In this extra episode, we take a deep dive into the history of the music industry.

We go down rabbit holes that take us from Victorian England to Sydney harbour in the 70s and then on to the hip hop culture of New York in the 80s. We trace the music industry as it resisted and adapted to the rise of new technologies and came to understand music as a product. We hear from a leading researcher on popular music, the creator of the first music sampler, a renowned hip hop artist, and even Thomas Edison…

Join Sandra Peter and Kai Riemer on the latest episode of The Unlearn Project.

The interesting people we spoke with

Ole Obermann is the Global Head of Music at ByteDance and TikTok where he oversees music business development and strategy. Before joining TikTok, Ole was the Chief Digital Officer at Warner Music Group and Executive Vice President of Global Digital Partner Development at Sony Music where he architected deals between streaming platforms and the respective label.

Charles Fairchild is Associate Professor of Popular Music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. His work is primarily concerned with the cultural and material mediation of music. His recent work includes a book analysing the production and reception of The Grey Album by Danger Mouse and several articles about popular music museums.

Kim Ryrie is the Managing Director of DEQX Pty. Ltd., and co-creator of the Fairlight CMI, which he developed in the basement of his grandmother’s house with Peter Vogel in 1975. Fairlight CMI synthesised sounds have become ubiquitous and shaped popular music in the 80s.

Hank Shocklee is a Grammy-nominated producer, sound designer, music executive, culture-evolver, and sonic architect best known for founding Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad. He is a mentor at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, a member of the STEAM Advisory Board at the Boston Academy of Arts, and regularly lectures at the Berklee College of Music and the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU.

Links for the curious

Our previous episode on unlearning music

Kai’s 2019 research paper on the digital music revolution

Charles’ 2008 book on the consumption and global circulation of popular music

Charles’ 2017 research paper on the rise and fall of mash ups in popular music

2018 Time article on the first sound ever recorded by a machine

The Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument developed by Kim Ryrie and Peter Vogel

The history of the Fairlight in a 2020 Mixdown Magazine article

The history of CSIRAC at the University of Sydney

CSIRAC at Scienceworks in Melbourne

The ORCH5 sample from the Fairlight CMI taken from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite

Rolling Stone’s 2014 article on the creation of Public Enemy’s Fight the Power


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Music by Cinephonix and the Open Goldberg Variations

This transcript is the product of an artificial intelligence - human collaboration. Any mistakes are the human's fault. (Just saying. Accurately yours, AI)

Sandra Okay, so we did this whole episode on unlearning music. Music is no longer just for listening. We discussed how the way we engage with music is fundamentally changing from something we just listen to, to something we create with.

Ole Obermann It gets us to what I think is a really profound change in the role of music. Many more people feel that they can be creative using music today than ever in history.

Sandra We did quite a bit of research into what that profound change is, and what exactly is music for? We spoke to record-breaking artists, influencers, musicologists, narratologists, and even the head of music at TikTok. Turns out hits are not just made by people listening to music on the radio, or even on Spotify, but by ordinary people using songs to make videos on platforms like TikTok.

Kai And what we found were implications not only for the music industry and what music is, but ultimately for all of us.

Sandra Music is now material for creation, and it allows us to socialise in new ways.

Kai Oh, and if you haven't already listened to the Unlearn music episode. Stop listening now and go listen to that one first.

Sandra Because this one will be a deep dive.

Kai A deep, deep dive.

Sandra We will go down a few rabbit holes. This is not our usual Unlearn Project episode. It's something extra.

Kai An extras episode.

Sandra There was all this stuff we came across in our research and interviews that just didn't make it into that episode. But we still wanted to share it with you.

Kai So we're trying something new.

Kai Something a bit different.

Kai Because each of us had this one thing, right, that we wished could have made it into the main episode. Something quite cool. Some deep rabbit hole that each of us fell into.

Sandra Mine went all the way back to Victorian England.

Kai Seriously?

Sandra Yeah.

Kai Mine, mine had computers in it.

Sandra Of course it did.

Sandra Of course.

Sandra Oh, and have we mentioned the computer episode? You should listen to that one too. But really, you should listen to the music episode before you listen to this one.

Kai Yeah, did we mention you should listen to the music episode?

Sandra And while you're there, just listen to the whole thing.

Kai Just listen to the whole thing.

Sandra I'm Sandra Peter.

Kai I'm Kai Riemer.

Sandra Welcome to The Unlearn Project.

Kai Okay, this is your rabbit hole.

Sandra Yeah. So one thing that really struck me and never made it into our episode was this idea that historically, technology kind of configured music for listening. When we spoke to Ole Obermann, the Global Head of Music at ByteDance and TikTok, he touched on the role of tech in the history of music.

Ole Obermann I think this is a fascinating look at how culture and entertainment are both created and consumed. It's worth it to just sort of, you know, think about the history of how music has been created and shared with audiences due to the mediums that were available and sort of, for a lack of a better word, the technology that was available.

Sandra So we did think about history. We even spoke to Charles Fairchild from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Charles Fairchild I'm Associate Professor of Popular Music at the University of Sydney. My general starting point is 1877, or 76, depending on who you ask. And that's the invention of sound recording. So the first big move is from sheet music to sound recording, that 30-year period in the late 19th, early 20th century. The second is the advent of magnetic tape and the transformation of the recording studio from something that captured sound to something in which sound was manipulated extensively. And the third is the transition to digital from the sort of early 90s into the early 2000s, which resulted in the purchasing of digital song files or now streaming music digitally on your phone as a completely normal and straightforward thing to do.

Sandra And we'll get to that history in a second, sound recording, gramophone, radio, vinyl, magnetic tapes, CDs. But what really struck me is what Charles was saying about what was going on before we had sound recording.

