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From Wheat To Bread: Music Recording Then And Now

By Madelaine De Leon

The Beatles at Abbey Road Studios 1967

Listening to a song is like getting to know a person. At first listen, you might fall head over heels in love with them. You might hate them with such a fiery passion that you spend most of your hours whinging about them to your closest of friends. The song might grow on you overtime and finally get added to that secret Spotify playlist that gets put on repeat.

Lyricism and music production, the bread and butter of music, have become the underdogs of music journalism. More and more these days its the artists' aesthetic and brand that are put on the forefront of coverage. Which leads us to the question are we listening to music 'with our eyes' now more than ever? Unless you have synesthesia it seems obvious that music is a feast for the ears. Yet we often ignore the unsung heroes of the industry - those behind the scenes.

At Livewire, we’ll be delving into how a song comes to be and discuss the process of production and lyrics through this new column, ‘Wheat to Bread’ sorry Coeliacs! For this first instalment of WTB (getting the acronym out there now), we’ll be covering the basic history of the music recording industry and its morph into the industry we know today.

'Victor' - Once a housename name in vinyl records

Since the 1890s, people have been recording music to sell to audiences with the popularisation of the Edison’s invention of the Gramophone (1877) leading to (for those who could afford it) the ability to listen in your own home. For you kids who don’t know what a Gramophone is, it’s basically a super retro record player. Despite this, even beyond the 1930’s, musicians still relied on their live performances in vaudeville and theatres to make a living from gig to gig (which is still the case very much now).

Fast forward to 1977 and there were ten major record labels such as EMI, CBS, and Polygram on which musicians heavily relied on. The use music cassettes took off in the 1960’s replacing vinyl records and lead to the start of music piracy. Bootleggers could record vinyl records cheaply onto cassete disks and share them, whereas in the past it was extremely impractical to press vinyl records in your own home; it was cheaper to just buy the record. Then came the CD player released by Sony, Japan in 1982.

Billie Eilish released her 2019 album on cassette leading to a 15 year high in cassette sales

The death of the CD came in the 2000s with the arrival of the 'MP3' player and widespread internet access. Music piracy skyrocketed with the rise of the internet starting with sources like Limewire (RIP) and Napster. The rest as they say, is history.

Nowadays there are thousands upon thousands of record labels with both mainstream and independent (Yay!) records getting music produced. Music is on a tipping scale with less people buying physical copies where streaming apps such as Spotify and Apple Music are grabbing the spotlight. 2017 was the year that streaming services such as YouTube and Vevo made '54% of overall revenue at $213 million'. On the other side of the stream, more and more people are harking back to more organic retro listening styles birthing record store days and a vinyl revival.

Indepedent musicians these days don’t have to even go to a record label, let alone leave their own bedroom, in order to produce killer music due to the increase of technology (i.e. Laptops, MIDI, DAW Programs) changing the way music sounds and increasing individuality from artists producing music themselves and posting on YouTube, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp. Yet some as artists such as EDM producer Deadmau5 claim that it has led to the 'saturation' of the industry with 'stylistically similar music'.

Billie Eilish's 'Ocean Eyes' was originally uploaded to SoundCloud in 2015 leading to her discovery by record label Interscope at age 15. Artists like Clairo and Rex Orange County popularizing a new wave of music entitled, Bedroom Pop. With the rise of streaming, music is now free and open to the public with musicians relying on live performance as their main source of income.

As for the future of music, who knows? What’s for certain is it’s never going away.

Tune in next time as we look at how music is mixed, recorded and mastered, and then written to CD, pressed on vinyl and uploaded to the cloud.



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