The phonograph was invented by Thomas Edison in 1877.
The earliest commercial medium for recording and reproducing sound were phonograph cylinders, made of wax and later– hard plastic.
They were replaced by disc records during the 1910’s.
A vinyl record is an analog sound storage medium, inscribed with a modulated spiral groove.
The groove starts near the periphery and ends near the center of the disc.
Phonograph records are generally described by:
1) Their diameter in inches: 12″, 10″, and 7″
2) Their rotational speed in Revolutions Per Minute (RPM): 33 1⁄3, 45, 78
The earliest rotational speeds varied widely.
Most records made from 1900–1925 were recorded at 74–82 RPM.
In 1925, 78.26 RPM was chosen as the industry standard.
After the 33 1/3’s & 45’s were introduced, these records became retroactively known as 78’s.
The 33 1⁄3 RPM LP (Long Play) format was developed and released by Columbia Records in 1948.
It was 12″ in diameter, and could hold 20-25 minutes of music on each side.
In response, RCA Victor introduced the 45 RPM format in 1949.
The 45 was 7″ in diameter, and could hold 5 minutes of music on each side, making it ideal as a singles format.
Post-war innovations in science & technology, along with industry cooperation on projects like RIAA equalization, cleared the way for major improvements in the quality of recorded music.
When rock & roll arrived in 1955, the 45 was the dominant medium.
This lasted until the mid-1960’s, when Album Oriented Rock (AOR) radio started to emerge.
All singles in the golden era of early rock & roll, were 2-3 minutes in length.
This was prescribed by commercial radio, which was (and still is) ruled by payola.
Elvis Presley had the most hit singles, making him the King of Rock & Roll.
A 45 had a ‘hit side’ and a ‘flip side’, offering an economical cross-section of the artist.
Any performer that could consistently rip up both sides, was considered a star.
Upstart independent record labels like Sun & Motown, built their empires on the 45 single.
The 33 1/3 LP of this age was used as a round-up of current singles, with the rest of the record usually padded with filler.
The modern LP album began in the early 1960’s, when artists such as Bob Dylan & the Beatles made records without filler.
The LP medium defined rock & popular music from the mid 1960’s until 1990, when it was replaced by the compact disc.
The 8-track tape was widely marketed in the US in the 1970’s, as a portable format, usable in an automobile tape deck.
8-Tracks had 4 programs/tape, and often would cut off songs to change programs.
Other major problems with the 8-track format included: severe wow & flutter, tape hiss, and the ribbon getting eaten by the deck; and was eliminated by the early 1980’s.
The cassette tape was brought to market in the early 1970s, and quickly became one of the dominant formats for prerecorded music, alongside the LP.
Additionally, when blank cassettes became widely available, fans finally had convenient means to record and share music with others.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), from the early 1970’s onward, consistently fought against the availability of high-quality blank cassette tapes; claiming piracy & lost artist revenues.
Automobile tape decks, boomboxes, and the Sony Walkman (1979) were all huge booms for cassette tape popularity.
From an audiophile perspective, limitations of the cassette tape format were similar to the 8-track; but their portability, along with the ability to home record, outweighed the inferior sound quality in comparison to LP records.
From a popularity standpoint, cassette tapes ruled the 1980’s.
Smart consumers with a good stereo system would buy the LP, which had superior fidelity and artwork; and then record it onto a blank cassette tape for portability.
On August 1, 1981, incipient cable-television giant Viacom launched MTV.
It was part of a massive cultural revolution, in which cable would conquer television audiences with 24-hour-a-day programming in news (CNN), sports (ESPN), movies (HBO), and popular music (MTV), etc…
MTV was initially AOR-based, featuring only major-label artists.
During MTV’s early years, very few black artists outside of Michael Jackson & Prince were in their rotation.
When hip-hop & rap conquered white kids in the suburbs, black artists started appearing on MTV.
MTV was at its best when it played videos regularly, and had a formatted series for different music genres such as:
Yo! MTV Raps (rap/hip-hop: 1988-95)
Headbangers Ball (metal: 1987-95)
120 Minutes (alternative/college/indie: 1986-2000)
Teen-targeted series, The Real World debuted in 1992; and is commonly credited with launching the reality-TV genre.
Real World became a seismic cultural hit with kids, and began MTV’s evolution away from playing music videos.
From 1995 to 2000, MTV played 36.5% fewer music videos; and basically eliminated its video rotation by the mid-2000s.
Advances in optical technology, and cooperation between industry leaders Phillips (Germany) & Sony (Japan); led to the introduction of the compact disc (CD) in 1982.