Charles Fairchild Prior to sound recording, obviously there was sheet music, and there's a lively and extraordinarily fascinating and rich culture that surrounded sheet music. People would gather in their parlours around pianos, and there were all sorts of you know, social hierarchies and social interactions and protocols and habits that attended even the slightest change in dynamics. And it was often thought that the way you performed a song was an expression of your character as human being. So there was a lot riding on it, especially for young people.

Kai Well, that sounds a bit like what people are doing with music today, right? But they're doing it online.

Sandra Yeah. So if you think of these turn of the 19th century parlours with young men and women who sing and play the pianoforte, and then this whole complex social life that unfolds around it, a bit like a scene from a Jane Austen novel.

Kai What's the pianoforte?

Sandra Basically, the same instrument we just call the piano today.

Kai Okay, the same huh? Then why is it called pianoforte?

Sandra I'm going to sound really smart now. But I did look this up, and it's just the formal name for the piano. And piano, basically, is the shorthand for pianoforte. And they're Italian musical terms for soft and loud, piano and forte.

Kai So it is the, the soft, loud thing.

Sandra Yeah, or today, just the soft thing.

Kai Okay, piano.

Sandra And so as Charles says, there's this entire Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, music as an expression of your character thing going on, and especially if you're like a young person. But then we get to 1877 or 76, and then it all changes with sound recording.

Charles Fairchild Sound recording was invented in a couple of different places, but it was Thomas Edison, the American inventor who received the most credit for it. And being partially deaf and uninterested in music, largely, Edison saw it as a business device. A way to have people send, quote, unquote, letters to one another that were more valid than mere writing. Edison was a great inventor, but not a great businessman, and his genuinely crappy wax cylinders, in which bits and pieces of the sound would actually literally fall off, were superseded by Emile Berliner's discs made out of shellac. And Berliner was quite clever in the sense that it wasn't merely a disc, but it was a master disc from which copies could be made, you could make many copies simultaneously from the master disc. And that's a kind of slightly less obvious, but I think, no less important turning point because of course, the immediate thing that allowed was mass reproduction for mass market. So that to me is the first turning point. All of that took about 30 to 35 years to realise itself.

Charles Fairchild And again, interestingly and different rabbit hole, the invention was not for music, per se, but rather as a business device to send letters. And that's even though the oldest surviving recording is of Mary Had a Little Lamb.

AUDIO Mary had a little lamb; its fleece was white as snow. And everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go.

Sandra Mary Had a Little Lamb, open for business.

Charles Fairchild There was a great deal of excitement, of course, but also a lot of people were unsettled by this because all those protocols and habits and social niceties that went along with music that were thought to be almost literally part of the music, turned out they were not part of the music, that you could actually just buy the music and listen to at home without any of those other things necessarily attached to it. So there was some befuddlement about what this new strange real time technology meant.

Sandra So sound recording kind of set off the first big unlearn 150 years ago, where music went from this social self-expression thing to something one just listens to. And as Charles was telling the story, it became clear that as each wave of innovation came, it cemented this trend music as something people passively listened to.

Charles Fairchild The next major turning point was radio. So radio broadcasting was commercially and publicly available in, I believe it was 1919. A radio station was set up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to broadcast the results of an election. People found it not only better, but more enjoyable to have live music, so radio was almost entirely live for nearly a decade maybe, seven or eight years at least. It was only when electric microphones came in, and sort of electric sound boards and ways to manage the sound going into the broadcast that the record industry said, 'hey, you know, we could actually do that with records. We can have electrical recording, not acoustic recording'. Once they did that, it was seemingly inevitable that you could play records on the radio. The playing of records on the radio, while technically possible, the real turning point of that was when it became sort of culturally and socially acceptable. The next major turning point would be late 1940s when the vinyl album was perfected, and vinyl was one of those great space age materials of the new world post-World War Two. And the first albums tended to be either European classical music or things like original cast recordings from musicals. But then someone like Frank Sinatra, for example, could do a series of albums with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, which were regarded as great artistic achievements. So the album era from about 1948 really probably to about 1998 really, that's kind of a major trajectory in post-war popular music.

Sandra So the trend continues, music becomes something to buy, own and then listened to.

Kai And of course, there were still people singing and playing instruments in their houses and at parties.

Sandra Yeah, but by and large, the way most people now engaged with music was by buying it and listening to it in their home. And then these successive waves of innovation brought on just better ways to let people listen to more music in more ways at more times.

Kai Because perfecting sound forever was the mantra of the music industry for a long time, high fidelity. And when I was a teenager, people would have the perfect sound system at home, with that perfect Sheldon Cooper spot on the couch for the perfect listening experience.

Sandra Yes, people went from listening to radio to listening to albums in their homes, and then listening to Walkman and Discman and iPods, none of that really changed anything, it was still the individual consuming music. So for more or less 150 years, music is something we mainly listen to. But before you tell me about your rabbit hole, there was something else really interesting that Charles mentioned that also happened as a result of this shift. In that move from, like, Jane Austen's parlour and sheet music to the record industry, something else also got cemented.

Charles Fairchild And so the record industry realised, 'wow, we can make a lot of money from this, if we can just hold on to our publishing rights'. So they did that. And this is the kind of central pillar of the contemporary music industry because their ownership of intellectual property is their primary asset beyond anything else, because it's more persistent and more valuable than any other asset they have.

Sandra It cemented for the music industry that owning rights to recorded music and selling records, or later downloads and streaming, was what it was all about. And for everyone else, it more or less takes social media and video sharing platforms like TikTok to get back to music as something we express ourselves with, and we create these rich social experiences around.

Kai Yeah, and that is pretty much the topic of our main Unlearn episode, right?

Sandra Again, if you haven't listened to it.

Kai Do it now.

Sandra Okay, so that was my story. What was your rabbit hole?

Kai Well, you know how your story was all about how over time, technology innovations cemented music as something to record and then sell, buy, and listen to?

Sandra Yes.

