History of Music Media Vol. 2 – The Analog AgeMarch 23, 2010
Despite all the naysayers (mainly myself, and Richard Branson), the hotly anticipated Volume 2 has arrived. It looks to be in pristine condition. Perhaps a grammatical error here or there, but the extraneous “k” has been stripped from the word “music” (and quite unceremoniously, too, I might add).
From its humble beginning as the musical ravings of an insane harpsichordist to its present day use as audio wallpaper, interstitials and salesperson, music has come a long way in a short time. We catch up with the ever-evolving music media, already in progress…
The History of Music Media Vol. 2 – The Analog Age
The invention of the phonograph by multiple people (and its resulting patent suit) proved to be the “death blow” for the music industry, with its ability to reproduce the sound of a miniature, tinny band playing in your anteroom. No longer could people be expected to leave the house to simply hear music and the resulting struggle for market share saw tours bloom into full-blown juggernauts of light, sound and outdoor toilets.
The record brought music to the masses in a handy 12″ or smaller package, which most males found non-threatening and women found non-overwhelming. These flat discs could hold more than 20 minutes of music per “side” and were played via a “stylus” or “needle” when not being used to sort seeds and stems.
Due to its multiple formats and speeds, the record had something for everyone, from Jethro Tull 4-disc opuses to Flexi-discs from local punks bands whom no one other than the band members ever cared about. The record seemed to be unstoppable and the zenith of home audio. However, a change was coming, much like the prophet Bob Dylan warned, and the musical media landscape would never be the same.
Audiophiles still cite the media’s “warmth” and “crackliness” as preferable to those formats that don’t make your music sound like it’s being performed in a fireplace.
Fun Fact: Despite being shoved to the corners of most chain music stores and often removed altogether, the record is still purchased to this day by audiophiles (who have shown the willingness to pay $10,000+ for anything containing a vacuum tube), neophytes punks wishing to grab ahold of a subculture nearly 40 years too late and certain DJs who still haven’t figured out how to program their VCRs.
Highly touted by everyone (but audiophiles) as more “portable” than records, if slightly less useful, the cassette soon proved to be the “medium of the people.” Blank cassettes, in particular, had universal appeal as even novices could record their bulky records or capture “streaming audio” via the radio. They could then give these “tapes” to anybody, including friends, family and that chick they were trying to score with.
Widely hailed as the “death of the music industry,” cassettes soon became a ubiquitous feature of shoulder-mounted boomboxes, which were subsequently replaced with slightly less spine-injuring Walkmans. The Walkman’s portability also had the added benefit of a headphone jack, thus allowing the user to keep their shitty music to themselves while blocking out your stream of obscenities as they repeatedly roller-skated over your foot.
Despite cassettes and home taping having been fingered for “killing the music industry,” (usually in the form of t-shirts, bumper stickers and PSAs), the music industry enjoyed the monetary reward of having two “horses” in the race, not to mention the blanket royalty fee levied on blank cassettes (aka, The Hissing Killer).
Fun fact: Cassette usage among DJs helped originate the Dancehall/2-Step cry of “Bo, selecta! Rewind!” whenever a particularly great tune (“choon”) is played. The DJ (“selecta”) was then prevailed upon to rewind (“Rewind!”) to the beginning of the track and replay it.
The DJ would comply, leaving dancers in the company of the hissing bassbins as he first rewound too far, playing a snippet of the preceding track; then fast-forwarded just a bit too far, giving the crowd a few notes from deep into the intro; back again a bit too far and into the fadeout of the previous track; and then forward again, slightly too far; and so on, for three or four minutes before cueing correctly and triumphantly pressing “Play” only to have the tape deck eat the cassette.
The recording industry further exploited this “industry killer” with the release of the “Cassingle,” which gave the purchaser the album version of the track along with a truncated “Radio Edit” of the same song all for around $2. Cassingles were particularly popular with untalented “selectas.”
During the mid-’60s, the music industry added another “horse” to the race: a three-legged Shetland pony called the 8-Track. Although the name would seem to refer to the recording process, it actually refers to the eight-track limit of the format itself. Its limitations resulted in may truncated albums and hit progressive rock concept albums the hardest. (So… what did happen to Kilroy? Mrs. Pink?)
Its peculiar formatting and general hideousness did nothing to endear it to the general population and its reputation was further harmed by its performance in auto-reverse decks, where changing from Side A to Side B resulted in a violent action that registered in the low 5’s on the Richter Scale and frequently left small children and pets dazed and bleeding.
Perhaps sensing that this format would never achieve the success of vinyl or sheet musick, the music labels altered their distribution scheme and began shipping 8-tracks directly to swap meet vendors and pawn shop owners.
Coming up next:
A History of Music Media Vol. 3: The Digital Age… and Beyond!