Audio Recording History

Old vs New Audio

The Audio recording history time? From the very first sound duplication in 1877, to iTunes and MP3, it has been a fascinating journey.  Think about the implications, if you had lived in the early days of recording history.  You’d have wondered, as we do now about certain technologies, whether this was even a good idea.  After all, wouldn’t recordings put radio stations out of business? Apparently not.  And wouldn’t the MP3 put CDs and vintage vinyl out to pasture?

Audio Recording History

Apparently not, since both are still chugging along and vinyl as well as analogue methods of recording, are making a small but strong come back.  Read all the history below and you’ll have a complete picture of the evolution of recorded music.

Audio recording history came into the public discourse in 1877, when Thomas Edison came up with a tin foil covered tube or cylinder that could record sounds. He recorded his speaking voice by use of a stylus making indentations on a foil cylinder.

But a German US immigrant, Emile Berliner, invented the gramophone; the first widely used sound equipment, about ten years after Edison introduced the tin foil contraption. Sadly, Edison is credited with inventing the Gramophone. Berliner’s invention was on the market in 1889. It was the first to record sound onto a disc.

In the late 1890s the first recording artists’ music was available on 7 inch records or discs: The John Phillip Sousa Band, operas, ragtime, musical comedy, and a speech called “Hope”. The hand cranked gramophone machines were replaced with a clockwork record player at the end of this decade.

Through patent disputes over the next decades, Columbia emerged to record the first jazz (Dixieland) in 1917, and vocals of Bessie Smith and similar artists. Many of the first artists recorded by Columbia were African Americans, but not all. Also in 1917, the Victor company recorded the first orchestral music. This was the beginning of a long competition between Columbia and Victor. Victor filled the role of serious music while Columbia had the corner on popular music.

Mixing Board

In 1925 recording history took a monumental turn, when the first electric recordings were made through the Western Electric recording system, by both Victor and Columbia. Electric recordings far surpassed the earlier discs in sound quality and durability.

Victor and Columbia continued to compete with Big Band Music recordings– Guy Lombardo, Rudy Vallee and lesser known artists. Many of the talented players and singers switched between the two companies. The 30’s brought swing: Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and many more.

Many smaller companies worldwide also made recordings through the 20s and 30s. A company named Gennett was the first to record famous names like Jelly Roll Morton, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Louis Armstrong, The Mills Brothers and Burl Ives.

The crash of Wall Street and the radio virtually killed recorded music which resulted negative for audio recording history at the time. People did not see a reason to buy records when they could hear the same thing free on the radio. Most recordings were by European artists during this phase.

The Abbey Road EMI studio in London opened in 1931. It was the first studio to record in stereo. The studio was the largest in the world, and used the electronic recording methods, the binaural sound invented by Alan Blumlein.

Audio Recording History

By the mid 30s Decca Records of London recorded what was called “canned music”, and opened a subsidiary in the US. Their artists, including Bing Crosby, Guy Lombardo, the Dorsey Brothers, the Mills Brothers, and several other pop singers and musicians, made them a great success. Victor kept going with classical music, considered the only record company to sell “serious”, i.e. classical and opera music.

By the time the US entered the 2nd World War, virtually all American record sales were by Victor, Decca and Columbia.

Then in 1942 the musicians’ union instigated a ban on recorded music, because the artists were not being paid for the music that was played continually on radio, live, and on records. They wanted, and of course got, royalties for each time a song or piece was sold on a record, played in public, or over the airwaves.

By 1944 the record companies agreed to pay, though they tired to fight royalties. Their resistance again virtually killed the record business. During this time, Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore and Frank Sinatra were big stars, and were not members of the union, so they continued to record.

Around 1948 tape recorders came into use. In the US, the Ampex tape recorder taped shows such as the Bing Crosby Show, audio and visual, with 3m acetate tapes.

The 40s brought the successful MGM and Mercury Records. Also, in 1948, the LP (long play) was introduced. It was high-fidelity, made with grooves on vinyl. Even now, this technology has never been surpassed, in the ears of record aficionados. The 45s and 331/3rd rpm records brought the death of 78s in 1958.

The LP brought numerous small record labels with a vast array of musical talent.

In our modern era, 78s by artists such as Louis Armstrong, opera singers, or any other original recordings, especially jazz and blues (not fakes), fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars and are on par with a Picasso when contrasted with visual arts.

Jumping into the 1960, it was 1963 when Philips came out with cassette tape. It was 1/8th inch polyester tape. First used as a dictation machine by Norelco. Phillips had made a dent in the audio recording history books.


In 1966 the 8 track cartridge tape player was installed in cars in the US. The rest of the 8 tracks as they say, is history. They were not durable or popular for but a brief time in music recording history.

The rest of the 60s and 1970s, tape was still used to record music. 1979 was the beginning of digitally produced music. It was recorded on a 32 track digital machine by 3M Corporation.

1982 was the start of audio CDs. As a result, this was an amazing addition to the audio recording history books. In the late 1990s a few giant companies controlled the recorded music sales. In 2001 the Apple iPod came out.

Music continues to be recorded on computer hard drives and there seems to be no need for tape recording in today’s world of innovations in computer technology.

That being said, there is a resurgence of interest in analogue and vinyl. For the past three years, on April 17th, Record Store Day is celebrated around the world, with groups like the Rolling Stones releasing records, and famous musicians performing live in indie record shops. Its part old hippies, and part 20 something’s that are driving the interest in the old sound. It is something you can hold in your hand, and since CD’s are passé there is a spot for the old records.


Who knows what the future holds for recording history. Or will it be about more people going out to hear live music. Now that would be a real change. Seeing live people playing live music. That is the best sound quality of all, and can only be played again in the memory of your own ears.

What did you think about the audio recording history?

Below you’ll find a song recorded in a home studio.

No Name Demo Production and Recording (Breakdown)