Phonograph: The Foundation of Music Recordings

It is believed that music has existed — in one form or another — for over 40,000 years. Whether for communication, entertainment, or forms of ritual, ancient musical instruments like the phonograph have been around dating back to the time of Home Sapiens (modern humans).

All music would have been performed live, often to celebrate occasions or situations, but a revolution happened in the late 19th century. It allowed us to listen to prerecorded sound; US inventor Thomas Edison invented the phonograph.

Thomas Edison — inventor of the phonograph

How did the phonograph come about?

Edison was working on an idea where a machine would help extend the range of phone lines. It is more like a repeater of signals. Whilst working on it, he accidentally recorded and reproduced his voice. He revealed the new instrument by displaying a tin-cylindered phonograph onto which he recorded himself saying: “Mary had a little lamb”. He then replayed it to an astonished crowd. It could only replay the sound once, however, but it nevertheless paved the way for the future of music.

What is inside a phonograph?

In the middle of the device is a cylinder with tin foil around it. One can shout a short message into one side of the cylinder while turning the handle. The reverberations caused by the shouting would cause the needle to shake or vibrate, thus creating a line, or groove, into the tin foil. A needle on the other side could play back what you had just recorded.

Inside the phonograph.

Why is the phonograph important?

Very simple. It allowed people to listen to whatever music they wanted to play, when they wanted to hear it, where they wanted it, and for however long as they wanted. This revolutionized music forever. Not only did it revolutionize the culture of music, how, where, and when we listened, but also the monetization possibilities.

For this reason, people thought of the phonograph as the father of music recordings. It formed the basis of all contracts underlying the sales and distribution of music to this day. However, the digitization of music has made it more readily available than ever and has embedded music more fully into our everyday lives. Modern contracts and administration will have to reflect this. But that’s another article entirely.

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