Music and Recording Industry

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Background

Acoustical recordings were the earliest efforts in recording live music with the intention of playback. Thomas Edison invented a machine in 1877 that recorded and played back sounds. When he spoke “Mary had a little lamb” into a device that, in reaction to the vibrations of his voice, cut fine grooves with a stylus in tinfoil, he became the first person to record the human voice. To play back the sound, the stylus was repositioned on the groove at a lighter pressure and the cylinder rotated. Over the next decade Edison improved his machine and prepared it for its ultimate application: the recording of music. Between 1888 and 1894 such notables as Johannes Brahms, Alfred Tennyson, and Robert Browning all made recordings on the phonograph.

Edison’s phonograph was not well suited for recording lower sound frequencies from such instruments as the bass and cello because the acoustical vibrations would not record accurately on the cylinders. Despite these early technical difficulties, phonograph copies of classical music and performers became very popular, thanks in part to Charles and Emile Pathe who, in 1894, built a small phonograph factory near Paris producing thousands of records.

Meanwhile, in 1887, Emile Berliner was busy creating the next significant advancement in sound reproduction, the gramophone. Berliner made his recordings on flat disks rather than the awkward cylinder. Disks proved to be much more practical for storage and mass production. Edison’s cylinder phonographs were soon abandoned, but the term hung on in describing either device.

The Gramophone Company established branches in several countries, including Gramophone Company in London and Deutsche Grammophon in Germany; the company eventually grew in the United States to become the Victor Company. Victor produced the Victrola, a record player that was unrivaled in popularity and sales for many years after its introduction in 1901. Recording with the gramophone was known as acoustic recording. Horns of various diameters were placed near the instrument or vocalist. The diameter of the horn and its proximity to the sound source essentially determined the level at which the sound was recorded. When recording multiple piece bands, and especially with orchestras, finding the right acoustics (how many horns to use, with what size diameter, and where to place them) became a grueling, time-consuming task.

Columbia, a competitor to Victor, agreed to a cross-license arrangement in the manufacturing of records and phonographs. They combined patent assignments, allowing both to record on the newly developed wax disks. These records played for two minutes and held a recording on only one side of the disk. Most of the records were voice recordings since the reproduction quality of voices was superior to that of instruments. Other early recordings were of vaudeville skits, readings, and simple popular music, such as ragtime piano pieces.

In 1908, a new material called Amberol was developed, enabling the number of grooves on a cylinder to be increased. The higher number of grooves allowed for a longer recording, which doubled the cylinder’s playing time to four minutes.

By 1913, however, disks were matching the playing time of the cylinder. The increased number of grooves and the establishment of two-sided disks in 1908 enhanced the desirability and the utility of the disk. The development of the less-expensive 78 revolutions per minute (rpm) disks completely replaced the cylinders by 1915.

Spring motors powered the early phonographs. Hand cranks had powered the earliest versions, but it was apparent that the evenness of power was important to the sound quality, and a regulated flow of power had to be developed. The Gramophone used a crank to wind a spring, and then the spring released at a regulated speed to turn the phonograph.

In the 1930s, electrically powered motors were used to turn the phonograph. The turntable could now turn continuously, allowing for a more even speed and longer playing time for the record. One of the reasons that phonographs were developed with an electric motor was the newfound capacity to combine the unit with a radio. The speaker system could be used for both, making the product more attractive to consumers.

From 1910 to 1920, the phonograph became the mass medium for popular music. Classical music recordings were by far the most widely available, but jazz, ragtime, and other band recordings began to catch on and record sales grew tremendously. However, the effect of the Depression in the 1930s took its toll on record and phonograph sales. The ability of radio to fill the void by providing free music decreased the sales of phonographs.

With the industry decline came changes to the companies that had developed the industry. Radio Corporation of America (RCA) bought Victor in 1929. The father of the recording industry, Edison, left the industry later the same year. In 1938 the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) purchased the weakened American Columbia.

