Lentis/The Proliferation of Music Production Capability


Digital technology and computers have revolutionized the world, and the production of music is no exception. Over the past three decades there has been an explosion of music production equipment that has changed the face of the music industry. This chapter discusses how the power of who can create and produce music has shifted from big recording studios to an average individual over the last 60 years. It will also address how society has changed its views of talent due to the changing technology in the music industry.

Early HistoryEdit

Les Paul Live at Iridium Jazz Club in New York City in October 2008

Les PaulEdit

The impact of Les Paul forever changed the way in which music is recorded and produced since 1950 [1]. As one of the first performers to recognize the potential of multitrack recording as a music creation device, Paul opened the music industry to endless possibilities. Paul produced "Lover", his first single using multiple track recording on acetate discs in 1948. The song consisted of 8 individual tracks, where the tracks were "laid" on top of each other sequentially. The tracks could only be recorded one at a time, which meant that if Paul made an error, the entire disk would be scrapped due to the fact that you can not erase on an acetate disk. Artists had to be perfect while recording, for any error on a track could not be changed or erased.

Magnetic Tape RecordingEdit

With the introduction of "magnetic tape" by "Jack Mullin" and "Bing Crosby into the music industry in 1947, artists now had more flexibility while recording tracks [2]. The tracks were still being physically recorded on top of each other as with acetate disks, so if the artist mess up that section of track was lost, however the artist could cut and paste different tapes together from different recordings to produce a finished product. There was still a high demand on the artists to record each track perfectly , however the artists no longer had to do it all in one sitting.

Digital MusicEdit

Digital Editing and Recording EquipmentEdit

One of the most pivotal changes in the production of music came from the development of improved electronics and computers in the late 1970's, which allowed the creation of the Digital Audio Workstation and digital editing software. This new generation of audio equipment was able to not only record and mix audio, but was also able to add synthetic sounds into the recording, all without the use of audio tape. The digital audio workstation was first introduced in the early 1980’s with the Synclavier, a custom built workstation that was used by many influencial artists including Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, and Michael Jackson. Its usefulness was immediately recognized as it was able to create bright, clear samples and synthesize sounds[3]. This equipment was prohibitively expensive, and it was not until 1985 when the Ensoniq Mirage was introduced that this workstation technology was available to any musician.
The Synclavier 1

Introduction of ComputersEdit

Simultaneously, the development of digital editing software started with the proliferation of newer, faster desktop computers. Programs such as Replay Professional, introduced in 1988, were compatible with the Atari ST system and allowed personal sound sampling and editing. As computers have improved, so has the power and availability of digital editing software. Modern digital software such as Pro Tools, Steinberg’s Cubase, and Garageband has the ability to record, edit, mix, fade, fix mistakes, and implement filters that can add effects to an existing audio file. Furthermore, many can provide synthetic sounds and effects that are only possible in the digital domain. Some artists say this perfection is a not an improvement, but a burden. Jack White of The White Stripes described Pro Tools as “highly inappropriate to record music…it’s too easy to correct mistakes, too easy to fix things. We hear this sort of clean perfection that’s been applied to all the tracks.” [4].

Independent ProductionEdit

Previous to the mid-2000’s this technology was exclusive to recording studios, however now this software is increasingly available for use by any musician with a modern computer. Many programs are made non-commercially and are distributed for free, and the program "GarageBand" comes installed with every Mac and has the ability to record or create entirely new tracks with recorded clips, but with no actual instruments. The demand and use of digital audio software has greatly increased, with sales going from $140 million in 1999 to $500 million in 2008 [5]. With the redistribution of this software, any musician is able to record, mix, edit, and add synthetic effects without the need of a professional studio. As a result, many musicians have elected to simply bypass the studio and create the music on their own and then pass it off to a producer. Tony Berg, a veteran producer of the Los Angeles area, estimates that around 80% of his musician clients make their music at home and then hand the product off to him[6]. Furthermore, it is estimated the over half of the recording studios in Los Angeles California have gone out of business because they no longer possess a specialized service[7]. Clearly, the availability of this software has shifted the power of production from the studio to the individual, allowing musicians to create music for less cost and less hassle. Also, this freedom from the studio has advantages as well, where musicians can record and create their music whenever an idea strikes, allowing a flexibility that works well with the spontaneous nature of musical inspiration. Lastly, the software allows new audio effects and filters that were impossible before digital editing software, adding a new dimension to music production and aiding in the creation of entirely new genres of music.

The Idea of TalentEdit

The proliferation of this technology has an incredible effect upon the idea of "musical talent", in that it allows individuals without a particular physical ability to create music. For example, in the past on had to learn how to play a guitar for years to produce an entire song, however with modern technology, these chords are pre-recorded and can then be organized into an entire composition. Furthermore, the corrective abilities of Auto-Tune allow individuals without perfect voices to change and correct their voices until they sound almost inseparable from an ideal sound. In this manner, digital editing technology has created a new category of musical talent. Whereas historically musical talent has been dictated by physical limitations, it is now also possible for people with a mental ability to understand the mechanics of music to compose their own work, and in some cases have it rival the songs of their physical superiors on the billboards. As this technology develops and becomes even more refined, it will further stretch the definition of what musical talent truly is, blurring the line between instrumental musical creation and digital file composing.


