The Time Warp....

This brief, historical dalliance would have been equally at home on our help pages concerning: stylus wear; or cartridge design or recording lathes or CD-4.

The historical facts here relate to almost every aspect of phonograph technology.

❝You're spaced out of sensation
Like you're under sedation
Let's do the time-warp again.❞ ¹

The graph right, from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) database, reveals that record sales were more or less static throughout the 1970s. It wasn't CDs which killed records (or nearly killed - the vinyl revival is just visible from the last 10 years), it was cassettes that did for the LP.

Pre-recorded musicassettes contributed the strongest sales-growth; from nearly nothing in 1973 to half the recorded-music sales-volumes a decade later. Cassette and CD sales were still neck and neck as late as 1990 by which time record sales had collapsed.

Now, it isn't sales volumes which drive industrial investment - which in turn drives patents and published papers - it's growth. Companies invest where they see, or hope to see, growth. And that wasn't the case for the phonograph records, or equipment with which to play them, since the mid-1970s.

Equipment manufacturers and record companies alike had invested heavily in quadraphonic technology in the hope that this would drive the sales growth of records, but it backfired. This was the last straw for hardware and software producers both. From that point, serious investment ended as did the development of the technology.

Thus, records and the technology to record, manufacture and play them is stuck in about 1975 and that has two effects. The first is straightforward: no more development. But it also has the effect of crystallising opinions which were conjectural at the time. Just as it's the choir's last chord that echoes around the cathedral, so the last flourishes of the marketeers from 1975 still reverberate in the world of records.

We're caught in a time warp. Deprived of subsequent examination, it's still common to see opinions which were pure conjecture or unresolved at the time being discussed as undisputed facts. A serious study must therefore be very careful in taking opinions and data from this frozen moment in time as the definitive truth.

1. The Time Warp by Richard O'Brien & Richard Hartley


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