The History of the Vinyl Record and the Production of New Technologies

Is the vinyl record dead?  Comment to share your opinion.
Is the vinyl record dead? Comment to share your opinion. | Source

In 1980, three years before the electronics corporations Sony and Philips had even introduced the first CD (Compact Disc) to the market, people began to predict the death of the vinyl record. This was, in part, due to the fact that the two companies had announced the impending release of something called a “digital-disc player.” In response to this news, reporters and journalists from around the world quickly began to gravitate around Sony and its plans for the future of music technology. Mark Kirkeby, a writer for Rolling Stone described his exclusive interview with the president of Sony Industries, Michael Schulhof:

Sony seems optimistic that digital is the future of disc sound reproduction. ‘We don’t expect the LP to be obsolete overnight,’ said [Michael Schulhof, president of Sony Industries]. ‘There will certainly be a period when the analog disc and the digital disc coexist. But we would hope that by 2000 the industry will be primarily digital. The audio quality is just so much greater. The change will be similar to what happened when stereo took over from mono.’ (Kirkeby, 1980: 60)

As an afterthought, it is fascinating that Sony’s president was able to precisely calculate how long it would take American society to make the shift from using analog to digital technology. But more importantly, Kirekby’s exposure reveals that the creators of CDs were predicting the impending downfall of vinyl, before even releasing their product to the market. One reason for Sony’s extreme confidence in the future success of CDs was because of how CDs were discussed in the media as the next step in the evolution of discs (Goodman 1980).

Although American newspapers and magazines described CDs as if they were an extension of record technology, some music critics warned their readers of the serious threat that digital technology posed to the functional use of vinyl records. For example, before the invention of CDs, the function of the vinyl record was to play music. If someone wanted to hear their favorite song or listen to a new album, the vinyl record was the only type of technology that was able to perform this function. Therefore, vinyl records during this period of time had a high function value.

However, as new digital technology emerged that essentially mimicked vinyl records in both concept and function, society was introduced to additional ways of listening to music more conveniently. CDs threatened the functional use of vinyl because people now had access to music in ways that did not require using records or record players. In comparison, CDs were marketed by Sony and Philips as having a greater functional use than vinyl records because they were more durable, reliable, and could be used outside of the home.

As the media continued to forecast CDs as the next step in the evolution of discs, the music industry was forced to invest a considerable amount of their capital into the success of CD technology. In order to make space for CD manufacturing plants and their large amounts of resources, vinyl manufacturing facilities were shut down by the hundreds. Although industry insiders expressed their discontent for this “technology trade-off,” they were still very excited about the future of CD technology (Booth 1983:57). One Warner Brothers executive reportedly said, “Clearly, the Compact Disc has great advantages, even above and beyond the superlative audio quality. It has the look and feel of something new” (Booth 1983: 57). This quote is important because it is exemplifies how many record industry executives felt at the time— mesmerized by the promising image and sound of CDs. These executives were thinking about profit margins, and never once considered how it might change the ways record collectors experience the music.

The World's Largest Vinyl Collection: No One Will Buy It

CDs have become more popular then vinyl due to their portability.
CDs have become more popular then vinyl due to their portability. | Source

Do you still play vinyl records?

  • Yes, it's all I listen to!
  • Sometimes
  • I would if I could
  • No way! Don't you have an iPod?
  • What's a vinyl record?
See results without voting

The Invasion of the CD

In 1983, Sony and Philips finally unveiled the CD to the general public, claiming that it was more durable and reliable than any other medium on the market. While the ubiquity of industry support and positive media reviews of CD technology contributed to CDs’ fast and enduring success, one reporter discussed the early criticisms of CDs and interviewed several critics. For example, a California audio dealer objected to the “dirty” quality, the “grittiness” in CD recordings. The critic described CD sound as “a coarsening of orchestral and vocal textures,” as well as “a lack of depth information” (Lander 1983: 86–7).

Many in the record collecting subculture share this opinion, that the sound of vinyl is superior because it is less compressed. For example, in an issue of Rolling Stone from 1983, journalist Stephen Booth attempted to capture the disgruntled sentiment of record collectors:

The epitaph for analog shouldn’t be how poor it sounded, but how good. Yet the sad but inescapable fact remains that analog simply is not capable of reproducing the memory of a musical performance with perfect fidelity to the original. Enter digital audio. (55)

Booth’s response to the invention of CDs is fascinating for two reasons. First, he explains that the invasion of CDs is practically inescapable, and that ultimately, he believes that digital audio is more reliable than analog sound. Despite this, Booth also suggests that vinyl, while flawed in certain ways, deserves the respect of society because it was an important landmark in the history of sound.

