The music recording process, to me, is one of the most amazing processes any musician has the pleasure of experiencing. It’s an incredible thing to be able to extract all of the musical creations you conjure up in your head and then being able to experiment, sharpen, shine, polish, record and then get them out onto the airwaves for the entire world to hear. For some it’s a dream come true to be able to do that, let alone having the privilege and joy of being able to make a career from it in multiple different ways, whether you’re the artist or the producer. For me personally, i’ve enjoyed every second i’ve been able to have that experience.
From the first known recording in 1860 by a French inventor named Edouard-Leon Scott of the French folk song “Clair De La Lune” on a phonautograph to what the recording process is today, more than usual all recording studios using digital recording equipment, has come a long way and gone through quite the evolution. The journey from Analog to Digital has been quite the venture filled one. There’s no telling what the next step in the recording process is going to be but surely it’s on it’s way.
Originally starting out with devices using magnetized wire to record with, at it’s peak years, which briefly lasted from 1946-1954. But the first wire recorder was invented in 1898 by Danish engineer Valdemar Poulsen, which he called the Telegraphone. Which this method was primarily used for dictation purposes and radio programs, not so much full on recording studio usage. But editing the cuts were the same as tape reels, you would simply just cut and splice together the wire to edit the recorded audio.
The technology for open reel recording was invented in the 1930’s in Germany and originally used during the War but finally made it’s way to the U.S. in the 40’s by Jack Mullin and commercially developed with the help and investment of around $50,000 by recording artist Bing Crosby. Bing was the first artist to successfully record a live radio program on tape in 1947. Which in turn launched open reel recording to popularity shortly afterwards. It became the main way to record and edit audio in music studios from then up until the 80’s when the digital recording era kicked in.
The reel to reel recording equipment essentially provided a higher fidelity when it came to recording audio versus the previous era of wire recording equipment or recording onto wax records. The introduction of this recording equipment greatly benefited the recording studios by for the first time allowing them to record full on performances without the 30mins limitations that was previously an issue with recording on phonograph discs. It also allowed for the first time to creatively edit the audio tracks with the splicing method allowing you to induce pulsing or rhythmic effects. Shortly afterwards, multi-track recording was innovated which allowed even more editing and effects to be performed. This is when phasing, flanging, delays, and echo effects were created, which became popular with pop music of the era.
Even today some artist still prefer the old school audio sound of reel to reel tape recording. There’s a certain harmonic distortion that comes from the tape recorders that’s popular and favored with the blues, rock, and funk genres. This distortion produces a thicker bass and slight compressed high end, creating a fuller sounding mix. The first successful commercially available tape recorder was the Ampex Model 200, just a few days after that they already developed their 2nd tape recorder, the Ampex Model 200A.
Believe it or not when the Ampex Model 200A came out, it weighed 240lbs and cost around $4,000-$5,000, which was around the price of a house in that time period. By 1949 they released the 3rd model, the Model 300 which only weighed 60lbs and thankfully the price was significantly lower at $1,500. In the 1950’s Ampex was able to evolutionize their audio recorders into video recorders, which of course was also used by Bing Crosby to record his performances.
Coincidentally enough the engineering team that helped developed some of the first prototypes of the video recorder also consisted of a high school student by the name of Ray Dolby, who was the genius and audio pioneer behind the audio and surround sound company, Dolby Laboratories. Which is still active today and is currently in operation by his surviving family. Believe it or not there’s actually still reel to reel tape manufacturing companies currently in production today, RecordingTheMaster and ATR Magnetics LLC.
The digital recording era really kicked in around the late 80’s and is currently still in full effect today. This evolutionized the recording process from the reel to reel tape recording equipment to computers and digital audio workstations (DAW). Which pretty much blew the doors off the recording world and unleashed a multitude of new capabilities.
Nowadays there’s multiple popular recording programs such as Protools being one of the most used, to Logic, Massive, Reason, Cakewalk Sonar, and the list goes on and on. Not to mention the amount of plug-ins adding more and more effects to the recorded tracks. The combinations of usable plug-ins with unique effects paired with the recording programs is essentially endless, creating a limitless capacity of possible creations to throw down on your hot new track that would set it apart from the rest of the competition.
Nowadays it would probably be harder to actually try and replicate someone else’s individual style and sound than it would be to stand out and have your own unique sound, which of course is ideal anyways, everyone wants their own unique sound and style to shine. Not only are there a plethora of effect plug-ins but you can also fine tune each individual sound within that particular plug-in. Also the size of convenience of using digital recording gear, you can literally just have a laptop and few minor midi controllers that could all fit into a backpack to create music nowadays, versus having giant tape recording gear that would require traveling cases, not to mention the space to set them up.
Just these few minor advantages alone greatly improved the music recording/creation process and opened up a lot of doors for current and aspiring producers/music artists. Not to mention the vast improvement in audio quality with digital recording gear. The first popular all digitally recorded album was Ry Cooder’s “Bop Till You Drop” in 1979, since then it’s been album after hot new album.
Music For A Lifetime
Truthfully there’s no possible way of knowing exactly how many songs have been recorded if you account for professional studio and amateur recordings. But the itunes library has accounted for over 26 million songs with new ones being added everyday, then there’s the Library of Congress music collections, then down to Universities collections and it just goes on and on. Knowing there’s that much music out there is like heaven on earth to me.
