How Did Recording Technology Develop From the 1920s?

By the 1920s, the gramophone record had become the main and most used way of bringing music to a much wider audience, although it was soon to be joined by the newly developing medium of radio broadcasting. In order to compete, recording companies such as Imperial records and Arto records spurred on the development of jazz music to search out for new, unique and original music and find different artists who would be commercially successful and world wide famous.

Securing a recording contract with a widely known record label became an increasingly important and essential part of the business of making jazz records and performing jazz music (greatest hits of Jazz music in 1920). Record sales generated a much larger audience who came to hear the live performances which in turn offered a huge chance to secure bigger recording contracts, with other institutions and companies, later in their business.

Recording for the gramophone was originally an acoustic process involving the use of a large recording horn that would capture the vibrations of the sound and record them as patterns on a wax disc. This would then be used to produce a mould from which multiple copies could be stamped onto brittle discs made from a naturally occurring compound called shellac. A shellac record was limited to three minutes of music on each side, which forced musicians to organise their pieces more compactly than they would in a live situation. (watch on youtube how shellac records were made).

These early acoustic recordings suffered from problems of musical balance. The soloist (a person playing music or singing alone) had to be placed close to the recording horn to be heard, and drums and bass were difficult to record adequately - hence the reason why a tuba often replaced the double bass in the early years of recording.

Following the development of the first microphones suitable for music, electrical recording rapidly replaced the older acoustic method after 1925. The earliest works you are studying benefitted from this new process, although the end product was still a shellac disc with limited play time. Microphones improved in quality and were soon able to cope with the bigger bands of the 1930s.

The development of tape recording and the LP (long-playing) record in the late 1940s revolutionised the record industry. Each side of an LP record offered at least 20 minutes of uninterrupted playing time, allowing jazz musicians to develop their ideas over a much longer period. Tape recording was equally revolutionary since it became possible to edit and splice together sections recorded at different times, rather than always having to capture a complete performance in a single take. Furthermore, sound engineers could exercise better control of recording conditions, placing individual microphones in different positions so that the performance could be artificially balanced. This allowed instrumental combinations that would not be practical in a live situation. The work of the sound engineer also became increasingly important with the advent of stereo recording in the 1950s, towards the end of our period.

There was another device called a magnetic tape. This was developed in the 1930s during the time of World War 2. The magnetic tape uses the biasing technique. This technique works from a high-frequency that is inaudible for humans because it is from a range of 50 - 150 hertz. These hertz are added to the signal from the audio before it is put onto the head of the recording. The biasing technique changed sound quality and improved it dramatically when using a magnetic tape recording. This then moved on to the invention of stereo tape recordings in 1943.

However, the tape recorder that was solely based on analogue made it entirely possible for people to record over and erase any previous recordings that were made so that they could fix their mistakes and edit parts of songs. Additionally, analogue tapes could be cut up and joined back together, just like The Beatles used in their album Sgt Pepper. It meant that recordings could be edited and certain pieces of the song could be taken out and put back together in various different ways.

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Written By: Pippa Timmons (Stockport, United Kingdom)

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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

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