As technology within the music industry improved at a rapid rate, the cost of production and consumer prices decreased correspondingly. For example, between 1983 and 1987, the price of a CD player dropped from $900 to $150 (Fantel 1985:50). Although it is not uncommon for the price of new technologies to decrease over time, some have speculated that the price fell so quickly because the music industry was determined to accelerate the adoption of CD technology. Therefore, if the record companies had not made the rapid improvements to CD technology that they did, it might have taken CD players a lot longer to become conventional in American society.

Although there has been some decrease in the value of vinyl records since they were invented, it is hypothesized that because of their rarity in today’s society, as well as their admiration by individuals in the record-collecting subculture, some vinyl records have increased in value.

How is Vinyl Made?

References

Booth, Stephen. 1983. “The Digital Revolution.” Rolling Stone 60:55-57.

Fantel, Hansel. 1985. “CD Grows Up: An Expensive Toy Becomes a Sound Investment.” Rolling Stone 96:50.

Goodman, Fred. 1984. “Record Industry Preparing to Bury the LP.” Rolling Stone 24.

Kirkeby, Mark. 1980. “The Pleasures of Home Taping: Tapers Reject Record-Industry Line.” Rolling Stone 62-64.

Lander, Dan. 1983. “Digital Discontent.” Rolling Stone 86–88.

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Comments 43 comments

Kiara Dearest profile image

Kiara Dearest 5 years ago

good information. I heard that dvds will be replaced with blu rays and flash drives and again another technology shall emerge from time to time. it seems to me that tech is depreciating as it age.


kikalina profile image

kikalina 5 years ago from Europe

Great hub. Thanks for sharing


Derdriu 5 years ago

Brittany: What a compelling, informative, useful summary of the persistence of vinyl recordings despite their supercession by compact discs and iPods! The quotes are helpful, and the video is fascinating.

Thank you, etc.,

Derdriu


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

Kiara: Thank you so much for sharing. Yes, I believe technology is moving away from items that have artistic aura and personal value and becoming more instant. I think that's why my husband and I collect vinyl. We miss the original form that the music was made, whereas in today's world, it is less about the concept of an "album" and more about making hits--single tracks that we can click through. Thanks again for sharing/reading/commenting.


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

Kikalina: Mahalo.

Derdrie: Thank you so much for reading! I hope this comes in handy to people wondering about the history of music as a commodity. Mahalo for reading.


MichaelStonehill profile image

MichaelStonehill 5 years ago

The audio quality of CDs are indeed much better than vinyl records, so besides nostalgy there is no need to miss it. Anyway, both technologies are reproductions of sound, which cannot compare to real live music. And yet technology makes it possible to hear music of great musicians of former generations. For instance:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9M3znlOA90


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

Michael, actually vinyl captures more of the original sound wave, while CDs and digital forms of music do not. This is the difference between analog and digital sound. Here's some further reading if you don't believe me: http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/question487.h...

The YouTube video you attached was of a vinyl record that I would love to hear uncompressed and in mint condition as to avoid the dust and crackle of the uploader's copy of the record. I don't think that all music should be listened to in vinyl and love the fact that digital music is portable and sharable. But, I am saying that it is not only preferred because of it's artistic aura and nostalgic value; vinyl has a better quality than these digital forms of music.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and a new song. :)


MichaelStonehill profile image

MichaelStonehill 5 years ago

Analog recording is better than digital recording in terms of capturing a greater part of the original wave in a more hamonious way. Nevertheless, audio recording technology has been problematic due to its implementations. I assume that digital recording will be improved in ways that digital photography was siginificantly improved during recent years.


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

Possibly. I think that we have to compress the sound, though, when we move from analog to digital. Hopefully our technology will advance, but the concept of an album may be lost in the process.


MichaelStonehill profile image

MichaelStonehill 5 years ago

Digital technology is based on quantitative conversion of analoge samplings. So digital technology can never be as good as pure analog sampling. However, it may reach a close quality since disk capacity becomes greater and cheaper. The advantage of digital technology is the ability to have less noise and the perfect conservation of the recorded data. When I was a child, I listened to great maestros playing music in concertos, and their best analog records are like shadows in comparison to their real playing, so at least for me the difference between digital technology and analog technology is not that important (though I prefer film photography to digital photography).


