American Culture in the 1980s

By Graham Thompson | Go to book overview
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Chapter 4
Music and Performance

CDs, MTV and the Music Business

In 1979, the US phonographic industry entered its first recession for more than thirty years. Sales of vinyl records dropped 11 per cent and wouldn’t show an upturn until 1983.1 As an industry that relied on disposable income being spent on leisure items, the record business fell victim to the stagflation of the late 1970s as well as the recession affecting the rest of the economy during the early 1980s. But while this national situation may explain away some of the industry’s problems, there were other more immediate factors impinging on the popularity of music at this time. There was certainly increased competition from other markets entering the leisure sector. Computer games were increasingly finding their way into households with the arrival of cheap consoles and popular games like Space Invaders and Pac-Man. Home video and the burgeoning cable sector competed both for time and resources. Larry Starr also argues that the fashion for disco at the end of the 1970s helped sustain record sales, but that its decline in popularity was not compensated for by a similarly popular replacement.2 The combination of these factors meant that not only were sales falling, but so was revenue from sales.

The total sales figures, however, hide emerging trends that help in an understanding of just how, by the end of the 1980s, the situation would recover to the extent that the values of sales had doubled from a 1980 base point. The major trend here was the decline in sales of vinyl, both singles and, even more dramatically, LPs. In 1980, the US market saw sales of 164 million singles and 323 million albums. By 1990 these figures were 28 million and 12 million respectively. By 1992 the sales of vinyl LPs had dropped to just 2 million units. The market for vinyl, then, a material and a product which had dominated the


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