A significant breakthrough for the recording industry came in 1948, when Columbia Records developed a 12-inch vinyl disk that could play 25 minutes of music per side at 33-1/3 rpm, known as the long-playing (LP) record. This allowed for the typical classical symphony movement to be recorded on one side of the record, avoiding the usual disruptive breaks that had been a part of the 78 rpm recordings.

Soon after Columbia’s 12-inch, Victor developed a seven-inch disc that played at 45 rpm. It contained less music time - about five minutes - but it was more economical and smaller. The industry established a standard in 1950: 12-inch LPs for classical recording and full-length popular music albums, and the seven-inch (called 45s) for shorter, single song recordings.

Another major development for the recording industry came with introduction of tape in the late 1940s. The sound quality from magnetic tape was the finest achieved to that date. Beyond the quality of the original recording, tape allowed for patchwork correction to be done to a recording, to replace sections where errors or poor sound quality occurred. It was no longer necessary to record the entire piece in one session. Tape also spawned a revival of many different kinds of music, from 18th century Baroque works to forgotten pre-war avant-garde pieces.

Tape recordings eventually allowed music to be recorded on channels; a singer’s voice could take up one channel with individual instruments on other channels. This allowed the music producer an opportunity to mix the music with the desired emphasis. A flute, for example, could be enhanced beyond the original performance level, or the brass instruments could be quieted. Two-track stereophonic recordings became commonplace in the late 1950s, and phonographs were developed with two speakers to reproduce the stereo sound in the home.

The technology for recording boomed with the computer age. Synthesizers reproduced the sounds of orchestras electronically. Voices and instruments could be electronically enhanced, lowered, shifted in pitch, or adjusted to accommodate any change desired. The type of music recorded could be so stylized that it could not be reproduced in a live performance. The number of tracks recorded could be increased to meet the needs of an individual recording artist.

Along with the advancement in technology of sound recording, an advancement in the record disk began to change the shape of the industry once again. Compact discs (CDs) were invented in Japan in the late 1970s. CDs are digitally recorded discs that use a laser instead of a stylus to read the music. The benefits of CDs include the quality of the reproduction, the portability of the discs and players, and their ability to remain undamaged by wear or scratching.

The conversion by the record industry to CD technology was swift. All new popular and classical music is now produced on CD. Record companies are continually reissuing their classics on CD, and in many cases they reissue titles that were not big hits but now sell well on CD. Vinyl, however, has not completely disappeared. Despite its flaws, many audiophiles maintain that vinyl still produces better sound quality than CD. There is a continued niche market for vinyl, especially among independent record labels.

The enhanced CD is currently available. These CDs, when played on a computer, contain video clips, lyrics, artist biographies and discographies, and interactive activities. The next advance in sound quality involves DVD audio and Super Audio CD. These high-density discs produce even better sound quality than current CDs. The industry is making efforts to assure that all new formats will be compatible with each other.

Tape recordings eventually allowed music to be recorded on channels; a singer’s voice could take up one channel with individual instruments on other channels. This allowed the music producer an opportunity to mix the music with the desired emphasis. A flute, for example, could be enhanced beyond the original performance level, or the brass instruments could be quieted. Two track stereophonic recordings became commonplace in the late 1950s, and phonographs were developed with two speakers to reproduce the stereo sound in the home.

The technology for recording boomed with the computer age. Synthesizers reproduced the sounds of orchestras electronically. Voices and instruments could be electronically enhanced, lowered, shifted in pitch, or adjusted to accommodate any change desired. The type of music recorded could be so stylized that it could not be reproduced in a live performance. The number of tracks recorded could be increased to meet the needs of an individual recording artist.

Along with the advancement in technology of sound recording, an advancement in the record disk began to change the shape of the industry once again. Compact discs (CDs) were invented in Japan in the late 1970s. CDs are digitally recorded discs that use a laser instead of a stylus to read the music. The benefits of CDs include the quality of the reproduction, the portability of the discs and players, and their ability to remain undamaged by wear or scratching.

The conversion by the record industry to CD technology was swift. All new popular and classical music is now produced on CD. Record companies are continually reissuing their classics on CD, and in many cases they reissue titles that were not big hits but now sell well on CD. Vinyl, however, has not completely disappeared. Despite its flaws, many audiophiles maintain that vinyl still produces better sound quality than CD. There is a continued niche market for vinyl, especially among independent record labels.

