History of Music

History Of Recorded Music (According To Discogs)

The Discogs database grows by about 25,000 Releases per week. Although it can be hard to see the overall effect of any one contributor, piece by piece, release by release, images of the history of recorded music begin to emerge.

As custodians of the world’s largest public archive of recorded music it’s important to us to make sure that that history is as full and diverse as possible.

We’ve been digging into the database to expose some the known gaps so we can work together with our contributors to fill them. In the process we uncovered some interesting patterns already in there about the history of recorded music…

Three Major Trends in Music History

1. The number of new releases each year is growing as fast as it ever has before.

In 2016 year-on-year (YoY) growth in the number of new unique releases was at its highest since 1972. And, apart from the decade immediately after WWII (when the world went back to making music, not war), YoY growth in new releases average around 20%. Annual growth has never been as high as it is now.

Graph of Music Releases by Year, showing average increase of 20% year over year

2. The annual output of pop music has been eerily flat at about 27,000 Releases per year since the mid 1960s.

Assuming that pretty much all the pop hits are recorded somewhere in the database, is this evidence of some kind of ‘Pop Threshold’? Never one to shy away from a conspiracy theory: perhaps the bigwigs upstairs figured out the point of diminishing returns long ago and have been throttling Pop output ever since so as to maximise the profit they can squeeze out of each release.

Graph of music releases by genre

3. The vinyl revival is real (and so is the cassette revival), but it might be different to what you thought it was.

Annual production volume of individual vinyl records in the 1970s might outstrip the annual production volume of today, but that’s only because back then it was the dominant means of recording and distributing music, so thousands of copies of every release were pressed. Up until 1985, 80% of all releases were recorded on vinyl, but the number of unique releases put out each year was much lower than today. These days it’s not uncommon to press a run of less than 1,000 vinyl records, which brings total production volume down, but in 2017 the number of unique releases pressed to vinyl was 16% higher than in 1979, the high point in the ’70s.

Graph of music releases by format type, including vinyl, cassette and digital

Two Major Gaps in The Discogs Database

Comparing these high level patterns of what is in the Discogs database to what our community of expert musicological archivists know was actually produced, we have deduced that some of the biggest gaps on Discogs are in old formats like shellac records, cassettes and 8-track tapes, and in Latin American and Asian Releases.

1. Old Formats

Before vinyl there were shellac records, and you might not have noticed but there has not been a shellac revival. The longer we wait to get Releases of this bygone format into the archive, the less likely we are to have a full history of their production. They’re not as easy to find as cassettes but a little digging through the thrift store and you should find some. They’re often a little thicker than vinyl records.

We say ‘old’ formats… but cassettes are actually the fastest growing format on the Discogs Marketplace. Despite a rough patch around the same time that CDs killed vinyl, they’ve been making a steady comeback, largely due to their incredibly cheap production cost and low shipping weight. But this is not the full story. According to the ‘To Do’ lists of many people in the Discogs Database Community there were many more cassettes produced than our data would have you believe.

Precursor to the cassette (full name ‘Compact Cassette’) was the 8-track tape. Their popularity boomed along with the automobile industry after WWII, but they’ve fallen by the wayside as cheaper and more convenient formats were introduced.

2. Latin American and Asian Releases

Given its roots in Electronic music, it should come as no surprise that the most well-represented world regions on Discogs are North America and Western Europe. In recent years, we’ve been very happy to see contributors from all over the world joining the mission, but two of the most obvious holes in the database are Latin American and Asian Releases.

Graph of physical music releases from Latin America over time

Graph of physical music releases from Asia over time



Keep Digging

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