Spotlight: How Mass Distribution in the 20th Century Changed the Face of Music Forever

Here are just a few of the ways that technology-enabled music to become a part of our daily life, and how mass distribution made it all possible.
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While it may seem like an everyday aspect of our culture now, the ability to listen to music on demand was once an impossibility for most people. So how did music become as prevalent in popular culture as it is today? Inextricably linked to music's rise as a popular, widely available art form, is the brilliant technology that brought music into homes worldwide. Here are just a few of the ways that technology-enabled music to become a part of our daily life, and how mass distribution made it all possible.

1. Recorded Sound: A New Novelty

While inventors such as Thomas Edison created the means by which individuals could listen to recorded sound, it wasn't until the rise of mass-distributed vinyl records via record companies such as the Victor Talking Machine Company (whose famous tagline "His Master's Voice" is still used by the RCA company today) that vinyl records became available to buyers of all economic backgrounds. 20th Century mass media was beginning to take shape, but another medium was required to take music to another level of popularity altogether.

2. Revolution in the Airwaves

With the advent of valve technology and a new capacity for broadcasting, radio stations as we know them got their real start in the 1920s, enabling a far wider audience to follow popular music trends in real time and ushering in what is commonly referred to as "the golden age of radio." Take a look at your antique glass vase dated from the Jazz Age and envision it vibrating to the latest tunes of the era courtesy of a nearby radio. Encompassing a heady time for popular music between the 1920s and 1940s, 20th-Century mass media was born out of this golden age, and listeners could not be more ecstatic about the results. Never had popular music gained such a foothold in the popular imagination, and music would never be the same again.

3. Radio Continues to Change the Popular Landscape:

As more and more families purchased radios for their homes and automobiles, the effect of mass-market popular music became more pronounced on public life, and the popularity of big band musical genre gave way to public interest in newer forms of music such as rock and roll, doo-wop, and rhythm and blues. With these changes came new formats to accommodate the needs of a new generation of record collectors, with 45 rpm singles taking over the market from the heavy 78 rpm discs that were popular in the 20s and 30s. These 45 rpm "singles" could be loaded into a jukebox at any restaurant or cafe where young people gathered, meaning that listeners could take turns playing the latest "Top Ten" radio hits in their favorite hang-out spot with a bit of pocket money.

4. Vinyl Changes Once Again:

Soon enough, an audience for long-form "concept" albums developed in the 1960s and 1970s, and sales of full-length records soon eclipsed those of singles; once again, the record industry changed its vinyl formatting to adjust to marketing trends, and the 33 rpm vinyl disc became the new format par excellence. While the 33 rpm record eventually gave way to cassette and compact disc formats in the 1980s, the long-form work that was pioneered by champions of the LP (long-playing) disc has remained in fashion well into our own time, with most artists launching promotional campaigns centered around the release of full-length albums rather than singles. Vinyl has also made a comeback in recent years, with many audiophiles favoring the format's warmth and dynamics over the "compressed" sound of CDs or mp3s.

From its simple beginnings in mass-appeal broadcast radio and 78 rpm vinyl recordings in the 1920s to the multiple format works of music such as CD and mp3 that we have today, it has been quite a journey for music enthusiasts over the years. One thing that unites these seemingly disparate groups separated by time and distance, however, is the love of music; and that is a passion that won't be going anywhere anytime soon!

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