Thomas Edison – Impact on the Music Industry

1903 ad for the Edison phonograph

1903 ad for the Edison phonograph

Back in the 1870s, if you wanted to hear music, it was basically a communal experience. You went to hear a concert, attended a school auditorium or show hall to hear and see a production, or perhaps you gathered around a gazebo on a warm summer night to hear popular tunes of the time.

Along comes Thomas Edison who makes a practical, affordable, and portable device to record and play music, and allow you to enjoy it all by yourself if you so desire. For all purposes, the great inventor “decentralizes” music, decoupling it from a group experience. Does this sound vaguely familiar? It should.

iPods and other personal listening devices do this too, decoupling people from radios that are electromagnetically linked to broadcasting stations, and allow you to store huge amounts of songs for play on demand…without the need to carry tapes, discs and other old bulky forms of storage media.

To this day, in his legendary West Orange labs, Edison’s original recording studio can be seen—the world’s first recording studio. It sits directly above his iconic library/office. There the great singers of the time, operatic and popular, came to record their music for sale by Mr. Edison. [see photos below]

Edison recording studio today

Edison recording studio today

Invention factory with location of recording studio indicated by blue lines

Invention factory with location of recording studio indicated by blue lines

It was truly an art form to situate the instruments and singers around a recording horn for optimal sound reproduction, with lots of trial and error. No way to change the volume of sound like we do today via simple electronic controls; and certainly no mixing consoles to blend sound tracks. Sound mixing would have to wait until musical innovators like Les Paul [the man who also gave us the electric guitar] came along…100 years later.

Take a look at the photo below of a large group of musicians crowded around a recording horn to get the instrument sounds all into the small horn. It was a tough way to make music back then. Today, 140 years later we have a robust industry we all enjoy…..but it all started with a recording studio on the third floor of Thomas Edison’s magic invention factory, an entrepreneur’s dream come true.

A private off-site recording session-with musicians crowded in close to recording horn

A private off-site recording session-with musicians crowded in close to recording horn

“Of all my inventions, I liked the phonograph best….” -Thomas Edison

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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