From vinyl to liquid music: brief history of musical media

In the twentieth century there were several musical supports which allowed us to listen to the music anywhere and at any time. Technological development has brought us from vinyl, which contained around ten tracks, to “liquid music”, i.e. that available on streaming platforms, which are practically unlimited music libraries. If in Mozart’s time we had to consider ourselves lucky to hear the same melody twice in a lifetime, today we are literally surrounded by music, and we can listen to it again whenever we want. But what voyage did he make music, from physical media to today?

How was music listened to before vinyl?

At the end of the 19th century people listened to music with the phonographinvented by Thomas Edison in 1877. Before that, the only method to hear it was to attend a live concert, which was a privilege not for everyone, given the ticket prices. The phonograph, therefore, was the first device to record and reproduce music, and to do so it used cylindrical recording media, a needle, a diaphragm and a horn.

In 1887, Emil Berliner patented the gramophonewhich used i 78 rpm phonograph records. These discs consisted of a glass part and a metal sheet coated with shellac resin. During the Second World War, however, shellac was almost impossible to find, and when the conflict ended most records were about to undergo a revolution: that of the vinyl record.

The vinyl record, an evergreen

In 1948 Columbia Record brought the vinyl record: once inserted into the turntable and connected to an amplifier, the needle was positioned and, voilà, here was the music at home. One might ask: how did they differ from 78s, other than the material? The 78s spun faster, but the vinyls had higher quality. Furthermore, the capacity of the audio tracks recorded on the 78 rpm was only a few minutes per side, a significant limitation. The vinyl record allowed you to listen to around ten tracks, reaching 33 rpm in around 23/30 minutes per side. Vinyl, ousted by cassette tapes at the beginning of the Seventies, has seen an “overbearing” return in recent years among great music enthusiasts and collectors, who wish to experience that intense emotion of finally having a record in their hands. jewel to be treated delicately.

For many this is a pleasure still unexplored, also due to the astronomical prices of some vinyls. In the 1960s it was also thought about creating a device for carrying vinyl records with you, the famous “record player“. Inside it could be inserted the 45 turns, i.e. vinyl records with a diameter of 178 mm and a speed of 45 rpm. The record was inserted into a slot, and a needle inside the device rested on the surface, starting musical playback. It was an object very pop and desired by the very young, but which was short-lived.

Vinyl record

“The magnetic era”: cassette tapes and the Walkman

In the 1930s the Germans had invented the recording on magnetic tape, technology that only became public at the end of the Second World War. In 1963 Philips introduced the cassette tapes, magnetic memory devices that store data and information sequentially on tape. They were not an immediate success, because many were still fond of vinyl. However, with the advent of Walkman by Sony in 1979, the ability to record music on a small portable device that you could always carry it with you attracted more and more people, causing record players to decline.

This type of support has been used for a long time, becoming along with vinyl records one of the most popular supports in the world for listening to music, and fell into oblivion in the early 2000s due to the popularity of CDs. Present in many films (to name the most famous: Back to the Future, Karate Kid And Apple Time), was brought back to the attention of Gen Z thanks to the fourth season of Stranger Things.


The digital age: the CD

The first industrially produced album was The Visitors by ABBA, on August 17, 1982, but the first to be placed on the market was 52nd Street by Billy Joel, at the beginning of October of the same year, when the director of Sony Akio Morita presented for the first time the first Compact Disc in Japan, together with the CD player. All very nice and convenient on paper, but… there was a problem: CD players initially cost almost as much as an average monthly salary, and not everyone could afford them. Towards the end of the 1980s, prices finally dropped, and records began to enjoy success among the public, (slowly) taking away the Walkman’s popularity.

For some, CDs are still a technological mystery: we are talking about a disc made of polycarbonate (a highly transparent thermoplastic material) covered with a very thin layer of aluminum and a protective coating to protect it as much as possible from scratches and dust. In 12 centimeters of diameter, the music was “trapped”: it almost seemed like magic. But how exactly do you read the music on a record? With a laser beam inside the CD player: As the disc rotates, the beam measures differences in how light is reflected from the polycarbonate layer on the bottom of the disc, converting it into sound. One of the most famous CD music players was the Discman from Sony, similar in portability to the Walkman.


Although in 1991 the CD-R, i.e. CDs on which you could endlessly load and delete songs, CD sales peaked in 2001, with 900 million records sold in the United States alone. Throughout the nineties and the first decade of the 2000s, records were going strong, and despite the advent of streaming from 2011 onwards, the CD market has recovered quite well, with global growth of 9%, generating a business global equal to 26.2 billion dollars. After all, how can we forget the emotions we felt listening to them come on column player in supermarkets? You put on your headphones, chose one of the five new albums available launched by MTV and listened to the preview tracks. A joy that not everyone can say they have felt, but collecting and listening to records with the computer or from a stereo system also has its reasons.

A curiosity that not everyone knows? It is thought that it was Akio Morita who chose 74 minutes as the maximum recording capacity of the CD. This is because the Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony it had to fit entirely on one disc.

The era of liquid music

In March 1998 the first one was marketed mp3 playerL’MPMan F10and he liked the idea so much Steve Jobs who thought of modifying it a little and “making it his own”. In fact, on October 23, 2001, the CEO of Apple presented theiPod, the very famous portable digital music player with built-in hard disk and 5 GB of memory which quickly caused downloads to “explode”. It was aesthetically elegant, rechargeable and, above all, it took up very little space. It couldn’t help but make a splash: in the world more than 450 million have been sold!


In 2006, the Italian magazine Audio Review used the phrase “liquid music” to indicate music that is listened to without phonographic support (vinyl, cassette, CD). However, there were still five years to go before the advent of digital music libraries which today are used by everyone: Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music in the lead.

Music streaming

In 2011 Spotify was launched in the USA, and shortly afterwards also in Europe. It arrived in Italy two years later, in February 2013, in conjunction with the Sanremo Festival. Spotify has succeeded where other platforms have failed: licensing a large amount of songs and intelligently organizing it in one app, making it available anywhere and everywhere.

Spotify music

The way of conceiving music and listening to it has changed almost silently: many of us continued to buy CDs for a few years. Most people, however, have stopped purchasing digital media, preferring to pay for one fixed monthly expense to have access to unlimited music, and those who have not subscribed have agreed to listen to advertisements.

However, the most “romantic” and nostalgic souls continue to be divided between music streaming platforms and old media. In particular, the vinyl record is the most loved medium: second Technaviothe market generated by vinyl record sales in Europe grew by approx 92 million dollars in the last 4 years, with England, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy in the top places, demonstrating that our country is full of people who consider physical music a truly precious treasure.