Originally the nickname given West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan where many popular music publishers had their offices. Writer Monroe Rosenfeld is credited with the term, when, walking down this street, he heard the sounds of pianos from several buildings reaching him simulataneously. He described the noise as similar to striking tin pans.

Later it became the generic term for all publishers of popular American sheet music, regardless of their geographic locations, and the music publishing business. Before the wide availability of phonographs, the music business measured success in the sale of sheet music, and would hire lyricists and composers to write popular songs, design snazzy covers, and later, in the 1930s, get their songs on the radio to sell not records, but more sheet music.

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