When Here in my Heart by Al Martino became the UK’s first ever number one single on 14th November 1952, the UK Singles Chart was officially born. Back in the fifties and sixties, when you bought music it was in the form of a 7 inch single or a 12 inch record (long player). Long before the compact disc (CD) and the cassette tape came into existence, vinyl was king. What made vinyl records so exciting in the 1950s was that for the first time, the British public had something of their own in their possession that they could physically play on their own record players. Vinyl also became widely available in record shops up and down the country. Coffee bars and cafes were the perfect place for young people to meet up and listen to their favourite records which they could select from the juke boxes housed in them.
Compact Discs and Cassette Tapes
As the century progressed, the way in which music was available changed in medium. From 1980 cassette tapes, and from 1982 compact discs (CDs) began to phase out the commonplace vinyl record. Cassettes and CDs were a much more portable way of listening to music. The invention of the cassette player (the Walkman) and the CD player made it possible to not only listen to music at home or in a cafe, but also with the aid of headphones whilst on the move: a student could now listen to music while at college; a businessman or businesswoman could listen to music whilst on the move walking or catching the train to work. The compact disc was also intended to outlast the lifespan of a vinyl record as it was read by a laser therefore its quality could not be worn down over time by a needle unlike a vinyl record. It was also meant to be more difficult to break. Cassette players and later CD players also became commonplace in vehicles. The MiniDisc was introduced in 1992 to replace the cassette but met with only limited success. By the middle of the 1980s, music had therefore become much more accessible to the mass market. Record or music shops were still a staple of the high street. Both established chain stores and independent shops flourished in the same town or city centre.
The twenty-first century has bought about another way of listening to music. Music or digital downloads allow the user to listen to music through devices such as MP3 players and Ipods without having to purchase a physical single or album. Instead a file of music is essentially downloaded to a PC thus making it possible to gain access to music without having to have possession of its physical format such as the CD. This in itself did initially cause significant problems, and to a certain extent still does, through illegal downloads (accessing files without paying for them). Portable devices such as the Ipod are now smaller as a result of this media. With downloads being incorporated into the official singles chart since April 2005, and since April 2006 with downloads able to count towards the chart a week prior to the physical release, they were officially recognised as a chartable format therefore negating the need for the stand alone download chart.
The Impact of Downloads on Record Shops
With the success of downloads regrettably record shops have suffered. Though downloads are not solely to blame for the closure of both recognised high street chain stores and independent record shops (other factors include the economic climate and increased rents), they are a significant factor. In today’s society convenience in key. With people working longer hours they generally have less time to go out to high street shops; many prefer the convenience of internet shopping. This is not just applicable to music downloads. Music shops have suffered significantly as a result of this trend. Gone are the days when there would be a choice of chain and independent music stores on nearly every high street. HMV is now the only major music chain that still has a presence in the high street. Only 300 independent music shops remain in the UK. How much longer will they last?
Amy Shepherd works in marketing for Venus Sales Ltd, a UK based retailer operating a number of online retail sites including Temptations Direct and Purple Pleasures.