Music. Where would we be without it? It forms such an intrinsic part of our everyday life that it’s easy to take for granted, especially the incredible science and technology that makes it happen.
Beyond the artistry we connect with on an emotional level, there is a whole industry filled with gadgets, instruments and software that transforms the production and consumption of music.
This guide is presented by Audio-Technica and the new ATH-M50xBT Wireless Headphones, blending the coveted studio sound of the M50x with wireless, on-the-go design.
Here are just five of the most influential innovations that completely changed the game for music.
Created by Antares Audio Technologies and released in 1997, Auto-Tune is a processing effect designed to hide off-key vocal mistakes.
The pitch-correction technology works by subtly shifting notes to the nearest true semitone and has become standard practice in the industry, particularly for live performances (although not without controversy).
Far from being a discreet trick of the trade, Auto-Tune soon took on a life of its own as a deliberate effect to noticeably distort voice pitch, creating that distinctive, robotic sound made famous by Cher’s Believe and, later, by the likes of T-Pain and Kanye West.
Nowadays, the proprietary software Auto-Tune sits in an exclusive club with the likes of Google and Hoover as brand names so ubiquitous they became generic terms.
In the era of smartphones and streaming, it’s often forgotten just how influential the iPod truly was upon its 2001 release, following in the footsteps of the Sony Walkman that came before it.
The OG iPod had an iconic design with its click wheel and – at the time – a revolutionary 5GB of storage allowing you to take your entire music library on the go, organised alphabetically, into playlists or randomly using shuffle.
With it came iTunes, seamlessly importing CDs and, a couple of years later, selling digital downloads so you’d never be without your favourite tunes.
Soon, the iPhone came and surpassed its predecessor in sales, with Apple eventually phasing out most iPod models, but its undeniable legacy lives on as the gadget that changed everything, from the music and advertising industries to consumer electronics and everything in between.
The internet era brought in digital downloads and with it, the death of the CD, the arrival of Napster and the rise of peer-to-peer file sharing. The music industry was so slow to react – at one point claiming piracy funded terrorism – that many questioned whether it could ever recover.
Fast forward to 2018 and there are an estimated 229.5 million people around the world subscribing to streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music (other services are available, shout out Tidal).
Record labels are making billions, clunky libraries of CDs and MP3s are being replaced with instant access to millions of songs for a monthly fee and streaming has been widely credited as saving the industry.
There have been concerns over the share of streaming royalties going to artists, with influential figures like Taylor Swift withholding their music for fairer payouts, but in this long game, a lifetime of streaming revenue will eventually out perform a one-off CD purchase for most artists.
Beyond the financial and technological changes, streaming has also had a big impact on the creation of music itself, as playlists, algorithms and play counts have become the standard measurements of success. That may explain why so many songs sound the same in 2018 – don’t worry, you’re not getting old.
In many ways, synthesizers have laid the foundations for modern pop music as we know it. Pioneered by Robert Moog over 50 years ago, synths are electronic instruments that give musicians an entire soundscape to work with, essentially imitating traditional acoustic instruments.
From The Beatles in the ‘60s and synth pop stars of the ‘80s, right through to Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and beyond, the synth has evolved right along with the musical trends of each decade, as artists and producers experiment with limitless sound possibilities.
Walk through any city and you’ll see wireless headphones everywhere, but this technology has been over 100 years in the making.
Electrician Nathaniel Baldwin is widely credited as the mastermind behind headphones, apparently creating the original prototype in his kitchen in 1910 using earpieces from a telephone and copper wiring.
The US Navy eventually ordered a batch in anticipation of war and the rest, as they say, is history.