8 Feb 2016
8 Technological Advances That Changed The Music Industry Forever
There have been some mind-boggling advances in technology over the last few decades. In fact, it has entirely altered the way we interact with the world around us. We can barely go five minutes without browsing Facebook, buying unneeded additional cutlery from Amazon or Googling everything that ever comes into our heads (and checking out the latest The O2 features on your mobile, of course).
As a result, society is changing at a rapid rate. And the music industry is no different; embracing emerging technology to completely alter the way we consume and create music. From streaming to software, we take a look at eight of the greatest technological advances that have shaped the music industry of today.
Multitrack recording may be totally taken for granted these days, but when it first became available in the mid-’50s it was the musical equivalent of humanity’s first dabblings in aeronautics. Whereas previously musicians and sound engineers had to record a track as a whole – in just ONE take – multitrack enabled them to record separate parts of a song and then piece them together. It also allowed for individual tweaks to be made in specific sections of a song, while adding many layers to a single instrument (i.e. vocal harmonies by the same singer, recorded separately and layered together). And just like that, the recording industry was never the same again.
No-one is TOTALLY perfect, and our favourite artists are no different. Occasionally during vocal recordings, it’s common for the odd note to be slightly off-pitch. Just here-and-there, of course, and rarely anything major, but it happens. The invention of Auto-Tune, though, allowed pitch-faulty notes to be instantly and discreetly tweaked to the nearest semitone, making for pitch-perfect vocal performances every time. Though usually used subtly, some artists have used Auto-Tune to exaggerate their vocals, creating a new and original sound. Kanye West has been at the forefront of this movement, along with artists like T-Pain.
Arguably the biggest game-changer has been the introduction of digital software into music production; allowing musicians of all abilities to write, record and produce their own songs to a reasonable quality – often from their bedrooms. Programmes such as Logic and Protools offer a range of exciting effects, plugins and tools to help improve the sonic quality of music. Apple computers also come with their own built-in software – Garageband – which, although simple, is essentially the first step towards a home studio. Many of today’s top bands and artists began their careers by creating music in this way, much like producer Ryan Lewis, who will be performing at The O2 with Macklemore in April. Even older generations (sorry, wiser generations) are impressed by all this progress, as @julesa65 elegantly puts it, ‘Often wish I'd been born later & grown up with this modern music technology #fascinating.’
MP3 players / iPods
Remember when MP3 players came out? Well if you don’t, we assure you they quickly became all the rage – until iPods came along in 2001, that is. Although iPod sales started slowly, it quickly became THE device for listening to music in public. Since then, Apple music products have dominated and set the standard. It’s hard to think back to the days of CD players and walkmans, when today we can fit our entire music collections into one small, weightless, pocket-friendly handheld device.
Digital streaming software
This was a big one. Out of pretty much nowhere – BAM – all of a sudden we could listen anything we wanted, anytime. Websites such as Napster, YouTube and MySpace were among the early adopters of streaming; enabling musicians to upload their music for free and have it heard across the world – at the click of a button. More recently, we’ve seen the introduction of specific streaming sites such as SoundCloud, and whilst free, downloadable platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music and TIDAL allow listeners to enjoy music from every country, genre and background without leaving their living room. There have been downsides, however, with artists and labels earning less from their music – a battle that has changed the landscape of the music industry.
There once was a time when you needed an entire band to play a song live. On the day loop pedals dropped, though, other musicians became an added luxury. These handy little tools allow solo musicians to perform an entire song, of varying beats and instruments, entirely by themselves with just the push of a button. Ed Sheeran is perhaps the most famous loop pedal user – armed with just a loop pedal and his acoustic guitar, he manages to capture audiences in the same way a full 12-piece band can.
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface)
Before MIDI came along, if you wanted a trumpet part on a track, you’d actually have to get a trumpet player into the studio to record it. That’s no longer the case, and hasn’t been for a long time – with songwriters composing elaborate bodies of work through synthesisers and music production softwares. In a nutshell, MIDI is like knowing the code behind the music. It allows electronic instruments and tools to communicate with each other, whilst also having the tools to alter a track substantially without having to re-record anything. Moreover, MIDI offers aspiring artists much more creative freedom and keeps overall costs of production to a minimum.
Smartphones / iPads / Apps
Music production isn’t the only area new technology has shaped – the way we consume music has changed massively as well. Smartphones and tablets have made a huge impact on mass-accessibility – from holding our music libraries, to being able to purchase merchandise and concert tickets with just a few easy clicks. We’re not sure how it can possibly get easier than this, but if the last ten years are anything to go by, the next new thing is just around the corner.