How did you listen to popular music when you were a teenager? On records? The radio? 8-tracks? Cassettes? CDs?
The first audio recordings were cylinders. They were replaced by flat records that spun around on a table at 78 revolutions per minute.
The 78s, as they were called, were eventually replaced by records that spun at a slower speed, 33 1/3 rpm, but had higher quality.
Those recordings also came in albums, each often contained perhaps a dozen songs, including a hit “single.” The single was also available on a smaller disk that spun at 45 rpm.
Some players, just a few decades ago, would play all three record sizes and speeds; 78 rpm, 33 1/3 rpm, and 45 rpm. I don’t know why the 33 1/3 had a third. You’d think they could have rounded up or down to an even number.
What happened to records? They slowly faded away as technology and usage changed. 8-track tapes offered greater mobility and worked in our cars and trucks. People collected 8-tracks the same way they collected records.
8-track tapes were quickly replaced by the smaller cassette tape; highly mobile, more durable than 8-tracks, and with higher quality. Everyone who bought their music on records then bought the music again on 8-track tapes and hand to buy it all over again again to fit the cassette player.
You remember cassettes, right? Just a couple of decades later they were replaced by compact disks; CDs. They are less expensive to manufacture, contain higher quality music, and are more durable.
Of course, we needed to buy our music all over again.
In each case since the invention of a recording and playback device, the music we purchased came on something; either a record, a tape, or a CD. Until now.
Today we can buy music online and download songs, either albums or individual songs, to our computer which synchronizes to a portable playing device, the MP3 player or an iPod. The music isn’t stuck on a record or tape. It’s stuck on the bits inside the player’s storage device (either hard disk or flash memory).
There are two common denominators in this progression of music from the atoms of a recording device to the bits of a portable music player.
The first is the constant change and improvement. The second is the constant payment. I bought Elvis Presley’s records when I was a kid, both 33 rpm albums and 45 singles. I bought them again with 8-tracks and again with cassettes and again with CDs.
Guess what? I’m buying Elvis’ music again on the internet to download to my iPhone. Elvis may be dead but I’m still paying the price to hear the King sing.