Music Listening: A History
Music Listening: A History
Written by Kim Dixon
Edited by Troy Swiatek
Thousands of years ago, ancient man discovered that hitting different objects together made a sound that was enjoyable. As time passed, those sounds became known as music and those basic objects turned into complex instruments.
It used to be that when you wanted to hear music, you either had to hire a musician or learn to play an instrument yourself. However, as humans began to harness the power of electricity, it became possible to record sounds on a phonograph, which was invented in the late 19th century by Thomas Edison. Since then, technology has grown at a never before seen, exponentially mind-blowing rate.
Radio became available for public broadcasting in 1920. Records came out around the same time, but the more familiar vinyl records didn’t come into play until the ‘50s. In 1890, the first “nickel in slot” phonograph was invented. By 1940 this kind of phonograph became known as the jukebox. Jukeboxes hit their peak in the ‘50s in popular hangout joints for the young people, but you can still find modernized jukeboxes with the current technology all around.
Records remained the best & just about the only way to listen to music for a few decades, but people wanted easier, less bulky, & more portable ways to listen to their tunes. In the late ’50s & early ’60s the transistor radio, a small portable radio, made it possible to listen to music on the go. In the late 60s the FM radio format, which had been patented in 1933, & played mostly music, became very popular because FM had been adopted by fans of “Alternative Rock” music (“A.O.R.”- album oriented rock) but it wasn’t until 1978 that listener-ship to FM stations exceeded that of AM stations in North America.
In 1964, stereo 8, better known as the 8 track, come out & allowed for even more portability. They were extremely popular in the states, but remained relatively unknown to much of the world. In the early 70s-80s, the compact cassette became the next must have. Smaller, less bulky & with a rewinding/fast forwarding option, the cassette was a huge leap in music listening as the machine needed to play them could be made pocket size (ex: Sony Walkman), but something was needed for people to be able to listen to music without disturbing others. The answer: Headphones.
The first headphones were used in the early 20th century for radio transmissions. They were primitive by today’s standards as they had very crude audio & were genuinely very uncomfortable to use. Improvements have been made over time, including the invention of ear-buds that fit directly into the ear with little to no discomfort.
In the 70s, boomboxes became popular. Though they were bulky & big in size, they were portable as most models could run off of electricity or batteries. The early models were an attractive hybrid which fused the booming sound of large sound systems and the portability of small cassette players they were typically small, black, heavy, and most importantly loud. The effective AM/FM turner was the most attractive feature of the early boombox – up until the incorporation of input/output jacks into the boxes, allowing the use of devices such as microphones. This development brought boombox to their height of popularity, and as their popularity rose so did the innovative features included in the box. Urban teens loved boomboxes for their portability and sound quality, but most important to the youth market was the bass. The desire for louder and heavier bass led to bigger and heavier boxes; by the 1980s some boomboxes had reached the size of a suitcase.
By the time the 80s rolled around, the world was heading into the digital era. On March 2nd, 1983 the compact disc (CD), was released in the U.S. This date became known as the “Big Bang of the Digital Audio Era”. Expensive at first, the price gradually fell as the disc gained popularity. The CD was an improvement of the cassette because you could skip tracks by just pressing a button.
By the 90s the personal computer (PC) gained popularity as they became useable in homes. In 1993 the mp3( & later iPods) player hit the shelves. Small, compact, & able to hold thousands of songs, it took a few years to catch on, but by the early 2000s it became the most popular way of buying music, because of the ease of use. Gone were the days of listening to a full album, now all you had to do was download the song(s) you wanted to hear.
Sites like YouTube, Last.FM, Spotify, etc. now allow people to be able to listen to music online for free & be able to check out albums to see if you wanted to download/buy them or not. Unfortunately, with the ease of use, came the people who wanted to cheat the system & bands, by illegally downloading songs. As the internet grew the number of legal & illegal downloading sites grew as well. Luckily, the government is taking action against such illegal sites.
Technology just keeps on growing & improving, who knows what will become the next musical must have? What do you think?