Monday, 9 February 2015

Metallica Was Right? - A Personal History of Music Media From The 1950s To Today



My friend Royston posted a link to this blog post from KFMX  (Lubbock's Rock Station) about the legacy of illegal downloading. It sums it up in a nutshell. Although I'm in two minds about the grammar , sould it be Metallica Was Right or Metallica Were Right. Anyway this post isn't about grammatical correctness it's about the whole music stealing thing , and where we are at today and why we are here today musically/ It's probably best to do it roughly in temporal order so I'll do it by decades:

1950s:


A Complete Music Centre
Vinyl became established, first in 78 format with seven inch 45's becoming the single record content delivery device of preference. 12" 33rpm Albums named because sheet music was collected in albums was the modus operandii for Classical Music because of the length of the pieces , although spoken word albums came out that played at 16 rpm . If you look at a full featured vinyl record player that's what the 16 option is for. If you do want an classic record player take a look at RPM in Newcastle.

The thing is unless you had your own recording facilities in the 1950's the only way of stealing music was to actually shoplift or resort to burglary. Music theft was limited to plagiarism and blantant exploitation like Alan Freed's co composer credit on Chuck Berry's Motorvatin' because there had to be a white presence.


1960s:


Reel To Reel
Music took of in this decade, and you had a proliferation of transistor radios and portable vinyl disc players, and affordable reel to reel tape recorders were available. These allowed you to record either from the record player, radio or television. However this was not widespread so artists and record companies just saw it as another marketing opportunity, however the BBC threatened prosecution of anyone who recorded TV programs , although they then later asked for recorded copies when trying to replace lost shows . Albums became more popular especially with bands like the Beatles and Beach Boys shifting industrial quantities and incidentally albums were commercially available on tape reels. Really record companies were seeding the ground without looking to the future.

1970s:

 
Select a Tape
This is when supposedly the shit hit the fan for record companies. Music was becoming more portable. The introduction of the 8-Track tape and more importantly the compact cassette tape. These were introduced by record companies again to sell product, but when cheap portable recorders were put on the market you would have thought that someone would have realised that customers would not just record their own voice or birdsong.







Lots of companies produced tapes and recorders and customers started recording music from TV and radio and records and sharing it with their friends. This was countered by the "Home Taping Is Killing Music" campaign. What actually was happening was that record companies saw a threat and adopted a terrible attitude that their market was comprised of thieves. Home taping went through the roof with the introduction of the Sony Walkman , because this meant that you could take music that you had paid for with you by copying to a C90 tape. Record companies didn't like this either because they saw it as a potential loss of revenue.
John Martyn 1+1

Companies started marketing pre recorded cassette tapes which sold well , but in a completely odd ploy Island started the 1+1 series with the album recorded on one side and the second side blank for you to record whatever you want on.  The only image I could find was for the John Martyn album Grace and Danger, although these was a normal delivery method for Island completely encouraging people to tape music. I don't know if there is a caveat or disclaimer on the tape somewhere.


Killing Joke
The portability of recording apparatus meant that bootlegs now became more prevalent, so as well as official releases , you could , if, ironically, you were prepared to pay way over the odds for usually substandard recordings.

The record industry tried introducing a high frequency signal on the vinyl record to combat taping, and finally introduced a 5% PRS levy on all tapes.


Home taping didn't kill music, if anything it helped spread the word. Although you could only record in real time, so you knew what you were doing. Though for the first time you could put together tapes for parties , driving , bus journeys, running but you still knew that you should really buy the records. However often you would get a tape from a friend, listen to it and then go out buy the album. The record companies didn't acknowledge this.

1980s:


This was the decade that changed everything. The record industry introduced the new cure all, the perfect indestructible medium of CD. This was a cold planning campaign by the music industry, they introduced very cheap CD players, CD players were part of the all in one music centres replacing the cumbersome vinyl turntable. People bought music centres not realising that this made their vinyl records obsolete. So they needed to buy CDs to replace the vinyl , except CDs were expensive £12
Bright Silver Discs
compared with around a fiver for the vinyl equivalent. Mid price albums were a bargain at a tenner. Now you weren't offered a trade in for your vinyl so you were paying for the medium. Did this mean that the music had no actual value?

