Blog: A Brief History Of Music Technology

The rise of the tech guy      09/01/14

Being the tech guy, I inevitably introduced multi-track recording (funny how it's usually the keyboard guy!!) and without any real intent this shifted our thinking immediately from performance to engineering. More interesting is that it's also worth noting that the majority of musicians in this period were not technicians, however they immediately understand that once their individual performances could be captured without being mixed with others they insisted upon more. The upper limit of course was the number of available tracks and immediately the anointed tech guy in the outfit then has to learn a whole bunch of new skills to bounce stuff already recorded to free up tracks for new material.

Very quickly the mind set changes from a bunch of people that pick up instruments and play to 'we are in our own studio now...'. The trade-off with having to bounce of course was a degradation in sound quality as one generation becomes a second and so on. However the non-technical amongst us accepted the fact that the person listening to the demo was reasonably accepting of the vagaries of the equipment it was recorded on. This in itself is a worthy discussion in its own right as the availability of affordable 24/96 interfaces has perhaps conditioned the decision makers into dismissing material that doesn't meet a quality expectation. If anyone reading this has an opinion on this I would be very interested in what it is.

The next major development would be the introduction of affordable 8-bit computing platforms in the late 1980's. Well established high street studios were already going digital but Atari's, Amiga's and others introduced this capability and Midi sequencing software to the masses. These were machines that could push very lightweight Midi data around quite happily, some were even able to incorporate 8-bit sampling. The platform worked well with parallel technology in the form of multi-timbral Midi rack gear and keyboard workstations so even in a non-acoustic world wonderfully complex arrangements could be created and dropped to two-track at a surprisingly high quality. The combination of an Atari 1040ST and Korg M1 is probably the most ubiquitous example of this set-up. The real end game however was to be able to incorporate high quality audio directly within the Midi sequence and again, this was largely driven by the audio expectations generated by the still relatively new CD medium. For most people however this was not possible so the big challenge was how to integrate multi-track tape recorders with computer based sequencers.


Again, it was the tech guy that had to make all this happen and inevitably some form of sync or striping box was added to the inventory. That same guy was now not only the musician, but now firmly established as the arranger, the technician, the engineer and the producer. As an aside demos were still being predominantly sent to labels, and in the traditional cassette format. CD burning technology at a consumer level was incredibly expensive and unreliable. Overall the technology of this period pushed musicians further towards perceived greater independence with some now beginning to question whether you needed a record label to get you access to a studio at all. The significance and realisation of that goal would come soon enough.


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5 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
S R Dhain    Said...

Maximum respect to you for writing this article, Jason. It's something that a lot of people i know, including myself at times, have wondered about, with regards to the value of ancilliary industry people being far more than you can imagine. For starters, when you're doing it all yourself, there are occasions when it can be such a complete ballache, because the irony is that you may well have all the knowledge and application skillset over years and years of graft, but it gets in the way of making the music, and there is no escaping that. And yet all the technological advances coupled with the requisite effect on cost of entry ( i.e. a significant reduction) has made the artistic endeavour/journey far more accessible to everyone, which is a wonderful thing. It's an interesting dichotomy.

Ultimately, im all for the "Adam Smith" (economist) approach to recording and mastering ( i.e. delegation of tasks, specialisation and division of labour), but budgets and location to such labour, so to speak, dictate the vibe on that front in the industry. In the meantime, carry on doing your own thing, and learn as you go along, is the approach to take. How far or how long you can keep on creating, is then entirely in your own hands.

11-Jan-14 06:02 PM

brian from usa    Said...

The last straw for me is people "mastering" their own recordings. If vinyl is really coming back maybe we should start planning on buying cutting lathes, too?

12-Jan-14 06:10 PM

Lu    Said...

I still find it hard to adjust to the way it is nowadays. A record contract was never in my sights, so home recording and putting out cassette demos was my ideal. It still is pretty much, but production values have gone up so much and there's so much gear to learn, performance seems secondary. I have to be my own writer/performer/engineer/producer personally I think it's a tall order. Which means there's still value in a recording studio if you can afford on.

17-Jan-14 06:51 AM

Lu    Said...

Sorry I hadn't read the last page of your article before posting, it's a relief to see that you were going the same way with this. I think in the end. Everyone else can race to the finish for awesome production and perfect performance. I'm going to concentrate on easy recording set ups and near enough is good enough. Otherwise I see another forty years ahead of me getting nothing done.

17-Jan-14 07:38 AM

LagrangeAudio    Said...

@brian from usa, that's a very interesting observation. I found a couple of local providers who can make vinyl for me, they have the cutting and pressing equipment, but I'm not convinced they know how to do the mastering properly. So you either do that yourself by trial and error or you find someone who can do it professionally. In the old days there seemed to be plenty of people outside the initial engineers space that specialised in this area. To further complicate things I note Izotope's Ozone has a vinyl 'mastering' preset. It sound goods but is that validation? I don't know (yet)!!

21-Jan-14 08:47 PM

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