Vinyl records have gained in popularity in the 2010–2020 timeframe, perhaps because people enjoy the tactile sensation and ritualistic elements of playing music on a traditional record turntable.
This style of tactile interaction is unfortunately unavailable in the streaming music space, where the only user interaction is “push button → hear song.”
Unfortunately, although traditional records have a distinctive charm, they are not a space-efficient way of storing music—streaming audio really wins there. Large streaming services currently have ~100 million audio tracks, which we will assume are ~3.5 minutes in length on average (so we’d like to store 350 million minutes of audio.)
What we really want is the best of both worlds: a way to combine the physical interaction of the record player with the enormous song library of streaming audio.
In order to fuse the best aspects of vinyl and streaming, we will create a “gigantic record player” interface, where a huge virtual record is presented to the user (either in a VR interface or as some sort of GPS-map interface).
This record is large enough to store all 100 million songs discussed above. The user can then drag a (virtual) record needle onto a (virtual) giant record in order to get their desired song.
The user will need to be able to select their favorite son on this record, so the record groove that represents a song can’t be too small. Let’s assume that 1 millimeter is approximately the highest resolution that a user can reliably place a record needle. So how large will our record need to be? Thanks to the metric system, this is easily calculated (Figure 1).
It would be possible to use a smaller record if we consider the fact that a single 3.5 minute song will not actually need to be hundreds of kilometers long, which brings us to Proposal #2.
A single sided 12”-diameter record (6” radius) with a 4”-diameter inner label has a usable area of ~(𝜋×62 – 𝜋×22) = 32𝜋 ≈ 100 in.2.
This holds about 24 minutes of streaming-quality audio, giving us 100 in.2 / 24 min. ≈ 4.17 in.2/minute.
In order to get our 350 million minutes of audio into this, we just need 350 million minutes × 4.17 sq.in / min. ≈ 1.46 billion in.2, which is the area of a circle with a radius of 21558 inches (𝜋×215582), or 1796 feet (Figure 2).
It appears that these records are too large to be reasonably mass-produced as physical objects, but as a virtual environment, possibly accessed through a GPS-map-like interface, it would be feasible.
PROS: Adds satisfying tactile interaction to the song-selection experience.
CONS: The “all songs” record is unfortunately far too large to make it practical as a physical object, except perhaps as a one-off modern art installation..