Context : MusicalStuff.

This is NOT meant to be TechnologicalDeterminism, but gives a strong role to technology in musical innovation.

Quora Answer : Is new technology the main reason for why new types of music and new sounds in music appear, for example, when the electric guitar, synthesizer, or sampler was developed?

Jun 6, 2020

Yes. Absolutely.

All the major new genres of music in the last 1000 years are the result of new technology. (And a few new ideas.)

"Baroque" and "classical" music are the result of the invention of musical notation, and the printing press which let musical scores be shared and studied. So that people could develop a far more elaborate understanding and theory of harmony than had previously been possible.

These musics also rely on the invention / discovery of "well" or "good" temperament so that the various keys all sound good. Which means that it became possible to write music with key changes in the middle.

"Romantic" music is the result of pianos, which allowed 19th century composers to experiment at home with more colourful and daring harmonies and to discover what sounded good in practice (not just in theory). They then brought those harmonies into orchestral works.

"Jazz", the first great 20th century music, is the result of sound recording technology. Which shifted attention away from the written score (and harmonic structure) and focused it on the performer's individual quirks such as microtonal "blue notes", the performer's elaborate improvisations around simpler lines, or even just the performer's personality.

Prior to recording technology, this kind of thing wasn't documented and so was less of an object of study and evaluation. With recordings, people could listen to the same improvisation repeatedly and learn how to improvise like that.

With the age of crooners, it became less important to be a "good singer" than to be an "authentic singer", conveying plausible emotions through the music.

Jazz also benefited from radio. Which allowed people to hear music they wouldn't have otherwise heard. Many middle-class white people in America would never have visited the kinds of clubs where blues and jazz were born. But radio could bring it to the comfort and safety of their own homes. And so an understanding of, and taste for, jazz became more widespread than it would have been without radio.

"Rock", is the result of electrical amplification. Basically electrical amplification allowed an instrument which was versatile, but traditionally rather quiet, the guitar, to suddenly scale up and fill large spaces like dance-halls and stadiums. For years, guitar had been limited to small intimate settings. But now it could compete against a drum-kit. And was comparable to orchestras, and large bands of brass instruments. So we suddenly got an explosion of music that explored what guitars and guitarists could do when they had loudness at their disposal.

Electrical amplification also inevitably brought its own specific tonality. Originally from the pickups and speaker cabinets. And then through more deliberate electrical trickery in effects pedals.

Another important technology contributing to rock music was the transistor and transistor radio. With transistors, radios became small, cheap and portable. And it became possible for a teenager to own their own radio, distinct from the radio belonging to the household. This meant that teenagers could start to have specialist radio stations catering to their taste without having to negotiate with the their parents. More demographically focused radio and music led to the flowering of diversity in rock in the late 60s and early 70s. All thanks to transistors.

From the mid 70s onwards, we got music that increasingly depended on electronic control systems : drum-machines, sequencers, computer based recording etc. This gave rise to various electronic dance musics, from Hi NRG disco to synthpop to house, techno, rave, drum'n'bass, garage, trance, dubstep, EDM etc. etc.

"Hip-hop" is also, now, a product of electronic control systems and computers. But it started with some different technological innovations : in record players. In particular the combination of two record decks with a mixer allowing cross-fading between the records. And "direct drive" turntables, that could be scratched. These were playback technologies that afforded a certain degree of human intervention. And that human intervention was quickly transformed into a vehicle for human performance, as DJs could scratch one record over the top of a "loop" made by scratching a second record.

The avant-garde had been making music out of other recordings for 50 years. John Cage used radios and turntables in some of his compositions from the 30s and 40s. In the 50s and 60s, composers used tape-editing and "concrete" recordings of everyday, "non-musical" sounds to compose. But hip-hop, via the fluidity of turntables, found a way to make a genuinely popular mass music out of this apparently avant-garde technique.

And, in doing so, it transformed the way we thought about music.

Today, new technological inventions are coming thick and fast, largely in the form of software.

Some of the most striking, and controversial, that many people love to hate, are the vocal processors.

These have gone way beyond autotune which has transformed the sonic landscape of pop and rap music. There are plugins combining pitch-shifting, vocoding and "formant processing" which let you change the sound of a singer from male to female to robot to any combination thereof, they let you not just "fix" but totally rewrite the melody that was sung, or to add harmonies etc.

Beyond that people are chopping up samples of sung vocals to make instruments.

And applying formant effects on, say, dubstep bass to make them sounds horrifically "animal".

And making vocaloid singing voice synthesizers which are increasingly human-like.

Many people hate "autotune". But autotune is the 21st century equivalent of distortion and other effects that guitarists explored when inventing rock music. A whole new world of colours and tonalities for musicians to compose with.

