Not many of us are old enough to remember the early days of music production. And those of us who are, are from an older generation who are unlikely to be reading this online blog post. Music production didn’t start growing until radios were commercially available becoming the entertainment source for many families.
Wars drive technological advancement, and World War One and Two were the main impetus events driving radios into homes.
By the 1960’s and going into the 1970’s, FM radio stations were becoming well-established. Major record labels were dominating the music industry with the distribution of music. These companies would manage appropriate marketing production to bolster record sales.
As technology progressed, studio recordings became preferred over live concert recordings. In other words, music transitioned from live mixing to multi-track recording.
Multi-track recording refers to the ability to record more than one channel. Music buffs will be familiar with the idea of stereo and mono channels. A stereo signal means the same music will be output from each speaker, whereas a mono recording track, can output different signals across different speakers.
Translating that lingo into current real-world use, many music listeners today use headphones. Music with multi-tracks can be separated into left and right channels for our left or right ear. Tracks professionally recorded across multiple tracks, give an immersive experience. Similar to that if you were live at the concert.
Early multi-track recording was still primitive and required the use of tape reels. Sections of tape were literally cut and stuck together much like paper-mache craft at kindergarten. Overtime, the ability to use record more tracks simultaneously grew.
The Beatles did not start using eight-track recording machines until the release of their 1968 White Album. Similarly, The Beach Boys pioneered this amazing technology in their highly praised 1965 album Pet Sounds.
By the time the 1980’s had rolled around, 24 track recording was available as used by Toto in 1982 to record their fourth studio album Toto IV.
A brief look into today’s RAM and CPU power gives us an indication of how far we have progressed. Todays limits for recording tracks and layers is virtually limitless. Depending on your preferred recording and musical notation program, a Mac or Windows computer may be chosen. Plenty of professional and free beginner software is available for audio engineers.
Another great revolution was the development of MIDI. With electronic instruments becoming popular, the electric guitar with its reverb, whammy bar and foot pedals, or the synthesiser with its multiple layers (polyphonic synthesisers) and ability to create new unusual sounds.
Essentially, MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) was a form of digital input and communication between the computer and electronic musical devices.
Today, musical keyboard input has improved so much that we can immediately start playing a piece for the notes to be generated one the fly with musical notation software. Furthermore, each of these lines can be channel and separated for each musical part.
Another important note about MIDI is that it does not actually record the digital or analogue sound waves. It only records the keyboard inputs. The note, pitch, length and more can be recorded. This means MIDI files are much smaller. Think about it in a similar fashion to how an eBook is far smaller than the audio recording of the same book. As such, it is possible for each MIDI file to sound slightly different depending on the software samples. Think of it like different instruments playing the same song.
As digital sounds improve in crispness and clarity, songs sound more realistic and life like. Whilst editing technology has changed, the same musical principles are at play.