The Evolution of Audio

evolution of audio

Throughout the years, music and audio have changed right along with our technological advancements, thus the changes to audio have become a reflection in our evolution as a society. As time moves on, musical instruments and the way sounds are produced have become more complex and diverse. From the way audio is produced and distributed to everything in between, technological advancements have had a significant impact on the evolution of audio. From the phonograph in the 1800s to digital streaming in 2021, audio has come a long way in a short amount of time. 


The Creation of The Phonograph (1800 – 1940)


Thomas Edison is credited to be the founder of the recorded sound era. In 1877, he invented the first machine capable of recording and reproducing a sound. The phonograph was simple but effective in the creation of sound. The sound would enter through the horn and make a recording by vibrating the needle on pieces of wax or other soft surfaces. The marked surface could be used for playback by vibrating the needle and producing the sound that mimicked what the machine “heard”. Phonographs were placed around various cities allowing people to pay-to-listen. People could listen to various sounds, music, or jokes. 


The machine was an instant success and changed the course of audio to this day. Although the sound was scratchy, distorted, and quiet, the machine revolutionized the industry. The phonograph only created a mono sound – a single source or speaker.


A crank on the machine would be used to rotate a cylinder and as the needle found the groove of the recorded sound, it would play it back for you to hear. This process of recording and “cutting” made it an extremely lengthy process to create music, and it explains why vinyl records have a shorter tracklist than CDs of the 2000s era. 


When the motorized turntable was introduced, it made it much more enjoyable to listen to music. The motor would spin the record on a needle and produce a sound without having to constantly crank by hand.


Adaptation of the 8-track (1940 -1980)


At the beginning of the 1940s, record players were still immensely popular and would continue to be for the next several decades. Once 8-track and cassette tapes were introduced, it changed the music game forever. 8-track tapes became immensely popular in the mid-1960s and continued all the way up until the 1980s. The invention of the 8-track tape sparked the installation of radio devices into vehicles. Ford Motor Company was the first to have 8-track players installed into a vehicle straight from the factory. This increased the popularity of the 8-track and allowed people to listen to their favorite tunes on the road. The 8-track tapes were replaced by cassette tapes by the 1980s. 


Although the cassette tape wasn’t able to hold as many songs compared to the 8-track player, cassette tapes were much more convenient due to their size and reliability. The 8-track tape could easily get tape residue built-up and would cause tracks to “bleed over” into the next track due to misalignment. 


After the introduction of the Sony Walkman in 1979, the 8-track tape was forced out of the industry and a new wave of technology had begun. 


Creation of CDs (1980 – 2000)


The compact disc (CD) was co-developed by two audio powerhouses – Sony and Philips. The CD allowed for portable audio and allowed consumers to store and play digital audio from anywhere. The CD wasn’t just used for music playback as it made way for other audio technologies such as CD-ROM and CD-RW. CD-ROM was used for data storage, and CD-RW was used for rewritable media. 


The usage of a CD was much more convenient than 8-track and cassette players as more data could be stored while being portable at the same time. CDs resembled vinyl records that became popularized in the early 1900s. CDs allowed a consumer to have the ability to play, pause, and skip around in songs which meant that the control over your audio experience was immensely better than in previous technologies. Much like vinyl records, CDs could become damaged easily. Scratches, grime, or extreme temperatures would cause the CD to skip or sound altered. 


The era of the CD allowed record labels to boom thanks to the limited number of songs that could be placed on a CD. If a consumer wanted new songs, they would have to buy another CD from their favorite artist. 


The Era of Streaming (2000 – Present Day)


The creation of the Walkman and Discman made it easy for music on-the-go when not in a vehicle. However, it did require that you carry all your CDs and cassettes with you wherever you went. That proved to be fairly inconvenient and that’s where streaming music services came into the picture. 


The first of many online streaming platforms was called Napster. It was introduced near the end of 1999 and took the playback of audio by storm! It was a peer-to-peer music-sharing platform that allowed anyone to download, listen to, and share music as they desired. This platform was short-lived due to lawsuits and copyright infringement, but it paved the way for the rest of the music industry. 


Apple iTunes was introduced in 2001 and followed a similar model to Napster, except the company gave the proper compensation to the musicians and recording companies. Apple invented the iPod which was an improved version of the Walkman and allowed for hundreds of digital songs rather than having to carry around multiple CDs. 


Fast forward a few years and streaming services like Pandora and Spotify are once again disrupting the way that you listen to audio. Streaming services are always looking for a way to do things better, and one approach they are making is giving consumers the ability to share and recommend options based on their listening history. 


How Can TM Help? 


Technology is rapidly changing and the way we consume audio is moving with it. What is popular today, might not be popular tomorrow, so you need an experienced team who understands how quickly things change and how to adapt to be successful. 


If you’re looking to get into the audio space whether it be through radio, podcasts, or music, TM is here to help. We have the connections and the ability to get your business where you want to be. 


Call us today to schedule a FREE consultation, and let’s talk about your goals and how we can get you there! Not only can we help with audio, but as a full-service online marketing agency near Lincoln, NE, we also offer social media marketing, graphic design, programmatic advertising, web development, blog writing, search engine optimization, and much more. Whatever it is – we look forward to speaking with you! 



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