A late 19th century innovation, phonograph records would forever change our relationship with music. Although there were many different types of recordings, “popular music quickly became the largest selling category.”
Our true love affair with music on demand got a major boost on 21 June 1948 with the introduction of the long playing (LP) vinyl record.
The 12-inch 33-1/3 rpm microgroove record replaced 78 rpm discs and could reproduce about 45 minutes of music, “approximately six times as much music as conventional shellac records.”The LP record, not yet called an 'album', launched on 21 June 1948. Click To Tweet
Columbia Records president Edward Wallerstein demonstrated the new format at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.
Both Columbia and RCA Victor had experimented with 33-1/3 rpm records in the 1930s but the Great Depression and technical difficulties sidelined those efforts.
This new 12″ album bound together individual recordings:
The introduction of the long-playing disc changed the way record labels, musicians, and consumers packaged, created, and listened to music. When Columbia first began manufacturing LPs, the term “album” referred literally to a collection of discs contained together in a group of bound sleeves. This was because longer musical works required multiple 78 rpm discs, the most popular recording format at the time. As LPs gained prominence, the term shifted meaning to refer to the songs or pieces recorded onto a single record—creating a new unit of consumption for the recording industry.
The album format became such an expectation that it would take digital music to break the artificiality imposed by a fixed-length recording (“album”).