Posts Tagged ‘Tin Pan Alley’

The Flatiron street where pop music got its start

February 11, 2013

Tinpanalley28thstreetIn the market for a bootleg DVD? You can probably find what you’re looking for on West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue.

But a century ago, this stretch was the epicenter of a different kind of mass-produced entertainment.

This was Tin Pan Alley, where dozens of songwriters and publishers set up shop in the 1890s, and the pop music machine was born.

Tinpanalleyold “The name comes from the sound made by many songs being played at the same time through open windows, in different keys on poorly tuned pianos,” explains Song Sheets to Software.

Tin Pan Alley was in the middle of the Tenderloin neighborhood, a derelict district of gambling houses and brothels.

The music business fit right in. Here, musicians (like Irving Berlin, right, and George and Ira Gershwin, left) sat at pianos in publishing offices and churned out tunes.

IrvingberlinOnce a song was finished, the songwriter or publisher would urge a singer or performer to use it in their act, a tactic known as “plugging.”

“Plugging functioned much like today’s marketing—the object was to get a song heard by as many people as possible,” writes the Historic Districts Council.

“Songwriters on 28th Street made the rounds of dozens of cafes, music halls, saloons, and theaters nightly, pitching songs, getting them sung by performers, and devising creative methods to get the songs recognized (what we would today refer to as promotion).”

GeorgeandiragershwinIf they succeeded, the publisher would print sheet music and hope for a hit. In the days before records, sheet music sales determined a song’s popularity.

It must have been a loud and lively neighborhood, one that didn’t last though. The music business moved uptown by the 1950s.

As for Tin Pan Alley itself, in 2008 the row of buildings from 45 to 55 West 28th Street were supposed to have been sold to a developer. That deal fell through, but plans for landmarking the row appear to be stalled.

“I’d rather be on old Broadway with you”

August 27, 2009

So goes the title of this 1909 hit, about a man stuck in the sticks one summer, wishing he were back in New York City with his girl:

Oldbroadwaysheetmusic“I’d rather be on old Broadway with you, dear

where life is gay and no one seems to care;

This shady lane and summer sky so blue, dear

Does not appear to me like Herald Square.”

That must be rain-slicked 42nd Street on the cover of the sheet music, with theaters and the old crosstown trolley in the distance.

The publisher, Joseph W. Stern, was a lyricist himself who launched his own music publishing company, first on 14th Street, capitalizing on the popularity of ragtime  at the turn of the 20th century.

A Tin Pan Alley chart-topper from 1903

December 13, 2008

Tin Pan Alley—West 28th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues—was the songwriting capital of the turn of the last century. Sheet music publisher M. Witmark & Sons had their offices there, putting out some of the most popular songs of the era, including this 1903 classic from Victor Herbert’s “Babes in Toyland.”

The song is great, sure, but the cover art alone is worth the price of the music.


 Perlman Pianos (lower left corner) in Brooklyn sold the sheet music. DEwey 9-2525!









Many of the buildings on Tin Pan Alley are up for sale, which means they could meet the wrecking ball soon. Here’s how to help save them and get the block landmarked.