SENIOR ISSUE: From dead wax to digital waves

Katelin Aanerud

There is something about that fuzzy crackle that vibrates from vintage speakers as the needle graces the edge of the record that will never truly grow old, but as the music industry grows bigger and more intense every year, streaming services have become the most convenient and widespread form of listening to the newest albums. But, this isn’t the first time this type of media revolution has happened.

From the creation of the phonograph in 1877, to the widespread use of services like iTunes and Spotify, we have always wanted a way to preserve and listen to music on repeat. The road to the modern age of music has been paved with complications and a variety of formats, and many seem to be creeping back to our everyday life.

It all started with a flat disc made of shellac, manufactured grooves and scratches, and a needle. Played at 78 rpm, we got our first taste of analog music with these 10 inch albums, which were restricted to approximately three minutes. Flash forward to the early 30s and we got a new option: long-playing albums. The improvements kept on coming including high fidelity, stereophonic, and quadraphonic sound.

After those long-playing 33 1/3 rpm albums, we got 45 rpm albums which were commonly referred to as “singles” due to the single song on either side of the disc. In between all of these, there were a few more obscure types of media too. Flexidiscs, pocket discs, and cardboard records were cheap novelty items that could be found on the back of cereal boxes, magainzes, and greeting cards. It’s safe to say none of them faired well after all these years, and dependent on the topic and artist these have become collector items.

The big issue with vinyl records, and the reason people are so hesitant to take up a hobby collecting lps, is that they aren’t very portable. There was a brief attempt to make them more mobility accessible in the late 50s with the addition to Highway Hi-Fi players in cars. But since records are so delicate, that didn’t last long.

And then the tape came along. There were both Stereo-Pak and 8-Track tapes that brought a new mobility to music. They both came with their issues too, though. Most notably were the common problems that you could hear multiple songs playing at once, and that songs would be shortened or separated by the changing programs. Most problems were fixed once the common cassette became widespread and they were small in size, reliable, and with the Sony Walkman being released in the late 70s music lovers were album to take their favorite albums on the go.

The late 90s, and 2000s brought compact discs(CD) and it was another game changer. No longer did people have to worry about rewinding their tapes, or having the inner padding wear out. But, they now had to worry about simply scratching the surface of the plastic disc. One advantage of there were the return of album art. Often, they came with booklets with the lyrics, or pictures printed on them, and some would even fold out in posters like those that came with vinyl records.

As the internet and technology grew out of control, everything began to condense once more. Now, you have access to the libraries of any artist you could think of in the palm of your hand with the help of Youtube, Spotify, and iTunes. But is that it? Vinyl is back, cassettes are back … what’s next?