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Adapting to Technological Changes in the Music Business: The Case of the British Music Industry and New Record Formats in the 1950s

Stephen Ranger


Technological changes have had a major impact on music industries across all areas of business, ranging from production to distribution. When looking at the history of emerging music industries, it is evident that those who have effectively adapted to new technological changes have been able to achieve significant and meaningful success. This is clearly the case with the British music industry during the emergence of rock and roll from the 1950s to the 1960s.

This paper examines how EMI, the leading British music company, responded to changes in record formats in the 1950s. A form of new technological development at the time, the transformation from shellac to vinyl records facilitated the wider consumption of music. Initially reluctant to adapt to this new change, EMI soon found itself in an uncompetitive position. However, once the company’s management recognized the benefits, it rapidly transformed its approach which helped it to achieve unparalleled success and become an established leader in the music industry.


EMI; music industry; record formats; rock and roll; technological change

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/KK2019.03203