What do you need to make music?



Ask this question 100, 50 or even 15 years ago and the answer would be almost unchanged – instruments, singers, and trained musicians to play the instruments; it could be an individual doing all the singing and playing, but they'd be limited to one instrument at a time. However, the advent of computers and the progress of technology has turned that idea on its head.

What impact has technology had on audio recording?

If you wanted to listen to music before the late 1800s, there was no way to record sound. You could only listen live. Thomas Edison invented the world's first phonograph in 1877. Since then a wide range of technology has been invented to improve the sound quality and convenience of use.

Before the 1960s if you wanted your music recorded you had to go into a studio with specialist recording equipment. This was expensive and usually only for those with the backing of a music company who were interested in making money out of the recording. If you hadn't been 'discovered' there were no ways to record your work.

The invention tape recorders allowed people to record more than one track of audio at a time in their own homes. This helped bands make simple recordings and send them to radio stations or record companies in the hope they would play them and then pay for them to record in a proper studio.

In the 1970's and 80's the demo tape became the way of getting new music heard and hopefully recording contracts would result. Personal computers and music software have changed home recording forever.

How have computers changed music for the fan?

For the fan, traditionally recorded music had high production costs (Vinyl records, CDs, tapes) and buying them therefore cost a lot of money. To build up a good record collection could cost £100s and £1000s of pounds. Then there was the issue of storing them. Vinyl records got damaged easily, CDs and boxes take up a lot of space.

With the change to music being saved and delivered and played back in a digital format as a computer file or portable mp3 music player or mobile phone, it is not necessary to even store the audio data file on the computer to be able to listen to it. There is no physical item requiring manufacture such as the CD disc or the packing/ cover art. This has allowed the price to decrease for music fans.

Where a 7" vinyl record or CD single may have cost £4-5, the digital version would be less than £1. For an album you might expect to pay £13-14 for the CD or Vinyl version, the digital download may be less than half that.

Changing listening habits


iPod connected to noise cancelling headphones

In the past, finding a particular song or album by an artist could involve going to lots of different record stores and searching around for what you wanted. You might have needed to order records which could take some time to arrive if the shop did not have them.

The rise of music on the internet has meant that a consumer has the ability to access millions of songs and artists quickly and easily from their computer, and in many cases instantly download the song or songs they want to their computer. This is changing the face of the recording industry completely, not to mention how the big studios attempt to make money from the consumer. Increasingly musicians have their own recording facilities at home and record themselves in isolation for their audio track to be assembled into a recording featuring other musicians that may never have even met.

How have computers changed music for the musicians?

Today if you want to make music all you need is a computer with music production software and the time to experiment. You don't need years of musical training in a particular instrument or other people to produce a layered sound with different instruments all playing together. In fact, many number one hits have been produced from home in someone's bedroom, with little or no musical training on their own.

Music making software allows you to replicate the sound of many different instruments without physically needing the instrument and makes getting sounds out of them as easy as pressing keys and choosing notes. You can create a sequence with one instrument, duplicate it, loop it, layer another sound on top, all from your computer.

Some artists only use 'electronic' sounds from their computer to compose new music. Many think this a new phenomenon but early musical pioneers of the digital age where around back in the 1960s and 1970s – Kraftwerk, Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Brian Eno, Afrika Bambaatta being among the early adopters.

You no longer need a big studio to back your record, pay for LPs or CDs to be pressed or finance expensive studio time. You can manage, market and sell your music entirely over the internet without the up-front backing in terms of money for stock and productions costs that so many bands from the past needed to 'make it'.


Musicians now potentially have the entire world as their market, not just the local shops they can persuade to take their music. The internet has opened up all sorts of new markets to sell and share; MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, iTunes – can all be used to promote music, and fans can download from wherever they are in the world.

Copyright Theft:

The rise of the internet and the ability to access music easily has not been all good. Many sites and software have been created to enable users to share music. This means that you can access people's intellectual property, their music, and download it to your computer free of charge. This is against the law as this music has copyright attached to it, either controlled by the artist or a company that owns the music rights. The ease of sharing audio (and other files) has sometimes created problems with copyright and the licence to use material that users have not paid for.

A number of companies provide streaming services with subscriptions so the record companies get some money for the online sharing of their music. These are increasingly popular but the illegal file sharing of files continue. Napster, the first service to offer music file sharing in the late 1990s had 80 million users but had to stop because of the legal problems linked to the music it offered . Spotify, the biggest subscription service running currently has 15 million, only 4 million of those paying.

  • Steve Levine Part 1

    Running time: 01:16

  • Steve Levine Part 2

    Running time: 02:14

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