Kai Well, my story is about just how deeply the industry embraced the understanding of music as their property. So deeply that not even the emergence of hip hop could unseat it. It's a story of how things almost changed, starting with another technology innovation, computers in the music industry. But then they didn't. It's an almost revolution with sampling and hip hop, but then the music industry puts its foot down. And you know what? It starts right here in Sydney.

Sandra I know because Charles told me about it.

Charles Fairchild The first sampler was the Australian made Fairlight CMI. If you want to see one, you can go to the Conservatorium of Music. That was the first machine to be able to record, capture and playback sound digitally, as far as I know, even though there were other machines that sort of mimicked that, they were analogue.

Kai But did you know that the term sampling itself was also coined here in Sydney?

Sandra Was it really?

Kai Yeah, by the two inventors of the Fairlight CMI. The story of sampling starts right here at Sydney Harbour.

Sandra Wait a sec, didn't we already do a story on the beginning of electronic music?

Kai Ah, you mean CSIRAC?

Sandra Yes, the CSIR Mk 1, the first computer in the world to play music. Not good music, just music. Wasn't that also invented in Sydney?

Kai Yes, it was. But if you want to listen to that, you need to head over to the Unlearn Computer episode. That's our very first Unlearn episode. So as a matter of fact, the history of computers and music starts here in Sydney twice really. The first computer to make music was CSIRAC, the first computer to record and manipulate music.

Sandra Sampling.

Kai Yes sampling. That was the Fairlight CMI. So let me take you to Sydney Harbour. The year is 1975...

Kim Ryrie We started off with that idea in the basement of my grandmother's house and that was on the forefront of Sydney Harbour in Point Piper. And my grandmother would make lunch. And we had about $300 between us. So that was what it cost to incorporate the company, which was called Fairlight Instruments. Hi, I'm Kim Ryrie. I'm Managing Director of DEQX Pty Ltd. And I'm the co-founder of the original Fairlight Instruments in 1975 with Peter Vogel.

Kai So Kim was running Electronics Today International at the time, a magazine for electronics enthusiasts, and they would often do these little projects for their readers. And one of those was to build a machine that creates synthetic sounds, a synthesiser.

Kim Ryrie I'll ring up Peter Vogel, my school friend, we used to design stuff at school together with no money, and since we had no money, I thought he'd be the perfect guy to talk to. And I said, 'What are you doing?' And he said, 'Oh, not much. What are you doing?' I said, 'not much'. Do you want to build the world's greatest synthesiser?' He said, 'Oh, yeah. How's that going to work?' And I said, 'Well, we're going use these new microprocessor things that have just come out'.

Kai So analogue synthesisers already existed, right. But Kim and Peter wanted to build a machine where the manipulation of sound could be programmed, automated, so to speak with a computer,

Sandra And did they?

Kai Yeah, they did. But the sound sounded really sterile, and they were really not happy with what they got. So one day, Peter recorded this short piece of piano music off the radio because he wanted to study how the harmonics of real instruments sound when they replicated in the synthesiser. And that's really when he invented sampling by accident.

Sandra Like a lot of stuff in human history.

Kai Yeah, Peter discovered that when he played back that piano recording and modulating its pitch and, you know, played it like an instrument, it sounded much warmer and more realistic than any of the synthesised sounds that they were creating.

Sandra And so music sampling was born.

Kai Yeah. So rather than creating these synthetic sounds, it became clear that the way to go was to record these short snippets of real instruments and then manipulate those, so you could actually play them like real instruments.

Sandra So unlearn synthesiser?

Kai Pretty much, but that's really how the first music sampler was invented.

Sandra Is that when the term sampling was coined?

Sandra Yeah, Kim and Peter pretty much made it up right here in Sydney. And more importantly, they turned their machine into a product. It became the Fairlight CMI, the Computer Musical Instrument, and shame this as a podcast.

Sandra Why, what did it look like?

Kai Well, it's this really cool cross between a computer and the music keyboard, and a monitor. And this new kind of graphical sound visualisation. I mean, this was before PCs were a thing, right? They didn't have a mouse, so they had to come up with this pen that you can use to manipulate the sound waves on these monitors. It was really cool. I mean, it was super-innovative. And it took off right when computer technology became more affordable.

Kim Ryrie At about this time, the 16k bit memory chip had just been announced. And we sort of couldn't believe it. This was just this huge amount of memory, 16 kilobits in a chip.

Sandra That's really not very much though, is it?

Kai Not by today’s standards, no it's really not much. But it was just enough for them to record and play back short two second sound clips, and to create a machine that could be fed these recordings to become a very versatile instrument.

Kim Ryrie So we sold the machine for about 25,000 US dollars back in 1979. And since it was the first sampler, we were getting lots of interest from anyone that could afford it, which tended to be well-known pop stars and people like that. Peter Gabriel in the UK, we were introduced to Geordie Hormel in Los Angeles, who owned the Village Recording Studio. And at the time, they were recording the Fleetwood Mac Tusk album. And we just brought the machine in, and everyone was just pulling out their chequebooks and writing checks for $25,000. And Stevie Wonder bought the next one Carly Simon, Kate Bush in the UK. Yeah, it became very popular.

Kai And some of these musicians really embraced it, and they would create lots of recordings for it, and they would share these sounds with each other.

Kim Ryrie The original Fairlight didn't have a big sound library. Pretty much the people that owned Fairlight would often donate the sounds that they'd done. Peter Gabriel in particular was very generous. He'd go wandering through junkyards with a Nagra tape recorder around his neck, you know, smashing TV sets. And then he'd let us put them in the library that we distributed. So he was very generous. A lot of people were very generous in those days. One of the famous samples was ORCH 5, Orchestra 5. And that was, I think that was the opening bar from the Firebird Suite, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. So that became very popular, it was very short, you know, it was just, you know, half a second or a second or something. But that was used in a lot of things.