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

I understand why you don't care whether music is on CD or vinyl, Michael, and I agree that live music is ideal. I think vinyl just has a purer sound and digital technologies are changing the way we listen to and make music. I feel like there is no need for an artist to release albums anymore because it is rare that a person listens to a whole album on their iPod rather than just clicking on the songs they like. Thanks for reading and sharing your opinions. :)


MichaelStonehill profile image

MichaelStonehill 5 years ago

Do people rarely listen to a whole album due to convenient options introduced by technology or is the Ipod technology an outcome of less patient generations? I am not sure whether the hen came before the egg or vice versa :)


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

I think so, but I will open the question up to other hubbers. :)


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

Michael, so far, people seem to agree with me: http://hubpages.com/question/143534/do-you-listen-... It's so interesting, yeah?


MichaelStonehill profile image

MichaelStonehill 5 years ago

Brittany, it depends on each person if and how to use technology. Thus, persons who like to listen to music attentively will not use a technology such as iPods in the first place. Most persons tend to use what is more convenient to them, and yet the more convenient is not always the better. 80 years ago theorists had written about T.V. and analog records similar things to what you wrote about digital technology. You are correct in your observatios, and they were correct in their observations.

Every art form, as well as every technology which is used to communicate art, has limitations (this conecpt is called Lessing's Lacoon). It is up to the artists to transcend these limitations, using the uniqueness of every art form for the best.


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

Yes, Michael, but I don't think everyone who likes to listen to music attentively has and uses a record player.


MichaelStonehill profile image

MichaelStonehill 5 years ago

Not everyone, and yet since great classical musicias used record players as an addition to their studies, and recorded their works, recording media has become a standard even for professional musicians.


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

True, but many works are recorded with digital technology nowadays. Thanks for keeping up this engaging discussion with me, Michael! You have some great points. :)


MichaelStonehill profile image

MichaelStonehill 5 years ago

Well, Britanny, the best musicians of our generation distribute their works on digital media, so you may be an idealist, but have to remember that the public's commercial taste tends to mediocricy, so in order for music not to become too private, musicians prefer to make some adjustments and compromises.


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

I agree and think it's great that we can share music so easily. I just prefer the sound and routine of vinyl.


MichaelStonehill profile image

MichaelStonehill 5 years ago

Sure :) I prefer a Stradivarius, but these days I can only listen to it by recordings:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOIL8mGeOio


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

That song is so beautiful! Thanks for sharing :)


gree0786 profile image

gree0786 5 years ago from United States

Brittany, wonderful article! This is the first hub I've ever read and am extremely impressed. Loving all of the "extras" you incorporated-- such as the survey and video. how did you do that? VInyl is such an important part of music technology history, I look forward to your next article on vinyl :D


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

Thank you so much, Gree! You can add poll capsules to your hub as well as videos by clicking "add" and then choose the one you want. You can add videos from YouTube, Vimeo and a bunch of other sites.

Thank you so much for reading!!! Your article inspired me to publish this old one I had written in college. I just published a new hub that I put your vinyl article in...take a look: http://brittanytodd.hubpages.com/hub/My-Favorite-H...

Thanks again! I look forward to reading more of what you write.


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 5 years ago from Texas

You had me so confused for 2:30 in the morning. On your last hub, you said the next one was because of me, so I'm reading your next one - this one. Now I'm thinking, is she implying I'm out and need to be put out to pasture like the vinyl records or what. So I head over to your profile, and I see that the one after this is your hub luv hub, and it's starting to make sense.

Back to this hub. It was a well written and researched hub. And it was interesting also. Great job! Good nite!


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

Oops! Sorry. I published those so close together I guess I forgot what order I did them in. :) Thanks for reading and commenting! Good night!


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 5 years ago from Texas

Just goes to show you how tired I was, when I said, "is she implying I'm out...", I meant "old".


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

Oh, hahaa! I was wondering what "out" meant. I assumed it was "asleep". Thank you for staying up to read my piece. I really appreciate it!


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State

My years of music collecting began just as the era of vinyl was coming to an end (late 80s), I still have a crate of 100 or so LPs in the closet from when I first started buying/obsessing about music. I don't even own a turntable to play'em on anymore but I will never get rid of them!

From there I went on through the cassette era and now the Compact Disc era. There are even some favorite albums that I've owned in all three formats.

Now there are some rumors that several of the major record labels will discontinue production of CDs entirely within the next two years as the music-purchasing market becomes increasingly digital. It will be a sad day for old school collectors like me when that happens.


