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The discography of sound recording

By Mahika Khosla Apr. 3, 2024

Sound recording permeates our daily existence, found on the television playing each morning, melodies streaming from smartphones, and the broadcasters on the radios in our cars. This transformative journey of sound recording, fueled by relentless technological advancements, has carved a monumental path, reshaping the very fabric of the music industry.

Sound recording originated in 1857 with the invention of the phonautograph by Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville. The phonautograph, composed of a cone to capture sound as vibrations and a pen-and-paper contraption connected to it, recorded sound as written lines. However, the photoautotroph could only record sound, not reproduce it. 20 years later, Thomas Edison was inspired by Leon Scott’s phonautograph and invented the phonograph, which could both record sound and play it back. Following Edison’s invention came the rise of another one of his breakthrough inventions, wax cylinders, the first commercial recording medium. This device recorded sound by being rotated along a stylus that cut a groove into it; as the pitch of the sound changed, the changes in vibrations would cause the stylus to move slightly up or down—like a three-dimensional phonautograph.

As the use of wax cylinders steadily declined, caused by the creation of a new device: the vinyl disc, or gramophone, invented by German American inventor Emile Berliner in 1887. Inspired by Edison’s inventions, Berliner used a cylinder to record sound on a spinning disc. Following Berliner’s vinyl discs is the rise of recording companies, with the first recording company being the Edison Phonograph Company—formed in October 1887 to market Edison’s machine.

Early sound recording was quickly trampled by electrical recording as the scientists in Bell Laboratories, a now-American premier research facility owned by Finnish company Nokia, made the first electrical recordings in the 1920s. In the same years, magnetic recording technology was developed in Germany, using steel wires that were magnetized by the recording head. The steel wire quickly became replaced with magnetic tapes and such technology became a popular commercial format for the next decade.

The digital revolution in the late 20th century saw the rise of the first digital consumer audio format, Sony’s Digital Audio Tape (DAT), becoming widely popular in studios and radio stations. The compact disc (CD) was the next to come in August of 1982.

“The oldest sound recording device I have used is a CD player. When I was little, I listened to it when I was in places with no internet. It felt nice listening to music out loud instead of blasting the music through my earphones,” Sophomore Adalyn Lin said.

The 1990s brought about the invention of the Alesis Digital Audio Tape machines that were able to record eight tracks of digital audio and the MP3 player, which was able to store up to 12 songs and included a screen that displayed what song was playing. Furthermore, the digital revolution allowed for greater accessibility and affordability of recording equipment, leading to these devices being integrated in personal computers, software and MIDI technology.

The 2000s marks the shift to digital streaming platforms like YouTube and Netflix. However, it has also sparked controversies surrounding piracy and fair compensation for artists, challenging traditional inventions and prompting discussions on the role of labels.

“I believe digital streaming platforms have a positive impact on artists and labels. They allow artists to gain more exposure and reach people across the world that may like their music,” Junior Daphne Nguyen said.

Without a doubt, sound recording has evolved significantly. With breathtaking technologies in virtual and augmented reality that are currently being tested by large corporations like Apple, the future promises even more immersive audio experiences in a three-dimensional sound field.


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