Kai Yeah, and then commercial companies would jump on the bandwagon and create libraries of sound samples and start selling those to Fairlight users.

Sandra So sampling kind of became a new art form.

Kai Well, yes, but initially only for some well of artists and producers. But eventually sampling and the Fairlight would meet with hip hop, right, which was just emerging in New York at the time. And a few years later, sampling as an art form would really take off, and recorded music would be used as this creative material. What's interesting, though, is that Kim, like many inventors, did not envision that his product would be used in that way.

Kim Ryrie What we never thought of was the way it's been used to sample other people's music. We always thought it would just be used for sampling organic sounds and trying to make the musical or playing natural sounds at different pitches to get different effects.

Kai I mean, there had been earlier attempts to use recorded music as creative material, right, like chopping up magnetic tape and piecing it back together or layering it on top of each other.

Kai The Beatles famously had a go, right?

Kai Yeah, but the Fairlight really was different. It allowed recorded sounds to be manipulated in all sorts of creative ways without access to you know, huge sound studios.

Sandra But this thing was still like super expensive, right? For the hip hop community it wasn't affordable when it came out.

Kai Yeah, that's right. Initially, at least.

Hank Shocklee Yeah, I would have loved to use it. It was way too expensive for us.

Sandra Yeah, I know who that is. That is very cool Hank Shocklee, we had him in the Unlearn Music episode.

Kai That's him.

Hank Shocklee My name is Hank Shocklee. I'm a producer, sound engineer, sound designer.

Kai Not just any producer and sound engineer, as Megan our sound editor would tell everyone, but a founding member of hip hop band, Public Enemy and the production outfit, The Bomb Squad.

Sandra As well as a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Grammy Hall of Fame inductee.

Kai Yeah. And Hank did a great interview with Megan and talked about how hip hop emerged, how initially musicians would use turntables to manipulate records live with people rapping over the top of it.

Hank Shocklee The early days of hip hop, it was just the feeling. It was just an excitement that was going on. And, you know, none of us knew that it would become an industry, or it would be a part of an industry, it was more of a love for the energy of what we were doing, than it was anything else.

Kai And hip hop fully embraced recorded music as material for making sounds and making new music.

Hank Shocklee Yeah, music felt very new, it was new, we knew it was new, because most of us have been record collectors, record enthusiasts. A lot of us are fans of music. Most of the music that we were listening to before were made by artists that sang, you know, and this was the first time when instead of us listening to other artists, we can listen to ourselves, you know, rhyme and rap on top of the records. You know, sampling came from the turntable itself. Before we got into the sampling, we would take a break of a record, have a duplicate, and mix it back between turntable one and turntable two. And that right there created the backdrop, or the back beat if you would, of the musical bed that we was going to create. Now when you add a live rapper on top of it, it becomes a performance piece.

Sandra But even so, back then, in the end, ultimately nothing really changed.

Kai Not really because the music industry had other ideas. As your story made clear, they had cemented this idea of recorded music as a product, right, to be sold and consumed. And that idea clashed fundamentally with what hip hop artists were doing. When hip hop took off and grew in popularity, the music labels intervened.

Sandra And Charles was stressing that too, right, when he was talking about the history of music.

Charles Fairchild So on the one hand, you have a music industry, very jealous of its property and how it's used. On the other hand, you have artists routinely making use of that property in new and different ways in nightclubs and loft parties and street corners. But it only became a problem when it reached a mass audience and became something that was really high profile. So with hip hop, what you start getting in the late 80s, early 90s is, you know, routine million selling albums or extremely high-profile concert tours or music videos or live performances. And that's when the music industry started to clamp down. That's when you start getting, not only do you get lawsuits against people misusing this material, and arguably, you could make a good case that this is not misusing the material, that this is actually using it as intended. The music industry was extremely aggressive and extremely successful in their ability to bend copyright law to its wishes.

Sandra So almost unlearn music.

Kai Almost, because the music industry protected their idea of recorded music as a product, as something to just be sold and consumed.

Hank Shocklee And then kind of like it hindered our style, because of all the lawsuits that was happening. And so now it became cost prohibitive, to be able to clear your samples when you have a lot of samples in a space, because it's just too much money to be able to pay out everybody, it was more than the amount of money that we're actually making off the record. Sampling is an art form that is deemed itself basically for the elites. If you can afford to pay the exorbitant fees in order to, you know, clear a sample, then you could get away with using it. But you can only get away with maybe one or two samples. You know, if you look at the early Public Enemy records, those records, you know, would have like 30 samples in it, you know, one song at a minimum of 30 samples. That's what created our demise so to speak, it was the beginning of our demise, because we couldn't utilise the art form to its fullest.

Kai So back then the music industry intervened. And it put a real damper on this new creative use of music as a material for making new music, and also on hip hop as a creative art form for everyone.

Sandra And again, Charles was making that point.

Charles Fairchild So the relationship between copyright and inventive use and reuse of materials is kind of a perennial in the music industry in the era of sound recording, and they only seem to become a problem when someone else seems to be making a lot of money from what the music industry perceives as the misuse of their property. It was only when DJs and hip hop artists began being able to sell music clearly based on pre-existing sounds, that's when it became a problem. And not just sell it but sell a lot of it.

Kai And that is what's different today with TikTok.

Sandra Exactly. Now, the music industry has come on board because creators on this platform are not making new music to be sold for profit. In fact, they're helping the music industry by promoting their products for free.

Kai Yeah, and interestingly, the initial reflex of the music industry was, you know, as always to be against the free use of their music on TikTok. But once they saw how songs can go viral, right, how it can make hits, they really embraced the idea of music as material. And today they list their music catalogues on TikTok. They even promote the use of their songs by creators in their videos, because that then gets their music in front of huge audiences who then start listening to it on streaming platforms, which gets hits pumped up in the charts. And that's where the real money is for the music industry.

