The biggest technologies breakthrough products of all time were largely responsible of the evolution of music (whether it’s recording, performing or listening). Despite the eternal love for “vintage” stuff (instruments, music, bands, state of mind..!), the music world is tightly bound with the technological world and, as one advances, so does the other.
Ideas that led to technology development are the core of our whole existence, and music is no exception. One could say that every instrument, accessory or device could be catalogued as a “groundbreaking” invention, and we tend to think so: however, fitting every single music device in this list would’ve been impossible. We decided to propose you our personal selection of devices that introduced a big change in the game when they were introduced to the market.
Magnetic tape (1928)
Nowadays magnetic tape sounds like something from “the old days”: it’s in fact a very sought-after recording tool, which many artists still tend to rely on, due to its “analog” characteristics and the special timbre it impresses on the sound that is being captured.
Magnetic tape dates way back to the 18th century, when Edison and Bell (who else?) attempted to create wax cylinders. Results were not as exciting as people thought they’d be, and the audio quality remained on the lower spectrum of quality until Fritz Pfleumer, in 1928, decided to take a piece of paper and cover it with ferric oxide. This opened up to a world of possibilities.
Guitar Amplifier (1941)
The history of the guitar amplifier dates back to the ’40s/’50s: George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacker owned a company called Electric Sting Company, which sold different electrified instruments. The problem was… that there was no way to amplify them with a dedicated product!
To make a long story short, they hired a guy called Van Nest to design a prototype which was then developed in a production unit amplifier. Shortly after this “noisy revolution”, Leo Fender teamed upw ith Don Randall and created the Super Amp in 1949. The rest, as they say, is history.
Mixing engineers and recording aficionados may know that Studer made some the best tape machines ever made. Not everyone knows that Studer also created the first mixer available to the public. It was a huge machine which was not easy to carry, but it changed everything: suddenly, the world of multitrack recording was available to every recording studio owner.
Multitrack recorder (1979)
Tascam changed the game (and the future) of many bands and artists by releasing the Portastudio in 1979. The concept of this recording device was simple: you could record a four-track demo in your home studio / garage / rehearsal room. The “demotape” era began and labels started to receive dozens of demos by upcoming artists. The multitrack recorder started to become obsolete when the computer recording music revolution spawned, but this little device is still, to this day, a fun and original way to record a piece of music (or a full album!).
Can you imagine a world where your favourite synthesizers can’t speak to each other? That was the world before 1983. Due to different design approaches and trigger systems, many popular products couldn’t communicate with each other until someone invented MIDI (Musical Instruments Digital Interface), a universal protocol for data transmission and hardware interconnection. MIDI is now starting to disappear due to USB and Thunderbolt connectivities, but still many professionals rely on the many advantages of MIDI.
MP3 is subject to many quality-related memes, but in reality it was a groundbreaking invention – especially if we take into consideration that up to that moment people had to listen to cassettes or CDs, which were bulky for portable listening (and, of course, vinyls which could only be listened to at home).
MP3 allowed people to have a tiny file with lots of quality, comparable to the WAV/FLAC/Lossless format of professionally printed CDs/vinyl. Apple, with the iPod, brought the concept of portability and the practicality of MP3s to another level, allowing countless generations of people to listen to their favourite music, in high quality, on the go.
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) already existed before 1998, when Creative Labs released their critically acclaimed Sound Blaster Live!, a PCIe sound card that allowed a 48kHz sample rate and recording and playback possibilities that were simply FUTURISTIC at the time.
This opened the door to many other companies who eventually started to develop and release audio interfaces (both internal, PCIe based, and external, with USB/FireWire/Thunderbolt/Ethernet connectivities). Today, with less than 100 bucks, you can buy a great sounding sound card which allows you to make professional recordings at home (given you have the necessary means and knowledge).
2000 – onwards
New Year’s Eve arrived and passed without destroying the world, as people once thought (remember the Millenium bug?) and music technology has advanced year after year: we now have devices that can “profile” or “capture” the voice and feel of an amplifier (Kemper Profiler), we have 5D/touch enabled keyboards such as the ROLI Seaboard, digital USB microphones and electronic drum kits.
Still, all the groundbreaking inventions are, in my opinion, the ones that you can find in this article: those products were inherently unique and allowed the lower class population to afford to make music, which was something that has never existed before: you have to think that in the ’70/’80s only wealthy artists could afford the recording studio rates, and equipment was huge and expensive as hell.
Which one of these products changed the world of music, in your opinion? And which one do you think is missing? Let us know with a comment!