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Tuesday, May 17, 2005


There's been a great debate going on over at Fred's blog (avc.blogs.com) about the digital revolution as it pertains to music. I've said all I have to say, specifically, about that, on that blog, but I want to clear up what might be a misconception. I am not anti-digital. I love digital. The digital revolution has made my life easier. Both as a Graphics Coordinator, and an Audio Engineer. Yes, I long for a two-inch tape machine for my 32 channel console, but on the other hand, digital audio has opened a whole world of editing possibilities. There's a danger to that -
endless tweaking; 'fix it in the mix' is now a satndard more than a cop-out, but overall, I do see it as an advancement in the industry. What it all comes down to, for me, is that I see the digital world as a buffet. I take what I like, and leave the rest. I don't have an iPod, I don't want one. In fact, I'd prefer that my clients leave theirs at home. Don't play me a track that you want to sound like, go in the room and make that sound and I'll capture it. I don't need a reference, I need a sound.

Amen, can I get an Amen!!!

As participant in the discussion on the AVC blog, I think you and I get painted with nostalgia brush. Certainly my lack of ability to articulate the issues I feel strongest about related to the playback of recorded music allows them to do that easily, but that’s OK.

I think these guys make too big a deal out of the technology itself and miss what it’s all about, digging the art. It’s cool, they’re investors and entrepreneurs mostly with a few of us fringe elements hanging in.

Bottom line for me in that discussion is that with all this free sharing availability I think we are cheapening the art of recorded music as a whole. We talked about this in the past and your post invites us to explore deeper beyond what Fred’s teed up, but is the ability to have computers create killer perfect drums, guitars, bass, horns, etc… really advancement? Have we given the younger generation an out from actually learning and appreciating how to play instruments? Have we made recorded music so common place and accessable that it’s nothing but background noise? Will the new generation have the ability know music the way we remember music? Will they later in life get that weird feeling in their gut when they here an old favorite from their youth that brings them right back to where they were when they first heard the song? Or will they miss out because with 100,000 songs available to them on their gadgets nobody will have the time to stop and just listen and become immersed. I really fear that this will be the case with the space age wiz kidz.

There are a lot of parallels that I can point to. Skateboarding for instance. When I got into skateboarding, it was the birth of a crossover sport from surfing. All the details can be found by watching the documentary “Dogtown & Z Boyz”. There was an art to it. There was an insanity about it. It was outlaw, it was new, it was a culture, it was completely different. The style was more rhythmic and free flowing having been born out of the surf style and culture. Skateboarding has undergone two die offs and rebirths since. It has become extremely acrobatic. I love to watch the modern day skaters and am in complete awe of what they can do today, but compared to what it was in Dogtown in the mid-late 70’s and early eighties it just doesn’t do it for me. What is it? Is it that today all of skating is done with safety equipment that allows for relative risk free arial acrobatics? Is it the fact that all skating is done in the confines of skateparks and made for TV competition environments (why do we always have to make everything a competition anyway)? The answer to me is yes. All these things have diminished what it was and therefore will never come close to what the Dogtowner’s did during their era. Dogtowner’s didn’t need any fucking safety equipment to minimize risk, the risk was what got them off. By neutralizing it, by sanitizing it for TV, they ruined it. Maybe not ruined it, but made it ready for TV. It’s not just because the DT guys were the innovators, it was about the whole scene.

This is what I fear is happening to the recording arts and the listening experience with all this technology. It is being cheapened. Kids don’t need to learn to master an instrument because a computer can do it all for them.

I only wish more I had the ability to make this make more sense to those who are so willing to watch these things vanish over the horizon.

Lester Bangs was right, “It’s too late, you missed it. It’s over. They’ve ruined it all”.
Who needs a seesion player when you have a nano-synth...Spot on my friend, Bangs was right, about everything except cough medicine...
Hey guys, there is no right and wrong in this discussion. It's a discussion.

One thing you are onto is the fact that digital lowers the cost and possibly the value of everything.

