Over the past 150 years, technology has changed the way we make, play and listen to music. In only the last 20 years technology has changed the process of how artists market their recordings. Nearly a century ago artists marketed their music live on stage. A few short decades ago they were lobbying radio stations to play their songs, and today where they upload their music and buy SoundCloud plays.
The evolution of the music industry can basically be divided up into 3 era’s. Although many aspects of the industry have changed; many things have stayed the same. At the very core of any music are the artist and his particular niche of talent. Many artists have left their mark on history using their instrumental ability; others have inspired us with their magical singing voices. Let us not forget the writer of music & lyrics that have touched our heart and soul. Let’s take a deeper look at how the music industry changed with technology:
The electrical era – Although the electrical era of music recording was actually proceeded by the acoustical period; recording as we know it today did not appear until the era was winding down and the disc was born. The disc would reign supreme as the most popular method of recording music for the best part of the next half century. The electrical era of music recording would cover 2 decades from the mid-1920’s to the mid-1940’s. It was a simple time in music. When the era began it was not unusual for a single guitar to be used in a recording. By the end of the era, entire orchestras were involved.
The new era ushered in the use of electrically operated microphones, disc-cutting equipment, and electronically boosted signal amplifiers. The music world would never be the same. Just a few decades earlier the artists best avenue to recognition was playing their music live. Although this method of marketing music still exists; it is now supported by many other factors that play vital roles in the overall marketing scheme. In the electrical era, discs could be mass produced. The modern discs were now electronically mastered enhancing the sound by leaps and bounds. As amazing as this process seemed at the time; we were still nearly a century away from technology that would allow an artist to simply buy SoundCloud plays.
The 1930’s was considered the beginning of the “Golden Age of Music.” The radio was now able to bring music straight into our living rooms. At the start of this decade around 12 million people had access to radios, by the end of the decade that number had jumped to 28 million. Today is difficult to comprehend the impact radio had on the music industry. The radio is still a primary source for music today, but now it is only one avenue that can be utilized. In the 1930’s and early 40’s, it was the only real source besides live music shows. The only music invention that has remained basically the same over the last 100 years is the loudspeaker.
At the beginning of the electrical era, many artists still gained recognition by performing live on various radio shows of the day. By the end of the era, radio was no longer the driving force to showcase music. It was 1945, the magnetic era was here, and would rule the industry for the next 3 decades.
The magnetic era – The process of magnetic tape recording was actually invented over a decade earlier in Germany, but would not find its way to the rest of the world until World War II ended in 1945. Once again audio quality was boosted by technology. After 1950 magnetic tape became the standard method for artists to record their music. Artists were still on the concert trail, but it became more prevalent to lobby radio stations to play their discs. The advent of the hi-fi stereo for domestic use introduced a powerful avenue for new artists to be discovered and boost their latest recordings. The magnetic era would lead to a drastic expansion in how artists recorded their music.
It would not be long before the 33rpm and 45 rpm discs of the golden age were taking the market by storm. These discs were famously utilized during the magnetic era. The 12-inch 33rpm disc was used for an entire album, and the 7-inch 45rpm was used for single recordings. These 2-sided discs allowed the artist to get 2 of their best songs on the market, but airplay was not automatic. Many artists recorded for the prominent labels of the day. Some record labels had good relationships with various radio stations and could push certain songs at will, but little-known labels or individual artists had to work a lot harder to get their records heard.
It was not unusual for new, unrepresented artists or less prominent labels to bribe disc jockeys into playing their songs. It was an era where knowing someone on the inside could be the difference between success and failure. Many artists shot to stardom overnight because a disc jockey was willing to play their song. Once the song was on the air it was the listener’s that determined their continued playing time. If the tune earned a following, fans would call in and request it to be played over and over again. If the song did not make waves out of the gate, the radio station could be convinced to give it more playing time, but this could come at a costly price. Soon it would be 1975 and the present day music era would soon be ushered in.
The digital era – In its infancy the digital era was still unrecognizable to the technology of today, but it was a dramatic change from era’s past. In a very short period of time, the 100-year old disc faded from the market. The music industry began to alter rapidly. Compact discs or CD’s would soon take over where discs left off. The digital era began with renewed hope in sales and distribution, but the changing technology would soon turn the music world upside down.
The computer age was entering the home and the unlicensed distribution of music files created a panic in the industry. The advent of high-speed internet and numerous file sharing websites would change the way we listened to music. The once dominant record labels were fast losing their control over music distribution. Copyright owners tried desperately to prosecute over infringement, but the battle became harder and harder to fight. It did not take long for record labels to see the significant benefit of the newest trend. Instead of bucking the trend; many embraced it and used it to their benefit.
The digital audio file replaced the need for discs, tape reels, and similar recording methods. The continued expansion of internet technology made it possible to market music around the world in real-time. Websites like SoundCloud were born opening up new avenues for artists to market their music. The artist could not upload their songs online and buy SoundCloud plays to build recognition.
In the 1870’s music was played on Thomas Edison’s phonograph. A half-century later it was being electronically recorded on discs. The discs presented an excellent opportunity to mass produce the best music had to offer. Before the end of the century, discs would become obsolete, except for collectors, and music would be downloaded from the comfort of home. There is no longer a need for artists to bribe disc jockeys to play their music. Future changes in the music industry are yet to be written. There is no limit to technological possibilities. What we do know is that aspiring artists will always fine a way to market their music and the fans will continue to find new ways toe enjoy it. For now the artist can continue to buy SoundCloud plays and we can take advantage of the simplicity of it all.