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The Evolution Of Recorded Sound

May 22, 2008
Often, the technology of recording may seem like a relatively new development; and in the grand scheme of things, one has to admit that this is so. However, despite the amazing advances that have been made in recording techniques and the technological advances that have been made in the field in the last few decades, the recording of sound has quite a long history. The capabilities of the typical recording studio are far beyond what they were even twenty years ago; but by taking a longer view and understanding how the technology of recording has progressed, there is a lot to be learned and applied in your studio.

The first true studio recordings were made in the 1890's. At this time, all recordings were of course made acoustically. Recording technology was still in its infancy, with magnetic wire (the antecedent to magnetic tape) being used to capture the recordings which were then run through a horn which in turn would be attached to the cutting needle which grooved the record.

These recordings were quite limited in terms of how sounds could be captured - even the higher end recording studios boasted little more than a soundproofed wall. Mixing, mastering and editing were all an impossibility at this stage. Despite the limitations of the technology, recorded sound captured the imagination of the public with field recordings becoming popular - and in these days these were, quite literally field recordings, with the equipment being set up outdoors to capture nature sounds.

The 1930's saw great advances in recording. Amplifiers were developed and microphones were quickly improving in dynamic range. The mixing board was developed during this decade, along with the advent of monitors for engineers to better hear what they were recording and mixing. Magnetic tape became ever more widely available and the acoustic recordings of the previous century quickly disappeared in favor of these new technologies.

Up into the 1970's the equipment continued to improve, although the basic technique of recording remained much the same. Soundproofed rooms and microphones, with recording largely being done live through the board an onto tape. Re-recording would involve an entire new take rather than just rerecording and dubbing one track. Editing was also used very little save by avant garde composers.

It was improved monitoring and more effectively exploiting the capabilities of the existing technologies (i.e. -magnetic tape) that allowed the recording industry to move forward. Editing became much more a part of the recording process than merely a postproduction duty.

In the late 1960's and 1970's artists and producers made advances by experimenting with the possibilities of the recording studio, discovering techniques which are now standard and finding new sounds which expanded the palette of popular music. Mixing and mastering had become an art in and of themselves.

The progression from acoustic to analog technologies presaged the later transition from analog to largely digital recordings - but the recording industry, thanks to the work of pioneers in studio experimentation is a field not afraid to embrace new technologies and explore their possibilities. Recoding has grown immeasurably as a set of technologies and an art in its own right as a result.

The history of recorded sound is a story which is still unfolding, with artists, producers and recording engineers all continuing to make advances in techniques and technologies along the way - and it is a fascinating story to watch unfold.
About the Author
Kevin Sinclair is the publisher and editor of MusicianHome.com, a site that provides information and articles for musicians at all stages of their development.
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