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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