How Tech Disrupted The Music Industry: A Timeline

From early sound recordings to streaming.

Photo credit: Gavin Whitner, musicoomph.com

On March 27th 1958, CBS Records announced the invention of stereophonic records. To celebrate what was a remarkable moment in music history, we at Hybrid World Adelaide are looking at some of the key developments in technology that have changed the world of music.

The ‘Acoustic’ Era: 1877 – 1925

1870’s

Some of the first experiments with sound recording were reportedly made by Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner using wax cylinder technology. But the phonograph wasn’t originally intended for music: Edison said it could be used for business, or to record “the last words of dying persons”.

Edison’s mind eventually moved to the phonograph’s musical potential, and in an article titled “The Phonograph and Its Future” in an 1878 issue of the North American Review he wrote: “The phonograph will undoubtedly be liberally devoted to music. A song sung on the phonograph is reproduced with marvellous accuracy and power.” Prophetic.

1917

Léon Theremin invented the prototype for the very aptly-named Theremin. As an instrument that could be played without being touched, it was revolutionary for its time. It consisted of a small wooden cabinet containing antennae and oscillators that produced electromagnetic fields.

After some time, the Theremin attracted the attention of RCA (Radio Corporation of America) and in 1929, a contract was signed to manufacture it. With the Theremin, RCA became the first mass producer of an electronic instrument.

The ‘Electrical’ Era: 1925 – 1945

1931

If you find it difficult to think it’s been almost a century since the LP came into existence, that might be because the earliest LPs didn’t take off. Their lack of success has been attributed to average sound quality, poor marketing and – perhaps the biggest factor of all – that they were released during the Great Depression.

Fast forward to 1948, and Columbia Records would introduce their version of the format. It was a runaway success.

The ‘Magnetic’ Era: 1945 – 1975

1960’s

One of the most highly-celebrated eras for music was unsurprisingly a time when a number of technological strides were made. The 8-track tape invented by Bill Lear in 1964 was embraced with open arms, and music became portable with the release of the compact cassette by Phillips.

1970’s

The success of the cassette led to in-car playing systems, and eventually, the iconic Sony Walkman debuted in 1979.

The ‘Digital’ Era: 1975 – Present

1981

The golden age of the cassette ended when the compact disc came out in 1981. The popularity of CDs largely mirrored that of the cassette: growing gradually, until they reached widespread popularity and in-car players and portable options like the Discman came into existence.

Interestingly, vinyl has not suffered the same fate as the cassette. It’s a format popular with music collectors, DJs (it provides a “direct manipulation of the medium“) and, in recent years, much of the general public.

1993

It’s been 25 years since the creation of the MP3. The file format not only changed the way people listen to music, but expanded the possibilities to share that music (sometimes, to the disdain of the music industry.)

2018

The digital music revolution is in full swing. Streaming services like Spotify simultaneously serve the function of record store, radio station and recommendation platform. The established music industry occasionally pushes back against them.

Whichever side of the fence you’re on; as technology continues to change, it’s safe to bet we’ll still be listening to music.

This year’s #HybridWorldADL will take place in late July in the city of Adelaide. For more details about the event, click here.