The Effect of Digital Technology on Music


Just as with words, numbers and graphic images, sound can be turned into digital data. Sound's transformation from a mechanical and analog experience to one contained within a computer's memory continues to expand. From the very first computers generating electrical impulses to vibrate a speaker, to today's worldwide recording industry, digital technology affects music in many ways. Today, the compact disc, MP3 music file, synthesizer and wireless microphone connection are all part of digital technology's complete integration with making and listening to music.


  • The most obvious illustration of digital technology and music is the synthesizer. Employing digital data to create, control, fluctuate and mimic sound, the synthesizer is used in many ways to make and enhance music. Although most widely known as a keyboard device similar to a piano, synthesizers can produce sound with input from many sources--guitar strings, drums and of course computer keyboards. Since the advent of digital circuitry with synthesizers in the 1970s, older analog instruments with vacuum tubes, knobs and dials have become very rare.


  • As digital technology has miniaturized to the point of being almost microscopic, making music is also a much less complicated effort. Whether in studio for recording a musician, or listening to an iPod personal music player, digital miniaturization makes music easier and more affordable for every aspect of the musical experience. Whole recording studios can now be contained in a personal computer. Outstanding stereo sound is available in small earplugs attached to a device the size of a pack of gum. Although traditional instruments such as trombones and tubas still need room for a performance, the microphones and recording devices saving their sounds are now smaller and more capable than machines 20 years ago that filled a whole room.


  • There can be no music industry without recording the sound for replay. Without recording, all music would need to be a live performance. Digital recording is taking sounds from any instrument and storing it as data to be retrieved later for editing, mixing and eventually copying for distribution. There are criticisms of digital recording that it is not as "warm" or realistic as older analog (tape or phonograph) recording. As research and development with musical digital recording continues, however, the differences between old and new continue to diminish.


  • Digitally processing music is now a desktop job. Whereas in years past, a producer and music editor would spend hours or days listening to tapes, cutting with razor blades, splicing pieces together and rerecording multiple sounds onto other tapes, today it's all done with a computer. Digital processing allows a music producer to take sounds recorded months or years apart in different areas of the world, bring them to one computer platform and mix them quickly using special music processing software.

Music Files

  • One of the most pervasive aspects of digital recording seen is the way music is copied and played. MP3 files are digital music formats playable as a standard file on almost every digital musical device. MP3 (and newer MP4) files can contain long passages of grand symphonies or just a three-minute pop music hit. The format also provides for stereo sounds (bass in the left speaker, treble in the right) and easy copying and transmitting between computers.

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  • Photo Credit synthesizer image by Harald Soehngen from
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