History of Recorded Music Part 1
Since the dawn of time, man and music have gone hand in hand. Whenever you see documentaries about man’s evolution, stories are filled with art and sound, showing man’s desire for creativity and entertainment. Scale it even further and the animal kingdom makes its own tapestry of music and sound.
OK, so that was all a bit surreal, but the message is clear, we love music. We can’t all be huge fans, but we all do love music. The advent of recorded music just meant the artform became accessible to a wider audience. No longer did you need to have the money to buy a musical instrument, or go a venue to listen to it. Recorded music meant anybody could access it.
This article is split in to two and in this part we cover the early years.
Radio broadcasts were the forefather of mass music distribution and are still hugely important to this day. Radio was the original medium for mass broadcast, initially seen as a tool for mass communication of the spoken word, but our desire for music soon gave radio its now essential element. The advent of famous Radio stations (of dubious legibility) including Radio Carolina and Radio Luxembourg, gave rise to music radio stations. The sector now is at saturation point, with BBC alone having numerous stations (of course the most popular being Radio 1) and DAB giving rise to thousands including niche stations around Rock, Dance and Hip Hop.
The advent of MTV brought, television forward as a credible medium for broadcast, however the numerous channels available haven’t quite made the major impact many had thought, probably due to the portability of digital channels and the ease in which we can all use YouTube.
The use of a material called Shellac was how music first enter our homes, Shellac is a resin that is secreted by the female lac bug on to trees in India and Thailand. Sounds delightful and no wonder it was replaced by vinyl.
The move to vinyl (the big black plastic things for the young readers) was a breakthrough and ensured a higher quality of sound than previous formats. Amazingly in an increasingly digital world this is a format that has stood the test of time and in fact is in a bit of a resurgence. The DJ community has largely been torn, but there are still huge numbers of DJs that will still insist on using only vinyl for their sets. Think of any scratch DJ worth their salt and their sets are obviously dominated by vinyl. Think the likes of DJ Premier, formerly of Gangstarr, you couldn’t for a second imagine him hitting play on a Mac and letting some fancy lights do the rest. The idea of CDJs to him feel like sacrilege.
Other evidence that vinyl refuses to die include the phenomena of Record Store day, where local record stores are celebrated and many established and indie acts release tracks purely on vinyl. Many talk about the sad demise of HMV, albeit safe for the time being, however HMV in part are to blame for the death of independents. Read our article from 2011, Music in the Digital Age that explores this.
The end of the vinyl industry was predicted years ago, and although it has gotten more compact, certain genres are still dominated by new vinyl releases. However, it is conceivable to state that vinyl is much more a niche media than mainstream.
The cassette tape first entered our homes in the 60’s and well in to the 90s along with vinyl, it became the dominant medium for recorded music for the british public. The benefits the cassette tape gave the public (recording music) was the very thing that scared the labels. The majors made millions through their ability to control the distribution of their artists work. Before the humble cassette, the only way I could share the music I had bought with another person, would be to let them listen to my record.
Perhaps, the cassette, is the first true medium of music sharing and of course, mass ability to produce pirated materials. Whilst most of the older people reading this will remember listening the your chart of choice on the radio and pausing the chat to record the songs, in theory, that was piracy. The cassette tape also helped the mass distribution of less mainstream music, possibly benefitting genres such as Hip Hop and dance the most. In today’s day and age, the mixtape is a collection of tracks put together, back then, it was an actual tape. DJs and rappers, went on the street and sold their art directly themselves.
The mixtape phenomenon is still very prevalent today, with most contemporary urban artists offering this. Everybody from Wiley and Ghetts through to Dizzee Rascal.
In the same way that the cassette tape allowed us to actively share the music we were in to easily, it also became the first medium that drove the ability to make music mobile. Don’t worry, we haven’t jumped straight to mobile phones, we mean, allowing people to listen to music on a personal stereo, or personal cassette player with headphones. The most famous brand was brought the world by Sony. Their famous Sony Walkman was a triumph and was one of the most sought after gadgets, copied by many.
The Sony Walkman became such a prominent brand, it became almost synonymous with the personal cassette player. In much the same way as people call a vacuum cleaner a hoover, people referred to the personal stereo as a Walkman. The original cassette players are rarely available, but a search on eBay today has one available at £250 showing just how important they were in our lives. The brand was so strong, Sony continued to use it in CD players, MP3 players and even mobile phones.
So whilst other analogue formats were used and adopted by the public to varying degrees, the most popular were definitely vinyl and cassettes. The music industry still uses these in various forms, but without a shadow of doubt, the music the majority of us listen to, is now digital.
Look out for Part 2, coming soon.