Music technology (electronic and digital)

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Music production using a digital audio workstation (DAW) with multi-monitor set-up
For electric music technologies, see Music technology (electric)

Music technology is any electronic or digital technology, such as a computer, an electronic effects unit or software, that is used by a musician or composer to help make or perform music.[1] The term usually refers to the use of electronic devices and computer software to facilitate the performance, playback, recording, composition, storage, mixing, analysis and editing of music.

Music technology is connected to both artistic and technological creativity. Musicians are constantly striving to devise new forms of expression through music, and physically creating new devices and software to enable them to do so. Although in the 2010s, the term is most commonly used in reference to modern electronic devices such as digital audio workstations and Protools digital sound recording software, electronic and digital musical technologies have precursors in the electric music technologies of the early 20th century, such as the electromechanical Hammond organ invented in 1929. In the 2010s, the ontological range of music technology has greatly increased, and it may now be electronic, digital, software-based or indeed even purely conceptual.


Professional training[edit]

Music technology is taught at many different educational levels, including college and university. The study of music technology is usually concerned with the creative use of technology for recording, programming, manipulation, mixing and reproduction of music. Music technology programs train students for careers in "...sound engineering, computer music, audio-visual production and post-production, mastering, scoring for film and multimedia, audio for games, software development, and multimedia production."[2] Those wishing to develop new music technologies normally train to become an audio engineer working in R&D.[3]

Use in music education[edit]

In the 2010s, electronic and digital music technologies are widely used to assist in music education for training students in college and university music programs. Electronic keyboard labs are used for cost-effective beginner group piano instruction in colleges and universities.


Early pioneers included Luigi Russolo, Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henry, Edgard Varèse and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Music technology has been and is being used in many modernist and contemporary experimental music situations to create new sound possibilities.

Synthesizers and drum machines[edit]

A milestone in electronic instrument development was the invention of the transistor in 1947. With this new miniaturized component, it was possible to make synthesizers much more portable and complex. A new breed of synthesizers appeared, mainly in America. These were capable of producing a vast range of complex sounds; Later versions often incorporated automatic rhythm units (drum machines) . In the 1970s the American domination of the market was relinquished to the Japanese.[4]

Robert Moog's Synthesizer designs in the 60s were a significant advancement in the field over its predecessors. This was partially owed to new technologies that became available, such as the newly developed semiconductors. These new instruments were less expensive and became available world-wide. They had more popularity than any synthesizer from the past.

The release of Wendy Carlos' album Switched-On Bach in 1968 brought Moog's synthesizer to the general public's attention. The album demonstrated that besides creating strange sounds, the synthesizer could be used to make beautiful music.

Some of the most iconic synthesizer include the Moog Minimoog, ARP Odyssey, Yamaha CS-80, Korg MS-20, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, Fairlight CMI, PPG Wave, Roland TB-303, Yamaha DX7, Roland Alpha Juno, and the Korg M1.[5]

Drum machines[edit]

Sly and the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On started a new era, that of the drum machine. However, it was not the first album to use one. Drum machines have been around since 1949 with the Chamberlin Rhythmate. Drum Machines create sound by playing back prerecorded samples at a rhythm that is programmed by a musician. Early drum Machines sounded drastically different than the drum machines that gained peak popularity in the 80s and defined an entire decade of pop music. Some iconic drum machines include the Alesis HR-16, Korg Mini Pops 120, E-MU SP-12, Elektron SPS1 Machinedrum, Roland CR-78, PAiA Programmable Drum Set, Linn Electronics Linndrum, Roland TR-909, Oberheim DMX, and the Roland TR-808.[6]

Sampling technology[edit]

Digital sampling technology, introduced in the 1980s, has become a staple of music production in the 2000s. Devices that use sampling, record a sound digitally (often a musical instrument, such as a piano or flute being played), and replay it when a key or pad on a controller device (e.g., an electronic keyboard, electronic drum pad, etc.) is pressed or triggered. Samplers can alter the sound using various audio effects and audio processing. Sampling has its roots in France with the sound experiments carried out byMusique Concrete practitioners.

In the 1980s, when the technology was still in its infancy, digital samplers cost tens of thousands of dollars and they were only used by the top recording studios and musicians. These were out of the price range of most musicians. The first sampler released was the 8-bit Emulator Iin 1981. Its successor, the Emulator II (released in 1984) listed for $8,000.[7] Many samplers were released during this period with high price tags, such as the K2000 and K2500.

The first affordable sampler, the AKAI S612 became available in the mid 1980s and retailed for $895 US. Many other companies released affordable samplers around the same time, The Mirage Sampler, the Oberheim DPX-1, and even more by Korg, Casio, Yamaha, and Roland. Some important (hardware) samplers include the Akai Z4/Z8, Ensoniq ASR-10, Roland V-Synth, Casio FZ-1, Kurzweil K250, Akai MPC60, Ensoniq Mirage, Akai S1000, E-mu Emulator, and Fairlight CMI [8]

One of the biggest uses of sampling technology was by hip-hop music DJs and performers in the early 1980s. Before affordable sampling technology was readily available, DJs would use a technique pioneered by Grandmaster Flash to manually repeat certain parts in a song by juggling between two separate turntables. This can be considered as early precursor of sampling.