Sandra Which is the topic of our main music episode, so we've re-emerged from the rabbit hole.

Kai We did.

Sandra I was worried there for a bit, you know, computers and all.

Kai But it was totally worthwhile to hear from your story of how it all started with the social idea of music, and how music became a product to be sold and consumed. And in my story, how this almost changed with sampling and hip hop, but then the music industry put their foot down.

Sandra So we should do one of these once in a while, an additional episode, a deep dive to explore the rich background of some of our topics.

Kai But next time back to our regular Unlearn episodes.

Sandra This was The Unlearn Project. Our sound editor was Megan "It's much better when I tell it" Wedge. And this episode and additional nerdy stuff was written by Sandra Peter and Kai Riemer. We had helped with bits and pieces from the entire SBI team and Megan's friends. If you're wondering about the music you're hearing right now, it's yet another one of the Bach Goldberg Variations, a public domain recording made possible by a Kickstarter project, and used by us because it's beautiful, and more importantly, free. If you want to know a little more about the underlying research behind each of our episodes are for a full nerd out our transcript and shownotes are available at sbi.sydney.edu.au/unlearn. The Unlearn Project is a production of Sydney Business Insights, an initiative of The University of Sydney Business School. You can follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and WeChat. You can subscribe, like or leave us a very positive rating wherever you get your podcasts.

Ole Obermann It gets us to what I think is a really profound change in the role of music. Many more people feel that they can be creative using music today than ever in history.

Sandra We did quite a bit of research into what that profound change is, and what exactly is music for? We spoke to record-breaking artists, influencers, musicologists, narratologists, and even the head of music at TikTok. Turns out hits are not just made by people listening to music on the radio, or even on Spotify, but by ordinary people using songs to make videos on platforms like TikTok.

Kai And what we found were implications not only for the music industry and what music is, but ultimately for all of us.

Sandra Music is now material for creation, and it allows us to socialise in new ways.

Kai Oh, and if you haven't already listened to the Unlearn music episode. Stop listening now and go listen to that one first.

Sandra Because this one will be a deep dive.

Kai A deep, deep dive.

Sandra We will go down a few rabbit holes. This is not our usual Unlearn Project episode. It's something extra.

Kai An extras episode.

Sandra There was all this stuff we came across in our research and interviews that just didn't make it into that episode. But we still wanted to share it with you.

Kai So we're trying something new.

Kai Something a bit different.

Kai Because each of us had this one thing, right, that we wished could have made it into the main episode. Something quite cool. Some deep rabbit hole that each of us fell into.

Sandra Mine went all the way back to Victorian England.

Kai Seriously?

Sandra Yeah.

Kai Mine, mine had computers in it.

Sandra Of course it did.

Sandra Of course.

Sandra Oh, and have we mentioned the computer episode? You should listen to that one too. But really, you should listen to the music episode before you listen to this one.

Kai Yeah, did we mention you should listen to the music episode?

Sandra And while you're there, just listen to the whole thing.

Kai Just listen to the whole thing.

Sandra I'm Sandra Peter.

Kai I'm Kai Riemer.

Sandra Welcome to The Unlearn Project.

Kai Okay, this is your rabbit hole.

Sandra Yeah. So one thing that really struck me and never made it into our episode was this idea that historically, technology kind of configured music for listening. When we spoke to Ole Obermann, the Global Head of Music at ByteDance and TikTok, he touched on the role of tech in the history of music.

Ole Obermann I think this is a fascinating look at how culture and entertainment are both created and consumed. It's worth it to just sort of, you know, think about the history of how music has been created and shared with audiences due to the mediums that were available and sort of, for a lack of a better word, the technology that was available.

Sandra So we did think about history. We even spoke to Charles Fairchild from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Charles Fairchild I'm Associate Professor of Popular Music at the University of Sydney. My general starting point is 1877, or 76, depending on who you ask. And that's the invention of sound recording. So the first big move is from sheet music to sound recording, that 30-year period in the late 19th, early 20th century. The second is the advent of magnetic tape and the transformation of the recording studio from something that captured sound to something in which sound was manipulated extensively. And the third is the transition to digital from the sort of early 90s into the early 2000s, which resulted in the purchasing of digital song files or now streaming music digitally on your phone as a completely normal and straightforward thing to do.

Sandra And we'll get to that history in a second, sound recording, gramophone, radio, vinyl, magnetic tapes, CDs. But what really struck me is what Charles was saying about what was going on before we had sound recording.

Charles Fairchild Prior to sound recording, obviously there was sheet music, and there's a lively and extraordinarily fascinating and rich culture that surrounded sheet music. People would gather in their parlours around pianos, and there were all sorts of you know, social hierarchies and social interactions and protocols and habits that attended even the slightest change in dynamics. And it was often thought that the way you performed a song was an expression of your character as human being. So there was a lot riding on it, especially for young people.

Kai Well, that sounds a bit like what people are doing with music today, right? But they're doing it online.

Sandra Yeah. So if you think of these turn of the 19th century parlours with young men and women who sing and play the pianoforte, and then this whole complex social life that unfolds around it, a bit like a scene from a Jane Austen novel.

Kai What's the pianoforte?

Sandra Basically, the same instrument we just call the piano today.

Kai Okay, the same huh? Then why is it called pianoforte?

Sandra I'm going to sound really smart now. But I did look this up, and it's just the formal name for the piano. And piano, basically, is the shorthand for pianoforte. And they're Italian musical terms for soft and loud, piano and forte.

Kai So it is the, the soft, loud thing.

Sandra Yeah, or today, just the soft thing.

Kai Okay, piano.

Sandra And so as Charles says, there's this entire Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, music as an expression of your character thing going on, and especially if you're like a young person. But then we get to 1877 or 76, and then it all changes with sound recording.

