Ever since Columbia produced the first vinyl record in 1948, the physical distribution of music has affected its form.
Albums of songs could only be as long as records could physically hold, which affected how artists wrote music. The length of songs and albums expanded with evolutions of vinyl and newer, popular distribution forms — from 8-track to cassette to CD and digital, which we have today.
What’s beyond digital and how will that affect songs and albums? By researching the cause and effect of physical distribution forms of the past, I hope to explore in my term project what the future may offer.
As Albin Zak says in The Poetics of Rock: Cutting Tracks, Making Records, “Even if rock and roll had its roots in live performance traditions, it was nevertheless… first and foremost a recorded music. Its rapid rise in popularity was a result not of live performances but of mass radio exposure, which was fed by records — primarily the new and affordable 45-rpm singles that were the staples of teenagers’ record collections.” These 45-rpm records were physically limited to holding approximately three minutes of music on one side. Thus, songs of the pioneering rock and roll era were written to be within three minutes — forever shaping popular music.
In contrast, digital distribution forms today free musicians from having to create music around physical constraints. For example, Nine Inch Nails last year released “Ghosts I-IV,” comprising of nine-track instrumental EPs, 36 tracks in total.
This freedom is not unchallenged. Within popular music, there is tension between artistic creativity and popularity, which continues to be driven by traditional song forms — shaped by distribution methods of decades past.
This term project will examine the history of music distribution and its affect on the art today and in the future.