The 1900s were characterized by rapid and widespread social changes that transformed the ways people associate and interrelate. Helping to drive these changes were phenomena like urbanization, global war, unprecedented wealth creation, and the development of new technologies of ever-increasing sophistication and power. These phenomena disrupted prevailing social and political institutions and led to challenges being brought against them. In the 20th century, such institutions were altered, overthrown, and replaced with new ones, making possible the creation of new networks of meaning seemingly overnight.

Music in the 1900s was also characterized by rapid and widespread change. Accompanying the broader social transformations of this period were revolutions of sound. The 20th century witnessed an explosion of new song forms, rhythms, musical instruments, harmonies, and production techniques. These innovations disrupted prevailing musical practice, leading to the extension and alteration of existing music styles and a proliferation of new genres and subgenres. Meanwhile, advances in technology allowed for the mass storage, mass production, and mass dissemination of these new genres of music. A burgeoning record industry made stored sound a lucrative commodity and brought about far-flung changes in music consumption. By the end of the 20th century, music had become a ubiquitous aspect of modern life, transmitting everywhere from dance clubs to mobile phones to movie theatres to department stores. What did all this music mean?