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The 1942 AFM Recording Ban/Switch in Record Formats

The American Federation of Musicians, AFM, called for a royalty payment to be made to the union by record companies for each commercial disc sold and when no progress was made in talks, the union demand was backed by a ban on instrumental recording from August 1st 1942, which lasted approximately two years. This meant that artists employed by labels that did not comply were unable to record any music. The ban made for an empty pocket in jazz’s recorded history, however, transcriptions delivered to the military during the war were permitted to record and fortunately has captured some of the beginnings of what would become the new style of jazz: bebop. Once the ban had lifted, various independent labels surfaced that documented the switch from small-group swing to bebop that the major companies ignored, as their interest in jazz declined with the disintegration of the big-band era. These include Dial, Clef, Savoy and Blue Note, amongst others.

By the 1940s, 10” 78rpm discs were still the norm. By the end of the war, a new material called polyvinyl chloride (PVC), commonly known solely as “vinyl” had started to come into use, which in comparison to fragile shellac was relatively unbreakable and with a smaller grain structure. This made it capable of more refined impressions. They would be known as “microgroove discs” and allowed for broader frequencies and dynamics. As well, a new standard speed for record playback emerged that allowed for longer playing times – a major benefit for jazz artists. The 331/3rpm “long-playing” (LP) record was first introduced by Columbia in 1948, and with a diameter of 12”, 25 minutes of music could fit on one side of the disc.
Interestingly, this was not the first disc of its kind. Electrical transcriptions for radio used the 33rpm speed and vinyl material in the 1930s. Various experiments with playback speeds and disc materials took place almost at the advent of commercial discs themselves. Therefore, the switch from 33 to 78 and shellac to vinyl didn’t occur over night. When Columbia unveiled their 12” vinyl, they also introduced 10” vinyl, perhaps in keeping with the public’s familiarity with 78 rpm singles. These albums held up to 15 minutes per side and approximately 3 songs, but by the mid-1950s, these largely fell out of fashion amongst popular music listeners who wished to hear more music on one side. 

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