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The Audio Revolution

In 1983 a group of musicians and music merchants agreed to standardise an interface by which new instruments could communicate control instructions with other instruments and microcomputers. This standard was dubbed MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) and Apple narrowly beat Atari to become the first manufacturer to adopt it with the Apple II. The electronic composer could now use a relatively inexpensive instrument, such as an electronic keyboard, controlled by a personal computer.

Software enabled note sequences played on a keyboard or other MIDI-capable instrument to be digitally recorded and played back by the Apple II or Macintosh. The logical progression was that a single keystroke could activate every device in the studio remotely and in synchrony.

This led to compositional software. Musicians with no programming experience could create an infinite variety of output routines using simple on-screen graphic displays. The composer could now invent a studio full of phantom instruments at will, limited only by the imagination.

The final result of the computer compositional revolution is that the computer can be used in live performances.

The Macintosh has always had the ability to record and play sound. Software quickly emerged to edit and manipulate these recordings.

When Apple introduced CD drives—at first external but then controversially as a complete replacement for the floppy disk—Macs were able to play music CDs as well as read CD ROMs. The advent of CD burners allowed users to transfer rare vinyl recordings to digital format.

iTunes & the iPod

In 2000 Apple introduced iTunes software that made it easy to manage these digital music files and to convert recorded sound files into the appropriate format for burning to a CD.

iPodThe following year Apple released the iPod, a small external hard drive to which digital music files could be downloaded. What was revolutionary was that the iPod also contained the necessary controls and software to enable it to function as a music playback device in its own right. With the addition of a colour screen and more storage capacity, the iPod morphed into a means of storing and playing video.

In 2003 Apple started its own digital music shop, the iTunes Store, selling online music downloads, creating the first legal music download service to catch on with consumers. The iTunes Store fully integrates with iTunes software and the iPod to create an easily managed music and video collection. Over one billion songs have now been sold and the iTunes Store leads a dramatic shift in sales of music and movies from bricks and mortar record and video stores to the internet.

Podcasting has taken the audio revolution to a new level, allowing the creation and publication of radio-style shows to a global audience. In mid 2005, Apple joined the podcasting revolution by integrating support for retrieval and publishing of podcasts into iTunes. Today, there are over two million podcast subscribers and tens of thousands of publishers.

Video casting was born by combining the video capability of the iPod with the publishing tools for podcasting. Coupled with the YouTube boom, budding video producers and movie stars can now show off their talents to millions of people at almost no cost.

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Five revolutions that changed your life

podcasts iconAudio Revolution podcast

To download these files onto your computer, control-click (right-click) on the link and select "download linked file" (Safari) or "save link as" (Firefox). Double-click or drag the file into iTunes and it will play.

Garry Barker of The Age newspaper talks about how the iPod revolutionised his life:

download mp3 formatted podcast 3.85MB

download AAC (m4a enhanced) formatted podcast 2.14MB