A friend went to her local music store and asked where she could find Bonnie Raitt's latest record. The 20-something sales clerk smirked as if the customer had asked where she might purchase a floppy disk. He sniffed that the store hadn't sold records for more than a decade. "What about tapes?" she asked. The associate rolled his eyes, informing her that prerecorded cassettes, too, had gone the way of thermal fax paper. Exasperated, she sighed, "Whatever you call those things they put music on these days."
Finally, the clerk pointed her to the CDs, which is what he should have done in the first place. If he had had any doubts, he might have gone outside and looked at the name of the store: Tower Records.
Since the fadeout of vinyl, most major record stores have adopted generic names like Musicland or For Your Entertainment. But Tower has clung steadfastly to "Records" because the word still accurately describes its wares: recorded music. It doesn't matter what kind of medium the music is recorded onto, be it a vinyl 45 rpm single or a 33 1/3 LP, a shellac 78 rpm platter, an eight-track tape or a plastic CD. Those formats all fit Webster's definition of a record: "something on which sound or visual images have been recorded."
Much of the music industry continues to use "record" to refer to recordings, no matter the medium. The businesses that sign, develop and promote musical artists are still known as record companies (or record labels, a holdover from the era when the company name was on the label in the middle of the disc), although most record labels are now subsidiaries of conglomerates with the word "media" or "entertainment" in their corporate names.
When an album sells a half-million copies, the Recording Industry Association of America calls it a gold record. But these days, the framed award that hangs on the producer's wall is a gold-tinted CD, not the gold-painted LP of years past.
The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences doesn't care about the size of the disc when awarding the Grammy for Record of the Year. "No matter how it's packaged or distributed, from our standpoint, it's all a recorded piece," says Ron Roecker, the academy's vice president for communications.
Ken Schlager, co-executive editor at Billboard, said the magazine's definition of "record" encompasses both singles and albums: "Our specific style rules dictate that `record' is an overarching term for any recording."
Leave it to lawyers to create an expansive contractual meaning of "record" that includes formats that don't even exist yet. Donald Passman, a music attorney and the author of All You Need to Know About the Music Business, says that the language varies slightly by company but that his definition is "every form of reproduction, transmission or communication (whether now known or unknown), embodying sound alone, or sound accompanied by visual images, manufactured, distributed, transmitted or communicated, directly or indirectly, for home use, business use, school use, personal use, jukebox use or use in means of transportation."
While "record" has remained popular within the industry, even as its form has morphed from 78 to 45 to LP to cassette to CD, much of the general public thinks records went out with record players (turntables). As Rickey Henderson told Sports Illustrated in 2003: "Rickey doesn't have albums. Rickey has CDs."