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 4 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

FatFreddysCat, Thank you for commenting and sharing your experiences. I agree that it will be so sad when there are only digital copies of music. I have a huge record collection myself and think that there is much more meaning to the records than simply the music. It is the memories and history tied to each record that make it unique.

My feelings toward these items are related to artistic aura (I wrote a hub on it and linked to it at the bottom of this one). When music becomes digital, it is no longer a physical possession--rather, it's simply a file that sits with thousands of others in a iTunes library. But, for some, this is all they need. Me, on the other hand, I love to hold the music and physically put it on.

But don't worry, one day our records will be worth a lot of money (not that I'm planning on selling any). Thanks again.


Erik Peterson 4 years ago

Great article...although I noticed there's no mention of vinyl's resurgence. At this time it's the fastest growing physical format for music, surpassing CD sales. It's still only a small sliver in overall music consumption, but it's making a remarkable comeback that is even baffling industry executives.


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 4 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

Erik, thanks for reading. Yes, I have considered the new popularity of vinyl (and to be honest with you, I put it in a later part of my study and will publish it soon.) But, I didn't know that vinyl sales are passing CD sales. Where did you hear that information?

I agree that vinyl is becoming more popular among teens. Vinyl has its own subculture surrounding it now. Labels like Stones Throw promote vinyl sales, but I think that record stores are still suffering from sales. The video I included about the man with the largest record collection cannot sell it for well-under what it's worth. If record sales and stores were increasing by number, why wouldn't anyone want to invest in his amazing collection?

Thanks again for reading/commenting. :)


Erik Peterson 4 years ago

I hate to admit it, but I may have been wrong in stating that vinyl is surpassing CD sales. I could have swore I read that somewhere, but cannot find it now. Perhaps I read that vinyl will SOON surpass CD sales. However I did find this industry article from June of this year stating that vinyl sales have grown 455% in just 5 years.

http://digitalmusicnews.com/stories/060311wax


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 4 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

Wow, Erik! That is a really interesting figure. I am so happy that vinyl is making a comeback. (Even though my favorite record stores are being cleaned out of all the good stuff now. Haha.) Thank you for sharing that link. I believe this increase is probably due to the rising sub culture among teens and those that love vintage culture. Thanks again!


Erik Peterson 4 years ago

That website has a lot of vinyl (among other music formats) figures & is considered credible within the industry.

I miss the record stores too. Unfortunately I do not see them making the same comeback. Not at all the same thing, but Best Buy has been selling vinyl these days.


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 4 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

Yes, and eBay vinyl stores seem to be doing well also. Recently, a few more record stores just opened in my neighborhood, and I seem to see more popping up each day, but that's LA.


toys-everywhere profile image

toys-everywhere 4 years ago from That little rambunctious spot in the back of your mind :)

Awesome :)


giocatore profile image

giocatore 4 years ago

Hello, Interesting story!

When we speak of compression we need to specify whether we're discussing compression of data or dynamic range. I believe you always have dynamic range compression on analog recordings, which means the difference between the highest and lowest sound levels is less than on a digital recording. An analog recording, of course, captures the exact shape of the sound wave (albeit compressed), while digital will always be an approximation, but a very good one.

I'm not an expert, so if someone here is, please straighten me out! cheers, Jim


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 4 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

Thank you for commenting and reading, giocatore! I was speaking of dynamic compression of the sound wave. The article I posted in the comments above further explains what you are talking about.


epigramman profile image

epigramman 4 years ago

..posting this beauty of a hub subject to my new Facebook group LET'S JUST TALK MUSIC OR CINEMA with a direct link back here - love your research and as always your world class presentation and I am inviting you to join our group - that would certainly be a thrill and an honor too - my name is Colin Stewart at FB with the same profile photo and our group title is on my homepage for you to click for the link - hope you see you there - sending warm wishes and good energy from lake erie time ontario canada 6:34am and I still have over 3000 vinyl albums in my collection - old habits die hard.


brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 4 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Author

Thank you so much, Colin! I have added you on Facebook and look forward to being a part of your group! I wish I had 3000 records! Right now, my husband and I have collected about 1500, but are always looking for those gems to add to the collection. I am so honored by your words. Thank you again!


pongogirl2 profile image

pongogirl2 4 years ago from California, USA

I love vynil albums:) They're so interesting to use. I am so going to buy a vynil record player and buy vynil albums a lot, that's is only how I want to listen to music at home.


Katie-Louise 2 years ago

Thank you so much for posting this!

It was so informative and it really helped me with one of my assignments for university, Great Sources :)

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