Think about Craig's list. You know how much it costs to advertise Smoke and Mirrors on Craig's List? Zero right now. That ad would cost a hundred bucks or more at the NY Times.

Which means it wouldn't be placed.

An IBM Mainframe used to cost millions. A Mac or a PC costs less than $500. And it can do more.

The PC cheapened the computer business and it exploded.

I bet the same thing happens with digitl media. In fact, it is already happening.
There may be no right or wrong, but I can mourn the loss of something I love...right?
sure, but have you lost it?
"I lost my job, well I didn't lose it, it's just somebody else is doing it..." B. Golthwaite

"you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone...." B. Dylan

It's the loss of a culture that I mourn, a very small percentage of new releases are pressed on vinyl. What if I wanted to buy 'Yankee Foxtrot Hotel' on vinyl? SOL....
'rightbackatyou' put the Kinks 'Village Green Preservation Society' on his Fifty Favorite Records list, I wonder if he REALLY listens to that record. What Ray Davies was saying on that record, and throughout that period of the Kinks, is exactly what Tony Alva and I are on about here. It's all about the loss of a way of life, of a culture, an ideal. Tony and I know we are the odd men out, like the Lorax of Dr. Suess, except we're letting the world move on without obstruction - but not without discussion. This same theme is found throughout The Gunslinger series of novels by Stephen King (ooops, two 'McDonalds of literature' references in one day). The world is moving on, and like Roland of Gilead, we roll with it, and mourn it simultaneously.
I think what's happened is the general loss of "specialness" we used to feel when buying music. The fact is, when you used to save up your allowance (or lawn mowing money, in my case), truck on down to the record store (or K-Mart), and buy a record, you had a certain appreciation of it as a physical thing of value. There was a tangible reality to the music, there was something to hold and to look at, something that had to be taken care of lest it get scratched, warped, stolen, or eaten by the car's tape deck (hey, I bought tapes too).

With digital media (particularly that which is shared over a network) there's no longer a physical aspect to the music. One string of 0's and 1's pretty much looks and feels the same as another, and for people raised on the fetishistic aspects of owning a record, something has certainly been lost.

Of course, there's also the question of sound quality. The fact is - and make no mistake about it - that the move toward digital was NOT about sound quality but about money. Plain and simple, record labels' sales were down and they needed a new technology to spark a buying frenzy. Early CD's were mastered from cassette copies (!), poorly maintained tapes, vinyl - anything the labels could get their hands on. Engineers who first heard CD told the advisory board that there was no way this technology was ready, that they were doing a disservice to the music, and that the labels needed to wait a few years until the technology was ready. The labels didn't listen, as they didn't care. The long term health of music asa an art form is not part of their equation.

Mp3's, of course, are lower quality than AIFF's or WAV files, but the average listener doesn't care (or notice). Personally, the sound of smeared cymbals and digital distortion makes me cringe, and there's definitely evidence that it's disturbing and fatiguing, although a good MP3 will meet with my approval. But that's not what the "digital revolution" is about. It's about selling more things to more people, and don't believe for a second that it has a damn thing to do with "art," "Memories," "nostalgia," or any of that crap. A new piece of gear that everyone HAS to have is about one thing and one thing only - the bottom line.

The iPod basically brought Apple back to life (and I'm a huge Apple fan). When DVD standards change we'll all go out and get the new players and discs. And in 5 years there'll be something else.

But a guitar is still a guitar, and no one can digitize my Deluxe Reverb, no matter what they say.
"Gabby Johnson is right...."
"I think what's happened is the general loss of "specialness" we used to feel when buying music."

"One string of 0's and 1's pretty much looks and feels the same as another, and for people raised on the fetishistic aspects of owning a record, something has certainly been lost."

These statements best capture what I have been unable to accurately say. Thanks G. Johnson for articulating it better than I. We needed you on the A VC board a couple of days ago. Me and Jackson here were taking on heavy fire from the capitalists.
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