But just with the itunes collection alone, that’s enough music for a lifetime. You could literally listen to song after song from the day you were born up to the day you pass away and have never heard the same song twice within their collection, incredible! Paul Mawhinney had the largest record collection to date with over 1 million LPs and over 1.5 million singles, which was valued at over 50 million dollars but unfortunately had to sell them for only a mere 3 million.
Personally if I had the money, I would’ve bought that record collection in a heartbeat. I was the kid who went to the record store every paycheck and bought at least 2-3 cds. I remember whenever I got a new album I would just go home, lean my head up against the stereo and just blast the music while reading the lyrics.
Evolution of the Listening Process (Vinyls, Tapes, CDs, Digital Downloads)
From the first music player in 1857 up to today the way we listen to music has come such a long way and gone through so many changes. Constantly trying to keep up with the times and also be on the forefront of the game to attract the masses with something new to change the game.
In 1877 Thomas Edison invented the Phonograph which was the first device to successfully playback sound. There was the wax cylinder Phonograph which played music by having a needle reading the vibrations of the recordings transcribed on the rotating cylinder.
Then Emile Berliner created the classic vinyl record player style also known as the Gramophone with the giant trumpet horn that emitted the sound and crank arm. Which to me is one of the coolest designs of music playing devices ever created. So for all of you hip hop heads, turntablists and hipsters who have helped mold and keep alive what the record player and turntable is today, you Emile Berliner to thank for this!
Along came the FM radio in the 1930’s, patented by inventor Edwin Armstrong. Which became a massive past time for families to sit around spending time together and listen to their favorite broadcasting, whether it be sports, the news, a music artist or radio program. Which that itself went through multiple evolutions and still is today.
Started off as just a radio box in your living room then to what was called on the streets as a ghetto blaster in the 80’s where people would walk around with massive FM radios on the shoulders blasting their favorite tunes for the public to hear. These also became popular with break dancing competitions where they would set up the flattened cardboard box on the ground and bust a move.
Cassette tapes came about in the 60’s in Europe and started off purely as blank canvases to record audio onto. They didn’t have their major cultural impact until the 70’s and 80’s, shortly after they came with prerecorded music and were called Musicassettes. The boom of the Musicassettes paired up with the major popular cultural boom of the boombox (ghettoblaster).
But in the mid 60’s was when the 8-track was released and those were integrated into car stereos which made your driving experience that much more enjoyable. Believe it or not some bands actually still released albums on 8 tracks. One of the most recent i’ve heard of was the band RTB2 who released one in 2011, a solo artist named Waves Crashing Piano Chords has released multiple since 2012, shucks, even Kurt Cobain wanted to release an album on 8-track.
This cultural boom lasted until the compact cassette era, which were favored out of convenience being that they were much smaller and more practical, especially when portable compact cassette grew on the rise. Which came to be known as the Walkman, originally released by Sony and was brought about in 1979, believe it or not i’m actually holding one in my hand right now haha
I remember being the tender age of 10 or so and getting one of these when I first really got into music and making my first few experimental music recordings on this bad boy! Still has the batteries from back then too, guess i’ll have to cop some new ones and see how far i’ve progressed, oh nostalgia haha
In about a week from today, on August 17, 1982, the first compact disc will have been released commercially, making that evolutionary and genius idea 35yrs old. This idea was jointly developed by Sony and Phillips. The band Abba had the honor of having the very first commercially produced album on the same day it was introduced, August 17th, 1982, which was their album The Visitors. However the first public demonstration of the compact disc was in 1981 and was when the Bee Gees album Living Eyes was played on BBC Television.
As of the mid 2000s over 200 billion cds have been sold but unfortunately with the last decade, physical cds have reduced drastically. Many electronics store don’t even carry them now sadly, but thank god for little mom and pop music stores still keeping the cd era, as well as vinyl records alive. To this day I still much rather go cruise to the local music store and check out their cds versus buying them digitally. I’ll even order them off of Amazon before I download them digitally.
Believe it or not the first mp3 player wasn’t the Apple iPod in 2001, there were actually 9 devices created before the Apple iPod was released that played mp3s/digital audio. The very first digital audio player to be invented was actually back in 1979 by Kane Kramer, which he named his device “The X”. Although his prototypes unfortunately never made it into commercial production, but he was coincidentally later hired by Apple.
Which Apple also acknowledged him as the inventor of the digital audio player. After “The X” was the AT&T FlashPac, SaeHan/Eiger MPMan, The Audible Player, Diamond Rio, HanGo Personal Jukebox, Created NOMAD Jukebox, Cowon iAUDIO CW100, Archos Jukebox, and THEN the Apple iPod was created.
For me personally i’ll always prefer having the actual physical cd than just buying singles or the album off of itunes or wherever else they’re available digitally. Shucks, I still keep cd cases in my car to this day, the audio quality is so much better. Next to that there’s nothing quite like throwing on an actual vinyl record and appreciating the old school vibes.
It makes you appreciate how far music has come along in multiple ways. Vinyls are in a completely different league of their own, I have a personal collection of over 800. It’s amazing to see how far music has progressed from the very first recording discovered all the way up to what it is today, and what’s more exciting is to see what it’ll be in the future!