Music Recording and Its History

record playerA music recording does a lot more than just record and preserve music. It permits us to capture sound, preserve records, manipulate it with various mixing techniques, edit, and finally replay. Let us see how it all started.

Since Thomas Edison’s patent for the phonograph in 1887, we have been able to record and play back sound. He used foil cylinders to etch the sound and to replay it. A few years later, Emile Berliner used a wax disk with grooves and the record industry was born.

Several other inventions played a major role. The microphone and amplifiers, developed in 1925, enabled the channeling of sound waves and the adjustment of volume. Now, a large group such as an entire orchestra could be accommodated. While we now could engrave sound on a metal disk which was then copied en masse, we still had no way to alter it.

German engineering came to the rescue with the advent of the magnetic tape. Finally, a recording was not only preserved but could be manipulated, cleaned of extraneous sounds, and with the arrival of multi-track recorders, mixed prior to release. The tape could be cut, allowing inserting, organizing, and other enhancements… all in a beautiful, pure mono sound.

Indeed, double track, or stereophonic recording did not appear until the 1960s. Not only could ones ears be treated to multiples sounds, you could now feel the spatial dimensions of a band or an orchestra. Further improvements included the arrival of special effects, Dolby noise reduction, and with the increased popularity of cassette tapes, ease of portability. We had made incredible improvements to the quality of recorded sound using analog mediums.

Yet a new standard was to be born: the digital age had arrived and the laser disc was developed. It had a slow start, and some music groups as well as fans preferred the quality of vinyl records. For one thing, the compact discs were fairly expensive for the consumers, and the first players cost a whopping $2,000! Over the next few years, the cost diminished and the general public began to acquire players and to collect pre-recorded CDs. Digital recording was still cost-prohibitive for consumers, and reserved for the professional recording studio. All this changed drastically with the new idea of doing away with the medium.

As the end of the millennium approached and personal computers became more sophisticated, users started sharing digitized music. Amongst a variety of formats, the mp3 standard rose to popularity across platforms. Software was created to easily distribute songs or videos, available and accessible to anyone. Recordings were shared on the internet on a huge scale. This produced uproar, and many lawsuits, from the recording industry. It was now possible for hobbyists to have a basic recording studio in their own home, at quite affordable cost.

As we look back from Edison to today’s technology, from etched in wax to digital files, one has to wonder what await us in the next decades.