Charles Fairchild Sound recording was invented in a couple of different places, but it was Thomas Edison, the American inventor who received the most credit for it. And being partially deaf and uninterested in music, largely, Edison saw it as a business device. A way to have people send, quote, unquote, letters to one another that were more valid than mere writing. Edison was a great inventor, but not a great businessman, and his genuinely crappy wax cylinders, in which bits and pieces of the sound would actually literally fall off, were superseded by Emile Berliner's discs made out of shellac. And Berliner was quite clever in the sense that it wasn't merely a disc, but it was a master disc from which copies could be made, you could make many copies simultaneously from the master disc. And that's a kind of slightly less obvious, but I think, no less important turning point because of course, the immediate thing that allowed was mass reproduction for mass market. So that to me is the first turning point. All of that took about 30 to 35 years to realise itself.

Charles Fairchild And again, interestingly and different rabbit hole, the invention was not for music, per se, but rather as a business device to send letters. And that's even though the oldest surviving recording is of Mary Had a Little Lamb.

AUDIO Mary had a little lamb; its fleece was white as snow. And everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go.

Sandra Mary Had a Little Lamb, open for business.

Charles Fairchild There was a great deal of excitement, of course, but also a lot of people were unsettled by this because all those protocols and habits and social niceties that went along with music that were thought to be almost literally part of the music, turned out they were not part of the music, that you could actually just buy the music and listen to at home without any of those other things necessarily attached to it. So there was some befuddlement about what this new strange real time technology meant.

Sandra So sound recording kind of set off the first big unlearn 150 years ago, where music went from this social self-expression thing to something one just listens to. And as Charles was telling the story, it became clear that as each wave of innovation came, it cemented this trend music as something people passively listened to.

Charles Fairchild The next major turning point was radio. So radio broadcasting was commercially and publicly available in, I believe it was 1919. A radio station was set up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to broadcast the results of an election. People found it not only better, but more enjoyable to have live music, so radio was almost entirely live for nearly a decade maybe, seven or eight years at least. It was only when electric microphones came in, and sort of electric sound boards and ways to manage the sound going into the broadcast that the record industry said, 'hey, you know, we could actually do that with records. We can have electrical recording, not acoustic recording'. Once they did that, it was seemingly inevitable that you could play records on the radio. The playing of records on the radio, while technically possible, the real turning point of that was when it became sort of culturally and socially acceptable. The next major turning point would be late 1940s when the vinyl album was perfected, and vinyl was one of those great space age materials of the new world post-World War Two. And the first albums tended to be either European classical music or things like original cast recordings from musicals. But then someone like Frank Sinatra, for example, could do a series of albums with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, which were regarded as great artistic achievements. So the album era from about 1948 really probably to about 1998 really, that's kind of a major trajectory in post-war popular music.

Sandra So the trend continues, music becomes something to buy, own and then listened to.

Kai And of course, there were still people singing and playing instruments in their houses and at parties.

Sandra Yeah, but by and large, the way most people now engaged with music was by buying it and listening to it in their home. And then these successive waves of innovation brought on just better ways to let people listen to more music in more ways at more times.

Kai Because perfecting sound forever was the mantra of the music industry for a long time, high fidelity. And when I was a teenager, people would have the perfect sound system at home, with that perfect Sheldon Cooper spot on the couch for the perfect listening experience.

Sandra Yes, people went from listening to radio to listening to albums in their homes, and then listening to Walkman and Discman and iPods, none of that really changed anything, it was still the individual consuming music. So for more or less 150 years, music is something we mainly listen to. But before you tell me about your rabbit hole, there was something else really interesting that Charles mentioned that also happened as a result of this shift. In that move from, like, Jane Austen's parlour and sheet music to the record industry, something else also got cemented.

Charles Fairchild And so the record industry realised, 'wow, we can make a lot of money from this, if we can just hold on to our publishing rights'. So they did that. And this is the kind of central pillar of the contemporary music industry because their ownership of intellectual property is their primary asset beyond anything else, because it's more persistent and more valuable than any other asset they have.

Sandra It cemented for the music industry that owning rights to recorded music and selling records, or later downloads and streaming, was what it was all about. And for everyone else, it more or less takes social media and video sharing platforms like TikTok to get back to music as something we express ourselves with, and we create these rich social experiences around.

Kai Yeah, and that is pretty much the topic of our main Unlearn episode, right?

Sandra Again, if you haven't listened to it.

Kai Do it now.

Sandra Okay, so that was my story. What was your rabbit hole?

Kai Well, you know how your story was all about how over time, technology innovations cemented music as something to record and then sell, buy, and listen to?

Sandra Yes.

Kai Well, my story is about just how deeply the industry embraced the understanding of music as their property. So deeply that not even the emergence of hip hop could unseat it. It's a story of how things almost changed, starting with another technology innovation, computers in the music industry. But then they didn't. It's an almost revolution with sampling and hip hop, but then the music industry puts its foot down. And you know what? It starts right here in Sydney.

Sandra I know because Charles told me about it.

Charles Fairchild The first sampler was the Australian made Fairlight CMI. If you want to see one, you can go to the Conservatorium of Music. That was the first machine to be able to record, capture and playback sound digitally, as far as I know, even though there were other machines that sort of mimicked that, they were analogue.

Kai But did you know that the term sampling itself was also coined here in Sydney?

Sandra Was it really?

Kai Yeah, by the two inventors of the Fairlight CMI. The story of sampling starts right here at Sydney Harbour.

Sandra Wait a sec, didn't we already do a story on the beginning of electronic music?

Kai Ah, you mean CSIRAC?

Sandra Yes, the CSIR Mk 1, the first computer in the world to play music. Not good music, just music. Wasn't that also invented in Sydney?

Kai Yes, it was. But if you want to listen to that, you need to head over to the Unlearn Computer episode. That's our very first Unlearn episode. So as a matter of fact, the history of computers and music starts here in Sydney twice really. The first computer to make music was CSIRAC, the first computer to record and manipulate music.