In the 2000s, most professional recording studios use digital technologies. In the 2010s, many samplers exist in the digital-only realm. This new generation of digital samplers are capable of reproducing and manipulating sounds. New genres of music have formed which would be impossible without sampling. Advanced sample libraries have made complete performances of orchestral compositions possible that sound similar to a live performance.[4] Modern sound libraries allow musicians to have the ability to use the sounds of almost any instrument in their productions.


See also: MIDI

At the NAMM show in Los Angeles of 1983, MIDI was released. A demonstration at the convention showed two previously incompatible analog synthesizers communicating with each other, enabling a player to play one keyboard while getting the output from both of them. This was a massive breakthrough in the 1980s as it allowed synths to be accurately layered in live and studio applications. Sequential Circuit's Prophet 600 was the first commercially produced keyboard with a MIDI interface.

In 1985, several of the top keyboard manufacturers created the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA). This newly founded association was trusted with the task to standardize the MIDI protocol by generating and disseminating all the documents that pertained to it. With the development of the MIDI File Format Specification by Opcode, every music software company's MIDI sequencer software could read and write each other's files.

Since the 1980s, personal computers developed and became the ideal system for utilizing the vast potential of MIDI. This has created a large consumer market for software such as MIDI-equipped electronic keyboards, MIDI sequencers and Digital Audio Workstations.

Some universally accepted varieties of MIDI software applications include music instruction software, MIDI sequencing software, music notation software, hard disk recording/editing software, patch editor/sound library software, computer-assisted composition software, and virtual instruments. Current developments in computer hardware and specialized software continue to expand MIDI applications.

Computers in music technology[edit]

Computer and synthesizer technology joining together changed the way music is made, and is one of the fastest changing aspects of music technology today. Dr. Max Matthews, a telecommunications engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories' Acoustic and Behavioural Research Department, is responsible for some of the first digital music technology in the 50s. Dr. Matthews also pioneered a cornerstone of music technology; analog to digital conversion.

The first generation of professional commercially available computer music instruments, or workstations as some companies later called them, were very sophisticated elaborate systems that cost a great deal of money when they first appeared. They ranged from $25,000 to $200,000.[7] The two most popular were the Fairlight, and the Synclavier.

Reduced prices in personal computers caused the masses to turn away from the more expensive workstations. Advancements in technology have increased the speed of hardware processing and the capacity of memory units. Software developers write new, more powerful programs for sequencing, recording, notating, and mastering music.


Music sequencer software, such as Pro Tools, Logic Audio and many others, are perhaps the most widely used form of contemporary music technology. Such programs allow the user to record acoustic sounds or MIDI musical sequences, which may then be organized along a time line. Musical segments can be copied and duplicated ad infinitum, as well as edited and processed using a multitude of audio effects.

Contemporary classical music sometimes uses computer-generated sounds, either pre-recorded or generated/manipulated live, in conjunction or wikt:juxtaposition with classical acoustic instruments like the cello or violin. Classical and other notated types of music are frequently written on scorewriter software.

Many musicians and artists use 'patcher' type programmes, such as Pd, Bidule, Max/MSP and Audiomulch as well as (or instead of) digital audio workstations or sequencers and there are still a significant number of people using more "traditional" software only approaches such as CSound or the Composers Desktop Project.

Music technology includes many forms of music reproduction. Music and sound technology refer to the use of sound engineering in a commercial, experimental or amateur hobbyist manner. Music technology and sound technology may sometimes be classed as the same thing, but they actually refer to different fields of work. Sound engineering refers primarily to the use of sound technology for recording or concert purposes.


See also[edit]


Cunningham, Mark (1998). Good Vibrations: a History of Record Production. London: Sanctuary Publishing Limited. 

Edmondson, Jacquelin. Music In American Life. 

Holmes, Thom (2008). Electronic and Experimental Music. New York: Routledge. 

Kettlewell, Ben (2002). Electronic Music Pioneers. USA: Pro Music Press. 

Taylor, Timothy (2001). Strange Sounds. New York: Routledge. 

Campbell, Murray; Greated, Clive; Myers, Arnold. Musical Instruments. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Weir, William. "How the Drum Machine Changed Pop Music". Slate. Retrieved December 9, 2015. 

"An Audio Timeline". Audio Engineering Society. Retrieved December 8, 2015. 

  1. ^ m:tech educational services. "What is Music Technology?". Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ wiseGeek. "What Is Audio Engineering?". Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Campbell, Murray; Greated, Clive; Myers, Arnold. Musical Instruments. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  5. ^ Twells, John. "The 14 Synthesizers that Shaped Modern Music". Fact Music News. Retrieved December 8, 2015. 
  6. ^ Felton, David. "Top Ten Classic Drum Machines". Attack Magazine. Retrieved December 8, 2015. 
  7. ^ a b Kettlewell, Ben (2002). Electronic Music Pioneers. USA: Pro Music Press. 
  8. ^ Solida, Scot. "The 10 most important hardware samplers in history". Music Radar. Retrieved December 8, 2015. 

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