This infographic is hot off the press from the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Electrical Engineering program–thank you so much!
Few people realize how much of the musical world really takes place in the recording studio. While everyone knows the singers and musicians, few look to the history of the contribution of those behind the glass. Engineers have been engaged in struggles for decades to not only change music, but also define how their generation’s sound would be recorded. To learn more, checkout the infographic below created by the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Online Masters in Electrical Engineering program.
The First Battles
When it comes to music engineering battles, the first place to look has to be toward power. While the struggle wasn’t one that necessarily involved music, it set up the kinds of battles that would take place in studios for decades to come. The first real issue was between Tesla, with his alternating current, and Edison, with his direct current. Tesla’s current was more powerful, but arguably less reliable. Edison’s was reliable, but not nearly as strong. The two waged a war between inventive danger and solid business, with neither man truly winning. While Edison is certainly better remembered as the father of modern electricity, both currents are used in the modern world. It is from this battle that one of the most famous bands in rock takes its name – AC/DC.
The War of the Engineers
Tesla and Edison would be fine examples of how the war of the musical engineers was waged, because they were exemplars of two very different schools of thought. The first, like Tesla, were into experimentation – they might not have any formal training or skill with music, but they were willing to push the boundaries of what was acceptable in musical engineering. Their counterparts were more like Edison – formally trained, often making incremental improvements. As with the former battle, both sides had something to offer in the world of music – and it was the trained engineers who learned to tinker (or the amateurs who were willing to learn the basics) who really started to revolutionize the way that music was made around the world.
Today’s modern sound heroes are the products of both schools of thought, combining cutting-edge experimentation with tried and true methods of engineering. One such pioneer, Herbie Hancock, brought the electronic piano into the forefront of jazz – and thus into the mainstream for the first time. Tom Scholz of Boston not only graduated MIT, but also found a real passion for developing gadgets – he holds 34 different patents for musical inventions. Radiohead, a band without real engineering credentials, nonetheless has been at the forefront of making computerized music for decades. Even Daft Punk, that ever-mysterious band in robot helmets, has been able to use vintage instruments and technology to make all-new devices. That feat helped the band’s engineers to score big when it came time for sound engineering awards to be handed out.
It’s also very tough to talk about musical engineers without talking about Robert Moog’s synthesizer. Actually a variety of components in a simple wooden frame, the synthesizer revolutionized the way that music was made. Though it was most popular from the sixties to the eighties, there’s no doubt that the device still has a huge impact on today’s music scene. Influencing bands from the Beatles to the Bee Gees, it is one of the few clear examples of an engineer’s work not just influencing how music sounds, but even influencing the direction of how music is composed.
A Brief Timeline
If you really want to see how engineers have changed music, it’s helpful to look at a brief timeline. Modern musical engineering may have started with the simple alligator clip around the turn of the 20th century, but things really took off afterwards. By 1931, a commercial electric guitar was on the market. By 1957, wireless microphones were first available. The 1960s saw the birth of synthesizers, and a true beginning of computer modulated music in the mainstream. Even the advent of the CD, which in turn led to digital music tracks, falls squarely on the shoulder of musical engineers.
It’s important to realize the role that sound engineers played in the development of music. There’s always been a battle between innovation and tradition, but the result of those conflicts has always made music a bit better. Whether it’s as huge as developing a new power source or as small as developing a device that changes the pitch of a note slightly, the work of sound engineers has defined music for decades. The only thing known for sure about the future is that musical engineers will continue to play a dominant role in defining how music sounds.