The enhanced CD is currently available. These CDs, when played on a computer, contain video clips, lyrics, artist biographies and discographies, and interactive activities. The next advance in sound quality involves DVD audio and Super Audio CD. These high-density discs produce even better sound quality than current CDs. The industry is making efforts to assure that all new formats will be compatible with each other.

With the advent of online file sharing and downloadable music, a major new avenue for distribution of music opened in the early twenty-first century. File sharing software made it possible for people to trade digital files of recorded music via the Internet, which resulted in a major campaign by the Recording Industry Association of America to fight this form of piracy and protect copyrights. In the wake of the controversy, many authorized music download sites such as iTunes and Napster brokered deals with recording companies to place singles, entire albums, and music videos online for legitimate purchasers. With the popularity of the iPod digital music player and similar devices, many listeners readily adopted the new format.

More than ever before, audio and recording technicians use computer technology in their recordings. They digitally record music and perform many of the editing and sound manipulation functions via computer software programs. The computer can transform the quiet folk sounds of an acoustic Martin guitar into the erupting noises of fully distorted power-rocking Les Paul. It can make a solo trumpet sound as though it’s being accompanied by a big band. The limits of computer recording and manipulation are only one’s imagination and resources.

Structure

So You Want a Career in Music?


Consider this option: For $2,400 a person, music lovers recently had the opportunity to raft through the Grand Canyon with the Miro String Quartet of New York. Though the quartet members made no effort to play their instruments during the actual rafting, they did ride the rapids right along with the others and entertained during breaks on the beach. (Their instruments were kept safe in watertight cases in between performances.)

The recording industry is constantly on the lookout for new talent, new sounds, and new styles. Music producers and artist and repertoire (A&R) executives are responsible for finding the new talent and arranging the contract negotiations for a recording contract. They keep track of the musicians that are performing in clubs and concerts. They also keep in touch with the recording artists that are well known.

A new artist is either approached by a representative of a record company, or the artist sends in a three-to-four song demo tape to the A&R department of one or more companies. If the representative is interested in the artist’s work, arrangements are then made between the company and the artist or the artist’s manager. The contract may be for a single recording or a series of recordings.

For relatively unknown artists, an independent label is the most likely place to arrange a contract. The A&R staff for independent labels are most active in finding and representing artists or less-mainstream types of music. Multiple-release contracts are common for independent labels, and if the artist becomes extremely popular, the contract may be bought out by a major record label. The independent label promotes albums to a lesser degree, and for the smallest labels, the artist may be responsible for all album promotion. In rock, jazz, country, and rap music, many currently successful artists began on independent labels. In the last decade, to avoid buying-out expensive contracts for bands on independent labels, many of the major labels now have smaller subsidiaries that seek out progressive, up-and-coming artists who, once they have reached a certain level of success on the subsidiary label, will make a smooth transition to the major label.

For the established performer or group, contract negotiations may be carried out between several companies vying for rights to publish the performers’ work. Musicians generally benefit as each company tries to make the best offer.

Once the contract arrangements have been settled, the process of recording an album can begin. The songs that are to be recorded are decided by the artist and the music producer assigned to the artist. Artists on a major label may have to compromise their music to fit mainstream music tastes closely observed by industry executives. Independent labels generally allow musicians to record whatever they want and often encourage experimentation. The record producer hires studio musicians, recording technicians, and support staff.

During a recording session, more than one recording is made of the same song. With each recording, audio recording engineers vary input levels, microphone placement, and other factors that affect the recorded sound. The best sections from each version of the song can be put (or spliced) together for the best result. Each instrument and voice can be recorded separately onto its own track and combined later by recording engineers, who specialize in mixing different recorded sounds into a unified whole. Mixing the recording is one of the most important jobs performed in the production of a recording and can influence the sound as much as the musicians can.

