The Change Heard Around the World: The History of Sound in Cinema

The Jazz SingerNew technologies have been, and continue to be, developed for use in cinema since the dawn of the medium. From the invention of the projector to digital filmmaking, these additions have drastically changed the future of the art form, but perhaps none so much as the introduction of sound. In the first lesson of their 6-part course, Filmmaker IQ, in partnership with RØDE, presents the history of the development of sound in the moving pictures, including when, how, and by whom the technology was created, and how it affected the cinematic world.

The story of how sound came to be a staple of filmmaking is an interesting one, and like many other stories about early cinema, it centers around big deals, money, and control over the market. There was no one person who invented the sound technology that we use today -- in fact, recorded sound for film evolved in a series of labored advancements in engineering, but one large obstacle that was necessary to overcome in order to exhibit films to mass audiences was amplification.When a viable solution was found, however, the Big Five Studios weren't too keen on making the transition, largely because of the big-ticket problems doing so posed, like construction costs for sound studios, recording equipment, wiring theaters, and more.

However, Warner Bros. jumped on the wagon early and made out like bandits. Their 1927 talkie film The Jazz Singer was a massive international success that earned $3.5 million at the box office. This ushered in the new age of sound in motion pictures. Check out Filmmaker IQ's first lesson of their series on sound below for an informative overview of how sound came to be one of the greatest contributions to film in history.

Silent films and their makers don't top many top 1o lists of filmmakers and filmgoers -- which is understandable. The vast majority of us grew up watching talkies (or as we call them now, normal movies) and have become accustomed to the dual role images and sound play in storytelling. Film without sound just isn't the cinematic packaging that we're used to. And if I was writing this on a typewriter in some chaotic newsroom in the 1920s, I'd be saying the exact opposite. "Pictures need sound as much as folks need breezers in Kalamazoo."

When The Artist came out in 2011, I was completely beside myself with excitement. One of my favorite professors in college was an expert in silent films, and helped cultivate in me a love for the black and white non-synched movies. So, after the modern silent film sweep the Oscars that February, the subject of the silent era was all we could talk about in the lecture hall -- not because making a silent film was a gimmick, not because it was something new. For me, at least, the lesson I took away from it was that storytelling exists everywhere. When the first film producers bucked the idea of adding sound to their "perfect" medium, they were more focused on the potential cost of this new technology (many were also just averse to change). But, the storytelling potential was incredible, and sound has gone on to tell stories we would've never been able to tell before.

Link: The History of Sound at the Movies: A Sneak Peak at Our New Audio Course Series -- Filmmaker IQ

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How are there no comments on this article, but comparisons between 90% similar dslrs generate 100+ comments?! I really appreciate this video and the historical perspective it brings. Seeing how quickly many of cinema's great innovations were invented and then adopted is pretty astonishing. Also, the engineer's ability to utilize formats to their potential is amazing. Dolby digital in the sprocket holes, encoded LCR onto a single mono track using extra tones, turning off rear surround with another tone when not in use to prevent a hiss, really creative engineering across the decades!

August 12, 2014 at 12:54PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


It is because for some reason, video guys can't appreciate the importance of audio. I would take quality audio over quality video any day. It is so important.

August 12, 2014 at 10:00PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


I like to watch Filmmaker IQ drinking beer while laying on the sofa. The videos are really informative.

August 13, 2014 at 12:12AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Wonder when SACD / DSD will find its way to film. The sound quality is digitally the best to date. The gear is semi affordable and readily available. Gus Skinas (at Super Audio Center in Boulder Co) let me listen to some of the analogue masters tracked to SACD from Pink Floyd and I was blown away. Then I listen to tracks that had been recorded directly to SACD... then I drank the kool-aid. When sound reaches this level you start to feel it, as well as hear it.

August 14, 2014 at 5:33PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Let's get something straight! Video is not a movie. Movie is movie produced on film and video is produced with a video camera regardless what fancy name it uses such as HD.

When I hear someone, ESPECIALLY SO-CALLED FILM STUDENTS, using a video camera and call it filming, it is idiotic! It is TELEVISION!

The beauty of shooting movies on film is it has a longer life span, if properly taken care of, than video(HD or whatever). Film has been proven over the years its longevity. Look at Turner classic Movies (TCM) . All there classic movies from the 1920s to now have been electronically digitized. This is great for television. Look at the quality. The quality could have never been achieved if it wasn't for the character of film (the emulsion). Projecting a film on a large screen has far better quality than what is shown today on theater $70 thousand video projectors. The images are sharper on film than HD. HD images shown in a theaters are flattened compared to film.

Run identical film and the same identical HD together and switch them back and forth in a public theater. You will see a remarkable difference of quality. Video HD is great for television!

As for sound, Dolby had remarkably improved its sound quality for both movies and television.

I guess you can call me a purist. I can go on and on. But I won't. Of course prints have a short life, but not the negative film if properly cared for.

What do you think???????????


I guess today it is all about Hollywood being cheap! Buy cheap you get cheap!

I saw one of these HD in a theater. It was awful! From time to time there were pixtel break up.

August 15, 2014 at 11:30AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


If you notice the format of the movie, it's either creative or budget choice. Pretty much you won't know a studio movie is fik or digital, because they spend the time and $$ to fix problems.

August 23, 2014 at 8:28AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


I've tried to correct that for years and years Raymond. It's a losing battle. "Filming" is now synonymous with "capturing any image". When professional publications use it this way, you know the battle is lost.

August 24, 2014 at 10:29PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


I wholeheartedly agree that calling videography "filming" is both inaccurate and annoying. (And don't get me started on how people misuse the word "ironic".)

But the idea that film is durable comes with a lot of caveats. Sure, it lasts a long time if properly stored. But many of the movies that TCM airs aren't really "classics" in the sense that they're especially good. They're just old movies that have survived for a long time. There are hundreds - maybe thousands - of films that we can only read about because they're gone forever.

It's also true that up until recently, video was even less durable. But digital video can now be copied perfectly, with no generation loss. That alone makes it more durable than film. It's easy to forget how recently this trend of digitally projecting something that's never been on film really is. The technology has moved extremely quickly. I think it's very possible that 20 years from now we'll look on this transition phase as an era that both film and video aficionados will look back on with awkward pride.

October 22, 2014 at 10:50AM, Edited October 22, 10:50AM


Regardless of where your interests lie this is a very informative history lesson.

August 17, 2014 at 8:32AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Craig M

V Renée If you already don't know Blancanieves (Pablo Berger, 2012) then you should ;-)

October 10, 2014 at 3:31PM