Microphones Changed Music in the 1920s

In 1925, the condenser microphone began to be widely used in music studios. These convert sound waves into electrical signals. Before that, recordings were made by machines without electricity.

Acoustical Recording Machines

We’ll see a video showing people singing into very long horns. Their voices (or instruments) had to vibrate an attached diaphragm that was usually glass. Doesn’t that sound hard? Professional singers needed a big voice and the ability to sustain the volume. The glass moved a stylus, which cut a groove into rotating hard wax.

Acoustical recording machines couldn’t record singers with lower or higher voices. A baritone was too low, so men tended to be tenors. In this acoustical recording of Eddie Cantor, note how he projects his voice.

Here is a video: How the Microphone Changed the Way We Sing.

EMPRESS OF THE BLUES

These two recordings show why Bessie Smith was called the Empress of the Blues. The condenser microphone came into wide use in 1925, so I have chosen recordings of her from 1923 and 1929. There’s a big difference in the sound.

Bessie Smith sings Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home (1923)

Bessie Smith sings I’ve Got What It Takes (1929)

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