Monroe Rosenfeld, a newspaper journalist, is credited with coining the term "Tin Pan Alley." While in New York, he developed the word to describe the cacophony of dozens of pianos being banged at the same time in the publisher's demo rooms. He described the sound as "hundreds of people hammering on tin pots."
The term soon spread and "Tin Pan Alley" came to mean the entire neighborhood of Manhattan's Upper East Side where most of the songs used by studios were written. Today, "Tin Pan Alley" has come to denote all of Broadway south of 40th Street.
The first songwriters to be published by their publishers were Thomas Allan and John Jacob Niles, who were hired by William H. Armstrong to write songs for his piano roll companies in 1877 and 1878. When these contracts expired, other writers began to appear, including Louis B. Mayer, Henry G. Deutsch, and Adam Otto Reinhardt. By the early 20th century, over 100 songs a year were being written in Tin Pan Alley. Most were written by professional musicians or freelance writers who were paid by the line or by the word. Some famous names from that era include: Arthur Freed, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and J. Walter Donaldson.
As music technology advanced, so did Tin Pan Alley. In 1913, Victor introduced the phonograph record.
The Meaning of the Name According to the most prevalent version, it was initially a pejorative allusion in the New York Herald by Monroe H. Rosenfeld to the collective sound generated by several "cheap upright pianos" all playing various melodies, evocative of the banging of tin pans in an alleyway. This interpretation is supported by the fact that both newspapers at which Rosenfeld worked had large circulation in the early 20th century - the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.
Other sources suggest that the term may have been originally coined by William A. Alexander who wrote lyrics for many songs published in the late 1800s. He once described his job as being "between Tin Pan Alley and Hell". Further support for this theory comes from Edward Eliscu who developed the now famous song "A Kiss Is Just a Kiss" while he was working with Alexander on lyrics. Eliscu also contributed more than 100 songs to Hollywood films between 1939 and 1959 including "Tin Pan Alley Cats", a song about musicians in general and not just writers.
Finally, some sources claim that the origin of the term is much older and has nothing to do with music at all but instead refers to an area in London's East End where cheap clothes were sold by itinerant traders known as tinners. The word "alley" in this case would be a short form of "allaice", which is Icelandic for "allotment or piece of land set aside for farming".
Origins. From the late 1800s until the 1920s, Tin Pan Alley was the musical world's publishing center. Music publishers hired pianists to perform in their buildings to demonstrate new music, and the dissonance produced a sound similar to hundreds of people beating on tin pans, according to Rosenfeld.
The term "Tin Pan Alley" was first used by New York journalist Arthur Gelb in 1930, but it originated many years earlier when publishers paid musicians to play in their offices to judge new works by composers looking for an audience. These players were usually pianists who could reproduce the music well enough for others to hear.
They played for customers, who would drop off manuscripts at the offices of these publishers, who would then decide whether they wanted to work with the writers. If so, they'd be signed up for several songs each. The publishers would also send the musicians home with money to pay for their efforts. This business model created a need for some type of organization that could help promote new artists and distribute their material. Thus, the importance of the role of the Tin Pan Alley publisher.
They not only distributed material but also had great influence over songwriters. For example, one publisher might suggest specific words for a songwriter to use. Or he might just give her advice on how to structure her songs more effectively.
Tin Pan Alley was the term given to the successful songwriting and sheet music publishing sector that was centered in New York from the 1890s until the 1950s.
The name comes from the fact that early songs were written on tin pans, which are still used by musicians today to write and record music.
Sheet music publishers would send out scouts to local taverns and saloons to look for new songs that would be suitable for purchase. Once a song was decided upon, it would be written down by the scribe and then recorded by the musician on their pan. The publisher would then take this sheet music and sell it to theater owners and music shops all over America.
This is how popular songs like "Happy Birthday to You" were created. They weren't written by one person but by multiple people who contributed their parts later in recording studios. The only real difference between today's hit makers and those of decades past is that they don't use paper sheets anymore; instead they use computers to create songs. But the concept is the same: people coming together to create something new and wonderful.