Culturally, voice processing explores that disturbing space where humans become more like machines, and machines become more like humans. I suspect that it's that "uncanny valley" which is really freaking people out. And which makes them rant against "autotune". Complaining that "people who can't sing are getting rich and famous" is a proxy for a deeper unease about automation making human skills redundant.

But autotune is undeniably the sound of now. The hallmark of our new music. We don't quite have a genre label for that contemporary sound. "Modern pop" or "trap" don't quite capture it. I like "auto-croon". But that is too specific.

What's important though is that the music of 2010s and into 2020s is the music that could only exist because of plugins that process voices, just as the music of the late 60s and 70s could only exist because of guitar pedals.

Future generations are going to look back and celebrate the wildest vocal processing artists just as we look back and celebrate the most outrageous experimenters in electric guitar and pedals.

The other major technology of today, of course, is the internet. The proliferation of channels for distributing music. Now anyone can put music online. There are "traditional" online record stores selling music downloads. And streamers like Spotify who aren't really so different from radio.

But YouTube is changing music in many ways.

Firstly there are amazing music educators. People who are great musicians, but who are also showing you how the music is made. Whether it's their FL Studio production techniques, the way they play guitar, music theory from common practice to negative harmonics and neo-Riemannian theory, or circuit bending old toys and sampling embarrassing body noises. YouTube is making every idea in music available. Both to new musicians, and to an increasingly well informed listening audience.

Secondly, YouTube has created a strange culture of "reaction videos", where you can watch other people listening to music, typically for the first time. You get to see their expressions, hear their comments etc. Listening to music is now a performance art in its own right.

Thirdly, popular YouTubers encourage participation from their audience. A YouTuber's fans send him their own production for evaluation, or submit remixes, or contribute sample loops that the YouTuber then redistributes. YouTubers collaborate with their peers on YouTube, leading to interesting experiments and cross-fertilization of ideas.

Finally, of course, YouTube has cemented the idea that music is accompanied by "a music video". Or is, itself, a soundtrack for a music video. Ie. a little movie.

And it opens up the possibility of presenting video alongside music for every musician.

If you want to know what our music is, today, YouTube is where that music is evolving. Along with Instagram and Tik-Tok etc.

The "genre" of this music is a genre which has adapted to be a genre which lives on YouTube etc. We don't even have a name for it yet. I favour just calling it "YouTube Music" It's based on all kinds of other music, but it's not quite like any other music. Because it derives its shape from YouTube.

Technology ALWAYS shapes music.

See also :

Quora Answer : Which periods of time in the history of music did notable changes occur to the sound or style of music that was being created?

Sep 24, 2019

Whenever new instruments and other technologies were invented.

Eg. we switched from the classical to the romantic period basically when the piano was invented.

Pianos did three things to music :

gave composers the ability to experiment empirically with harmony, with a smoother tone than harpsichords, while more accessible than organs. These harmonic discoveries could then be brought across into their orchestral compositions.

gave an individual performer a richer, wider range of sounds / tones / colours to play in a domestic setting. At a price that the new middle-classes could afford. Leading to new genres of music intended to be played in the intimacy of the home, not a public performance space.

added a versatile new tone to the orchestra which let an individual really dialogue on equal terms with the orchestra in the form of, say, a piano concerto.

Similarly, the jazz age was created by recording technologies :

sound recording allowed us to capture and study the stylistic ticks and microtones of blues players which would have been hard to notate any other way. This led to much more interest and understanding of them. To performers trying to copy and invent their own stylistic quirks.

Similarly it allowed us to capture improvisation, leading to more attempts to understand and copy improvisation techniques. Musicians had always improvised, but written notation filters improvisation out of the official record of the music, and so downplays its importance. Sound recording brings it back, and makes it the focus. Which is what jazz is all about.

Performers could also study music and learn to copy it, simply by listening to it without learning formal notation or having access to a teacher.

Finally, radio, in particular, brought this music out of segregated black communities and into the ears of people who would otherwise never hear or learn to like it.

And rock was created by electrical amplification.

Suddenly a small combo of 3 or 4 musicians could fill a large concert hall with sound, all by themselves. It became much "cheaper" and easier to put on large events and create communal musical experiences.

Electrical amplification, distortion, feedback created entirely new colours and timbres of sound that were eagerly adopted by rock musicians and embraced in themselves.

Electrical amplification meant that the human voice and the guitar could be "balanced" to compete with loud drum kits. This meant that drummers could throw themselves into pounding their instrument with all the wild energy that excited the crowd and inspired it to dance. Without the singer and guitar melodies being effectively drowned out.

Computers have done something similar even more recently. And AI will do it tomorrow.

Quora Answer : During the big-band era there was the leader eg Benny Goodman who was famous. In the era right after the BEATLES entire groups got attention. That lasted maybe 30 years. Now, individual singers and rappers are famous. What happened?

