Before the current crop of streaming services, before the iPod, portable CD players and even before the Sony Walkman and mass-produced vinyl records, you had to go to a concert hall to hear music. Music was a luxury, performed by orchestras, and was therefore only as portable as all of the musicians. As technology has developed, however, it has influenced both our consumption of music and the production of music.
Enter Edison and the gramophone, the ancestor to what would be vinyl records. At the time, it was heralded as a wonder of the modern world, a wonderfully accurate reproduction of voice. Vinyl brought music to the masses: It could be mass-produced cheaply and offered high sound accuracy. The accuracy of vinyl — and the reason that audiophiles still prefer it — is because a compact disc reproduces a continuous signal, whereas there are infinite values within which to create sound on a vinyl record.
When music reached the age of cassette tapes, we had applied math to sample music accurately enough so that there was no theoretical difference between the discrete signal stored on magnetic tape and the indentations on the grooves of a record. Music of the time reflected this change: Just think of the musical difference between the sounds of the ’60s and the sounds of the early ’80s. I’ve heard many references to the difference in audio quality from cassette to early CDs, a difference that most certainly affected the production of music at the time.
What changed between a CD and a MP3? They’re the same, right? The simple answer is no. The math necessary to store music on a CD and an MP3 are similar, but an MP3 requires something more, something commonly referred to as a codec. I claim that the music of today is written rhythmically and sonically to be accurately captured by the math of MP3. We have entered a point where the music adapts to technology, not the other way around, a notion that may threaten the art of music.