Auto-tune was created in 1997 by Dr. Harold (Andy) Hildebrand, a geophysical research scientist [8]. Hildebrand then founded Antares, for the production and distribution of the Auto-Tune software as well as other digital signal processing (DSP) software. Auto-tune is software that uses correlating and predicting mathematical equations that can move pitch while still preserving the original sound quality produced. Hildebrand’s intent with for the software was that it be used for slight changes in pitch that cannot be detected, even by the most trained ear [9]. The music industry has been using auto-tune in this exact way, relatively unnoticed, since its release in 1997. The more drastic the change is made the harder it is for the original sound quality to be preserved. The “zero-out” function on Antares’ software allows for instantaneous change in pitch and is not ideal when blending sound with original voices or instruments. It is known for adding a robotic tone to sounds. Producers avoided this function because it drew attention to the use of auto-tune, something they did not want, until Cher’s 1998 single “Believe”. Cher used the zero-out function outright, but the song still received major popularity and rose on the charts. The robotic effects of auto-tune didn’t become completely popular until the notoriety of hip-hop artist T-Pain. T-Pain became known for his nearly exclusive use of auto-tune on albums.
Auto-tune became mainstreamed at this point and two typical views of auto-tune took hold. The first, cynical view of auto-tune is that is a crutch. Often, people feel artists are not as talented because they don’t need to be because they can rely on auto-tune to do the work for them. Hildebrand combats this statement by saying that ‘cheating’ has always existed. It used to be in form of retakes, now it’s just been made easier. [10]. The second view on autotune is that it’s simply expanded the artistic capabilities of recording artists. Auto-tune offers a new venue through which artists can create music and the ease with which they can do it.
Auto-tune quickly became commercially available and then available for free download outside of Anatres. Auto-tune was made readily available to anyone who wanted, even available on an iPhone application “I Am T-Pain”. With auto-tune so readily available anyone could make auto-tuned music and create it out of anything. Possibly, most notorious is the group The Gregory Brothers. They take audio clips of people speaking and use auto-tune to turn them into songs. Their most popular venue is auto-tuning the news, but they also auto-tuned speeches and popular youtube videos.
Recently hip-hop artist Jay-Z condemned auto-tune in his latest single D.O.A (Death of Auto-tune). When he saw auto-tune used in a Wendy’s commercial he decided that auto-tune had lost all validity as an artistic tool. He says, "I just think in hip-hop, when a trend becomes a gimmick, it's time to move on.” [11] Though Jay-Z is known for being extremely influential in the hip-hop scene a negative backlash or decrease in the use of auto-tune has yet to be seen.

Further ResearchEdit

Further research that could be used to improve this chapter could include looking into how new cultures have arisen due to digital music, such as techno-rave and indie rock. The impact of individual artists who have changed the music scene using digital music, such as Girl Talk or Daft Punk, could also be explored.


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  2. Snyder, Ross H. Sel-Sync and the "Octopus": How came to be the first recorder to minimize successive copying in overdubs. "ARSC Journal", 34(2), 209. Retrieved from http://www.aes.org/aeshc/docs/sel-sync/snyder_sel-sync.pdf
  3. Synclavier European Services (2006) "Synclavier Early History". Retrieved from http://www.500sound.com/synclavierhistory.html
  4. Vinnecombe, C. (2009). Jack White to Record Solo Album in 2009. Music Radar. Retrieved from http://www.musicradar.com/news/guitars/jack-white-to-record-solo-album-in-2009-209392
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  6. Graham, J. (2009). Musicians Ditch Studios for Tech such as GiO for Macs "USA Today". Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2009-10-13-apogee-gio-music_N.htm
  7. Olivarez-Giles, N (2009). Recording Studios are being left out of the mix. "Los Angeles Times". Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2009/oct/13/business/fi-smallbiz-studios13
  8. Antares Audio Technologies. C. 2010. "Antares History." <http://www.antarestech.com/about/history.shtml>
  9. "Auto-Tune: Expert Q&A." NOVA. PBS, 07 July 2009. Web. 20 Nov. 2010. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/hildebrand-auto-tune.html>
  10. "Auto-Tune: Expert Q&A." NOVA. PBS, 07 July 2009. Web. 20 Nov. 2010. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/hildebrand-auto-tune.html>
  11. Reid, S (2009). Jay-Z Blames Wendy's Commercial -- Partially -- For His 'Death Of Auto-Tune'. “MTV News”. Retrieved from http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1613694/20090610/jay_z.jhtml