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How can you keep up in the fast-moving music and sound industry?

A post by David Mellor
Thursday February 10, 2011
Gosh - the music and sound industry moves so fast that if you blink it will be in a totally different solar system. How can one ever hope to keep up?
How can you keep up in the fast-moving music and sound industry?

I was asked to review a proposed syllabus for a qualification in music technology and sound engineering. There was a paragraph in the proposed syllabus that got me thinking...

"There are a range of resources available to support the delivery of this unit and it would be impossible to create a definitive list. Teachers should use those they feel most comfortable with. However in the fast moving music and sound industry it is imperative to ensure that the latest edition of any resource is utilized."

Clearly it is better to use new information than old, so the overall point of this paragraph is correct. However, it was the 'fast moving' claim that got me wondering. Just how fast-moving is the music and sound industry?

Firstly, let me separate out the two industries. There is a music industry, and there is a sound industry. But since the sound industry is more concerned with speech (in broadcasting) than it is with anything else, then these are clearly not the same industries. So how fast-moving is the sound industry?

I would take 'fast moving' to mean that there is rapid change in working practices. And yes there is change; there has been change, and there always will be change (hopefully, or I'll get bored!).

I could make a list of things that have changed over time. Let me say now that the dates are approximate and represent when technologies became widely used in practice, not the first instance of change.

  • Late 1940s - Recordings are made on magnetic tape rather than being cut direct to disc.
  • Mid 1950s - Stereo recordings are made available commercially.
  • Early 1960s - The electric guitar becomes massively popular.
  • Late 1960s - Multitrack recording, in the sense of one instrument per track, starts to become practical.
  • Late 1960s - Synthesizers (analog subtractive synthesizers) become practical and widely used.
  • Late 1960s - The recording process becomes creative rather than reflecting a live performance.
  • Late 1960s and early 1970s - Dolby noise reduction allows recording with a virtually silent noise background.
  • Early 1980s - Digital recording becomes practical.
  • Early 1980s - MIDI allows intercommunication between different brands of musical equipment.
  • Early 1980s - Digital reverberation becomes practical.
  • Early 1980s - FM synthesis becomes popular.
  • Mid to late 1980s - MIDI sequencing becomes an effective composition and recording tool.
  • Late 1980s - The sampler becomes popular as a musical instrument.
  • Early 1990s - Digital recording becomes available at a low price point.
  • Early 1990s - Recording and editing on a computer becomes practical.
  • Late 1990s - Multitrack recording and mixing on computer becomes a practical alternative to tape.
  • Late 1990s - Auto-Tune!
  • Early 2000s - Multitrack recording, processing and mixing becomes available at a low price point.
  • Early 2000s - Music recording increasingly moves from commercial studios to privately owned studios.
  • Early 2000s - Sampled instruments start to rival real instruments in 'believability'.
  • Early 2000s - Use of the Internet becomes commonplace. Because of bandwidth issues, audio is converted to MP3 format.
  • Mid 2000s - Computers can sometimes go a whole day without crashing!
  • Late 2000s - Ability to pitch change notes within chords
  • 2000s - Headphone or earbud listening comes to rival loudspeaker listening in popularity
  • Early 2010s - Low-cost DAW software capable of an adequate number of tracks
  • Early 2010s - 'Elastic audio' or 'elastic time' becomes a practically useful tool

OK, I know I have left out some interesting developments and many details, and some interesting developments in live and broadcast sound. But I think we can see from this that although audio is constantly developing, it is not in any sense what one could call 'fast moving'.

I would contend that it is far better to know, understand and be able to put into practice the 'eternal truths' of audio - things that never change, and of course to assimilate new 'truths' as they arise, rather than for instance to know every keyboard shortcut in Pro Tools or whatever happens to be the popular recording system of the day.

Back to those developments I missed out...

A question... What is the one development that made most difference for you in the last 50 years of audio?

A post by David Mellor
Thursday February 10, 2011 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)