Apple (the Beatles record label) once sued Apple (the computer corporation). After initial squabbles over the right to name their companies after the same fruit, the two agreed that all was good as long as Steve Jobs and crew never entered the music business. As you can probably guess, as you likely read this on your MacBook while charging your iPod and listening to background music on iTunes at this very moment, there was a breach somewhere along the lines. In honor of Steve Jobs' passing last week, here are the Apple visionary's six best innovations in music.
6. USB ports Apple did not invent USB, but the company was the first to include USB ports on home computers. Ever since, these ports have become an integral part of modern music. Mp3 players, recording interfaces, portable hard drives stocked with a lifetime supply of obscure dub remixes; USB (or its more intense big brother, Firewire) is essential in syncing our computers with our analog, real-life music experiences.
5. iTunes From an industry standpoint, digital music has always been tricky. See: Napster, Metallica, the death of the music industry as a whole. The beauty of iTunes is its overarching ease - it gave labels of all sizes a simple way to distribute music and listeners at most levels of computer proficiency an opportunity to absorb, purchase, and organize their tunes. Little bonuses - podcasts, the Genius function, a totally sweet visualizer - make the enjoyment and discovery processes surprisingly fulfilling.
4. Garage Band Many recording studio owners, engineers, and producers have spent the better part of twenty years freaking out about becoming obsolete. While these professionals generally have an advantage in the skill department, they've lost a bit of their edge with the boom of home recording products that have been stealthily improving over the years. GarageBand is by no means as powerful of a music production tool as ProTools or its competitors, but it's a stellar introduction to the often intimidating process of recording. The fact that it comes standard on all current Mac computers puts its capabilities in more hands than any similar program to date. With enough time and energy at your disposal, you can even use GarageBand to make a hit. Remember "Fireflies", the Postal Service-aping single by Owl City? The track was produced on GarageBand - we suggest that dude uses the money he saved on recording software to buy Ben Gibbard a pony. 3. iPod It only took five years for the iPod to grow from a luxury to a necessity. Now we can look back at the days spent walking around with a battery powered CD player with the embarrassment of a former fanny pack enthusiast. For all its undeniable innovations, the iPod is still a clunky beast. Screens break, entire music collections spontaneously combust. Thanks to the limitation of early iPods' hard drive space, people listen to lower quality music than ever before. Most of our society would agree that the pros outweigh the cons - particularly those who use iPod as a catchall for mp3 players, the same way Southerners often say "Coke" to mean "any soft drink".
2. iPad Gorillaz used an iPad to produce an entire record. Brian Eno used the device to take his generative music concept to a new level. The Digitech guitar effects company just developed a system interfacing digital recreations of famous guitar pedals with a physical board to step on during live performance. The most exciting thing about the iPad is that we've barely unlocked its capabilities.
1. Mac II personal computer Okay, the totally obsolete Apple's Mac II now only occupies a tiny niche in music. Video game music lovers (aka. "Chiptune" kids) love the computer's grainy, eight-bit sounds akin to early Ataris and Nintendos. In the grand scheme, the Mac II was the first Apple product - or mass produced machine in general - to accommodate music into its platform via Midi (aka. Musical Instrument Digital Interface). It now seems so foreign that music was recorded and produced without the aid of computers. Sure, similar niches to the Chiptuners have emerged around cassette tapes and wire recorders and the like. But 99 percent of music is made and listened to in some part via a computer. If Apple hadn't pioneered the capability with the Mac II, Bill Gates probably would have. But he wouldn't have done it as well.
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