We’re living in an age where we can write and record whole songs on mobile devices that fit in the palms of our hands. But how did we get here and what other technical innovations have helped propel rock and pop into the twenty first century?
1. The Electric Guitar
The first electric guitars weren’t designed to shred the ears but simply to compete with the horn sections in swing bands. In the late 40s and early 50s guitar pioneers Leo Fender and Les Paul experimented with different solid body designs resulting in the classic shapes of the Fender Telecaster and the Gibson Les Paul. The 60s saw artists like Hendrix, Cream, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin pushing the boundaries beyond amplification to embrace power and distortion; rock music had arrived.
The original way of recording was to get everyone around a single microphone and aim for as good a take as possible. With the arrival of the 2 and then 4 track it became possible to try new things, not just to record a performance but to enhance it with overdubs. By the time the 70s rolled around there were at least 16 tracks and a license to go nuts. The opera section of Bohemian Rhapsody is actually sung only by Freddie Mercury, Brian May and Roger Taylor, multi-tracked into a massive thunderbolts and lightening choir. Since the mid 90s pretty much everything has been recorded digitally through systems like ProTools and now the only real track limit is determined by the speed of your computer and the space on your harddrive.
3. Synth love
We’re going to skip straight to the modern synthesizer. Bob Moog (popfact- it’s pronounced Mogue) released his first commercial synth in 1965. This machine wasn’t trying to recreate acoustic instruments but could be pushed into sounding like nothing ever heard before. Fast forward to the 80s and the synthesizer had not only inspired a generation of music makers but, with the introduction of its drum machine siblings, had also spawned its own genre- Synthpop.
Taking a distinct element of another song (beat, bass line, riff etc.) and working it into a whole new creation. Contrary to popular belief it doesn’t just happen in the Hip hop, dance and r’n’b genres. In 2011, an Australian going by the unlikely name of Goyte recorded a song featuring an obscure Brazilian jazz guitar sample as its main riff and promptly scored a worldwide hit with a new song called “Somebody That I Used to Know”.
5. DAW to DAW
The introduction of computers through the 80s and 90s brought new possibilities to music making. The coupling of computer based digital recording using systems like Pro Tools and the introduction of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface – a system that allowed synths and computers to talk to each other) brought about the birth of what is now known as the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)- your all in one computer solution to recording the next rock or pop hit. In 2001, Daniel Beddingfield released his first single “Gotta Get Thru This“, a UK number one notable for the fact that he had written and recorded the whole thing in his bedroom using a laptop.
These days, you can do many of these things on your mobile device (and there are some pretty good guitar tools to boot). What will be the next big innovation to change rock and pop?