Apr 4, 2020

Amplification and computers.

When "big-bands" were the rage, you didn't have electrical amplification, so you needed a big band to make music loud enough to fill a hall full of people dancing and chattering. Usually with a lot of loud brass instruments.

With the invention of electrical amplification, a guitar (which acoustically is quite a quiet instrument) could be made loud enough to fill a stadium. An amplified four-man combo was enough to fill any space you liked.

Then we got computers (sequencers, drum-machines etc.) so you didn't even need people play the accompanying instruments. Focus shifted to the individual front-man or woman.

That doesn't mean that there aren't still larger bands on stage. But they're there for the spectacle. Or for a particular flavour. Not because they are "necessary" for there to be music at all.

The other thing to remember is that in the golden age of rock, a good musician would need other musicians to play with. Imagine being a great bass player. You still needed a singer and guitarist and drummer to help you shine. So even a bass genius would have to submerge their identity in the group "brand" of the band.

In the 2000s, any great musician could program their own accompaniments. Musicians didn't need to specialize and hide themselves away within the context of a band. Now every good singer and instrumentalist can declare themselves a solo artist / producer. Can do everything themselves. And can make themselves the brand by which the music is known.

Quora Answer : In your opinion, what has been the biggest change in the way pop music is created?

Jun 2, 2020

In history?

The biggest change to pop music. And to all music. Was the invention of recording technology.

It's impossible to overestimate how big the invention of recording technology is in the history of music.

Recording changed EVERYTHING

Before recording technology you could only learn music one of two ways : from listening to other people play it. Or from having it in some kind of written notation.

Music that people learned by ear was very unstable. The melodies were always mutating and shifting. There were identifiable songs, but they were always blending in to each other or forking into slightly different songs between different regions. There wasn't much harmonic development within the music (mostly just switching back and forth between a couple of chords in the same key)

Written music, on the other hand, started to become increasingly sophisticated in terms of both melodic and harmonic development. When you wrote music on paper, you could deal with much longer and more complex melodic lines, and study how harmony could be distributed across multiple voices. Paper helped you think about musical structure in a new way.

On the other hand, when you learn music by ear you can pick up all kinds of subtleties of your teacher's performance. You can hear the microtonal pitchbends to add expression. You can hear the "swing" added to the rhythm. You can hear how the teacher improvises variations on top of the basic melodies.

Undoubtedly classically trained musicians did and learned all these things. But none of that got notated in the music. So the importance of them was downplayed. Harmonic construction was everything.

So music was divided into the "complex but impersonal" music of the elites vs. "the expressive but simple" folk music of the people. (With some intermediate musics. Songs for the middle class to sing accompanied by a piano. Waltzes and other dances.)

With the invention of recording technology you could now capture the live performance of musicians.

And almost immediately a new genre sprang up : jazz, which was focused exactly on those elements of performance, the microtonal pitchbends (blue notes), the improvisation, and the personality and the presence of the performer. Beethoven's 5th is Beethoven's 5th, whether you prefer the version from this orchestra or that orchestra. But Coltrane's "Favourite Things" just isn't the same piece of music as Favourite Things by another jazz musician.

And beyond jazz various new genres of music appeared, all of them driven by the market for recordings among ordinary consumers, transmitted over radio and TV. All of them from musicians who largely learned their musical ideas by ear, listening to other recordings.

An entirely different music, from an entirely different principle to either notated academic music, or folk music.

Jazz, rock, funk, hip-hop, techno, disco, dubstep, metal, country ... everything in contemporary "pop" music is thanks to this invention of recording technology.

Quora Answer : As a musician, how do you value the significant influence of electronic music to the development of musical genres of the twentieth century?

Nov 26

Taken at its broadest "electronic" music is everything in 20th century music.

It's the biggest story, the most influential idea of that century

But what do I mean by "electronic"?

Well, the biggest inventions in music in the 20th century :

recording technology

broadcast technology (radio, television, internet)

amplification (ie. the thing that allowed guitars to become the basis of a whole genre of music. ie. "rock music")

control technology : sequencers, drum machines, computer based sequencing and digital sound manipulation

In future centuries people will look back at the 20th century and like they talk about the "classical era" and the "romantic era" they'll say "the recording era". The music that existed BECAUSE of recording and broadcast and amplification and computers. And ALL our music will be interpreted in that light.

Music which has nothing to do with electricity : music written on paper, and played on orchestral instruments in a concert hall, will be seen as an irrelevant anachronism in 20th century music. "Sure, some people were still doing that," they'll say. "But it's not really that interesting." All the good stuff, the new stuff, the interesting stuff, is the stuff that happened BECAUSE of electricity.

