Sunday, November 15, 2009

Discussion Topic

An interesting article (right-click title and open link in a new tab/window to read the article). I've read a little bit about the whole loudness war and am a fan of the movement "TurnMeUp". I strongly believe that the essence of music is not only sound, but also the absence of sound. It's the absence of sound which makes sound [when present] special, just as in without darkness, there would be nothing special about light (and vice versa). My own experience in listening to music, is that I prefer uncompressed, or less compressed music. If I want to hear it loud, I turn up the volume. There is a lot of talk about the loudness war being another attempt to literally "rise above the noise level" of the radio station, as no one wants to be the quiet artist on the radio.

I think that if your prime target audience is people listening to the radio as they are doing something else (i.e. background listening) then this makes sense to a degree. BUT, a song still has to be good right? Being loud is not a trait that people associate as a positive for a song on its own.

This brings me to the second part of the discussion which is the current trend of 'capturing' the impossibly perfect performance. Consumers (yes people who listen to music are also consumers) today demand high quality products. The same way that advertising and marketing bend the truth as far as they can without actually lying to put the product in the best possible light against the competition.

This gets the product through stage one, which is the purchase by the consumer. However, like music, if the product is no good, the consumer will usually figure this out and look for something else which better meets their needs. Perhaps this is why pop music is such a consumable thing in our world today. My personal opinion about the impossibly perfect performance being captured is this: On one hand, I feel that as a documentation process, a recording should be what is intended and nothing less. If a wrong note is played or a beat is dropped then, if it is consequential or detrimental to the song/art, you should try your best to fix this. There does come a point though when (if you are fixing all the mistakes) a recording does start to loose that human feel about it. It's a very intangible, but there is definitely a point when a recording stops being human and starts sounding computerised and cold. I guess you have to decide whether you are creating music/art for the sake of the art or if you are trying to create it to fit in a pre-determined place in which to do so you must follow standard practices.

As the development of modern recording and editing techniques progress, it might seem that REAL musicians are less and less needed. You have programs like Fruity Loops, Logic, Pro Tools and hundreds of other plugins/software instruments etc which make it easy to approximate what a real musician would do. But what they will never be able to do is create, synthesise or simulate that "x" factor and that "vibe" that happens when a group of musicians get together and create music. Warts and all.

I hope that there is a back-lash of people demanding the return of 'real' musicians/artists. Already, there is a movement stirring in the Australian Government which would require artists who plan to lip-sync during a concert to put a disclaimer on their tickets. I think that this would be a great thing as it would really highlight the difference between a musician and a pop-star, pro-tools entertainer to the general public.

I wonder, where can we go from here? Music seems to be reaching the limit of loudness and compression and pop music is so 'perfect' that it all starts to sound the same. I think the real beauty in all art forms is not what is normal or expected, it's the surprise of the unexpected which really gets that "wow" reaction. No human is perfect, why should we demand that anything that we create is.

What's your opinion on the topic? Please leave your comments.

- Andrew

1 comment:

phraedus said...

Nice article Andrew. It seems you've opened up a nice conflict. On one side, people want a good quality product. Something made to last.

On the other hand, people don't say it, but they want cheap and nasty that does the job. Statistics show they want it:

Mp3's versus high quality music. Those who value low cost and portability (via mp3 player, or over the net) tend towards mp3. But those who can discern the difference tend towards quality recordings.

However, the fun starts here. You get these really technically perfect pop recordings made on computers, and then usually transmitted in Mp3.

But that dirty live recording, the one where you miss a note, there are little background nuances that make the recording. That's what makes 'real musicians' music different. And it's what you need the higher quality recording to discern.