CD’s, for the first time, provided the consumer with a copy that was equivalent to the master recording.
Its 44khz sampling rate, 90db signal/noise ratio, and complete channels separation was a revolutionary improvement in sound quality for newly recorded music.
Unfortunately back catalogue CD re-issues tended to be of poor quality, as often master tapes weren’t located, in the industry rush to cash in on the CD boom.
Consumers were hyped into replacing their entire music collections on CD, and many did.
Hardcore vinyl supporters fought a losing battle against the record industry in the 1980’s, protesting poor-sounding CD’s with skimpy/shoddy packaging.
In the mid-to-late 1980’s, a record that cost $6, retailed for $12 on CD.
By 1990, vinyl was pulled from the shelves, and new releases had to be purchased in CD format.
Mega-chains then drove most of the neighborhood record shops out of business.
The mega-stores would follow them into bankruptcy in the 2000’s, when Amazon.com became the world’s largest Internet retailer.
By the end of the 1990’s, the record labels had merged into 4 major giants (Sony-BMG, Universal, EMI, & Warner), all of whom stuck it to the consumer for $20+ a CD for a new release.
CD singles were priced around $5.
Many, many back catalogue artists still hadn’t been revived on CD, meaning they were publicly inaccessible– since vinyl & cassettes had been deleted.
Napster (1999-2002) was a pioneering peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing program, created by 19-year old Shawn Fanning & his young colleagues; they released it as freeware in 1999.
Running Napster on a computer allowed mp3-formatted music to be freely shared on the Internet.
Everything in music was suddenly available!
Napster was a lightning-fast program, and since music is emotionally-charged, it quickly revolutionized the Internet.
The RIAA acted as puppet masters, in recruiting superstar artists around Metallica & Dr. Dre to kill Napster over copyright infringement.
Napster was finally shut down by the courts in 2002.
This can be seen historically as the RIAA’s attempt to stop the Internet.
Today 95+% of copyrighted music online is shared & downloaded ‘illegally’, by Napster-like sites.
By 2010, industry revenues were half of their 2000 level.
Dominant industry models for the 5% of paid-for downloaded music, since the destruction of Napster have been:
YouTube— video streaming paid for by advertising
iTunes— pay per download
Internet Radio (Pandora, Last.fm, etc.)— advertising/fee-based subscription service, for automated-recommendation streaming
Spotify— advertising/fee-based subscription for catalogue streaming
YouTube is one of the most useful distribution channels for emerging artists, as videos are a powerful medium. YouTube & Google are useful resources for fans, as much of the history of recorded music can be found through their search engines.
Some superstar artists still choose to ban free content on these engines– and the kids just go to Pirate Bay, etc. It’s time these old-school dinosaurs & their labels realize: they’ve been paid. Classic rock has become so ubiquitous, it’s now devalued. Kids rightfully refuse to pay for it.
iTunes, Pandora, and Spotify are notorious for stiffing non-superstar artists. These services are strictly superstar promotional channels, and the latest format for re-selling old music to new consumers.
American Idol (AI) on FOX, largely defines mainstream popular music since 9/11.
Piloting on June 11, 2002, this live talent audition quickly became the most successful show in American television.
From 2003–11, AI was the #1 TV show in the US.
The model of AI was to create the illusion that fans actually had a say in the selection of superstar performers.
In 13 seasons, with billions of dollars in hype, this show has launched the idol careers of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, etc.; all of whom sing beautifully, but have little to say.
American Idol fits in well with the propaganda model of the post-9/11 world; by homogenizing culture, encouraging conformity, and de-valuing art.
The upshot of all this is the record industry always opposes creative control for artists, as well as public freedom for fans to access and share music.
The CD is dead, so the future of music is FREE– therefore artists must change their relationship with fans.
For emerging artists, this means connecting with new fans directly; through a website with killer content, social media for fan interaction, and YouTube for video promotion, etc…
DIY artists seeking mainstream breakthrough should read Donald Passman’s classic All You Need to Know about the Music Business, in which this top entertainment lawyer describes the maze of pitfalls aspiring musicians are facing. Major labels now demand 360 deals, which make every aspect of an artist’s life industry property. In dealing with people in & around the music industry, lie spotting is an essential skill.
All of this means that musical artists, beyond creating new music, will have to become their own managers, publishers, webmasters, videographers, bloggers, and whatever else is necessary to connect with the world.
The technology is in place, ready to connect revolutionary artists with music lovers around the world– just plug yourself in.