Charting a musical family tree.
December 24, 2009 5:34 AM   Subscribe

For a friends birthday I want to make a wall chart showing which (non-classical) musicians and bands influenced other ones. E.g. Beatles -> Oasis, Neil Young -> Nirvana.

My question consists of 3 parts, 1) Where's the best place to find out who to 'link', 2) Is there any 'start' of modern 'pop' music 3) What do you think I should include? - Genres, main instruments?
I've had a look around and I quite like the wikipedia GUT of Human History, the ww2 wallchart linked below:

Part of me also likes the more fun version from the game civilisation, though I don't know if that's too childish for my friend.

Thanks everyone.
posted by 92_elements to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

Response by poster: Third time?
I'll keep quiet now.
posted by 92_elements at 5:39 AM on December 24, 2009

Best answer: On you can look up an artist and see who they influenced and were influenced by
posted by Proginoskes at 5:42 AM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Might be worth taking a look at this classic book. It deals less with influence and more with who played with who, but it'd be useful inspiration.
posted by fire&wings at 5:48 AM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

An example of one of Pete Frame's trees can be seen here.
posted by fire&wings at 5:49 AM on December 24, 2009

Here's some inspiration:

See Simon Patterson's The Great Bear, a print where he's replaced the London tube stations with philosophers and historical figures.

Genealogy of Rock poster. It's awesome. It tracks the rise of rock and pop by showing it as a rising percentage of total music sales. I saw it first in Tufte's Envisioning Information (a great book).
posted by zpousman at 6:00 AM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cool idea. The Museum of the Blues in Macon Georgia has a hand-made genealogy of the Allman Brothers that is truly amazing to examine. I couldn't find a picture of it online. Fans have done this for various bands with long histories.

But where to start? "Modern pop music" begins with recording, or shortly thereafter, in my view. You have to go back at least to Bessie Smith and Jimmie Rodgers to understand how the genres and charts were racialized from the beginning, and still are, or why musics that sounded virtually the same were rarely acknowledged as siblings or twins before Elvis, and to some extent still are not today.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:17 AM on December 24, 2009

Sorry, it's the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon that has the Allmans poster.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:18 AM on December 24, 2009

Best answer: This might be a bit too broad or far-out to fit what you're trying to do, but: modern popular music was founded in the early 20's, principally by two musicians and bandleaders: Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman.

First things first: the format of pop was decided over the twenty years before that moment. For some reason which no one can particularly remember today - they say it might have just been because the first few machines happened to run at that speed - the standard record which emerged around 1900 was designed to play correctly when rotated at about 78 rpm. These records were made of shellac, and were fragile; some were made in a 12-inch size, but of course the slightly smaller 10-inch size was usually preferable.

This seems abstruse, but it's important, simply because a 10-inch record spinning 78 times per minute happens to play for anywhere from three and a half to four minutes on each side. Three and a half to four minutes - that was usually all the music you could get out of a record at a given time. And this was before tape, so there was no recording and then re-recording over the previous track, or splicing, or anything like that; even symphony orchestras making recordings of classical music generally had to stop every four minutes, wait for the man to queue up another wax disc, and then start again. So musicians of every stripe, from classical musicians to dance-bands, learned to play within that three-and-a-half minute format.

Thus, the three-and-a-half minute pop format was born.

Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman were important because they were the first popular musicians who, empowered by the new ability to make recordings, became famous in their own right - not as composers but as musicians. Up to that time, people bought records of dance music with a particular style and dance in mind, and records were marketed as such. Basically, record labels before 1920 generally looked something like this:

“Tiger Rag”
(Joe McCoy and his Uptown Strutters)

... whereas suddenly in the '20's, they started to look like this:

"West End Blues"
(Fox Trot)

... see? For the first time, people started buying records not because of the kind of music on them, or the song on them, but because of the musician on them - and his particular brand of fame and popularity.

That might be further back than you want to go, but I think the inception of popular music as we know it today, as a 3.5-minute tune from a famous person, is right there in about 1928.
posted by koeselitz at 7:22 AM on December 24, 2009 [7 favorites]

I stumbledupon some things that might prove useful here. If not useful, they're at least fun.

Musicovery used to be 100% free to use, but it looks like some of the features are now for paid members. You choose a genre, or genres, choose the mood, and it finds appropriate songs and shows their relation to one another.

This next one, Music Map, might help you more. The catch is that it maps artists based on their listeners' tastes, and not strictly by influence. It still might help you think of some people that you might otherwise not have included. It's neat to watch the artists float into place. There's also this related feature, a map for books, and one for movies.
posted by inkytea at 7:25 AM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

(Oh, and by the way: I know this was just an example, but the Beatles weren't really much of an influence on Oasis. If I were going to try to peg their style, I'd have to say something more like Stone Roses or Happy Mondays -> Oasis.)
posted by koeselitz at 7:27 AM on December 24, 2009

Waterman and Starr's textbook *American Popular Music* is the only thing of its type worth reading, and while precisely not arranged as a chronology, has some wonderful resources for your project among its arguments and graphics. There's a 2d edition you want to find.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:47 AM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Basic, but maybe will give you sort of a template of genres to include and such: Jack Black's rock history chalkboard from the movie School of Rock
posted by naoko at 10:53 AM on December 24, 2009

I have this poster, which is pretty awesome. It's the London tube map with various genres of music for each line and artists as the stations. It might be another good reference if you're making your own chart.
posted by JannaK at 11:16 AM on December 24, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, great responses so far. Much for me to follow up on. I always wondered where the 3.5 min format came from so thanks koeselitz.
Lots of research for me to do.
posted by 92_elements at 3:10 PM on December 24, 2009

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