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History of Music Media Vol. 2 – The Analog Age

March 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

Somewhere out there, an audiophile has just suffered a snobbery-induced heart attack...

Records
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.

 

The advent of this new format meant that girlfriends could now be annoyed by up to 90 minutes of music at a time.

Cassettes
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.”

The common 8-track, seen here switching to side B and preparing to tear the dashboard a "new one."

8-Track
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!

-CLT

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16 comments

  1. Thanks for a serious blast down memory lane, CLT. My very first record was “Meet the Beatles”. My first 8-track was the best of Chuck Berry, and my first casette was “The Guess Who”. The fact that I can’t remember my first CD must say something other than blown brain cells, but you never know. Great history lesson.


    • So many formats hyped and discarded over the years, each one better than the last. And still, the audiophiles mock us and our empeethrees and warm themselves over their vacuum tube amps, which when dialled past “6” tend to cause neighborhood brownouts.

      Thanks for the visit, Dan. Great to see you.


  2. My kids don’t believe me when I explain records, 8 tracks, and cassettes to them. I can only imagine what your kids will be listening to when they get bigger.


    • If my kids are smart (and I have every reason to believe they are) they’ll listen to what I listen to. In what format, I’m not sure.

      Great to see you again, Tracy. I’m sure you’re incredibly busy but thanks for making time to stop by.


  3. This post made me howl. You are one funny dude. Memory lane indeed. Sold my last few cassettes (klezmer music) several years ago on eBay and how could I ever forget those frosty stares while blasting “Psycho Killer” at full volume from a boombox while strolling through the mall (I recall security asking me to leave). They broke the mold when they made you, Capitalist.


    • Klezmer music, eh? Well, it’s no Doodletown Pipers but it’s a start. However, gathering icy stares from complete strangers with the dulcet tones of one of the world’s most awkward dancers.

      They did break the mold when they made me, but rumour has it the military hoped to develop a weapon with it. Oh, well. Their loss. Could have been devastating.


  4. Hey anything you have in common with Branson is a huge plus. You’ll be kite surfing with naked supermodels straddling your back in no time.

    It seems you’ve induced a nostalgic trip for everyone and unlike “except after C” I’m no exception. I remember spending hours trying to fill the latest mixed tape compilation for my latest love. Nothing said “Oh my god, please just fuck me” like a mixed tape back in those days. Then, when finally, the station played one of your sought after songs you’d either be 10 seconds to late or 10 seconds too early and have to try to delete some shtick-y DJ cock blocking the latest hit. Damn, that was frustrating!


    • Kite surfing? Naked? Where do I sign up? And will the windchill cause shrinkage?

      Mixtapes were the greatest, most frustrating act of devotion imaginable, especially when you were trying to outsmart the radio. Considering most DJs never shut the fuck up, you were lucky to get one or two intact tunes per 90 minute tape. Everything else got interrupted by the Emergency Broadcast System letting you know that the status was still quo.


  5. How many times will the music industry DIE?? Nostalgia for sure. My first vinyl record was Jimi, so I pretty much started at the top and have been gliding down every since. And don’t get me started on compilation cassettes. Funny stuff CLT, I look forward to the music industry’s next death.


    • Well, it ain’t dead yet. It’s bleeding out, but it seems to be able to sue itself out of Intensive Care rather often.

      Tune in for the next installment, where the music industry will die gloriously over and over, like Jason. Or Freddy. Or the film industry.


  6. You’re speaking my “pre-L337” language, CLT!

    I may not be an audiophile (I lost my ear canal in a “performing accident”–Nickleback was doing an outdoor concert and I happened to be walking by at the time), but I do know my 8-tracks and cassette tapes!

    Not only was my father the only one in the neighborhood to still have an 8-track player in his car well into the 90’s, it was how I learned the words to “Every Fukcing Statler Brothers Song Ever Made”. Seeing as my parents didn’t believe in airplanes (because they have air conditioning in them), my Dad would instead drive us the 28 hours it took to get to Las Vegas every Summer, replaying the same tape over, and over, and over again. And that was before we even reached the border.

    “Counting Flowers on The Wall”, indeed…

    But oh, how I did covet those declarations of love expressed vicariously through Peter Cetera and Richard Marx, while George Michael whispered carelessly in the background and Snap! kicked things up a notch on side B.

    Relationships may come and go, but TDK D-60 cassettes are always in style. http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2006/05/cassette_tape_b/

    Loved this, CLT. If I haven’t said it before, you are truly the analog master.


    • So sorry to hear about your inadvertent hearing loss. I understand it makes it easier to purchase and enjoy Nickelback albums. Easier than like Sunday morning anyway.

      I still remember the last vehicle with an 8-track player. It was made by International and was the forerunner of today’s Forerunner, built like a tank, handled like a boat and leaked oil like an Exxon Supertanker. Still, it had 4-inch mono speakers that couldn’t be heard over the wind noise or the 5 or 6 cylinders that still worked.

      I’m with you on the ’80s power ballads. It truly was the decade of the power ballad. So much so that it leaked into the next decade, before Kurt Cobain and his crew destroyed music as we knew it and replaced it with music as we know it.

      Thanks for the fukcing awesome comment, bschooled. If I’m the analog master, than you must be the Bo-est Selecta of them all.


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  8. Thatzagoodpost!


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