Music Teachers 12 April, 2021

A Brief History of Music Production

The first known audio recording was made in 1860, and a lot has changed in 160 years! This week we’ll be delving into the history of music production, and thinking about how general trends have changed along the way.

Make music, not war

The two World Wars in the first half of the twentieth century accelerated advancements in technology across the world as nations competed to one-up each other. Radio communication played a key role in the military, and it was only a matter of time before it was commercialised, with families turning to their radios as the main source of entertainment.

The first radio advertisement was rolled out in 1923, and music became increasingly popular during the bleakness of WWII. The increase in advertising on radio meant that stations now had larger budgets, and could pay for music with their newly acquired funds.

As music became more widely available and popular, it was inevitably commercialised. Big record labels held a monopoly on the music industry, and arguably still do, albeit to a lesser extent. Labels would identify potentially successful artists on their way to the top and provide them with the necessary resources to record their music in the hopes that some of the artists would become stars.

However, this is becoming an increasingly outdated paradigm as increasing numbers of artists are recording and producing their own music. Not only this, but even the way that people record and produce has changed.

Moving away from the studio

Arguably the most significant change in music production is that artists no longer require a studio to record. Previously, sessions at recording studios would take place at great expense. Music would be recorded in a live performance while producers simultaneously mixed the music.

As technology rapidly evolved in the 50s and 60s, there was a shift from live-mixing to multitrack recording. This meant that recordings could now be mixed after the initial session had ended, and that parts could be recorded on individual tracks before being mixed and compiled into one holistic tune.

A base track featuring the rhythm section could now be recorded in an initial session before vocals were recorded and added in over the top. Horns and string sections could also be recorded separately in separate takes. The ability to record multiple takes has revolutionised studio time for musicians, and made a meticulous, perfectionist approach possible.

The role of the music producer

Advances in technology are undoubtedly influential, and the music producer’s role has changed during that time too. The artist formerly relied on the producer to provide a critical eye and know the technical side of recording but they were expected to keep a distance from the creative process. This has now changed, as artists can produce their own material independently, and producers can be just as important to the creative process as band members.

Quincy Jones is one of the most successful producers and band leaders of all time. When working with Frank Sinatra, Sinatra would often introduce Quincy to the audience to ensure he received appropriate recognition for his efforts. This was a pivotal moment in celebrating the producer’s importance, as artists sought to collaborate with producers just as much as other bands and singers.

historic poster showing the famous music producer Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones is one of the biggest names in production, working with everyone from Michael Jackson to Count Basie.

Sometimes the producer will even overshadow the artist, and the singer or band that formerly hogged the limelight will be a secondary attraction to the producer. Timbaland produced some of the biggest hits of the 00s and released two albums under his own name.

The albums, ‘Shock Value’ and ‘Shock Value II’, featured the likes of Nelly Furtado, Justin Timberlake, and OneRepublic. Although by the release of ‘Shock Value II’ Timbaland had fallen slightly behind the likes of David Guetta in the production stakes, his name as the primary artist on the album pointed to the newfound importance and creative power displayed by producers.

Read more about some of the most influential music producers of the 21st century

Honey, I shrunk the studio
The size of the technology needed to record successful albums has radically decreased over time. There is now no need for an elaborate studio, and artists can mix and even create music on laptops.

DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) rule the roost now, and put the laptop at the core of music production for the time being at least. Streaming is the main way in which we hear new music, and the internet is the main channel through which it is distributed. But this may change sooner than we think…

all covers of the music production books

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