Government Technology
By Ulf Wolf: Citizen engagement and responsibility in the digital age.

Digital Music

August 23, 2010 By

I grew up in a much simpler world. Then, there were only LPs (Long Playing Records) at 33 1/3 rpm, and Singles and EPs (Extended Play Records) at 45 RPM. All names of bands started with "The", and we called new releases "Albums."

Yes, there were still some 78 RPMs hanging around (we called them stone-plates), but for the most part they went out of style in the two decades before my arrival--although, truth be told, my parents had a stash of them in the house (full of things referred to as "Evergreens", and my first record player did have a three settings for speed: 33 1/3, 45, and 78.

Then, we're talking the 1970s now, came the cassette, and thank you so much for that, for playing LPs on the road was near impossible, whereas the great cassette was playable almost anywhere (especially on the great new little creatures called "Sony Walkman").

Somewhere in there arrived (and quickly vanished) the 8-track cassette player as well. I never owned one, nor did I own any 8-track cassettes, but I've seen pictures of them, and occasionally they've featured in some movies.

No, as for the 70s through 80s it was the compact cassette for me in its various degrees of quality. The single album cassette usually held up fine, but the double album cassettes--such as Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde"--would jam the player mechanism at the drop of hat (the tape, to play twice as much music in the same format was much thinner than regular tape).

Toward the end of the 80s arrived the Digital Audio Tape, a truly great format (and I still have a player) which recorded sound digitally, and played it back in never waning quality for as long as you'd like. It was a great technology which was headed off at the U.S. pass by legislation to protect the music industry--the thought was that these darlings were so good that they could reproduce any album with absolute fidelity, and it would carry that fidelity on through any amount of copies or generations. This was seen as a threat by the music industry, and its lobby managed to attach such an exorbitant tax on blank DAT tapes that it was often cheaper to buy the album, or the CD, for they had now begun to appear.

The DAT remained a faithful vehicle for the recording industry, but it never made it in the public market due to excessive taxes on tapes.

And yes, the CDs had begun to arrive, and here is where the music industry saw the DAT as such a threat--the CD was recorded digitally, and by grabbing the digital stream and recording them on the DAT tape, there would be a perfect copy of the CD, for a quarter of the cost (until they brought the DAT tape taxes up to make up the difference).

Okay, CDs. What a boom. I had to buy all my LPs again (for a third time), and in fact just the other month added my last CD purchase: the Complete Beatles Box Set, something I dreamed about in the early 80s, and now finally.

CDs ruled the roost through the remaining 80s, the 90s, and into the new century when the innocuous thing called mp3 reared its ugly head.

And music delivery has never been the same.

iMusic and Other mp3 Vehicles

So what brought this reminiscing about?

I just came across an interesting Rolling Stone article about Album (as in CD) sales hitting a record low last week. Set me thinking: How much of the market does mp3s have these days?

Answer: Here -- iTunes have now topped 10 billion songs sold!

That is 25% of the total music market. The remaining mp3 online outlets such as eMusic have grabbed another 11% of the music market, leaving the traditional CD with only 64% of its former glory.

End of CDs is Near

Leading me to predict that in another decade the CD as a music medium will be all but gone.

And makes me think that the inventor of the DAT recorder now feels somewhat vindicated.


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