TimeLine of Music and Media Technology

compilation and copyright by The Media Management Group

last updated July 26, 2015

The history of music and media technology has responded to the desire for better methods of reproduction and transmission of sound and video, while at the same time such new technologies have stimulated the marketplace for music and media products; Changes in technologies and marketplaces have had side-effects that affected how to compensate the owners of intellectual properties and their publishers while at the same time promoting the public's right to choose via free trade and free exchange of culture. This history has included struggles over patent rights, copyright protection, technology standards, trade unions and industry monopolies. This history is still evolving as changes continue in music styles, content diversity, storage media, transmission methods and digital encryption laws.

But one trend over the last 175 years is unmistakable: more people now have more access to more types of music and media using technologies that provide more choices and more faithful sound and video quality than ever before in the history of the world. And this trend of improvements in quality, access and diversty is expected to continue.

1840 - 1899

During the 19th Century the "parlor piano" was a primary medium of entertainment. The technologies of player piano rolls and sheet music sold by music publishers brought amateur pianists, guitarists and vocalists in-home entertainment. Church music was also a magnet for the faithful masses who enjoyed a weekly meeting singing hymns to the accompaniment of a harmonium, piano or organ. Professional live theater, musical theater, orchestra concerts, band concerts, touring musical recitals and minstrel shows (and its later cousin Vaudeville) were the mass mediums of secular entertainment. During the period between 1877 and 1899 the basic technology was developed for recording and playing back sound. At first, it was more a business tool (for taking dictation) and a public curiousity, rather than a mass distribution medium, since no commercial duplication system had yet been invented. The original Edison system of cylinder recording was the first. But Berliner's flat disk system held promise for mass distribution. Both systems suffered from non-standard speeds and acoustic recording and playback. The heavy styluses (phonograph and gramophone needles) used for playback destroyed recordings after a limited number of plays. Fidelity and surface noise were abominable, but it was a start of the "talking machine" technology which was originally thought to be useful for business in the way dictation machines eventually were. The typewriter is invented and the most long-lasting brands feature the QWERTY keyboard layout. This layout slows down the typist and minimizes "sticking" -- where the typebars would collide and stick together. (The same QWERTY layout is used years later on computer keyboards because by now it is universally used for typing Latin character sets.)

1900 - 1924

In the first 25 years of the 20th century, mass duplication made the record industry possible. The first "big three" labels were Edison, RCA Victor, and Columbia, because they held the most patents on the technologies. During this period, a shakeout revealed disks to be the winner over cylinders. The Westrex system of electrical recording (and other systems which followed) created a notable advance over previous acoustical horn recordings. As radio broadcasting began, the future for record players may have looked somewhat grim. But as in the introduction of all new technologies, a place was found for both the old and the new technologies in the culture.

1925 - 1949

Further advances in recording technology continued to improve the quality of analog sound reproduction. Radio was now the prime entertainment medium in the home, but it had not killed the record industry. Instead, it was becoming a partner as radios containing record players were selling more of both. And musicians benefited temporarily by getting jobs in both recording and broadcasting fields.When advances in recording technology allowed broadcasters to began to combine the two (frequently playing records over the radio)...it eliminated many jobs for radio musicians and the musicians union fought a bitter losing battle. Toward the end of the period, the appearance of the long-playing and extended-play microgroove records signalled a format struggle that was to kill off the 78rpm record within a few years. (Admittedly this history is compiled from a U. S. perspective. Some parallel advances -- especially in the timeline of radio and TV broadcasting -- were introduced in Europe at different times, which are not included here.)

1950 - 1974

This 25-year period saw radical change in sound and broadcast technology, television, and magnetic tape -- revolutionizing these fields more than anyone might have dared dream during the previous 75 years. Many advances in digital electronics were due to the impetus of the "space race" -- which started with the Russian launch of Sputnik and the response by President John F. Kennedy to challenge NASA scientists to land a man on the moon within ten years. It was this cold war "race" which indirectly fostered the development of solid-state electronics to fit within space capsules, particularly the development of the integrated circuit (the IC) to hold thousands of transistors on a single "chip." Ultimately this led to Large-Scale Integrated circuits (LSI's.) LSI's made possible micro-processors and memory "chips." This U. S. government program made possible commercial "spin-offs" including digital calculators and micro-computers -- which are now called "Personal Computers (PC's) and Personal Digital Assistants (PDA's) and the many "embedded systems" which are found in everything from microwave ovens to automobiles. Another U. S. government program created by the Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) to connect university research labs was called "The DARPANET." This led to another useful spinoff which we now call "The Internet."

1975 - 1999

The last 25 years of the 20th Century saw the emergence of the "digital revolution" in which digital technology affected most of our lives directly or indirectly. This revolution changed the way all mediums of sound and video are recorded and played back. It has all but wiped out the sales of analog record and tape formats of the past. Ahead are several questions: How will the controversy over internet file swapping be resolved? What new challenges and problems will digital copy protection schemes create? How soon will HDTV (High-Definition Television) make analog TV broadcasting obsolete?

Since 2000

The first few years of the 21st Century has seen the Internet become "a global computing platform" for communication, information exchange and entertainment (not to mention worlwide mischief.) The U.S. and some European countries become increasingly dependent upon Internet communication, data and economic transfers, as well as many new opportunities for global trade. But some worry this is creating unseen vulnerabilities to these economies as well as to personal financial and private information -- all of which will need to be addressed in the not-too-distant future. Here is what has happened so far, and is scheduled to happen....

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