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Through the evolution of the phonograph to AirPods, faculty and students agree music inspires and connects people

Various music technology laid out on a white background, including an iPhone with air pods, a CD with a bright orange and yellow case, a record with a black, green and red case and a cassette tape player.
The evolution of music as demonstrated through a cassette tape player, a vinyl record, a CD and an iPhone with air pods.

From record players to iPods, students and a professor reminisced on how the evolution of music in their own lives have made them feel more grounded, and at the same time, set them free.

Mason Allred, a professor in the Faculty of Arts & Letters, said, “There is something primal and divine to music. And when the right conditions converge, the technology seems to fade. It’s just me and sonic vibrations, and I feel grounded in the earth but floating just above.”

He continued, “There is something magical about sharing the music with others, blasting it out loud and dancing and singing or just feeling it together. But I also love throwing on headphones and listening to it alone and getting a really good quality experience.“ Alone and immersed in superb audio quality, I feel more open and vulnerable to the music’s power. It can make me cry, super excited or grateful more often when I listen like that- not as background bops, but as deep meanings and feelings piped right into my soul.”

Phonograph a.k.a. Record Player

Allred said, “When I was very young, I had a record player and used to blast Lionel Richie’s ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ over and over.” According to an online article from History Hit, the phonograph (record player) was invented in 1877 and was revolutionary in its ability to “preserve the spoken word.”

An online article from History Hit titled “Thomas Edison’s Top 5 Inventions,” explained how before record players, there was no way to own music and listen to it on demand.

Allred said although the phonograph he owned was poor quality, it got him and his siblings dancing, and they “loved the feeling of owning the music and controlling it.”

Cassette Tape Player & the Walkman

An article written in "The Current” says cassette tapes were invented in 1963, and soon after in 1979, the Sony Walkman, a portable cassette tape player. The article said the Walkman completely changed how people listened to music because it made music portable.

Allred said, “I loved making mix tapes from other cassette tapes in middle school and even recorded songs off the radio to have them at my disposal.”

CD Player

According to the video, “From the Walkman to Airpods: An Evolution” made by CNN, the Sony Discman, a portable CD player, replaced cassette tapes in 1984.

Allred said, “Once CDs came on the scene, it was more of a thing to go the mall, to a Sam Goody, Virgin Record, or the large WOW store in Las Vegas to browse and sample.”

He continued, “I will never forget driving during lunchtime to the CD store with my brother to buy Rage Against the Machine’s second album, ‘Evil Empire,’ as soon as it dropped in Spring of 1996. Unwrapping the plastic from the CD, reading the liner notes and soaking in the aesthetic of its entire packaging was so thrilling.”

As music became more portable, Allred said he feels people have traded quality for convenience. “The greatest loss has been forgetting or neglecting artists and albums I love because I don’t see them. I have to consciously remember to search for it and stream it or happen across it in my library. But having the albums in your room, car, or office has always had the potential to remind [me] to revisit an old beloved album and fall in love again.

Rise of MP3, the iPod & Music Streaming

With the rise of the MP3 in 1997 and the ability to download thousands of songs and take them anywhere, Allred said he noticed the appeal to the convenience side because it gives more access to music.

Allred said, “That feeling of finding all kinds of new music was very pronounced for me with the spread of Napster.” Napster is an audio streaming service that started as a way for individuals to share their music (MP3 files) with one another.

“We always had the computer downloading list after list of MP3s sent through questionable peer-to-peer platforms like Napster until they were all basically shut down,” said Allred.

Allred said he feels people became more closed off with the invention of the iPod in 2001. “It became increasingly common for people to walk around campus with ear pods in. It still felt really rude to me, but it was slowly becoming more accepted to ignore everyone around you and have headphones in.”

Sage Soelberg, a freshman from Utah majoring in communications, said she did not see this change because the iPod is the first device she remembers listening to music on. She said she got her first iPod from her mom, and “it was definitely something [she] showed off to [her] friends.”

In an article on “The Current”, it says the popularity of streaming services such as Pandora in 2005, Spotify in 2011 and Apple Music in 2015 on mobile devices changed how people interacted with music.

When Soelberg got Spotify, she said she remembered loving the ability to organize songs and create playlists. “That was so fun to me. I would spend hours a day organizing my favorite songs.”

Denim Layton, a freshman from Arizona majoring in communications, said Spotify allows artists to release their own music instead of going through a record label. “That creates connections,” she explained. It also helps her and her sister connect by sharing playlists, she added, learning what music the other enjoys and taking turns playing music in the car.

Soelberg said, “Music is a huge connector point for me. I think it says a lot about a person.” She said she has created these connections through online music platforms, such as the feature on Apple Music that allows users to see what others are listening to. This gives her a way to talk with and connect with people through music, she explained.

CNN said in 2016, Apple AirPods were invented, which revolutionized how people listen to music. Allred said he bought AirPods for their convenience, but he can see the positive sides of both the new and old ways of listening to music.