It’s official – kids of today don’t know they’re born, at least in terms of recorded music.

That’s the finding of a new study, led by former Zoey Van Goey member Dr Matt Brennan.

A lecturer in Popular music at Glasgow University, Brennan led the research on the changing economic cost of recorded music, which also incorporated data on the environmental impact of recording formats.

The inflation-adjusted research showed that the rough price of the earliest recording format, a phonograph cylinder in its peak production year, 1907, would cost $13.88 – looking at US figures as the largest music market and with percentages analogous with the rest of the world.

A shellac 78 in 1947 would have cost $10.89, and a vinyl album in 1977 cost the equivalent of $28.55 in today’s money (considerably cheaper than some Record Store Day releases!)

More recent costs included $16.66 for a cassette tape in 1988, $21.59 for a CD in 2000, but prices to the user (and attendant artist royalties) dropped with the advent of digital recording, with $11.11 for a digital album download in 2013.

Of course, we can now pay just $9.99 for ad-free, unlimited access to almost all of the recorded music ever released – though this does not constitute ownership of recorded music in the accepted, traditional way.

The research also shows the changing average salary of a US citizen over history – consumers were willing to pay roughly 4.83% of an average weekly salary in vinyl’s peak year of production in 1977, a price which slips down to roughly 1.22% of an average weekly salary in 2013, the peak of digital album sales, and now, a little over 1% of average salary will offer unlimited streaming via platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Pandora, and Amazon.

The research also looked at the environmental impact of the music industry in the US
in terms of the plastics used and greenhouse emissions – and a significant decrease from the 60 million or so kilos of plastic used per year whether in manufacture of album, cassette or CD. However, while plastic usage is down to closer to 8 million kilograms now that streaming has taken over, the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the energy required to power our online and offline listening has escalated from around 140-160 million kilograms from 1977 onwards to 200 million kilograms worldwide.

The research conveniently ties in with Brennan’s album release under his Citizen Bravo guise – the sole physical copy of ‘Build A Thing Of Beauty’ existing as an interactive musical sculpture called the SCI★FI★HI★FI. The sculpture is intended to engage audiences to consider the changing costs of music over history from the Edison wax cylinder up to streaming from the cloud.

Dr Brennan said: “We see raising awareness of the findings as a first step towards
developing alternatives, where music consumption can become both economically
sustainable for makers while being environmentally sustainable for the planet.”

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