Sandra Sampling.

Kai Yes sampling. That was the Fairlight CMI. So let me take you to Sydney Harbour. The year is 1975...

Kim Ryrie We started off with that idea in the basement of my grandmother's house and that was on the forefront of Sydney Harbour in Point Piper. And my grandmother would make lunch. And we had about $300 between us. So that was what it cost to incorporate the company, which was called Fairlight Instruments. Hi, I'm Kim Ryrie. I'm Managing Director of DEQX Pty Ltd. And I'm the co-founder of the original Fairlight Instruments in 1975 with Peter Vogel.

Kai So Kim was running Electronics Today International at the time, a magazine for electronics enthusiasts, and they would often do these little projects for their readers. And one of those was to build a machine that creates synthetic sounds, a synthesiser.

Kim Ryrie I'll ring up Peter Vogel, my school friend, we used to design stuff at school together with no money, and since we had no money, I thought he'd be the perfect guy to talk to. And I said, 'What are you doing?' And he said, 'Oh, not much. What are you doing?' I said, 'not much'. Do you want to build the world's greatest synthesiser?' He said, 'Oh, yeah. How's that going to work?' And I said, 'Well, we're going use these new microprocessor things that have just come out'.

Kai So analogue synthesisers already existed, right. But Kim and Peter wanted to build a machine where the manipulation of sound could be programmed, automated, so to speak with a computer,

Sandra And did they?

Kai Yeah, they did. But the sound sounded really sterile, and they were really not happy with what they got. So one day, Peter recorded this short piece of piano music off the radio because he wanted to study how the harmonics of real instruments sound when they replicated in the synthesiser. And that's really when he invented sampling by accident.

Sandra Like a lot of stuff in human history.

Kai Yeah, Peter discovered that when he played back that piano recording and modulating its pitch and, you know, played it like an instrument, it sounded much warmer and more realistic than any of the synthesised sounds that they were creating.

Sandra And so music sampling was born.

Kai Yeah. So rather than creating these synthetic sounds, it became clear that the way to go was to record these short snippets of real instruments and then manipulate those, so you could actually play them like real instruments.

Sandra So unlearn synthesiser?

Kai Pretty much, but that's really how the first music sampler was invented.

Sandra Is that when the term sampling was coined?

Sandra Yeah, Kim and Peter pretty much made it up right here in Sydney. And more importantly, they turned their machine into a product. It became the Fairlight CMI, the Computer Musical Instrument, and shame this as a podcast.

Sandra Why, what did it look like?

Kai Well, it's this really cool cross between a computer and the music keyboard, and a monitor. And this new kind of graphical sound visualisation. I mean, this was before PCs were a thing, right? They didn't have a mouse, so they had to come up with this pen that you can use to manipulate the sound waves on these monitors. It was really cool. I mean, it was super-innovative. And it took off right when computer technology became more affordable.

Kim Ryrie At about this time, the 16k bit memory chip had just been announced. And we sort of couldn't believe it. This was just this huge amount of memory, 16 kilobits in a chip.

Sandra That's really not very much though, is it?

Kai Not by today’s standards, no it's really not much. But it was just enough for them to record and play back short two second sound clips, and to create a machine that could be fed these recordings to become a very versatile instrument.

Kim Ryrie So we sold the machine for about 25,000 US dollars back in 1979. And since it was the first sampler, we were getting lots of interest from anyone that could afford it, which tended to be well-known pop stars and people like that. Peter Gabriel in the UK, we were introduced to Geordie Hormel in Los Angeles, who owned the Village Recording Studio. And at the time, they were recording the Fleetwood Mac Tusk album. And we just brought the machine in, and everyone was just pulling out their chequebooks and writing checks for $25,000. And Stevie Wonder bought the next one Carly Simon, Kate Bush in the UK. Yeah, it became very popular.

Kai And some of these musicians really embraced it, and they would create lots of recordings for it, and they would share these sounds with each other.

Kim Ryrie The original Fairlight didn't have a big sound library. Pretty much the people that owned Fairlight would often donate the sounds that they'd done. Peter Gabriel in particular was very generous. He'd go wandering through junkyards with a Nagra tape recorder around his neck, you know, smashing TV sets. And then he'd let us put them in the library that we distributed. So he was very generous. A lot of people were very generous in those days. One of the famous samples was ORCH 5, Orchestra 5. And that was, I think that was the opening bar from the Firebird Suite, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. So that became very popular, it was very short, you know, it was just, you know, half a second or a second or something. But that was used in a lot of things.

Kai Yeah, and then commercial companies would jump on the bandwagon and create libraries of sound samples and start selling those to Fairlight users.

Sandra So sampling kind of became a new art form.

Kai Well, yes, but initially only for some well of artists and producers. But eventually sampling and the Fairlight would meet with hip hop, right, which was just emerging in New York at the time. And a few years later, sampling as an art form would really take off, and recorded music would be used as this creative material. What's interesting, though, is that Kim, like many inventors, did not envision that his product would be used in that way.

Kim Ryrie What we never thought of was the way it's been used to sample other people's music. We always thought it would just be used for sampling organic sounds and trying to make the musical or playing natural sounds at different pitches to get different effects.

Kai I mean, there had been earlier attempts to use recorded music as creative material, right, like chopping up magnetic tape and piecing it back together or layering it on top of each other.

Kai The Beatles famously had a go, right?

Kai Yeah, but the Fairlight really was different. It allowed recorded sounds to be manipulated in all sorts of creative ways without access to you know, huge sound studios.

Sandra But this thing was still like super expensive, right? For the hip hop community it wasn't affordable when it came out.

Kai Yeah, that's right. Initially, at least.

Hank Shocklee Yeah, I would have loved to use it. It was way too expensive for us.

Sandra Yeah, I know who that is. That is very cool Hank Shocklee, we had him in the Unlearn Music episode.

