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Leader: Happy 20th Birthday SOS!

Paul White By Paul White
Published November 2005

Welcome to this birthday issue of Sound On Sound, which enters its 21st year this month. I've often commented on how much music technology has changed over this period, but other aspects of our lives have also altered considerably. These days, SOS is colour throughout, but in 1985, most music magazines used it only for the cover and special features (although SOS always had more colour pages than any other music mag). Back then, the magazine text was edited on BBC Model B computers, and pages were physically pasted together with wax!

The role of computers in music in 1985 was barely out of the experimental stage, MIDI sequencing and recording was new and radical, and samplers cost around the price of a small apartment. If you had an eight-track recorder you were seriously into recording, and if you had 16 tracks, you were probably a pro.

Some years later, I remember saying that I thought it would be a long time before digital reverbs became available for less than £100, or hard drives became as cheap as two-inch tape. As it happens, I was right — it did take quite a few years — but now hard drive space is a fraction of the cost of two-inch tape, and cheap digital effects processors abound.

It wasn't so long ago that £1000 didn't seem like an unreasonable amount to spend on a mediocre digital reverb — there was no alternative if you wanted your recordings to sound in any way professional. I recall, when hard disk editing came onto the scene, being very pleased at getting a trade deal to buy a huge 650MB hard drive for only £2500 because I'd finally be able to load an entire album onto my multi-thousand-pound Digidesign Sound Tools card and interface!

Who would have dreamed in 1985 that nearly all of that expensive hardware would one day be swept away by the computer revolution, and become available at commodity prices?

But that's progress — all sorts of things have changed since SOS first appeared in the shops in 1985 including, perhaps most noticeably, the Internet, which now permeates almost every aspect of our lives. The SOS web site, with its massive archive of articles, is now a major international resource and attracts a vast number of visitors, many of them music-technology students. And that's another thing; back when we started there were no music-technology students, other than those on the BBC training course. You couldn't even find books on the subject.

These days recording systems are almost invariably digital, and that applies to video as well as audio setups — something that has made it possible for us to produce our own DVD material and edit it in house. It involves a lot of work, and it's an on-going learning experience, but as with life, the journey is also the reward. I've really enjoyed getting involved with producing DVD content, though it can be very time-consuming — what you watch in five minutes could take several weeks to produce and edit. And to set the record straight, the Studio SOS visits that we film have no more pre-planning than a phone call. If these features have a fly-on-the-wall look about them, it's because that's exactly what they are, and in some home studios, the walls are rather too close for comfort once you also get a couple of cameras in there...

As always, we're interested in your feedback on the direction of the magazine. So here's to the next 20 years — who knows what might have happened by then?

Paul White Editor In Chief