Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Sound of Music: 30 Years of Compact Disc Sales in North America

Photo Credit: Philips Commications Copyright All rights reserved by Philips Communications

Since developing the ability to record sounds and voices, efforts of improving the quality of the playback has fueled the the search for better media formats. From vinyl LP discs, the music industry briefly embraced 8-Track tapes during the 1960s and 1970s. Popular in the 1980s, the audio cassette miniaturized an entire artist's album into a package to the size of a small cigarette box. As cassettes reigned popular with LPs still enjoying a respectable market presence, a technology developed in Japan between Sony and Philips would revolutionize the way music would be received. First sold in Japan during October of 1982, the wider global marketplaces of North America and Europe would begin obtaining the the magically advanced Compact Disc (CD) in the early days of March of the following year. Therefore, it is acceptable to say that March the 2nd of 1983 was the starting point where the CD would be heard around the world.

When introduced, the compact disc represented a monumental step forward for audiophiles. In the early 1980s, the concept of a 4.7-inch flat disc delivering superior sound quality was cutting-edge thinking. The thought that the CD was being read by a laser beam was another outrageous notion. Priced at around $800 to $1,000 when first sold in the United States, CD players were first rolled out by Sony and Magnavox who immediately championed the new audio format.

Photo credit: Ford Motor Company

CBS Records and Sony distributed were initially involved in supplying the United States market with compact discs. Music CDs first available (originally 16 albums priced between $17 to $25 per disc) consisted largely of classical performances for the purpose to highlight the fidelity of the new equipment. Contemporary artists of the time including Journey and Pink Floyd were added to CD format later in 1983. Canadian artist Bryan Adams also saw his album "Cuts Like a Knife" converted to CD within the first year of the format's sales in North America. One of the earliest popular music groups to have an album released on CD outside of Japan was Swedish band ABBA. ABBA's 1981 album titled "The Visitors" was brought to market in 1982 ahead of the European commercial release of the CD player units.

As can be expected from new technology, the adaptation to the new player was not immediate. To promote the format in its infancy, Sony supplied 28 radio stations with free CD players and a year's supply of CDs. As the 1980s rolled, CD players slowly found its way into high-end stereo cabinets. Smaller, less expensive players of the laser-scanned discs eventually led to mainstream acceptance of the media format eventually usurping the audio cassette. The CD also existed as an external data storage solution of choice in the booming home computer market of the 1990s. Becoming a common sight around the world by the 2000s, CDs two decade superiority has been eroded by on-line music in recent years.

As we are entering full-fledged into the market where obtaining information such as music and stereo will be performed entirely on-line, the notion of purchasing a physical piece of media will become a remnant of past culture.

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