Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary
"hit song writing business," 1907, from tin pan, slang for "a decrepit piano" (1882). The original one was "that little section of Twenty-eighth Street, Manhattan, that lies between Broadway and Sixth Avenue," home to many music publishing houses.
Tin Pan Alley is the name given to the collection of New York City music publishers and songwriters who dominated the popular music of the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The name originally referred to a specific place: West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, and a plaque exists (see below) on the sidewalk on 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth commemorates it.
The start of Tin Pan Alley is usually dated to about 1885, when a number of music publishers set up shop in the same district of Manhattan. The end of Tin Pan Alley is less clear cut. Some date it to the start of the Great Depression in the 1930s when the phonograph and radio supplanted sheet music as the driving force of American popular music, while others consider that Tin Pan Alley continued into the 1950s when earlier styles of American popular music were upstaged by the rise of rock & roll, which was centered on the Brill Building.
The origins of the name "Tin Pan Alley" are unclear. One account claims that it was a derogatory reference to the sound of many pianos (comparing them to the banging of tin pans). Others claim it arose from songwriters modifying their pianos to produce a more percussive sound. After many years, the term came to refer to the U.S. music industry in general.
Tin Pan Alley is a 1940 musical film starring Alice Faye and Betty Grable as vaudeville singers/sisters and John Payne and Jack Oakie as songwriters in the years before World War I.
Alfred Newman received the 1940 Academy Award for his work on the film. This was his first of nine Oscars.
Usage examples of "tin pan alley".
I said things about that moon that the poets and the Tin Pan Alley merchants wouldn't have approved of at all.
Later on, and that's why I used to sit around on doorsteps in Tin Pan Alley, I would while away the afternoons listening to the professionals mugging it out.
Up front, Doc Bonilla was lifting his rich baritone voice in the plaintive songs of his native Spain, La Golondrina and La Paloma, followed by Tommy's mother's favorites from Tin Pan Alley, In a Little Spanish Town and Amapola.
And the crystals make things -- even complete things -- like Tin Pan Alley makes songs.
We'll want the most competent tunesmiths in Tin Pan Alley to work on them.