I'm thinking today about the function that recordings serve, as usual. They enable the mass media, right? Without them, there's be nothing to distribute in packaged form. They are how music is spread.
But it wasn't a new industry, this music distribution thing. Tape just made it easier. Before recordings there were arrangements, and there still are. The 19th century saw the rise of the piano in middle class homes, and with that came the music which was played on the piano, and it's all the same stuff that we play today, to a large extent. Concertos and quartets, and things all were rearranged, because it was the only way the music could be reproduced in one's own parlor. Think about it. What if the only way we could hear music was to play it ourselves? An interesting thought. And, if I remember correctly from that insanely hard 19th century music class I had to take (and loved, grudgingly) in college, arrangements had the kind of value similar to pop music today. It was pop music, in effect, and therefore we can translate where that might indicate cultural designations.
(Rossini and all this opera stuff, plus minstrelsy and Gottschalk and Stephen Foster was all going on too, while the German canon of what we call "classical" music was sort of forming in defensive retaliation. But there's a whole lot of difference between Europe and America, so it's more complicated than that, but my point is that the sound of the music has changed drastically b/c of time and technology and so forth, but the function- and form, for that matter- remains very similar).
One thing that wasn't around in the 1800's was radio. Ditto for TV, satellite, etc, etc. Given that recordings aren't necessarily the only way to take music out of the concert hall these days, recordings have less value. Also, now that I'm thinking about it, isn't it interesting that as technology advances and for almost a century has taken music entirely into a personal, internal world (he-llo iPod), it seems to be coming full circle and demanding music's release back into the public domain? Might be a losing battle for the RIAA.