A Change of Tune: The Evolution of Technology in the Music Industry

Music is as old as time, but we’ve come a long way since drums and wooden flutes. As technology has grown, music production and consumption has seen some amazing new trends, to the point where just about anyone with the time and passion can make music.


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1857 – Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville patents the phonautograph.

1860 – Scott’s ten-second rendition of “Au Clair de la Lune” via phonautogram becomes the earliest musical recording and the earliest known recording of the human voice.

1876 – Emile Berliner invents the first microphone, which was used by the Bell company in their telephones.

1878 – David Edward Hughes invents the first carbon microphone.

1888 – Emile Berliner invents the gramophone, which works much like Thomas Edison’s phonograph but records on 7-inch discs instead of cylinders.

1901 – The 78 record debuts. Named for its rotational speed (78 rotations per minute), the 78 is a flat disc measuring 10 inches wide, though by 1910, 78s become available in 7, 10, 12, 14, 16, and 21-inch formats.

1906 – The Victor Talking Machine Company introduces the Victrola, a phonograph designed to fit in the average home, spelling the end for phonograph cylinders.

1924 – Columbia Phonograph experiments with electronic amps and electromagnetic cutting heads to create the first electrical recordings. These offer higher fidelity and add octaves to both sides of the reproducible sound range.

1943 – RCA sends the first “V-Discs” to troops abroad. V-Discs were sturdier and made of polyvinyl chloride, eventually replacing fragile shellac resin as the record medium of choice.

1948 – Columbia introduces 12-inch vinyl records designed to be played at 33 1/3 rpm, creating the first long-play (LP) record. Around the same time, RCA develops a 7-inch vinyl format, which becomes the standard format for singles and jukeboxes.

1963 – Phillips Electronics introduces the compact cassette at a Berlin fair, finally creating a standard format for cassette tapes. Cassettes were initially meant for dictation, not hi-fi music, but the cheap price makes it a popular option for consumers.

1966 – The 8-track enters the market, becoming the direct competitor to cassettes. The 8-track presents much higher sound quality but sacrifices flexibility and convenience, allowing cassettes to come out on top.

1982 – Record companies announce uniform standards for compact discs, ensuring compatibility with all CD players. That same year, Billy Joel’s “52ndon compact disc.

1990 – The MPEG, Layer-3—or mp3—format is invented. mp3s are a compressed digital file format that allows audio to be sent easily from computer to computer with minor compromise in quality.

1995 – RealAudio launches the first streaming audio service, which becomes popular despite subpar audio quality.

Street” becomes the first album released

1999 – 18-year-old Shawn Fanning create the file-sharing program Napster, changing the music industry and copyright laws forever.

2001 – XM Satellite Radio launches.

2002 – Sirius Satellite Radio launches.

2003 – Apple launches iTunes, completely changing the digital music market.

That same year, employees at eUniverse officially launch Myspace, a social networking platform with an emphasis on music. Some of the artists that gained fame through Myspace:

• Lily Allen

• Sean Kingston

• Owl City

• The Arctic Monkeys

2004 – Beatport is founded in Denver, becoming the leading download store for electronic dance music, offering a catalog featuring over a million tracks.

2005 – Youtube launches on Valentine’s Day, offering a new medium for artists to share tracks and music videos.

Pandora Radio launches in July, an Internet radio service that uses the Music Genome Project as its backbone for creating custom music stations.

2007 – Sound designers Alexander Ljung and Eric Wahlforss start Soundcloud. Initially designed as a means to collaborate and share tracks, Soundcloud soon transformed to become its own publishing tool.

2008 – Spotify officially launches in October. Spotify now boasts:

• Over 40 million active users

• Over 20 million songs

• Over 1.5 billion playlists created

In the same year, Sirus and XM officially merge to form Sirius XM Radio.

2011 – After shaky beginnings, Songza relaunches with a mobile app. The service recommends playlists based on the time of day, activity, or user’s mood. Each playlist is curated by a team of music experts.

2014 – iHeartRadio hosts its first iHeartRadio Music Awards on May 1 in Los Angeles. In June of the same year, the online radio service hit over 50 million registered users, faster than Pandora, Twitter, or Facebook.

Why the Change in Format? (Create a flowchart from one format to the next.)

1. Vinyl

2. Cassettes – Engineers who already knew how to edit optical film had a much easier time editing cassettes. They were also low cost and easily accessible for both consumers and musicians.

3. CD – CDs were convenient, didn’t degrade like cassettes, and drew off the growing digital trends.

4. mp3 – mp3s made for easier sharing, while the iTunes store and other digital marketplaces made buying and consuming music fast and easy.

Today, the more accessible digital formats, combined with loop machines and digital audio workstations, like Pro Tools and Ableton Live, allow anyone to create, produce, and master their own tracks without needing a full band or music studio.

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