Press play and close your eyes. No matter what year or device we’re listening to our music on, whether it's life, playing loudly for all to hear, or playing directly into your ear, music is the same experience. It understands you; it’s there for you, but how did it get here? How did we go from playing live music with handmade instruments to tapping a button on our smartphones and listening to songs?

Challenges

Read about technology and develop your digital literacy by creating content on tech topics

Discover the evolution of sound?

So, where to begin?

Press play and close your eyes. No matter what year or device we’re listening to our music on, whether it’s life, playing loudly for all to hear, or playing directly into your ear, music is the same experience. It understands you; it’s there for you, but how did it get here? How did we go from playing live music with handmade instruments to tapping a button on our smartphones and listening to songs? 

There’s no way to tell where music began; humans have always had this. But it’s evolved as technology has. Recording styluses made indentations on phonograph cylinders to transmit sound. Then, with a stylus and diaphragm, one can playback the recording.

With Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph, people could listen to their favourite music at home. Eventually, that began to die out, so they came out with Edison Disc Records, which were large vinyl discs that could play music.

These vinyl discs didn’t have much recording space on each side, so we could only play a few songs. Music listening became even more popular, radios started broadcasting music, and commercial music made a massive difference in everyone’s lives in the 1920s and 30s. 

In 1958, music was made more accessible and more compact. The invention of the tape came into our lives. These cassette tapes were small rectangles with rolls of plastic film inside them. They were light, easy to use and transport and could hold much more audio. These, like VHS tapes, needed to be manually rewound or on later cassette players. When 1979 hit, the incredible invention, the walkman, came out, allowing us to listen to our favourite tapes on the go. This handheld player needed a pair of headphones for one video at a time, and you were all set.

CDs (compact discs) then came out in the 1970s, which allowed us to store whole albums on discs. These CDs worked on all computers and laptops, and soon in portable CD players! 

Then in the 90s, a brand new idea came to our shelves! MP3 technology was given to us, and we could listen to our songs digitally. You could ‘rip’ song files from your CD on your computer and then ‘burn’ them onto other CDs or your MP3 folder, which means that you could listen to whatever you wanted on the go. 

Companies like Samsung and Apple came out with their brands of MP3 formatted devices in the early 2000s, which helped to turn music playing digitally. With these devices, people stopped buying records, tapes and CDs; although the vinyl retro style is coming back into trend, it won’t ever take over streaming. 

Then things changed when Spotify hit the scene in 2008, a subscription-based music and podcast streaming platform. And in just two years, it hit one million subscribers. In 2010 we got Itunes, which was Apple’s music streaming service and was compatible with every computer, whether it was Apple or not. 

Now we have multiple online streaming services for music, and with the click of a button, we can listen to anything and everything all the time. This significant advantage means, most of the time, you don’t even need the internet! You can easily download music, even on Spotify, to listen offline.

The disadvantage, however, is that musicians aren’t getting as much money as they would. Instead of direct music sales or downloads, so many people are listening for free; therefore, there’s no income. Even with streaming services like Spotify, musicians aren’t getting paid that much.

If we’ve managed to come this far with music in the last hundred years, just imagine how we could be listening to it in the future! 

Create digital content on this topic

23-jpg

Discover the evolution of sound?

Useful links on this topic

discover more about the digital world