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THE HISTORY OF THE TECHNOLOGY OF MUSIC RECORDING AND PLAYBACK

The history of the technology of music recording and playback

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The evolution of music platforms

While music has been there forever, how we have stored and listened to it has changed over time. Technology has as usual only advanced, making something that was available to only a select few who could attend live performances, available to the masses.


Live performances

Products may be identical across the market, but it is the brand that makes the difference in most purchases. This is because marketers invest a lot of thought and money behind building a brand identity which the consumer identifies with, likes, and goes for without thinking too deeply about his or her purchase. Brand identity can be manifested in many ways, for example the tone of voice in its advertisements, the way the store looks, and yes, even in the music the store plays. For example if you are a wine store or a store that projects an image of quality and expense, your should go for classical music. If you are a young brand, and by that I do not mean in terms of years of existence, you will want to play light rock. That way it will go with the image you are portraying of yourself, as well as what your consumer relates to and is comfortable listening to.


The phonograph

In 1877 Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. This was the first device that could record music and reproduce it for listening to whenever and wherever someone wanted. That is if you were rich enough to afford owning a phonograph. The music was stored in cylinders that could hold only a few minutes of sound. So now you know why most songs are still kept to the three to four minute duration!


The radio

In the 1920s music was brought to the masses by the radio. Inexpensive and with better sound quality than a phonograph could ever offer, music was now playing in almost every household and wasn’t just a connoisseur’s commodity.


The vinyl

In 1930 the first vinyl recording was made commercially available by RCA Victor. This vinyl could play back at 33 rpm and the sound quality was better than that broadcast by radio. Soon it came at greater rpm’s and started being able to carry more number of songs. Vinyl was what made pop artists famous in that era. But vinyls were delicate and scratch prone.


The cassette

Believe it or not, the first cassette tape was made as late as in the 1970s. They were easier to store and lasted longer. 1979 brought the cassette’s best friend, the Sony Walkman. But over time sound quality would deteriorate and then there was the eternal nightmare of tapes unspooling.


The compact disk

Along came the CD in 1982 using LaserDisc technology. The compact disc technology was taken under the wing of technology giants Philips and Sony. It was initially invented to store sound, and then later modified to store data as well. But that is another story.


The iPod

In 2001 Apple introduced the iPod. This could then itself carry up to forty thousand songs! Technology still kept moving forward and always will.


The smartphone

With the advent of the smartphone that was enabled to play streaming music came the revolution of streaming music. More on that later.


The journey from recorded to digital music

This evolution can broadly be marked by four eras. The acoustic era, the electrical era, the magnetic era and the digital era.


The acoustic era

In the acoustic era, music was recorded through mechanical devices. The principle was to record through a cone in order to concentrate the air pressure of the emanating sound the best, be it the human voice or the notes played by an instrument.


The electrical era

The electrical era used more complex recording tools like the microphone, the amplifier, along with disc cutting machines. The recording process was complex and the recorded result more faithful to the original.


The magnetic era

The magnetic era revolutionised recording and broadcasting. It allowed the recording of pre recorded programs. It allowed recording in multiple parts instead of just one take which could then be mixed as well as edited within reasonable levels of quality loss.


The digital era

The digital era, the one we are now living, introduced the usage of digital sound encoding. This consists of recording sound through a rapid sequence of discrete sound samples. Play back through a digital to analogue converter results in a continuous flow of sound. The result is sound replayed with almost zero loss of fidelity.


Devices that let you listen to music on the go

Now that we have talked about how technology helped recorded music to your life to listen to whenever you want, a bit about the playback devices that let you do so is in place. The Sony Walkman was one of the first to do so. Then the portable CD player. Then there was the iPod which is still advancing itself tailored to the need of the day. And a hundred other portable devices followed along with essential accessories like headphones and more. A special place in this plethora of choices is occupied by the smartphone. Something almost everybody has now, and which can not only store your favourite music, but give you access to the streaming music that rules the music lovers' world today.


Some of the best streaming services available now

Hugely popular because of its music database of over thirty million songs and the fact that it lets you listen for free indefinitely (with ads), Spotify is leading the streaming music market today. Not only is it user friendly, but is also technology friendly. It is supported by almost every existing operating system and supports a whole lot of third party integration services. A long list of artists that gets longer by the day use Spotify as their virtual stage to the world.


Apple Music

Apple Music holds a special place in the hearts of the countless number of people who, for very good reasons, love all things Apple. And for other music lovers and hand curated live radio lovers too. The music integrates across all your Apple devices and lets you use a library that lets you store up to lakh songs to listen to later! It has premiered and continues premiering some of the greatest artists of our times.


Pandora

Pandora is THE choice for international internet radio. It is known for its till now highly successful endeavour to categorise and curate music of every genre and at every level. You either thumbs up thumbs down the music you listen to, and Pandora attempts to predict and play songs to your liking till you choose another track. Ideal for those who invest a little time into letting Pandora know your likes and dislikes, and then sit back and listen.


The discord or shall we say dischord

While technology has brought music to the individual, the debate remains whether it caused people to move away from each other since those days when they would get together at a concert hall.


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