See also :

Phil Jones (He / Him)'s answer to In your opinion, what has been the biggest change in the way pop music is created?

Quora Answer : What will modern music be called in the future?

Jul 23, 2020

Dreamui Zhang's answer is plausible.

But I think the hallmark of all important 20th century (until now) music, the real thing that distinguishes it from earlier music, is that it's made with and for recording technology.

It's hard to underestimate how recording has changed our notion of what music is, what it's for, where and when it should be played, what kind of sonority it should have, and yes, therefore, also what kind of structure it should have

I think the most obvious label from the further future for all our music today (apart from the little bit that's still academics writing for live orchestras) is something like "Recording Era Music" or maybe "Early Recording Era Music" (as we're likely to continue with recording from here on out)

Quora Answer : Why has society's taste in music changed so much?

Feb 23, 2017

Technology and social use.

Until the 20th century almost all music was live. (Apart from a few ultra expensive music-playing machines)

We only had music when someone was willing to play it. And when there was a sufficient audience to make that happen. So some people played for themselves on a guitar or flute. (Mainly music transmitted aurally in a "folk" style). And everything else was pretty much social. The only large scale "composed" music was run by the church.

Until pianos came along. Then you had music for individuals to play on the piano. Or for a middle-class family. Maybe a singer and piano accompaniment. But with a written score. And playable with two hands. Usually one hand playing chords, the other some simple melody line when the singer took a breath.

Musical notation covered melody, harmony and basic rhythm.

Any more complex timbre could only be handled by an orchestra. And that cost a tonne of money. So only music that a lot of musicians could and wanted to play for a large paying audience or a rich sponsor, could exist. (That's true of opera and ballet too.)

In the 20th century we got recording technology. For the first time it was possible to listen to individual quirks and techniques of a performer that notation didn't capture. We could now hear and study the individual detuning or off-notes that a particular musician made. The improvised flourishes. The particular tones and timbreal tricks of a singer's voice. Or the rhythmic swing that a pianist or guitarist gave to their performance.

When listeners started paying attention to these details, musicians soon started putting more into developing them. We got blues and jazz. Musics that were based on "blue-notes" and microtunings; improvisation and swing. We got a taste for all these because recording technology made it possible to reliably reproduce and study them in a way that hadn't previously been possible.

Then we got electrical amplification. Suddenly quiet things could be loud. We discovered crooners. Men and women who expressed intimate emotions through singing almost in a whisper could still entertain a hall. They were no longer constrained to fit their emotional expression into the techniques of projection and loudness that opera singers had had to develop.

The same was true of instruments. Cool jazz emerged because you could now play a saxophone or trumpet quietly. Rock and roll happened now that a combo of drum, bass and guitar could make more noise than a traditional symphony orchestra or big band.

The transistor changed many things too. Now radios were cheap. Suddenly it was possible for teenagers to own their own personal radio. They didn't have to listen just to music that their parents liked or approved of. Or that was suitable for the whole family. Now there could be special music made by teenagers, for teenagers, focussing on their particular experiences : first love, revolutionary optimism, angst-ridden struggle to find an identity.

Then cassettes allowed people to discover a new curatorial role, making mix-tapes for their friends. More modern turntables gave DJs the fine-grained control over playing disks that allowed them to scratch and synchronize and creatively mix and combine multiple recordings into new compositions. In real time in front of a live audience. Synthesizers created unworldly sounds, detached from any familiar reference, and could conjure new moods and emotional states. Cheap synthesizers and sequencers allowed people with fewer traditional playing skills to nevertheless create compelling and expressive musical accompaniments. Cheap computers allowed musicians to sample and re-purpose fragments of other recordings for new compositions. Today we have entire genres or styles of music, from time-stretched Amen breaks, to dubstep wobbles to auto-tuned vocals, that can only exist because of particular audio technologies.

Today we listen to music in the supermarket and in the car; on club sound-systems with enormous bass that was unimaginable a couple of decades ago; on headphones in the office (seriously?!!) while doing our programming or design work; or accompanying marathons of video-game play. Etc.

Put together the matrix of new technologies of production and new places where we now can and want to listen to music, and it isn't hard to understand why there are so many new genres of music designed with those new technologies to work in those new environments.

Quora Answer : We have seen a huge development of musical styles in that last 100 years. Why is it that up until then the body of music styles was not so rich, when the oldest known song was written 4000 years ago?

Aug 20, 2019

(Just over) 100 years ago we invented recording technologies.

And it was possible to put audio recordings onto wax cylinders and then vinyl disks and then radio waves, magnetic tape, CDs, MP3s, Napster, Spotify etc.

Suddenly you didn't have to meet a musician in person to hear their music. Or learn to appreciate it. Copy it. Develop your own variation of it. Etc.