As Edgar Bronfman Jr. once said, “The history

As
Edgar Bronfman Jr. once said, “The history of the music industry is inevitably
also the story of the development of technology. From the player piano to the
vinyl disc, from reel-to-reel tape to the cassette, from the CD to the digital
download, these formats and devices changed not only the way music was
consumed, but the very way artists created it.” 1 The influence of
technology in music throughout the past century has resulted in drastic changes
in the commercial aspect and how people listen to music. With these constant
improvements in technology and how one listens to it, what was once a grand
event for large gatherings to come together has become small individual
experiences that could be heard daily. However, it is these small individual
experiences most people have access to that build the popularity of the artists
and lead to bigger and grander events than previously imagined. With the increasing
production to match the growing influence of recordings, the technological
accessibility one now has to the distribution of music, and the introduction to
electronic music, technology has truly lead to the evolution of music
throughout history. Innovation drives music to new heights, and the influence
of technology is no different when it comes to the innovation of how we now
play and perceive music in the modern era.

One
major innovation and influence to the art of music is the increase in the production
of recordings and their influence in the music industry. When Thomas Edison
invented the first machine to record and playback sound, called the Phonograph,
in 18772, it left a huge impact on
society with new possibilities to capture moments in time. Having the technology
with the ability to record music and reproduce any live performance for future
use was ground-breaking. Before the turn of the twentieth century, listening to
music was almost always a commercial or social activity as one could only
experience music through live performances or playing at home on their musical
instrument. However, even with the ability to perform music on a personal
level, through singing or playing instrument solos or in a small group,
non-musicians were left with the only option to go to live performances if they
wished to experience music performances. But, with the phonograph, musicians
with different cultural backgrounds and styles around the world were able to record
their music.3
Recording music through technology lead to the emergence of the musical
recording industry. This made professional music recordings an entirely new
musical product that could be mass produced and distributed, such as the
popular recordings of serious concert music during the early 1920s.

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“Tidbits
and orchestral snatches gave way to a spate of uncut symphonies, sonatas,
quartets, and concerti; the music itself came to mean as much as its star
performers, and the electrical recording process, from 1925 on, raised the quality
of the recordings as well.”4

Even though recordings
made live performances no longer one of the only ways to experience
professional music, leading to less ticket sales and concert attendees,
musicians were still able to make revenue through their recordings. This
resulted in what would become one of the most important means of music entertainment
in the history of the industrial world, allowing a much greater variety of
music to be distributed and sold to people, both musicians and non-musicians, around
the world.5 With a wide variety of
music that could now be heard, it resulted in several significant changes in
certain aspects of live performances and the genre of music as a whole.

Now
that musicians and composers could hear music from different cultural
backgrounds outside their respective social communities, this resulted in the
change of musical composition and performance. Musicians began to add different
styles and instrumentations from other musical cultures into their own music. In
the creative impact of music, musicians and composers from the same genre would
be influenced by their peers, resulting in slight changes to the music that
gradually evolved into changes of genre. This can be seen with the new
evolution of various styles of jazz, such as swing, big band, and bebop, occurred
as a result of the distribution of jazz recordings and lead to a much more
rapid change within the genre.6 Recordings can also be
seen as playing a crucial role in the African-American civil rights movement as
recordings gave the likes of Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, and James Brown, a
chance to occupy a global platform in music, in comparison to how the they
would have been treated in America years prior as the racist community would
have denied them.7
Overall, as the production of music recordings have increased overtime, it has
had a strong influence in the music industry on how musicians create and play
music.

Another
innovation that connects to the production of music recordings is the
distribution of music recordings and the technological accessibility one has to
it. As mentioned prior, the introduction to the phonograph’s recording
technology to the public just prior to the twentieth century lead to the
distribution of music recordings to people, musicians and non-musicians, around
the world. Building upon the phonograph after gaining inspiration from its
creation, Emile Berliner invented the Gramophone in 1887.8 Using flat discs to record
sound, it made it cheaper to produce and easier for the people of the middle
class. Although it took a couple decades for the Gramophone’s disc recordings
to gain a commercial impact in the music industry due to the poor quality of
the sound produced compared to live performances, the improvements in sound over
those decades lead to an extreme increase in sales for both the machine and
records produced. Although concerts were still present for people to go watch
and listen, listeners could purchase these recordings and listen to music on a
more intimate level.

But
by the middle of the 1920s, radio broadcasting lead to a new emergence of music
experience which provided free music of a wide variety for anyone to listen.
Radios were both affordable and portable, and one no longer required to buy
several records in addition to the Gramophone to listen to music. The next few
decades showed a “Golden Age” of the radio, with the increase from 5 radio
stations in 1921 to over 600 radio stations by 1925, and the ability to
transmit music across the country.9 While the radio was in its
“Golden Age” of music, people were introduced to the first magnetic tape
recorder developed by Semi Joseph Begun in 1934.10 These magnetic tapes,
which will later become the foundation for cassette tapes, could record the
music that was broadcasted on the radio and be played several times, giving the
person the ability to listen to those tracks on their own time. After years
improving on the cassette tapes, people were introduction of the Walkman, the
first portable cassette player, created by Sony in 1979.11 The Walkman was a huge
innovation as they could play both cassettes and the radio wherever someone
went. The portability of the carrying music that the Walkman offered could be
seen as the predecessor to the MP3 player or the iPod.

