Record, CD, Tape collecting and Listening

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In 1877, inventor Thomas Edison revolutionized modernday leisure when he recorded the first human voice on his phonograph. Edison originally created records using a metal cylinder wrapped in tinfoil and sold in cardboard tubes. As technology infiltrated society, other, more sophisticated sources of listening to music were developed, including shellac 78-rpm discs, introduced in the early 1900s, and in 1925 the use of electrical recording vastly improved the quality of recorded sound. In the modern era, the first and longest-lasting medium for prerecorded music was the long-playing (LP) vinyl record, introduced by Columbia Records in 1948; the American and world standards for stereo records were established in 1958.

The phonograph, the earliest device on which to play prerecorded sounds, served as a vehicle for the explosion of popular recorded music and album collecting. It is difficult to pinpoint when people actually started "collecting" recordings. Although the very first records created were not strictly for music, it is plausible to assume that as long as "collectible" music has existed, so have "collectors" of this music. Record collecting remained popular in the 2000s, although few artists still released versions of their albums on vinyl records; these items were more for purists and collectors.

The next major development occurred five years after mass stereo standardization, when the audio cassette "tape" was created, followed three years later in 1966 with the introduction of the 8-track tape, which offered the ability to skip more easily to other tracks on the album than did the cassette. However, the mechanically cumbersome 8-track package, with its continuous-loop tape that often jammed and broke, soon lost its appeal, and the cassette quickly became America's preferred standard. It was not until 1988 that a new format, the compact disc (CD), became the most popular selling format, a mere six years after it was first introduced. Collectors enjoyed enhanced digital sound, convenient size, and increased ability to quickly skip tracks. Several other formats, including the mini-disc, were introduced but quickly disappeared; CDs became so popular that in the early twenty-first century, records and tapes were available only in specialty shops. In 1999, the super-audio CD and DVD-audio were also introduced and found success in niche markets; it is plausible, because they both offer improved sound capabilities and protection against digital copying, that their popularity will continue to grow.


Official While musical formats have come and gone, the collection of albums (each containing a number of songs, usually—but not always—by a single artist or group) as a leisure activity has grown in popularity and has become big business in the twenty-first century. In America, strict regulations govern the official release of albums. There is a "street" date decided upon by labels (but always a Tuesday in America) that is the first date that one can legally acquire the album. Two interesting variations for hardcore collectors are unofficial releases and purchasing products in foreign countries. In Canada, for example, one can often get a copy of an album well before it is legally available in America. Additionally, many European countries offer products with enhanced features (special packaging, bonus tracks) at higher cost, but available earlier than in America. Often, albums become highly collectible because they were originally reproduced in such small numbers and/or production stopped due to decreased demand, making them rare or out of print. In some cases, albums become rare and immediately collectible because of events that are outside the control of record companies, retailers, and artists. Online auction sites, the most popular being, have become acceptable means of buying and selling recordings, especially rare, out-of-print albums in various formats.

Unofficial Unofficial releases, those not approved or produced by the artist or the record company, can be either studio recordings or live recordings. These illegal releases are commonly referred to as "bootlegs," and neither the artist nor the record company receives any money from the sale of these items. Although it is hard to trace when bootlegging first became vogue, Bob Dylan's now-legendary live concert performance in Manchester, England, on 17 May 1966 is often credited as the first rock and roll bootleg, and is now available domestically. Over successive decades, bootlegging became more and more popular; some bands, such as the Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band, and Phish, actually encouraged taping and sharing of their live concerts. Pearl Jam officially released every live show from its 2001 tour, starting a trend that found artists finally cashing in on a market segment that previously was untapped—those fans, referred to as "completists," who collect everything ever produced by a band.

The Future of Collecting

Formats for prerecorded music will continue to progress. Currently, both DVD-audios and super-audio CDs are flooding the market, although neither format is playable on standard CD players, and it is unknown whether consumers will adopt these formats. An even more intriguing advancement is the MP3, a compressed digital file format that has come under fire because of copyright laws. The popularity of MP3 trading, via online communities (like the defunct free version of Napster), has come under fire because of issues related to copyright protection, royalties, and impact on retail sales.

See also: Country Music Audiences; Radio Listening, Car and Home; Rap Music Audiences; Rock Concert Audiences; Teenage Leisure Trends


Clarke, Donald. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. London: Penguin Books, 1989.

Hendler, Herb. Year by Year in the Rock Era. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1987.

Smith, Joe. Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music. New York: Warner Books, 1988.

Strunk, William, Jr. The Elements of Style. New York: Macmillan Publishers, 1959.

Ward, Ed, Geoffrey Stokes, and Ken Tucker. Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll. New York: Summit Books, 1986.

Joshua Shuart