Technology Changed Everything in Music

Capturing Sound

Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music by Mark Katz

This was an interesting read and I will write a few posts about the observations I made and things I learned while reading it.

The 4 Minute Restriction

“For seventy-one years between the invention of the phonograph and the introduction of the long-playing disc (877 to 1948) recordings could play no more than about four and a half minutes of music continuously. Thus, for more than seven decades, listeners, performers, and composers had to live and work with a severe and arbitrary restriction, one that constantly impinged on their activities.”

The 3 Minute Rule

“I would speculate that the persistence of the three-minute pop song . . . in an age when song lengths are no longer dictated by the capacity of 78s and 45s may well be a manifestation of atomized listening. The repetition of short pop songs over the decades almost certainly created a feedback loop in which listeners have come to expect works to be of a certain length and which performers strive (or are pressured) to meet that expectation.”

Horns and Mics

Before microphones, recordings were make using a large horn that the musicians had to play directly in to. This caused all sorts of problems for performers. They had to manage the distance and techniques they to make sure the recording sounded good. Everything had to be done live at that time. Bands had to squish together and make sure they didn’t come into physical contact with one another, because that would be heard in the recording.

Music Appreciation

“To be musical, it generally had been assumed, one had to perform or compose. But many claim that careful and intelligent listening could also be the sign of a musical person.”

Constantin Von Sternberg wrote this is 1912; “to be musical, then, means that we must be ‘receptive to music, that is, good music; that we feel its uplifting, soul-liberating power . . . Finally, it means that we recognize the kind or type of class of work to which we are listening; to estimate, approximately at least its merits; to distinguish the dross from the gold, the trash from a work of art, in short, to have and to exercise good judgement in musical matters.”

This is a skill that I think has fallen by the wayside. Pop music is full of trash and not works of art, like Von Sternberg noted. And worse still, too many people can’t even recognize the difference.

Music Memory Contests

This sounds like such an amazing idea. It started in 1916 when a teacher decided to hold a contest to challenge children to identify music played on a phonograph. By 1926, more than 1,400 cities were participating in the contest. 50 to 100 works of “good music” were selected by a committee and the children were given the opportunity to study them. Then, much like a spelling bee, the contests were held in a large auditorium with prized awarded to the winners. The goal was to cultivate “an appreciation of good music, to turn children away from a fondness for the coarser and more meaningless forms of musical composition to a genuine love for the classical productions of the great masters.”

I’d like to create a modern music memory contest, or one specifically for golden era hip-hop. This would be a lot of fun.

Part 2 – Coming soon