Here’s something pretty interesting that got posted up at Stereogum today, via Digital Music News — an animated representation of the music industry’s changing formats. The GIF pictured below, based on research by the Recording Industry Association of America, starts at 1973, when the market had only a few cornerstone formats to more or less rely on. As the years wear on, an increase of digital formats leads to an outright explosion. Like microbial organisms in a petri dish, close attention to each developing format’s interaction with another reveals a lot about the changing tide of music consumption and the way we listen to modern music. It wasn’t a few decades ago that a walk down the street had to be a silent one – now, it’s a multimedia experience.
At the pace the graphic travels, the graphic is annoyingly hard to follow, so here are a few key turning points.
1984 is the first big majority win for the cassette tape, favoured for its conveniently smaller size, making it far easier to lump old unwanted Enya albums into your basement at the end of the decade.
At 1991, the Compact Disc takes over, marketed as a sexy alternative to everybody’s chunky old LPs. While “Frampton Comes Alive” finds a new lease on life at every record store bargain bin in the world, the CD is marketed as ‘Perfect Sound Forever’ — durable, elegant and (pathetic in sound fidelity). The ploy had worked, and now record labels big and small have to conform. The clever ones reissue and repackage their old material for a new price, following the pattern every five or six years under a loose definition of the word ‘remastered’. A sigh of relief is had when everyone remembers that George Lucas doesn’t work in the music industry.
Curiously, the years 1998-2001 are a period of little change, with cassette tape on life support and CD having the biggest market dominance of any year pictured. Given the chart-topping hits at the time, perhaps the more sensible consumers have given up on buying music altogether. Still, the public’s ongoing support of the CD format is enduring proof that it’s here to stay…
…until it begins to get squashed by a variety of internet formats within only a few years.
With vinyl experiencing a rebirth, the single at its most powerful ever, and a wide range of options within the digital format; a revolution in music listening is born. Until someone invents a way for us to listen with our minds, our ears have unstrangled access to the music we love and are fed. Although the data in this graphic would predictably have more accuracy with recent years, it soundly demonstrates the rapid development of the music industry to the point where it is now a multi-format, digitally-integrated hive of scum and villainy.
The irony of this graph about format is its own inadequate format; the years it depicts spin by as dizzily and incoherently as they do in the real world. For anyone interested in taking a closer look at more than what this rough guide can offer, there’s the Digital Music News page with year-by-year graphs at the bottom. And for even more specifics, the RIAA website provides comprehensive statistics in a variety of interestingly-coloured charts. As the RIAA’s research proves, technology has both advanced our understanding of the ways we receive music and provided increasingly convenient ways for us to steal it.
In all seriousness, this makes one wonder how such trends were reflected here in New Zealand — anyone from RIANZ reading this? (No? Good.)