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12 Inventions That Changed Music Forever

Ever since humans discovered the joy of banging sticks together, we've been on a mission to make better music. It's a journey Intel loves following — take a #LookInside the greatest steps we've made so far...

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1. The Phonograph

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Originally a device allowing sound to be recorded onto wax cylinders, Thomas Edison's phonograph evolved into the precursor of the modern turntable, using bakelite records. The oldest sound recordings that still exist all came from early phonographs.

What difference did it make?

The phonograph kickstarted both the home audio revolution and the music industry in one fell swoop. Suddenly, music could be enjoyed at almost any time, any place — and people just wanted more and more.

2. The Electric Guitar

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As the 'big band' craze swept the music halls of 1930s America, demand for guitars that could be heard over the blare of brass sections led engineers to experiment with electrifying the instrument.

The result were the early forebears of electric guitars, like the 'Frying Pan' pictured here, built by pioneering engineer George Beauchamp in 1931.

What difference did it make?

The clear, powerful tone created by electrification allowed the guitar to take centre stage alongside the human voice, influencing how popular music was shaped. Arguably, it also led to the invention of the air guitar.

3. Amplification

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The first instrument amplifiers were clumsy, battery-driven devices popular with Hawaiian lap steel guitarists in the 1930s.

As rock music grew in popularity, demand for 'something bigger' led to the creation of the first Marshall Amplifier in 1961, with higher wattages and multiple speaker cones which could be added to by linking multiple speaker cabinets together. Suddenly, the sky was the limit when it came to volume and power.

What difference did it make?

The importance of the amplifier can't be underestimated: without them the world wouldn't have discovered distorted guitar.

4. The Electric Bass


Though upright basses had been part of live music for decades, it was only in the 1950s that they came into their own as an amplified part of the rock sound. Guitar pioneer Leo Fender duplicated the success of his iconic guitars with the first electric bass in 1951 and the rest is foot-tapping history.

What difference did it make?

The idea of a solid, anchoring bass line was hungrily adopted by both rock and soul music, doing its part to create both funk and heavy metal as musicians explored deeper, heavier rhythms.

5. Louder PA Systems

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In the age of summer festivals it's easy to forget live music was once dominated by smallish theatre revues, like the famed 'Hayride' concerts where many rock 'n' roll stars made their debut.

The explosion of Beatlemania in early sixties exposed the weakness of traditional speakers when faced with thousands of screaming fans, and engineers scrambled to create the daddy of the beefed-up public address system we recognise today.

What difference did it make?

The creation of ever-more powerful PA systems allowed live music to flourish as an industry, letting us experience Glastonbury, Woodstock and every legendary gig in between.

6. The First Home Synthesizer

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For decades, electronic organs were the playthings of researchers and eccentrics, but with the introduction of the first reasonably priced synthesisers in the mid-sixties, pop music made an historic leap into using artificially-produced sounds.

What difference did it make?

Without the success of early synths like the Moog, electronic music as we know it wouldn't exist. The new sounds made possible by these futuristic-sounding instruments led to the rise of prog rock, synth pop, electronica and dance music. They also finally made being a geek cool.

7. Programmable Drums

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The early 1980s saw the introduction of beat composers - simple, programmable units that could provide musicians with their own backing tracks without the need for expensive and unwieldy drum kits.

Drum machines were cheap, easy to use, and their processed sounds were instantly recognisable as urban and modern. It's a sound top artists still come back to time and again.

What difference did it make?

Drum machines came to define the sound of 1980s hip hop, pop and rock - you'll recognise their beats from hundreds of classic songs.

8. Pitch Correction


Perhaps the most controversial entry on this list, pitch correction — the ability to fix out-of-tune vocals after recording — was something of a holy grail for music producers. It became a reality with the arrival in 1997 of Auto-Tune, a software plug-in that made it easy.

Though widely used, the technique has as many fans as it has critics.

What difference did it make?

Auto-Tune not only made the lives of producers and singers much easier: it also opened up a new world of vocal effects that changed the course of pop and r'n'b music dramatically. Once you get to know the signature sound of a heavily Auto-Tuned voice, you'll notice it everywhere.

9. Digital Mixing Desks

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Believe it or not, but most of your favourite records were probably made on something less complex than your phone.

Back in the day, producers relied on direct-to-tape recording that meant a finite number of instrument tracks could be laid down. The arrival of the digital desk, allowing an infinite number of channels and enhanced audio quality, meant musicians could let their imaginations run wild.

What difference did it make?

Not only did the digital desk define the pop and rock sound of the 1990s, but they also became cheap and powerful tools for home recording, birthing countless garage bands.

10. The Rise of Sampling


Though sound engineers had experimented with playing looped sounds on tape since the 1940s, the 1980s saw the practice of borrowing other people's music really explode.

Sampler / keyboard workstations like the famed Korg M1 inspired musicians to adapt old ideas into something new - and just like that, remix culture was born.

What difference did it make?

Samplers meant both good and bad news. On one hand they asked troubling new questions about who really owned music and led to no shortage of court cases, but on the other they allowed hip hop and dance music to grow more sophisticated and enter the mainstream in the 1990s.

11. Turntables as Instruments

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If Edison's Phonogram began the story of the record player, the first purpose-built DJ turntables of the 1970s started a new chapter.

Built to be sturdier, with less audio interference and a 'direct drive' turning system that made scratching and mixing easier, these were the first turntables built for a live performance as opposed to home entertainment.

What difference did it make?

The turntable allowed amateur DJs across dozens of genres to turn their hobby into a craft, and then a career. In the wake of disco, nightclubs became a serious seedbed for new musical ideas, and turntables were the spark.

12. The MP3 Revolution


In the mid-eighties, compact discs offered an exciting boost to a slowing record industry, as music fans renewed their old music collection with hi-definition new versions of their favourite albums. People fell in love with music all over again, thanks to the sparkling quality of MP3 files.

What difference did it make?

For the first time, music was available in a format which was entirely digitally transmittable - and with the rise of the internet, the consequences for both the music industry and popular culture grew to be staggering.

Everything from digital piracy to digital music players, music streaming and cloud music storage can be traced back to this first innovation in how music was shared and stored. The story of the MP3 isn't over yet.

Where to next? Intel and Flume are pointing the way — #LookInside and find out more.

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