After the civil war ended, pianos became more and more common. At the same time, classical, jazz, blues, and folk music was slowly blooming in several regions throughout the United States. The Americans loved music so much so that people began to demand more and more sheet music from publication companies. The rising pub and tavern culture in several port cities further increased the need for good music and also for good sheet music. There were several publication companies and musicians who capitalized on this movement.
The origins of the tin pan alley are centered around the publishing houses of New York which regularly published sheet music. The 1860s to the early 1920s was a time when fantastic music was being produced across the United States, and this period is considered a revolutionary period in American music history. Whenever a tune, became famous in music hotspots such as Chicago, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Boston, the publishers would purchase the rights from a smaller music publisher, and would mass-produce lyrics and sheet music. This sheet music was then sold off either in New York or other parts of the country.
The business of publication became more and more commercial in the years following the 1890s, when better, cheaper pianos were introduced. Some popular compositions made by tin pan alley publishers, include 'After the ball' by Charles K. Harris in 1892, 'The little lost child' by Marks & Stern in 1894, and 'On the banks of the wabash, far away' by Paul Dresser in 1897. The sales of sheet music and music-related books was further boosted by the Vaudeville and Broadway booms in the early 1900s. With the rising popularity of such musical pieces, the modern music industry began to take form. Publishers began sponsoring musicians to write music, and almost all publication houses in the tin pan alley began to have a regular piano player, giving the place its name. With the rise in popularity of the music, the demand for musical instruments began to grow, which gave way to several music shops in the alley.
Organization of concerts and shows by the publishers and instrument manufacturers was also quite common in this period. On June 11, 1895, the Music Publishers Association of the United States was formed by the publishers in tin pan alley to lobby for the Treloar Copyright Bill, which increased the number of years that were applicable for a copyright. This period of peace and prosperity was followed by World War I and the Great Depression. Following these two disasters, the focus of sheet music shifted to the gramophone, and eventually to the radio.
It is often credited to be the birthplace of American music industry. The publishers and songwriters of the tin pan alley had effectively started an entirely novel line of business.