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A Brief History of Recorded Music

Find out how recorded music started, and how it has developed over the years. We discuss Edison all the way up to MP3s.

cassette-smaller

Music has always been a huge part of human life, and some now even make a living out of it. We hear music everywhere, and let us face it, the world would never be the same without music in it. But, have you ever thought what made it possible for us to hear recorded music? Technology definitely has a vital role in it, but before the modern equipment that we have right now, recording also started from humble beginnings. Let’s take a look at a brief history of music recording technology for us to appreciate it even more.

phonographThe Man Who Started it All 

In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph and this can be considered as the beginning of sound recording and reproduction. While it is true that there are other investors who also invented devices that could record sounds, the phonograph was the first one which had the ability to record, play it back, and reproduce.

Because of his wonderful invention, Thomas Edison is also regarded as the grandfather of modern record players.

So, how does the phonograph work? Basically, the phonograph includes a receiver which consisted of a cylinder wrapped in thin foil and a very thin membrane called a  diaphragm which is attached to a needle. Sound waves are then directed to the diaphragm which makes it vibrate. A hand crank is used to rotate the tinfoil cylinder while the needle records the vibrations from the diaphragm.

The sound is played through the needle and amplifier on the output side of the machine. The needle is set in the groove and the cylinder is set to the beginning. Then, the amplified vibrations play back the recorded sounds.

Vinyl Albumsvinyl-player

Even in the modern age, many people are still familiar with vinyl albums as they are also considered as classics in the world of music recording. Not only that, vinyl albums have high sound quality that is why music lovers still grab records whenever they can.

Sound is recorded in vinyl albums through the following process. First, sound is encoded into a soft material which is called the lacquer. The encoding is done using a sharp needle which carves spiral grooves into the circular base using a sound signal for guidance. To make the most out of the record’s size, both sides of the lacquer are usually recorded upon. When done recording, both lacquer layers are placed on either side of polyvinyl chloride disc and fusing them together for the final product.

Cassette Tapes

Cassette tapes were commercialized in the late 1940’s by John T. Mullin who, is an American audio engineer. Mullin served in the US Army Signal Corps and his unit was assigned to find out everything that they could about German radio and electronics. Mullin, along with his unit, was able to collect hundreds of low quality magnetic dictating machines.

cassette-imageHe was also given two AEG ‘Magnetophon’ high-fidelity recorders and fifty reels of recording tapes when he visited  studio at Bad Nauheim near Frankfurt. He shipped them home and worked on the machines constantly to modify and improve their performance. His goal was to make the Hollywood studios interested in using magnetic tape for the recording of movie soundtracks.

He gave a couple of demonstrations which caused a stir among American audio professionals. Many listeners could not believe that they were listening to a recording and not a live performance. He also demonstrated his machine at MGM Studios in Hollywood and part of the audience was Bing Crosby’s technical director. That started the involvement of Crosby and the commercialization of magnetic cassette tapes. Using the technology, Crosby was able to record his show ahead, which made him free from the pressures of performing live.

Cassette tape technology is versatile and can be used for a variety of purposes. It can even be used for non-audio purposes and can store up to 1.5 TB of data.

Compact Discscd-player

Sony and Philips developed the CD in the early 1980’s to revolutionize the digital audio scene. Philip’s earlier research about audio discs or Audio Long Plays was the primary inspiration and basis of the project. The contribution of Sony was its substantial engineering capacity and detailing the specifications of CD into five books.

Both companies approached and solved engineering issues and worked on significant decisions. Not long after, the CD was quickly accepted and regarded as a great replacement to cassettes and albums. The digital music revolution took off when artists started converting their records from analog to digital form to make use of this new innovation.

Today’s Digital World

The transition of music reproduction from the simple phonograph to digital recordings is a massive change. People now prefer listening to music stored as MP3 files on their computers, players, mobile phones, and other gadgets. Since we can now purchase and download individual songs from online stores, many are now trading in their CDs for convenience. There might come a time when everyone will prefer online digital recordings and that can greatly affect the other forms of media such as CDs and cassette tapes.

mp3-playerNevertheless, it is great to know that there are still people who have a niche for older technologies such as those who are still into collecting vinyl albums and cassette tapes. There are also some who prefer playing CDs in their cars because of the good quality as compared to some downloaded music. Personally, I will always have a place for my CD collection. Having a physical copy of something, complete with artwork and sleeve notes, is much more meaningful to me than an invisible MP3. That being said, I’d be lost without my Spotify premium account.

Conclusion 

Technology may have brought a lot of great advancements, but we should still not forget the timeless treasures of the music recording industry. Looking at a brief history of recorded music may not be enough to fully appreciate the transition and development that have happened. There are a lot of things to learn and many more milestones that are worth mentioning. Even with the technologically advanced gadgets that are available today, let us hope that we still look back at humble beginnings and appreciate music, no matter what form it is in.

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