These days, using computers is an absolute necessity when it comes to making music. Computers are used for just about everything, and it’s hard for people in today’s society to imagine what it was like to record a song before computers came around. An entire record would have to be recorded in one take, and sound editors would have to splice in bits and pieces to enhance the song’s quality using reel-to-reel tapes.
It was a painstaking job that could take weeks back then, but now a song could go from being unwritten to ready-for-release within a matter of hours. Almost every aspect of music has been digitized these days, and the industry has been affected by computers just as much (if not more) than most others. Let’s take a look at the impact of computing on the music industry from production to distribution.
History of Computer Music Production
Most of us don’t really think of computers as something that came around until the 1980s and eventually became a portal for the world wide web and gaming. However, computers had been used for decades leading up to the 1980s, and music happened to be one of the more basic things that computers could do back then.
During the late 1940s, the CSIR Mark 1 became the first computer to play music, but it would be quite some time until computers were used to aid popular acts. Musicians like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, and many more from the pre-1980s era didn’t have computers being used in the development of their albums, but that all changed with the new sound of the 80s era.
Production Through Computers
While major studios were beginning to use computers to mix music during the 1980s and 1990s, it wasn’t until the 2000s that it became essentially the only option, and people could even do it from their own homes. Instead of needing a full studio with space for drums, guitars, speakers, and more, people could create a song from scratch using at-home programs like Ableton Live and Pro Tools to create beats, replicating the sounds of real instruments.
Of course, this hasn’t stripped away the traditional way of recording music, though. There are still plenty of big acts that will make their way to a studio and record together as a band. Each one of the instruments and vocal tracks are captured by microphones and isolated using computer technology.
From these tracks, producers and editors are able to change the pitch, speed, and any other aspect of the sound so that it fits. This is something that has always been done, but computing has made it a much, much easier process. What would sometimes take hours or days can now be adjusted within a matter of seconds. If you notice that the drums start to sound a bit louder when the singer is taking a few beats off, it’s because the volume was digitally increased back to what you would normally hear in the studio before mixing.
Age of Autotune
How music is spliced together and edited hasn’t changed much over the years other than that it’s all done digitally now compared to the reel-to-reel days. However, there is one major aspect of music that’s been completely different since the late 1990s. That’s because, in 1997, autotune was introduced by Dr. Andy Hildebrand and quickly became a staple of the industry. You may remember the 1998 hit “Believe” by Cher, which truly put the production process on the map.
While not everyone is a fan of autotune because they feel that it’s not “authentic,” autotune helped make stars out of people who didn’t have the traditional voice to make it big. Even those who were established singers like Shania Twain, Justin Bieber, and Lady Gaga have used autotune to sharpen their records a bit more. Future Music editor Daniel Griffiths said that, now, all of the big names use autotune because of its ease of access and that about 99 percent of recorded music uses this pitch-correcting tool.
Knowing that your favorite band was releasing a new album used to be quite a mystery. You’d either happen to walk into a record store and spot the newest release, or hear about it from a television or radio interview. Some even waited at record stores until the release date so they could be the first ones to hear the new music.
Those days are long gone, though, and very few physical copies are made of each new album. Instead, they’re released through streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify, and more, while midnight releases on YouTube are commonplace for singles (and in some cases full albums). These new tracks are also released to radio stations (both satellite and antenna) to help promote the new releases.
Musicians don’t make much at all through these digital sales, though. Just to make $1, a musician would have to have a song streamed 125 times on Apple Music and 500 times on YouTube Music. That’s why this digital age of music distribution is mostly a promotional tool for concerts, where musicians make the big bucks.