The Great Depression Gap

Something struck us when we assembled the digital version of the music whiteboard. There was a decade-long gap in the 1930s where no major new genres of music emerged in the United States, in stark contrast to the decades before or since. That’s not to say that there was no new music. But the economic and social strain of the time seems to have driven a change in consumption and creation patterns.

In an impressively comprehensive post on the history of recorded music in the late 1800s-1950, Vinylmint writes that “the onset of the Great Depression combined with the ever-growing popularity of radios caused the near-total collapse of the record industry in the early 30s…Total annual record sales dropped from about a hundred million in 1927 to just six million in 1932.” The Jazz age was drawing to a close, Swing and Big Band were on the rise, and Country continued to evolve and splinter into different regional forms. People were drawn to known entities on the radio, either by nostalgia, a need to commiserate, or for the brief respite of a Benny Goodman tune.

It’s interesting to think about where we are now, with the music industry in peril due to COVID-19. What impact does the absence of live music festivals, smaller concert venues and touring artists have on the flow of culture across people and geographies? What do we lose without the physical intermingling of voices, ideas and sounds? Can online cultural experiences close the gap at all, or do they draw us further into silos? It will be years before we have any sense.


Well that ended on a bit of a grim note! Still, share this with all your friends and loved ones, and let us know if you have any interest in posting your own voice and expertise on our site.

-Tony, 10/14/20