Geek Out on This: 14 Pieces of Software That Shaped Modern Music

Back in the day, singing or playing an instrument into a microphone was as state-of-the-art as recording got. Not anymore. FactMag takes a look at the software that makes our modern music possible.

We’re at the stage in history where using music software isn’t so much an option as it is a necessity.

Sure, there are always going to be some contrarian sorts who take it upon themselves to record to dictaphone tape and pen their sheet music on rolls of dried human flesh, but nowadays they’re in the minority. If you’re going to be recording music, chances are you’re going to need some software to do it, and there are plenty of options.

It wasn’t always this way – back in the early ’80s, when the MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) protocol was in its infancy, computers were still glorified word processors, and while some brave souls were attempting to generate experimental sounds (Max Mathews, please stand up), most of us were simply stuck waiting half an hour just to load a copy of 3D Monster Maze, only to be met by a read error at line 348.

Over time, however, music software blossomed, and transitioned from fiddly time wasters, doomed to the forgotten directories on an Commodore Amiga cover disk, to the plethora of usable and sturdy apps we have available to use today. It wasn’t long before software actually started to surpass most hardware, and for all the times you hear Jack White harping on about dubbing to two inch tape, it’s far more convenient to just boot up your shareware (read: free) copy of Reaper and simply hit record.

In 2014, you can even make music on your phone – with software that would put a decrepit copy of Opcode Vision to shame – but those old programs that many of us had to plough through, crash after crash, were absolutely crucial in informing not only the digital audio workstations and suites of plug-ins that we have available to us now, but also the music itself. Can you really imagine how Chicago drill would sound without FL Studio? How quiet music might still be without L1 Ultramaximizer, or how T-Pain might sound without Autotune?

The following programs changed the way we think about the relationship between music and software, for better and for worse.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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