Kai That's him.

Hank Shocklee My name is Hank Shocklee. I'm a producer, sound engineer, sound designer.

Kai Not just any producer and sound engineer, as Megan our sound editor would tell everyone, but a founding member of hip hop band, Public Enemy and the production outfit, The Bomb Squad.

Sandra As well as a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Grammy Hall of Fame inductee.

Kai Yeah. And Hank did a great interview with Megan and talked about how hip hop emerged, how initially musicians would use turntables to manipulate records live with people rapping over the top of it.

Hank Shocklee The early days of hip hop, it was just the feeling. It was just an excitement that was going on. And, you know, none of us knew that it would become an industry, or it would be a part of an industry, it was more of a love for the energy of what we were doing, than it was anything else.

Kai And hip hop fully embraced recorded music as material for making sounds and making new music.

Hank Shocklee Yeah, music felt very new, it was new, we knew it was new, because most of us have been record collectors, record enthusiasts. A lot of us are fans of music. Most of the music that we were listening to before were made by artists that sang, you know, and this was the first time when instead of us listening to other artists, we can listen to ourselves, you know, rhyme and rap on top of the records. You know, sampling came from the turntable itself. Before we got into the sampling, we would take a break of a record, have a duplicate, and mix it back between turntable one and turntable two. And that right there created the backdrop, or the back beat if you would, of the musical bed that we was going to create. Now when you add a live rapper on top of it, it becomes a performance piece.

Sandra But even so, back then, in the end, ultimately nothing really changed.

Kai Not really because the music industry had other ideas. As your story made clear, they had cemented this idea of recorded music as a product, right, to be sold and consumed. And that idea clashed fundamentally with what hip hop artists were doing. When hip hop took off and grew in popularity, the music labels intervened.

Sandra And Charles was stressing that too, right, when he was talking about the history of music.

Charles Fairchild So on the one hand, you have a music industry, very jealous of its property and how it's used. On the other hand, you have artists routinely making use of that property in new and different ways in nightclubs and loft parties and street corners. But it only became a problem when it reached a mass audience and became something that was really high profile. So with hip hop, what you start getting in the late 80s, early 90s is, you know, routine million selling albums or extremely high-profile concert tours or music videos or live performances. And that's when the music industry started to clamp down. That's when you start getting, not only do you get lawsuits against people misusing this material, and arguably, you could make a good case that this is not misusing the material, that this is actually using it as intended. The music industry was extremely aggressive and extremely successful in their ability to bend copyright law to its wishes.

Sandra So almost unlearn music.

Kai Almost, because the music industry protected their idea of recorded music as a product, as something to just be sold and consumed.

Hank Shocklee And then kind of like it hindered our style, because of all the lawsuits that was happening. And so now it became cost prohibitive, to be able to clear your samples when you have a lot of samples in a space, because it's just too much money to be able to pay out everybody, it was more than the amount of money that we're actually making off the record. Sampling is an art form that is deemed itself basically for the elites. If you can afford to pay the exorbitant fees in order to, you know, clear a sample, then you could get away with using it. But you can only get away with maybe one or two samples. You know, if you look at the early Public Enemy records, those records, you know, would have like 30 samples in it, you know, one song at a minimum of 30 samples. That's what created our demise so to speak, it was the beginning of our demise, because we couldn't utilise the art form to its fullest.

Kai So back then the music industry intervened. And it put a real damper on this new creative use of music as a material for making new music, and also on hip hop as a creative art form for everyone.

Sandra And again, Charles was making that point.

Charles Fairchild So the relationship between copyright and inventive use and reuse of materials is kind of a perennial in the music industry in the era of sound recording, and they only seem to become a problem when someone else seems to be making a lot of money from what the music industry perceives as the misuse of their property. It was only when DJs and hip hop artists began being able to sell music clearly based on pre-existing sounds, that's when it became a problem. And not just sell it but sell a lot of it.

Kai And that is what's different today with TikTok.

Sandra Exactly. Now, the music industry has come on board because creators on this platform are not making new music to be sold for profit. In fact, they're helping the music industry by promoting their products for free.

Kai Yeah, and interestingly, the initial reflex of the music industry was, you know, as always to be against the free use of their music on TikTok. But once they saw how songs can go viral, right, how it can make hits, they really embraced the idea of music as material. And today they list their music catalogues on TikTok. They even promote the use of their songs by creators in their videos, because that then gets their music in front of huge audiences who then start listening to it on streaming platforms, which gets hits pumped up in the charts. And that's where the real money is for the music industry.

Sandra Which is the topic of our main music episode, so we've re-emerged from the rabbit hole.

Kai We did.

Sandra I was worried there for a bit, you know, computers and all.

Kai But it was totally worthwhile to hear from your story of how it all started with the social idea of music, and how music became a product to be sold and consumed. And in my story, how this almost changed with sampling and hip hop, but then the music industry put their foot down.

Sandra So we should do one of these once in a while, an additional episode, a deep dive to explore the rich background of some of our topics.

Kai But next time back to our regular Unlearn episodes.

Sandra This was The Unlearn Project. Our sound editor was Megan "It's much better when I tell it" Wedge. And this episode and additional nerdy stuff was written by Sandra Peter and Kai Riemer. We had helped with bits and pieces from the entire SBI team and Megan's friends. If you're wondering about the music you're hearing right now, it's yet another one of the Bach Goldberg Variations, a public domain recording made possible by a Kickstarter project, and used by us because it's beautiful, and more importantly, free. If you want to know a little more about the underlying research behind each of our episodes are for a full nerd out our transcript and shownotes are available at sbi.sydney.edu.au/unlearn. The Unlearn Project is a production of Sydney Business Insights, an initiative of The University of Sydney Business School. You can follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and WeChat. You can subscribe, like or leave us a very positive rating wherever you get your podcasts.

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