For popular music, recording engineers use their tools of recording in a variety of ways to influence sound or to create entirely new sounds. Especially with current computer-aided recording and manipulation equipment, engineers and producers have increased control over the final sound, mood, and intensity of a recording. Recording engineers can change the sound of individual instruments, speed up or slow down tempo, correct missed or skipped beats, edit out unwanted sections and splice in a new section, and perform numerous other tasks in preparing the final version of a recording.

To record a live performance, the technical end is just as important, but the performer only has one shot at the recording. After the performance, the engineer can work with the different tracks of tape to edit flaws and outside noises and juggle with the volume and intensity to smooth over rough patches in the performance.

One of the most important aspects to the recording of a live performance is the position of the microphones. The location of microphones for a symphony determines the strength of the different sections of the orchestra. If solo performers are to be heard, individual microphones may be assigned to their positions on the stage. To maintain a balanced sound in the reproduction of a large performance such as a symphony, the sound recording technician’s goal is to match the recorded sound with the balance that is achieved for the audience sitting in an orchestral hall.

Once the recording is finished and the album put together, or mastered, the production department takes over. This department is responsible for producing the actual recording in CD, cassette, and occasionally vinyl versions. The press run (the total number of releases produced) is determined by previous sales of the artist, and the anticipated increase or decrease in sales for the release. For new musicians, labels establish a new artist press run ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 copies. The A&R and promotion departments are responsible for knowing the market and the estimated value of a recording. Repressing a recording that is selling well is an easy process once the master tape is made.

While the album is in production, the art department is producing cover art and inside art if there is any. Type design is chosen for all written matter. Various designs are presented to the company representative, the artists, and the record producer for approval. For smaller companies, the artists may make all the final decisions on art and packaging. A final design is selected and then completed by the artists. For reissued albums, the art department may decide on its own what design to use on the cover. Musicians on independent labels are often responsible for creating their own artwork.

The marketing department of the record company creates the ads that will run in music magazines, on the radio, and on television for each album produced. Posters, show cards, displays, and any other promotional material are designed and developed in the advertising department as well. Advertising can greatly enhance sales of an album by generating an interest in the album either before its release or after it has been moved into the stores.

One of the chief methods of generating interest in a release is airplay on the radio. The promotions department is expected to keep up to date on the staff and audience of radio stations. They should be aware of what audiences are covered in each region of the country and how to best promote the new product to the audience interested in that type of music.

Just as important, or possibly even more important, than radio play for commercially successful rock, country, and rap music today is having a music video broadcast, particularly on MTV or VH1 - the two major music video stations. Producers and musicians contact video directors and discuss concepts for an original video. Often the musicians act in the video, or professional actors are hired to play roles.

The promotions and publicity department is responsible for sending out copies of the recording to reviewers, along with press kits providing information and photos of the artist. This press package is mainly geared toward the airplay time that can be generated by favorable reviews and frequent audience requests to the radio station. Other forms of publicity used to create an interest in the recording include concert performances, interviews on television and radio, press coverage in the printed media, public appearances, and any other promotion that brings the artist into the public eye.

Once album sales are underway, determining the success or failure of a recording is directly linked to the number of recordings sold. For a successful classical album, the number sold may be 5,000 to 10,000 copies. For a popular music album, the numbers are more likely to approach or exceed 1 million copies. Well-known performers regularly have record sales that exceed 1 million copies. After the record is sold, the recording may be rereleased or go out of print. Sales of most albums decline quickly after release and may not need a second pressing. Some albums, however, may be marketed successfully for years.

Outlook

The recording industry is in a continual state of flux. New technology, new music, new markets, and new ways of doing business are constantly redefining the way the industry functions. Computer technology is simplifying the recording and mixing process while opening new outlets for creativity and distribution of music. Musicians, producers, and engineers are finding opportunities in the creation of music for Web sites and other multimedia.

