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What Is A Broadcast Quality Recording? Part 2: Technological Change
By Jerry Flattum - 02/03/2005 - 05:22 AM EST

What Is A Broadcast Quality Recording?
Part 2: Technological Change

The days of a Loretta Lynn cruising back roads in search of the nearest AM radio station are long over. In those days, it was a local DJ that listened to a cracklin’ 45rpm and decided to spin it or not. In the new millennium, it’s Net Radio that offers the same kind of opportunity. With personalized playlists and a website, a songwriter can be a radio station and DJ all at the same time. But how music is mastered for the web is a long ways from cutting a vinyl 45rpm.

A brief survey of recording history is very telling in how the technology behind a master has dramatically changed through the decades. Several shifts took place: the move from vinyl to 8-track to cassette to CD (and now DVD); monaural to stereo sound (now passing through quadraphonic into 5.1 surround); the shift from AM Radio to FM Radio (although AM is still very much alive). New developments like Dolby and THX, not to mention a slew of advanced digital technologies like sound synthesis and sampling, have significantly upped the ante on the quality of sound we hear.

There have been significant advances all across the range of sound production. This includes better-designed musical instruments, recording consoles, F/X units, amplifiers, speakers, computer-generated music, software, live sound reinforcement, movie theater sound reproduction and games.

All of these changes are factors in terms of generating a broadcast quality recording. Plus, more audio enhancement (mastering) takes place at the output level. Radio stations compress audio signals. Every boom box has a bass booster. Car radios come with THX.

For an excellent history of recording, see Steve Schoenherr’s Recording Technology History

Recording has transformed dramatically since the days of Thomas Edison’s phonograph.

Here’s a short list of transformations without any specific timelines:
· Wax cylinders to vinyl to tape to CD
· Acoustic to electronic to digital
· Mono to stereo
· Stereo to 4-Channel Dolby to THX 5.1 Surround Sound
· Player pianos to Digital Audio Workstations
· Live performance to film, radio and TV

The art and craft of songwriting has changed dramatically as well. Pen and paper are no longer the songwriter’s primary tools. In pop and rock music, written music is archaic, with the exception of lead sheets for studio musicians or charts for pit orchestras of Broadway/Vegas style shows. The old school used a solo instrument as the only songwriting tool. In the new school, the home studio is the songwriter's new tool. And a home studio can be quite elaborate costing 1000's of dollars.

Standards for musicianship also changed. With easy access to great recordings, local musicians, symphonies and bands were no longer big fish in little ponds. Listeners could choose 25 different versions of a classical composition, recorded by 25 different world-renouned symphonies, conductors and musicians. Plus, orchestras no longer had to be crammed into a single room recorded by one or two overhead microphones. Each instrument could be multi-tracked. This opened the doors for a wider range of frequencies and a greater dynamic range.

The philosophy of recording changed from just preserving music to capturing great performances.

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