But anyway this was a McDonaldisation moment for music, suddenly you had remote controls , you could program the way a CD was played , you could skip and repeat tracks, it was convenience for the ears. And you could program a CD and record it to cassette to make your mixtape.

The new medium had no clicks or background vinyl noise, and the first song I played on my new CD player was The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again", played loud. A mistake I never made again. Previously the song was introduced as the needle hit the groove, this time the opening power chord just hit with no warning at all. That was my first impression of CD.

But again the music industry just saw a huge cash cow, but they were selling discs containing music converted to digital signals and guess what happened then......

1990s:


CD replaced floppy discs as a medium for computers. They could also be written to. Home computers were taking off, the internet was connecting people and at this time the music industry decided it was time for another change. CDs would deteriorate and were not as indestructible as we thought. They needed replacing. Incidentally I've had CDs for thiry years that are still fine.

The music industry told us we now had to but DAT . It's tape! Tapes break , get tangled , and you cant easily change the order, and a blank tape cost as much as a CD. DAT did have it's place but just became a specialist niche and never threatened CD's dominance. However......

The CD data was copied into a digital file stored on computer , this was MP3. It was not created by the industry so there was no regulation. People could copy albums to there computer and duplicate them to CD, but more importantly could use the internet to share music using peer to peer networks such as Napster.

People were ripping , sharing and downloading music and not paying for it. The music industry had given everything to the public on a plate. Like with cassette they tried legal downloads but included DRM which limited what devices you could play YOUR music one. It didn't work. Elton John and Metallica were the biggest voices behind the movement that eventually shut down the peer to peer network Napster citing the amounts of money they had lost. The thing is most of the people who downloaded stuff were actually doing it because they could, they would never have bought the music if they couldn't download it so the figures were irrelevant , and these artists didn't give a fig about their fans when the issued old product on CD , then brought out a new version with an extra track, ten brought out a remastered version , expecting fans to cough up money each time.

However in the days of pay per minute internet connection a friend of mine spent £30 to download a Basement Jaxx album he could have bought over the counter for a tenner.

The nineties were the decade where certain people began to expect music to be free, not realising how this affects the people who produce it. This was a direct result of the music industries pushing of CD uptake in the 80s without any thoughts of impact analysis.

The New Millennium:


The turn or the century digital music became the norm. The internet has become very fast , and they perception that music is free has driven down the price of CDs. These days a new Cd will set you back around a tenner, a new vinyl album will cost you twice that. If the cost of albums had kept pace since say, 1975,  you would be paying £80 for a new album today. I've used Job Seekers Allowance as a guide for this , in 1975 I bought the new Pink Floyd album "Wish You Were Here", it cost me £3.25 , now JSA stands around £70.

People can listen to music of their choice free on Youtube , Spotify and any number of streaming services. The problem with these for the artist, is that royalties are paid on a pay per play basis. So if a track is streamed on Spotify an artist will get paid a very small fraction of a penny, if their record is played on the radio they'll be paid £50 (that is completely made up but it is a reasonable amount). I don't know what the answer is to this.

But this leaves us in a world where to make money bands have to charge a lot for gigs and merchandise and kids think that stuff (music and video) should be free.

However music is still vibrant and alive, record shops are still going strong especially with National Record Store Day . New music is still being produced and I still buy a CD a week of usually new music the latest being the Wooden Shjips album  "Back To Land".

The music industry is continually bleating about lost profits and stealing , but in digitizing everything they have created something that can be stolen over and over again, although as recent trends have shown , sensible pricing and convenience will actually result in sales and income, otherwise iTunes would have died a death long ago, and they still cause havoc and inconvenience with their licensing and terms and conditions.

So that's it , possibly my longest ever blog post. Hope it didn't send you to sleep.


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