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24 Inventions That Changed Music

A brief timeline of key breakthroughs in recorded sound

The Evolution of Music and Technology

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We've come a long way in capturing and reproducing sound, and in many ways, the journey has been a poetic and literal full circle. From Thomas Edison's first experiments with waveform-engraved cylinders to the rotating dials of our iPods − and every touchstone devoted to preserving composition and performance since and after − we've amassed a timeline of 24 essential breakthroughs (be they physical tools or digital breakthroughs) in recorded-music and playback technology. 

By Kenny Herzog


CC Image courtesy A_minor on Flickr

Auto-Tune (1997)

A majority of these inventions came from scientific minds, and Auto-Tune is no exception. Its parent company, Antares Audio Technologies (originally called Jupiter Systems), was founded in 1990 by geophysicist Dr. Andy Hildebrand. Using the same Digital Signal Processing (DSP) technology he employed to measure seismic data, Hildebrand first patented the Infinity sample-looping software and various Pro-Tools plug-ins. But it was Auto-Tune − a DSP-powered program used to course correct vocals and instruments − that etched his legacy. Its creative limitlessness has empowered the likes of Kanye West (while remaining a bone of contention for purists), but it also gave us the recording careers of his fiancé, Kim Kardashian, so perhaps that's a wash.


Courtesy of Apple Corp. via Getty Images

iPod (2001)

Walkmans and Discmans were instantly forgotten, and gathering of .MP3s on desktops mushroomed when the iPod was made commercially available in October 2001. Sure, it cost $400 and needed semi-regular charges, but who could argue with 5 GB of collated, alphabetized, prioritized albums, songs and playlists all available and scrollable via a touch-sensitive pinwheel? Thirteen years hence, the iPod's capabilities have merged with telecommunications via the iPhone, inspired scores of failed imitators (hello, Zune) and spawned legendary advertising campaigns that achieved standalone iconography. 


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GarageBand (2004)

Steve Jobs wasn't about to take Pro Tools lying down. In 2002, Apple acquired German company Emagic. They also lured its prodigal engineer Gerhard Lengeling and his innovative Logic software, which basically allowed home-computer users access to studio-level features. Concurrently, Lengeling cooked up GarageBand, which refined Logic's foundation even further so that the amateur enthusiast or cash-strapped DIY musician could become expert overnight in digital recording and mastering. Jobs demonstrated GarageBand at the 2004 Macworld Expo, and a decade on, in conjunction with standard-bearers like Pro Tools and Logic, it continues to embolden previously tech-averse artists.


CC Image courtesy Jon Weatherill-Hunt on Flickr

SoundCloud (2007)

Enterprising Swedes Alex Ljung and Eric Wahlforss launched Soundcloud from a Berlin office in Fall 2007. At the time, their aspiration was for artists and others in the music industry to have a simpler platform than MySpace for sharing songs with one another. By Summer 2009, they registered more than 160,000 users. Four years later, SoundCloud was streaming music to and between 200-millon-plus sets of ears worldwide. Ljung and Wahlforss seized on the smartphone/tablet explosion with user-friendly apps, and their program is now regarded as the audiophile's YouTube with the fluidity of Twitter, as each file has a unique, embeddable URL.

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