A Conversation for Talking Point: Is the Digital Age Lowering the Cultural Value of Music?

A musician's thoughts

Post 1


When I was younger, I think I felt the urge to 'pirate' as much music as possible because, at the time, it was 'cool' to have more mp3s than your friends. I still have a lot of this music, but rarely listen to mp3s at all anymore. Most of the music I still listen to that I downloaded (usually from IRC, back then), is music that is just ridiculously hard to find on CD in Australia, such as the Xenogears Original Sound Track (OST).

Now, I only download music that people recommend to me, so I can hear it and see if I like it. If I do, I track down the CD.

I don't believe that the cultural value of music is diminishing, exactly, as a result of saturation. More to do with the lack of quality music being distributed by major labels. If you compare the quality of pop music now to say, the 80s or even the 90s, there is a distinct difference in quality. I suppose you could argue that that is subjective. To counter this argument, I propose watching the video clip for nearly any 80s or 90s pop song and comparing it to nearly any video of a pop song of today. Compare the sex content by the standards at the time - is the video about the sex, or the music? Of course, there will always be exceptions, but that's my argument there!

Anyway, I digressed a little... the cultural value of music has, if anything, increased with the ability for people to easily find new music to listen to and from an artists point of view, they have far more avenues now to get their music heard. This is a good thing for the industry, but it will require some forward thinking that a lot of (in fact, to my knowledge, the majority of) record labels have not done. Society now seems to value music in a more general way than in the past. Granted, this works against some areas too, as the more niche musical markets (such as classical and jazz) are still just as niche as they've ever been.

I don't think this post is as succinct as I'd like, but I shall go on.

I have a strong issue with the concept of paying anything for audio quality that is lacking. So, with that in mind, I'm not willing to pay anything for the mp3 version of Radiohead's new album. However, being a Radiohead fan, I will certainly buy the fully pressed version when it becomes available. This attitude is one that is shared by a lot of my friends and colleagues.

Flipping back to the talking point page, I seem to have missed something. The 'cult of the album'. It makes me a little sad that people are downloading single songs from an album, I think this idea works well for the pop world. I mean, really, how many good pieces of music are on the average Britney Spears album? Generally, it's only the singles released that are worth listening to on those kind of releases. So maybe for the manufactured pop arena, only releasing singles instead of albums would be the solution to both consumer and record label? When it comes to artists who are actually artists, releasing a single as an individually downloadable track would fine, but to me, an album is an album and should be listened to as an album. Just as a side note, the point of the album is another downside to mp3 as it's not possible to use zero space to incorporate between-track data, or to bleed one song into the next without gap.

So, backing up a little, I do not (and will not) own an iPod or any other mp3 player based purely on audio quality. A lot of people dispute being able to tell the difference, but to them I say "stop listening to your music so loud that it distorts, learn about compression and the differences will magically appear!"

The internet has certainly changed my listening habits. I've learned to appreciate the quality of a good, well recorded album. I've learned that there is value in music because it is one of the oldest aspects of human culture, and to look at music within the light of the last 70 years would be silly. It's also opened avenues to me, as a musician and as a listener that would otherwise have not existed. Frank Zappa saw the potential for the internet in the mid 80s, but never had the opportunity to act on it. I also learned, when I was downloading a lot of music (and even by todays standards, I still have a lot), that not only can you not possibly listen to it all - there is absolutely no point!

From here on, the 'industry' may become less of an 'industry' and go back to how it once was, about the art of music. In closing, the cultural value of music is not dying, music itself is dying. With more and more manufactured, un-musical, badly produced records being pushed. With mp3 becoming more and more popular, a lot of the aspects of music are being lost. A lot of musicians, now, forget that they're actually meant to be playing music and are, instead, playing with image. The death of music is a far greater issue than the current cultural status.


A musician's thoughts

Post 2


Oh man, italics don't work here.

A musician's thoughts

Post 3

Primeval Mudd (formerly Roymondo)

Nope, they don't, but we know what you mean!

