Posts Tagged ‘History of Media’

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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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The History of Music Media Vol. 1

March 18, 2010

We here at Fancy Pants are proud to announce yet another series, to follow in the footsteps of so many other series that were introduced briefly and even more quickly abandoned, like so many wordy babies on the doorstep of WordPress.com. Behold, the History of Music Media, and its attendant Vol. 1, which, if nothing else, indicates that our optimism will nearly always exceed our reach. 

The History of Music Media Vol. 1 – The Formative Years 

A trio of Neanderthal mariachis prepares to annoy the ever-living shit out of some tourists.

Formative Years
Ever since the early cavemen looked for ways to “punch up” their stories of the Coelacanth that “got away,” man (and very occasionally, woman) has expressed himself through music. 

As these tales evolved (along with the tale-tellers), the grunting became more rhythmic. “Hype men” were added, along with backup “grunters” and 60-piece orchestras. 

Progress was minimal during the next several thousand/million years.* It was not until a young composer named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart burst on to the scene that music was finally invented. 

*Depending on your religious beliefs/last grade attended.

A young Mozart works on one of his earliest pieces, "Chopsticks (Too Many Notes Mix)"

Sheet Musick
No sooner had Mozart invented music than he began to reinvent it through inappropriate hairstyles, setting his harpsichord on fire during live performances and marrying various 13-year-old cousins. His wild behavior and manic giggling led to him being credited with “singlehandedly destroying the music industry,” thus undoing all of the groundwork laid by him just earlier that afternoon. 

After destroying the music industry, Mozart began to rebuild it, only with him safely on the “inside.” After another manic, flaming performance, Mozart gazed into his piles of money and made an eerily prescient remark — “If ever there dost become an effortless way to perform these musicks at home, I am truly fuckt.” 

Due to his endless campaigning, sheet music was horded by royalty and traded with only other royals, so as to protect their patronized income stream. However, as prices of paper, ink and quills continued to drop, an underground group of transcriptionists began distributing “copied” sheet music. 

 This was met with a legislative effort to build royalty fees into the prices of these items. This, of course, had little effect. Mozart was often seen hawking waistcoats embroidered with the inscription, “Verily, home transcribing is killing the musick industry.” 

Fun fact: Emperor Joseph II was an avid home transcriptionist. His famous remark that Mozart’s music had “too many notes” was not a critique of the piece but rather a complaint about the pending transcription, as he was suffering for a case of “pirate’s elbow.” 

Fun fact II: His rivalry with Salieri (whose work was universally hailed as “competent” and “adequate”) was the precursor to many musical rivalries, including: Beatles vs. Rolling Stones, Blur vs. Oasis, Jack White vs. Jason Von Bondie and Pickle vs. Nickelback. 

A "home composer" prepares to tear the music industry a new one, with his own version of "Chopsticks."

Bedroom Composers
Flash forward 50 years: innovations in mass production make musical instruments more affordable than ever. Soon every saloon, bawdy house and tenement has a minimum of one piano. And it’s not just piano companies that see a boost. Manufacturers of harpsichords, claviers, pipe organs and fiddles see exponential growth. 

Advances in moveable press technology allow sheets of music to be reproduced faster than ever and trims the error rate to a Six-Sigma Blackbelt level of 3 notes per 100. 

Early ASCAP pioneers bemoan these developments and attempt to collect performance royalties from bar owners and burlesque house pimps. Even homeowners are subjected to handwritten missives declaring them responsible for “rights and royalties for performance of popular musicks.” The singing telegram industry folds after crippling fees are levied against them. 

Among the early cash cows for ASCAP are Camptown Races (Stephen Freakin’ Foster) and Chopsticks (Some Annoying Bastard). 

Little known fact: Most player pianos could be rigged to take "upskirt" daguerreotypes.

The Player Piano
As the 19th century wound itself down, another breakthrough in musical entertainment surfaced in the form of the Player Piano (or Auto Pianist), a piano that amazingly “played” itself using perforated paper. (This form of “musick” would later resurface in dot-matrix printers, although audiophiles will point out that the “technology” removed the “soul” of the music and made it unbearably screechy. A quick note: whenever an audiophile refers to “soul” or “fidelity” or “warmth,” they are actually referring to a vacuum tube.) 

Bawdy house proprietors and saloon owners benefitted from this invention the most, firing their drunken, incompetent piano players and replacing them with slightly less drunken and dimwitted paper-loaders. This new position was often filled by the nearest unattended child. 

The tireless, dulcet tones of the Mechano-Piano were the soundtrack of the “Gay ’90s” and the less-unfortunately named “Nondescript Aughts.” As usual, this new invention, with its user-friendliness and low-cost was saddled with the burden of “destroying the musick industry, starting with the extraneous ‘k’.” 

Coming up next:
Volume 2: The Analog Age 

-CLT