They say music is the food of love, and who doesn’t love food – especially a free lunch?
Ever since Napster blazed its way onto the Internet in 1999, people all over the world have been enjoying the easy availability of free downloads of copyrighted music. The record industry threw a fit and they haven’t stopped since.
They argue that they are losing too much money to piracy and besides that, why should these criminals be getting their product for nothing? They say that quality will suffer as labels are forced to downsize and be more selective with the bands they sign. The music industry will die because of this!
Then there’s the other side of the argument, that CDs cost far too much and that most music promoted by the record industry is vapid and soul-less. When this is the case, why should the consumer fork out for their product only to discover they’ve been sold the sonic equivalent of snake oil?
Whichever side of the argument you hold as your own personal opinion (and who wants to stand side by side with the industry that gave Fred Durst a recording contract?) we at AMOG thought it was time to have a quick look back through history at the various formats music has been sold on and pose the question: if the dollar was worth then what it is now, how much would I be paying?
The Phonographic Cylinder
This is the big grand-daddy of consumer music media. Invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison (based on somebody else’s idea), they enjoyed their heyday between 1888 and 1915 before being replaced by the Gramaphone record, the earliest form of what we consider Vinyl. A machine to play one of these cylinders on would set you back $125 dollars back in the day, with the cylinders themselves retailing for $4.
Taking into account inflation that’s $2,685.72 for the machine and $85.94 per cylinder!
The Phonographic Disk
The cylinder is dead, long live the disk! The phonograph is where that mainstay of DJs started out its life, all the way back in the 1870s. In those early days records were made of all kinds of wacky materials like metal, hard rubber and bug resin (shellac).
Shellac was the big thing until vinyl became the standard material in 1948. Shellac records are still collected today in the form of 78s (referring to the Rotations Per Minute the record was to be played at) as a lot of the early jazz and blues artists we’re recorded onto them before promptly dying of heroin overdoses, being stabbed in bar-room brawls or drinking themselves to death.
Information regarding how much these used to retail for is somewhat sketchy, at least online. Shellac records were very brittle and shattered easily which explains all those loony tunes cartoons in which we saw records being smashed over Elmer Fudd’s head. Vinyl would just bounce off, see?
When we think of phonograph records these days, vinyl is what we envision. Made from more resilient material than shellac, and producing a much better sound, vinyl was the main man for playing music at home right up until the 80s when cassette tape sales eclipsed it.
In the 1960s a single (or a 45 in vinyl parlance) would of set you back 69 cents, which works out at about $5 in today’s money. During the 70s, albums (LPs) retailed for between $2.97-$5.99 which comes out at $11.74-$23.68. By 1984 an album was going for between $6-$7 which in 2009 cash-money is a scale of $12.28-$14.33 – not much change from the 70s!
These days vinyl is virtually the exclusive domain of dance music aficionados, DJs and indie snobs. On the Tower Records website Radiohead’s “OK Computer” will set you back 21 bucks! A hip hop single? Still logging in at about $5.
This ill-fated format didn’t last very long. Invented in 1964, they didn’t really take off until the Ford motor company started offering them as an extra in 1966. That made them a massive overnight success, with 65,000 8-track decks being installed in that year alone.
An 8-track copy of your favorite album would cost you about the same as a vinyl copy in the 70s, which accounting for the passage of time would be between $11 and $24. By 1983, the major record labels had – thankfully – forgotten all about them in favor of cassette tapes.
Despite being invented in the 60s, tape didn’t really become popular until the 80s. The sound quality was somewhat lacking in comparison to vinyl. An album on tape in the 80s would cost you $7, about 14 bucks these days.
What was truly revolutionary about cassette tapes was that you could buy them blank and use them to record your record collection onto, providing you with a handy and portable copy of your music, or even a compilation of your favorite tracks. These could then be swapped between your friends – and thus music piracy was born.
The mix-tape was the analogue precursor to the playlist! In the UK the British Phonograph Institute ran an advertising campaign that declared that home-taping was killing music, echoing the ravings of the RIAA today. Strangely enough, music survived. I’m sure it will find a way to continue today.