Music: For Here or To Go? Or Both
posted Jun 5 2013 6:46PM
I'm fascinated by music formats. That is, the medium on which music is released. When I was a small child if you wanted to purchase music, you went to a record store and bought a vinyl LP or 45 RPM single or a cassette tape. Vinyl records had good sound quality as long as they were properly cared for. You had to store them in their jackets when not in use and only handle them by the edges.
The problem with records was that they were not very portable. Turntables were for the most part stationary, so if you wanted to listen to a record you were pretty much stuck within earshot of the speakers.
Cassettes were highly portable. For decades tape decks were installed in automobiles. My own car, which rolled off the assembly line in 1999, well after the advent of the compact disc, came standard with a tape deck. Which I now use to listen to my mp3 player. So that's progress for you. Anyway, back to cassettes. They were portable, yes, particularly after the introduction of the Sony Walkman and its endless string of imitators. But the problems was that cassettes, being a magnetic tape medium, often had abysmal sound quality, which deteriorated after a certain number of plays. There was background hiss, which was evident even on tapes manufactured by major labels. Another major drawback of cassettes was that they were not particularly durable. I developed an extensive collection of cassette tapes, and I remember several occasions in which I accidently destroyed a tape simply by dropping it. Sometimes you got lucky and were able to respool the thing and sometimes the tape stretched or creased, which either meant it would no longer work or it would have that one spot that sounded bad that would annoy you every time you listened to it. There were albums I bought on cassette three times. I am not proud of this fact.
The invention of the CD changed things, for the most part. CDs did not have the drawbacks of LPs. They were a digital medium, so some of the warmth of the sound of records was lost, but their durability more than made up for it. Also, they were portable like cassettes, without the weakness in sound quality.
And for a while CDs pushed records and tapes out of the market place. I recall a time, a very short time, in which you could go to a record store and buy your favorite album on LP, cassette, or CD. But like I said, that was a very short time. Soon the vinyl record went the way of the dodo. And now cassettes have done likewise. Personally I haven't owned a turntable at any point in my adult life, and the only cassette player I have owned in the last ten years has been the one in my car.
But these things are cyclical, and what was once the popular trend nearly always comes back around, now labelled "retro." A few weeks ago I was browsing a chain bookstore where I spotted a bin full of vinyl records. Most of them were older titles, from the 80s. But some were from current artists. The records were priced at $14.99. Ironically I remember seeing some of the same records in the cutout bin when I was around 12 years old. At that time, they were going for $5.00.
Nowadays, of course, you have the option of going online and purchasing a digital copy of a song, which you can then download. You don't get the packaging or the artwork, but you also don't have to leave your house and brave the masses in some retail environment. So I guess there are pros and cons to that, too. Personally I've embraced the digital revoloution. I only buy the songs I like. I carry my mp3 player nearly everywhere I go, and I can listen to just about any song I want just about any time I want. It works for me. There are people I know who are old-school. They like to see the package and the liner notes and all that, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm wondering what the landscape will look like in 20 more years. Cheers.