I'll read your post when I'm a tad less drunk. It looks good.

A musician's thoughts

Post 4


Cheers, looking forward to seeing what people say. Enjoy your drink!

A musician's thoughts

Post 5

Primeval Mudd (formerly Roymondo)

I read it and agree with most of it. I don't see music dying but I do foresee recorded music becoming less important: as revenues from recordings fall the emphasis will have to shift back to live performance. This could make gigs prohibitively expensive for many (they already are!) but there is going to be little income from albums in a world of filesharing. Despite the record industry's panic home taping didn't kill music: if anything, it promoted albums. I would never have bought all Metallica's albums if a mate hadn't given me a copy of 'Master Of Puppets' back in '86.

Things are different now though. Maybe it's the loss of the tactile splendour of a twelve inch disc and its cover, maybe it's the sheer convenience and availability of audio files, but recorded music does seem to be losing its magic.

A musician's thoughts

Post 6


See, the thing with music dying is that there's more to it than just notes (as I'm sure you know), and a terrible amount of the subtlety has completely gone from recorded music.

They (the producers) have this disgusting tendency to push the level up to the max, then compress it to make it even louder, losing dynamics and space and clarity.

I recently reviews a CD by a band called "The Scare", and couldn't discern the cymbals being hit, it just a wash of "shhh" sound.

Just an example.

There's a good video on youtube about this, I'll see if I can find it...


There it is...

Sorry if uh, that's against house rules or anything. I figure this is as forum, though.

I mean, this is just one aspect of a whole big issue to me.

A musician's thoughts

Post 7

Primeval Mudd (formerly Roymondo)

I'll have a watch in a minute (lost in Sigur Ros at the moment!) but I absolutely agree about the compression thing. Everything has to be normalised and compressed to within an inch of it life, removing any subtlety and dynamic range.

I'm a serious culprit myself; everything I do gets a huge dose of Endorphin, but I'm a civil servant making music for the hell of it, not a record producer making music for a living.

A musician's thoughts

Post 8


Yeah, I know what you mean. I do it too, but use Sony Wave Hammer. I tend to pull the overall levels back in the mixing, though.

What I really need is a consistently good signal input, unfortunately, my SBLive doesn't cut it. Hahaha.

A musician's thoughts

Post 9

Primeval Mudd (formerly Roymondo)

That makes me think (which is rare): are musicians just too bloody fussy? Would any normal member of the public know the difference if we recorded something at 96kh/s or 44.1? Does it matter? If he foot taps and the ear ain't offended surely that's all that counts.

(playing devil's advocaat somewhat here!)

A musician's thoughts

Post 10


Well, it's like a photo, I suppose. 96kh/s gives you more "audio resolution" to work with, the end result, when you downsample to 44.1 for CD, is that more information is preserved. Just like an 8megapixel digital image gives you more information to work with, for editing and such, than say, a 4megapixel. Though, for all intents and purposes, 4megapixel (or 44.1kh/s) is perfectly acceptable, but once you go in and edit, you lose information.

But I think that if you compared a well recorded album (take for example, Sigur Ros' 'bracket' or whatever it's called...) and compare it to, say, the latest Eminem record. I know that stylistically, it's not a fair comparison, but production is production.

I would even say that Sigur Ros album is too 'produced', but it's been a while since I listened to it.

If you like Sigur Ros, though, check out Mum's "Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy".

A musician's thoughts

Post 11


It's not the downloading full albums that's killing the music industry. Most of the time, downloading a full album leads to buying more albums from the artist. It's only downloading a song or two from the album, without listening to the rest of the album that's killing the music industry. Now it seems like most bands are going for two or three great singles, and nine songs of filler.
Like, look at the difference between the two Fratellis albums, Costello Music was fun twee-pop all the way through, but then Here We Stand came out with Mistress Mabel as it's lead single, and the rest of the songs are either Mistress Mabel with re-worked lyrics, or something that The Fratellis wrote and recorded whilst drunk.

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