When I was a kid, a popular magazine for schoolchildren proclaimed that by 2020 we’d all be driving flying cars and eating bumblebee burgers while reading our favorite books which would not have pages. True story. Also, that our music would be synthesized and that each of our lives would have a custom soundtrack. Fortunately for our palates and our garages, the first two predictions have not yet come to pass. And we all know what happened when Amazon introduced Kindle. However, like gourmet food and wine, the music industry has paired well with technology to advance that medium. Here are some of the technologies over the past 150 years that have merged with sound to revolutionize the music industry and to enhance all our lives.
Phonographs and Stereos
The first phonograph attributed to Thomas Edison (what about Alexander Graham Bell?!) sound capture was initially so startling, that members of the clergy damned it from their pulpits. The cause of that commotion was the first edition record player, where grooves etched on tin foil placed on a rotating cylinder produced sounds which were then amplified through a speaker shaped like a morning glory. It was the disembodied voices that critics found disconcerting. By the time the first record player that featured dual (“stereo”) speakers, was implemented, sound quality had been vastly improved. Today, thanks to Edison/Bell’s invention, we have recordings of famous personalities of their day, from Caruso, and Theodore Roosevelt, to Einstein. And without phonographs and Sun Records, would anyone have ever heard of Elvis?
Radio and TV
Our grandparents and great grandparents turned to radio and TV for their news, information, and entertainment, usually in the form of variety shows. These programs would include a comedian, dancers, an orchestra or band, as well as headliners such as Frank Sinatra. Often coordinated with the leading ‘top of the chart’ vinyl record sales of the time, programming was scheduled, and there were no recording devices such as DVDs to capture performances.
The electric guitar was invented during the Great Depression, however it was not until the 1960s that the likes of Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan took it mainstream. Electrified instruments took music out of intimate clubs and concert halls into arenas and stadiums, taking sound well beyond the range of acoustic instrumentation.
Digital music made by computers never really took off in the United States, but since the 1980s, Europeans and the Japanese have loved it. Synths created new soundscapes for performers and composers alike. Robert Moog and the Beatles utilized this idiom, which quickly superseded the need for a recording studio and allowed anyone with only a few pieces of relatively low cost equipment, the ability to explore this new medium.
Today those quaint iridescent disks make nice Holiday ornaments, but 35 years ago, these were the latest technology. Read by lasers and played on portable devices, CDs were essentially albums you could tote along with you, however clumsy, and superseded tapes for recording music and events.
In the 1990s, along came Steve Jobs with the iPod. And the Apple Store which featured single tune downloads for only 99 cents! Imagine! The rise of the MP3 player has made individual songs available to all, without the expense of buying an album (?) or CD with tunes you didn’t want. Creating your own soundtrack or party mix from a wide range of artists and musical tastes quickly became a consuming interest. Best of all, your entire music library was contained on one, easily-accessed, palm-sized unit. Life couldn’t get better than this, right?!
It is hard to believe that the first YouTube video was uploaded in April, 2005. An angel-funded enterprise that sprang from a garage-based home office, this site that allows new artists to simply upload their recordings for immediate release. Countless artists have gone this route and found new audiences and income for their efforts.
Think about it. Today we all have our personal scores playing in the background as we go about our daily lives. Streaming Music has made this possible. Apps such as Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music and many others allow downloads within seconds at a fraction of a cent per listen. Streaming was a first seen across school campuses, then in urban areas, and now in many workplaces. It is known that music increases job satisfaction and productivity. With streaming the cost of owning/playing music has been greatly reduced, and the pleasure derived from its spontaneity has increased the number of music lovers exponentially.