Tape technology changed the way music was made in the studio, and in the form of portable cassettes, it also changed the way music was consumed. This week, we examine the rise of “cassette culture” and its impact on the industry, and also consider several key genres of the era, such as disco and reggae.

May 21 — Digital Boom 
Continuing our examination of Jamaican forms like reggae and dub from last week, we move to American hip hop, and in the process, make our last technological sea-change to the era of digital audio. Rap was the site of pioneering techniques like sampling, and we examine several influential hip hop producers and record companies. We bask in the glow of an industry boom, driven by MTV, the new digital format of the CD, and the rise of teen pop.

May 28 — Digital Bust
Bust follows boom, as the record industry is brought low by the emergence of digital distribution platforms like Napster. We track the fall of cherished record store chains, and the rise of the first ways in which consumers experienced digital music. New industry players like Apple enter the game, and musicians and record labels scramble to develop new strategies for surviving in a radically new economic landscape.

Jun. 4 — Music in the Cloud
In our final session, we consider the most recent developments in streaming audio, artist contracts, copyright legislation, industry strategy, and emerging technologies like smart speakers. We assess the “century of sound” that we have traversed, our current experience of recorded sound in our lives, and contemplate the sounds of the future.

Parking permit may be requested from this website.

See the event listed as Spring 2020 Parking - Optional

Information is subject to change. Full course and policy descriptions are available at

***One ticket per class, per account.

Course Pricing

One nine-week course $190.00

Discounts for Multiple Registrations for an Individual

Individuals who register for multiple courses may receive discounts on each additional course after the first:

To register for two nine-week courses at the special price of $355.00, select the 2-Course Package.

To register for three nine-week courses at the special price of $520.00, select the 3-Course Package.

To register for four nine-week courses at the special price of $685.00, select the 4-Course Package.

Your email confirmation from Norris Box Office verifies your registration but it is not your entry to class. Be sure to bring your class entry card to each class as it must be shown to the proctors at the entry door. In order to guarantee seating for registered students, those without their card will be given a temporary entry card, but ONE time only. After that one time, a replacement card will be provided at a fee of $30.00.

Refund Policy: Before a refund can be issued, your course card must be returned and the cancellation fee must be purchased on this website. Send your entry card to Alumnae Continuing Education, P.O. Box 2789, Glenview, IL 60025.

Applicable Fees and Withdrawal Schedule:
If the withdrawal request is received prior to the first class, the refund of the original registration will be initiated only after the registrant purchases a $10.00 cancellation processing fee.

If the withdrawal request is received after the first class, but before the second class, the refund of the the original registration will be initiated only after the registrant purchases both the $10.00 cancellation processing fee and the $30.00 per diem fee, per course dropped.

If the withdrawal request is received after the second class, but before the third class, the refund of the original registration will be initiated only after the registrant purchases the $10.00 cancellation processing fee and $60.00 in per diem fees, per course dropped.

  • No refunds will be given after the second class.
  • Credits are not given for future classes.
  • A transfer at no cost to another class offered during the same quarter is an option provided there is space available.
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Online ticket sales ended on 3/12/2020 at 2:00 PM (CT)

Event Location
Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive Evanston, IL 60208

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