The
MP3 and iPods no longer use tape recordings and instead use a digital file
format that could be produced on compact discs (CDs) or computer files. These
files compress the sound of the original recordings to keep the sound quality
but decrease the file size. This made digital files very accessible and can be
download very quickly through the internet or onto CDs. Label companies in the
recording industry decided, with the increase in accessibility through digital
files, to sell licenses of their recordings to distributing companies. In the
age of the twenty-first century, music marketing apps such as iTunes, Google
Play, and other music sites allow the user to download MP3 music files for a
certain price. With this accessibility, both the distributing companies and the
label companies make profit from selling recordings.12 This was followed with
the rise of the internet, which provided label companies many opportunities to
promote their records on several websites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter,
etc. on a global scale by providing users with full records or previews. In addition,
there was a global increase in advertising on these social media sites which
allowed the record sales to increase over time and bring label companies to a
higher position.13
When we compare the beginning of the twenty-first century to the beginning of
the twentieth century, where the phonograph and gramophone were in use, not
everyone had the ability to access music at their homes. Today, almost everyone
owns a technological device that could play music such as the radio, magnetic
tapes, CDs, digital MP3 files or even the internet. With multiple different
platforms and devices, many people are now able to buy recordings from certain recording
companies, leading to both the increase in accessibility to listeners and
increase in profit for these companies. Overall, the distribution of music
recordings along with the technological accessibility has influenced and
changed immensely the music industry how we perceive music.

            Along with the rise of the music recording industry, there
was the introduction of electronic music at the start of the twentieth century.
Electronic music is any music that is produced or modified by any electronic
devices. Starting at the beginning of the twentieth century, people began to
experiment with electronics, leading to the first electronic musical
instruments. As mentioned prior, one of these electronic music instruments was
the phonograph and the phonograph’s succeeding recording devices, which lead to
the rise of the recording industry. Another electronic musical instrument invented
around 1895 was called the Telharmonium created by Thaddeus Cahill.14 There were several
problems which made it unsuccessful, such as the impractical size and weight,
along with how it could not produce a grand magnitude of sound but is known to
be the ancestor to the more recent electronic synthesizers. The instrument that
is often viewed as the first electronic music instrument was the Theremin
created by Leon Theremin in 1920.15 The Theremin is a beat-frequency
audio oscillator that has two condensers placed outside as antennas, amplifying
the pitch and output signal so that it can be controlled by the manner in which
a performer moves his hands to create different effects such as scales,
glissandi, and flutters.16 This was the start of
composing for electronic instruments, as numerous compositions have been
written for the instrument.

Years
later, when the first magnetic tape recorders were invented, musicians did more
than just record music with this electronic technology. During the 1940s and 1950s,
they began to experiment with overdubbing by blending a recorded performance
with a live performance, and recorded the combination onto a second tape
recorder. When the four-track and eight-track recorders became available in the
1960s, musicians in groups could record each of their individual parts and
combine them together.17 Although overdubbing was
useful for musicians, it created more work for the recording studio. Therefore,
efforts were expanded to reduce this work load and at the same time improve
quality. Music synthesizers were the first product of these efforts but cannot be
regarded as more than an intermediate technological development because of
later computer technology.18 However, this lead to
construct the full-scale music synthesizers, starting with the RCA Electronic
Music Synthesizers created by Harry Olson and Herbert Belar introduced in 1955.19

“The
basic advance of the RCA synthesizer was an information input mechanism, a
device for punching sets of instructions into a wide roll of punched paper
tape. The composer could at any time during the programming process interrupt this
activity to listen to what had been punched, to make corrections, and to edit
the material before making a final paper tape that then constituted the “master
score” of the composition.” 20

The synthesizer had a
considerable effect on 20th-century music and synthesizer music was commercially
successful through different album records. Synthesizers displayed technical
excellence by producing sounds beyond the range and versatility of conventional
musical instruments, extending the creative possibilities when composing music
for this instrument.21 In the end, electronic
music added another layer of possibility and change the way the music industry
both create and listen to music.

            All in all, technology has influenced how we perceive and
play music throughout the past century. Starting with the production and
growing influence of recordings, these recordings fundamentally changed the
music genre on how musicians create and play music. This was followed by the
distribution of music through advancing technology over the past century that
changed how both musicians and non-musicians perceive music. These advancements
in technology also corresponds with the introduction to electronic music that
fundamentally changed the way musicians both play and perceive. Technology has
truly lead to the evolution of music throughout history. It has provided
innovation which drives music to new heights and expands how we play and
perceive music now in the modern era. As technology continues to grow every
day, its influence will always remain in the art of music.