Changing trends in music always keep record companies on their toes as they try to stay one step ahead of their competitors by signing the musicians and bands with the newest sound. Though rock continues to be the top-selling genre, sales have dropped for rock music in the last 10 years. By contrast, sales for rap and country music have doubled in the same time period. Women artists are continuing to be powerful forces in the music industry, as performers such as Sarah McLachlan, Beyonce, and Christina Aguilera pave the way with blockbuster sales. Opening Chinese and Latin American markets will give record companies a big boost in sales. These emerging markets have accounted for 40 percent of the growth of music sales. Yet, problems with piracy in these countries need to be controlled to avoid significant profit losses. Piracy issues also involve the Internet; the industry is concerned with digital copies of music being freely transferred over the Web, in violation of copyright laws. Internet technology has made it possible to download quality recordings quickly and easily, resulting in Web sites with whole archives of pirated recordings. CD burners are readily available, allowing people to download recordings as MP3 files and record them on CDs. Controlling piracy in the digital age is the recording industry’s biggest challenge.

A report by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) stated that the industry had sales of more than $11.1 billion in 2005, which is a drop of almost 8 percent from the previous year. The shipment of full-length CDs fell to 705.4 million, a decrease of 8 percent over 2004’s shipments. Full-length cassettes have become increasingly unpopular in the past decade. Cassette shipments dropped 52.6 percent between 2004 and 2005, with sales of $13.1 million in 2005. The purchase of downloadable singles and albums grew by 163.3 percent and 198.5 percent, respectively, from 2004 to 2005. Rock still makes up the strongest segment of the recording industry, accounting for more than 31 percent of sales in 2005. Rap/hip-hop, R&B/urban, country, and pop round out the top five categories, according to RIA.

In the last decade the music and recording industry has undergone dramatic consolidation. Four corporations -  Universal Music Group, Warner Brothers Records, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, and EMI - control over 80 percent of the industry. While this consolidation may be beneficial for artists under contract with these companies, it has also made it more difficult for unknown acts to break into the business.

Words to Know


Acoustic: Music that is not electronically enhanced.

Amplifier: An electronic component used to increase volume.

Bandwidth: The smallest range of frequencies that make up a band of sound.

Composition: A piece of music written and arranged by a composer.

Demo: An inexpensively produced recording that demonstrates a musician’s ability.

Discography: A complete list of the recordings of a performer or producer.

Download: The process of copying an electronic file, often a song or an album, from the Internet to a computer.

Genre: A category of music, i.e. rap, country, rock, jazz.

Gig: A musical performance, usually live.

Lyrics: The words of a song.

MIDI: Acronym for musical instrument digital interface; allows for the connection of musical instruments and computers.

Mix: To blend tracks electronically for a recording.

Reverb: Sound created by many reflections in a small space.

Session: The time spent in a recording studio.

Track: A band or recorded sound on magnetic tape.

For More Information

For information about the professional associations that serve musicians and songwriters, contact the following organization:

American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers

One Lincoln Plaza

New York, NY 10023-7129

Tel: 212-621-6000

http://www.ascap.org

For information on music education as it relates to careers in the music and entertainment industries, contact

Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association

1900 Belmont Boulevard

Nashville, TN 37212-3757

Tel: 615-460-6946

Email: [email protected]

http://www.meiea.org

For industry information, contact

National Association of Record Industry Professionals

PO Box 2446

Toluca Lake, CA 91610-2446

Tel: 818-769-7007

Email: [email protected]

http://www.narip.com

Visit this Web site to read about efforts to support the recording industry, and to check out links to many music and recording-related sites.

The Recording Academy

3402 Pico Boulevard

Santa Monica, CA 90405-2118

Tel: 310-392-3777

http://grammy.org

For facts and statistics about the recording industry, visit the RIAA’s Web site.

Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)

1330 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 300

Washington, DC 20036-1725

Tel: 202-775-0101

http://www.riaa.com

See Also


Broadcasting; Film; Music; Radio; Television; Artist and Repertoire Workers; Audio Recording Engineers; Broadcast Engineers; Composers and Arrangers; Film and Television Directors; Music Conductors and Directors; Music Agents and Scouts; Musicians; Music Producers; Music Venue Owners and Managers; Music Video Directors and Producers; Music Video Editors; Pop/Rock Musicians; Singers; Songwriters

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