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Music to the Masses: An Audio Producer’s Guide

Man pressing play on a boombox

Are you interested in becoming an audio producer but not sure you have the money or time to make professional sounding music? In days past, only a handful of record companies could reach the masses. But now with the tools you have at hand, you have the ability to reach the masses and have your music heard around the world. How did music get to the masses before the Internet?

How Did Music Get to the Masses?

Historically, before the phonograph, music was heard either through an AM/FM radio or at a record store. They were called records stores because they initially only sold records. These music stores progressed to sell 8Track and cassette tapes, and then CDs before the internet moved music toward downloads and away from buying tangible music products. Before 8Tracks there were reel to reel players, similar to a film projector for music. Before that, music was just played live.

Live Music – the original way to broadcast music to the masses was at a live event. Artists and musicians would sing and play instruments to audiences. The masses that heard this music had to be within ear shot. It wasn’t until they were able to record music that music truly become mass-produced.

Vinyl Records – for many decades popular in the 20th century, and now popular again, records are made of PVC or polyvinyl chloride, hence the name vinyl. Made in both 45 RPM and 33 1/3 RPM, a record could showcase a single song or a whole album. Like cassette tapes, records could be flipped over, and music could be played on either side. The “A side” would focus on the songs an artist wanted everyone to hear. The B side would contain the rest of the album, not thought to become popular “hits.”

AM/FM Radio – the ability to broadcast music, or modulated sound, over waves broadcasted at a specific frequency, opened up a new way for the consumer to listen to live bands and vinyl records. Disc jockeys (DJs) spun records 24/7 to eager listeners who could even call in to request their favorite song.

8Track – predating the traditional cassette tape (if only for a short time) the 8 Track was developed in the 60s. A car owner could buy a Ford with it installed or purchase an aftermarket 8track player and sync it with the AM/FM radio. The 8track quickly lost out to cassette tape technology.

Cassette Tapes – taking over where 8tracks left off, the cassette tape was easy to use and prevailed as the main mass media music technology for decades. Like a small, compact, reel to reel, the cassette player could be included in a boombox, a car or even a hand-held portable cassette player, dubbed Walkman by Sony.

Compact Disc (CD) – like a vinyl record, CDs were round and held music, however that is the extent of their similarities. Instead of a groove and needle on the record, the CD used a laser beam that read the data on only one side of a CD. Portable and easy to listen to, with the exception of needing anti-skip technology for a discman to stop the CD from skipping during movement, CDs replaced cassette tapes and vinyl records in music stores.

MP3 – a digital music format that quickly replaced the need for physical CDs, the MP3 could be downloaded to a player or computer and shared over the internet. The only drawbacks to MP3s are the low audio quality compared to CD quality and the need for storage space to keep all the songs on a computer or digital device. Apple capitalized on this trend by creating iTunes, a digital music portal where you could download a song for 99 cents. Most audio producers, record labels and artists saw a reduction in profit because the listener didn’t have to buy a complete album to hear a handful of songs. However, MP3 technology made it easier for music to reach the masses.

Live Streaming – platforms like Spotify married the MP3 with the radio station and brought music into the 21st century. Music is buffered minutes or even seconds before the listener uses it, removing the need for large amounts of storage space. This gave anyone the ability to use their smartphone to do more than make phone calls.

What are the Benefits of Mass-Produced Music?

The greatest benefit of mass-produced music is the ability for anyone to hear it. Before having a delivery mechanism for music, the only audience that could hear music was the one right in front of a live band. Whether in a stadium or street corner, the audience had to be located close enough to hear the music that was played. Once music was mass-produced for phonographs, player pianos and vinyl records, the masses finally had access to any type of music they wanted to listen to.

Over the years, music was curated by the top record labels. They had the money to distribute and market music to the masses. These record labels would hire audio producers, musicians and artists to record in a music studio. The music that was recorded would be stamped on a vinyl record and sold to the masses. Although this was a great business for the record labels, independent musicians didn’t have the capital to reach the masses. Though many regional musicians made a name for themselves by selling records out of the back of their car or performing live events across the United States, selling merchandise and recordings as they travelled.

Not until the introduction of the internet did music truly reach the masses. With large amounts of storage on computers and eventually music software that was cheap enough for the average person to download, anyone could reach the masses. Share sites like Napster not only opened the door for piracy of music but also changed the mindset of the music masses. With an inexpensive digital audio workstation, anyone could make music and distribute it over the internet. What was a benefit to the masses was a detriment to the record companies.

Technologies that Helped Music Get to the Masses

There are many different technologies that helped the audio producer on a budget reach the masses. Inexpensive music software, higher quality sound recording equipment, professional sounding instruments and the internet made it possible for anyone to create a song and have it heard by the masses.

Inexpensive Music Software – if someone wants to learn about the different types of music software, they can download a free trial version and take it for a test drive. Students, musicians and podcasters can download the free version of Pro Tools and use a limited version of the music software to create professional sounding music and audio. With this music software, anyone can record, produce, edit, mix and master their own music. Then they can upload it to SoundCloud and share it with the masses.

Sound Recording Equipment – with the digital audio workstations software, a laptop, keyboard (if you are feeling nostalgic) and a few plug-ins, anyone has a professional recording studio with inexpensive sound recording equipment. Put up some acoustic baffling on the walls of your bedroom and you have a recording studio. The barriers to entry are low but you must still practice and perfect your skills in order to make music that appeals to the masses.

Professional Sounding Instruments – whether you want to pick up a high end instrument from eBay, slowly purchase a collection of instruments like guitars, drums and keyboards or use plug-ins on your music software, you now have access to professional sounding instruments.

Internet Access – websites like SoundCloud allow you to upload your music to an open audio platform and connect with a community of like-minded people. Other streaming sites like Spotify, Lastfm and Pandora offer artists and audio producers the ability to be heard by the masses and make a little money in the process.

Final Thoughts

Are you ready to reach the masses, using the software and live streaming sites that promote music of all genres? Once only available to a select few, you now have the ability to learn audio production, spend a little money on a laptop, download music software and put up some audio baffling to create your own recording studio. You now have access to the world of music. 

Audio Production Program

The Audio Production and Engineering Program  at the Institute of Production and Recording is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.

At the end of the audio production and engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production programs and starting a rewarding career.