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Tech In The Music Industry

Like all other industries, technology has made its mark in the music industry as well. Offering greater room for flexibility...

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L ike all other industries, technology has made its mark in the music industry as well. Offering greater room for flexibility on part of music creators, tech has become an integral part of music production.

From the evolution of musical instruments made out of perishable materials and the innovative creation of flutes out of bones, to lyres and harps from 2600 to 2500 BCE, and finally, to Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877 (which made recording music a possibility), we have come a long way!

The Timeline of Technological Advancements In Music

The birth of a recording studio can be said to have taken place between 1877 to 1910. Herein, the phonograph can be credited as the first technological intervention in the music industry. It made the recording and playing back of the human voice possible through a wax cylinder. The cylinder was replaced by a disc in the aftermath of Emile Berliner’s creation of the gramophone a little over a decade later, in 1888.

Nearly at the same time as Einstein’s invention came the carbon button microphone by Edison, which served as the primary microphone for the telephone (contrary to the popular perception of Alexander Graham Bell being the main person behind the enhancement of the same); it also formed the basis for recording microphones.

Finally, the first pair of headphones (or radio earphones) was created by Nathaniel Baldwin in 1910 out of copper wires and a headband that the phone operator could wear. The combination of the four –a phonograph, gramophone, microphone, headphones– consolidated the recording studio’s creation.

The Victor Talking Machine Company designed the Victrola in 1906 for home use, which was an enhanced version of a phonograph. Taking it a notch further, Bell Laboratories transformed Victrola’s acoustic design into electricity. Come the 1920s, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) produced commercial radios to broadcast music and news to households – first through AM radio, and then through FM.

It was in 1929 when the RCA’s acquisition of Victor led to the production of the vinyl record. Shortly before that, Fritz Pfleumer, a German-Austrian engineer, successfully patented the world’s first magnetic recording tape after a series of trial and error.

Another groundbreaking musical-technological invention, especially with respect to the production of hi-fi sound, took root in 1937 when Bell Labs exhibited their two-channel stereo. Their main intention was the optimization of movie soundtracks and the enhancement of the theatrical experience. It wasn’t long before Disney utilized this new form of technology for the first commercial studio film graced by high-fidelity stereo sound. The tech in the music industry has definitely come a long way! 

Throughout the 20th century, numerous other inventions kept altering the global music landscape. The radio can be credited as laying the foundations of the modern music industry through its platforming of local artists for large audiences, while the combined visual and audio capabilities of the television gave musicians an even greater boost by enabling them to become household names. 

The 1980s saw the music industry further revolutionized through the advent of televisions, thanks to music videos and MTV. More recently, online video streaming platforms like YouTube have enabled music expression and creation to become even more accessible to the masses. At the same time, musical instruments like electric guitars, synthesizers, tapes, CDs, and MP3 players gave rise to developments that have forever changed the face of pop music, jazz, rock and roll, and hip-hop, to name a few.

For Good Or For Bad?

The influence of tech in the music industry has been enormous. It has made it convenient and accessible for musicians – both the established ones and aspiring ones – to create and share their music with the world at the tap of a button. Simultaneously, it has given listeners the ease of accessing an endless variety of music at minimal rates (in the case of apps like Spotify). YouTube, on the other hand, has a large collection of music available, absolutely free of cost! What could be better than that?

It has also made it possible for people sitting in one corner of the world to listen to their favorite musicians stationed in another corner of the world, live, through live-streamed performances. Composers now have the luxury to produce film scores from the comfort of their home studios, and songwriters are no longer required to sit around waiting for record deals to record albums and release them on streaming and digital distribution platforms.

However, not all will agree with the notion that tech in the music industry has been beneficial. To some – in specific, the ‘big players’ who formerly enjoyed a monopoly over music production – the accessibility that tech has offered has been damaging. Given the benefit of the masses over the profits of the few, our verdict, nonetheless, is in favor of technological advancements in the music industry, and we can’t wait to see how the music landscape further evolves with time!