When talking about technology and change, it seems that the arts tend to get left out. Yet these creative fields always have to most to gain or potentially lose in the long term. One creative area that seems to be constantly influenced by the beating waves of technology is the world of music.
When you think about it, everyone on some level participates in music. Who doesn’t listen to music? As innovations in hardware and software transcended pop culture, new technology in music has changed the way we listen to music and the ways we create music.
From synthesizers to DAWs or from CD players to iPhones, the landscape of music has changed and is very different from the days of your parents. So, this begs the question, how did music get here?
In a world dominated by the digital, digital instruments and digital streams, it is time to take a step back and revisit some of the technology that has brought us to this moment in time in music with the hopes to better understand where the world of music is going. Here are some of the most important pieces of technology in the world of music.
Let’s go back; way back. Thomas Edison is known for a lot. However, he is often overlooked for his creation of the phonograph. In short, the phonograph brought music into the living rooms of people across the world. Invented in 1877, music was usually reserved for live performances for the elite in ballrooms or concerts.
Think of the phonograph as something like your first music system, vinyl player or even MP3 player sound system. The phonograph was the first device that was able to reproduce recorded sound, even encouraging the rise in popularity to a host of genres like jazz and blues.
The Electric Guitar
Where would we be without the electric guitar? Or perhaps a better question, how many of your favorite songs include an electric guitar? Created in 1941 by Les Paul, little did he know that his instrument would change the musical landscape forever. As you probably are already well aware, the electric guitar helped bring forth a new era in rock ’n’ roll.
The electric instrument’s new age sound paired with its ease of use made it a staple for emerging musicians looking to challenge existing sounds in the world of music. Just think where your favorite artist would be without the creation of the electric guitar.
Something that is easily taken for granted, multitrack recording was like the introduction of the rocket to space travel in the realm of music. Though it is hard to imagine such a time because everything is digital now, musicians and sound engineers had to record a full track in just one take.
Multitrack recording enabled songs to be broken down into sections, one piece at a time, allowing more room for experimentation, and time to perfect songs and albums.
Without the use of multitrack recording, your favorite pop albums probably would have never been recorded. Think if Queen never put together any of their masterpieces. Yeah, exactly.
Though it may be weird to think of it now because most of these effects can be recreated digitally, effect pedals were the bee's knees when they were introduced into the world of music. As their names imply, effect pedals allowed musicians to add effects to their music adding things like distortion, reverb, and chorus to different components of a track.
Effect pedals even allowed artists to add another dimension to music performances; forever ruling music festivals, and live studios.
You probably predicted this and if you are reading this article you may even own a few synthesizers in your home studio. The creation of the synthesizer was born out of the desire to create or even replicate the enormous sounds found in live orchestras.
Originally astronomically priced, synthesizers are power tools with countless sounds that very literally ushered in decades of wavy tracks. Here is a challenge for you. Off the top of your head, try to name ten pop songs from each decade, starting in the 70s, that don't incorporate synthesizers.
The phonograph 2.0? Not really. But the turntable was a crucial component to one of the, if not the most influential genres in the world right now, hip hop. The playback device allowed aspiring DJs to offer their own perspectives on popular songs, eventually spawning other hugely popular genres like techno and house music.
If you do not have a synthesizer, you probably have a Musical Instrument Digital Interface or MIDI. This technology allows users to hook up to a computer or another musical device to play multiple electronic instruments simultaneously. With a midi controller, you can be playing piano one minute then shift to a guitar or harp without skipping a beat.
In short, the MIDI allowed for musicians to have access to a host of sounds that would be otherwise impossible and too expensive to purchase all at once.
Hate it or love it auto-tune changed the landscape of music in the 20th century and those effects are still being felt today. The introduction of the Vocoder allowed musicians to bend and manipulate their voice, almost to the same extent as an instrument. Auto-tune has been used in musical acts from Kraftwerk to Kanye West.
The Personal Computer
This is probably one of the more obvious influences to music, creating a host of bedroom talents, with some going on to be superstars. The PC allows just about anyone with a computer to step into the arena of music and create without a studio or even instruments. If you wanted to right now, you could go out and create your own music from your PC.