The Distortion Of Sound documentary recently popped up on YouTube; I’ve been interested in seeing the short film for a while now as it speaks to my concerns with what is happening to how we consume music as a society. Clocking in at 22 minutes the film is packed with various musicians, ranging from legends like Quincy Jones, Hans Zimmer and A.R. Rahman, to bottom of the barrel type stuff like Linkin Park; and regardless of any individuals taste out there, there is a uniformed argument being presented by this group of industry insiders that Hans Zimmer puts perfectly into words. “We are a McDonald’s generation of music consumers.”
Perhaps I chose highlight the quote because I’ve said it verbatim for over a decade now in my own conversations, or maybe it’s because it is the obvious comparison to make , in other words, regardless of the reason it is the truth.
Tackling the subject by way of an illustrated time line and evolution of music product via vinyl, to tape, to cd’s and then to MP3s; we now listen to music that has been compressed so that it sacrifices nuance and tone in favor of brash and loud. In the film, everyone’s favorite, sometimes homophobic dogfather of hip hop, Snoop Dogg, makes the statement that people just don't know any better. I believe the problem is larger than that though, I think people often do know but simply don't care, substituting quality for the convenience of being able to access anything and everything within seconds from our mobile devices.
Somewhat comparable in it's situation but the complete opposite in how it was dealt with was the transition from analogue to HD TV in the television business, music, however, is driven by very different metrics. For example, if Panasonic want to sell you a new TV, they have to convince you that you’re missing out on something. They show you the difference. They convince you that an HD viewing experience is the best way to fully enjoy film and best represents what the director wanted when releasing the product for public consumption. The television industry in effect has convincingly persuaded us to shell out 2k for new hardware because it’s the premium experience you can't do without.
As music goes to all-online digital delivery, any improvement to the data bit rate directly sacrifices financial bottom line. In other words, this, like pretty much everything in society now days is not based on quality, passion, vision or the need to progress but rather on a stone cold classic, money. There’s worse than no benefit to educating consumers; Today’s digital music providers are actually incentivized to keep consumers in the dark as it benefits their wallets.
Jimmy Iovine, co-founder of Beats Electronics, speaks about 24-bit audio when furthering the point. As a hardware manufacturer, Beats can sell pricier, high-end headphones, if consumers demand it. But when services like Itunes, Spotify and Pandora are selling convenience at increasingly competitive price points, there just isn’t a good enough reason to join the costly war.
Apple, who are responsible for assumedly the most popular and widely distributed form of listening to music on the go, the ipod/iphone, are selling music enthusiasts down the river under the guise of innovation. But they’re not losing any business over their horrific earbuds, in fact they are finding new and better ways to swindle you out of your hard earned cash by offering you a so-so product at a premium price that in reality really can't improve the sound quality because the data compression itself is the problem. It’s a little like owning a top of the line Ferrari with nothing but dirt roads to drive it on.
I’ll leave you with this; when you purchase an mp3 you are experiencing a piece of music not as the recording artist intended you to experience it but rather as a cliff notes type version. FACT, up to 90% of a song is altered when its run through one of today’s many forms of accepted compressions. 90% PEOPLE! I know we all chose our own battles and causes to fight but I also know at least some of you reading this wouldn't stand for it if 90% of your nutritious, sustainable, organic dinner was substituted with unhealthy, synthetic, imitation food. If our school system suddenly made creationism 90% of how we educate or children in the understanding of evolution vs. the more logically sound studies of Darwin you would probably home school your child from that point on, so why stop the buck here?
Obviously every choice we make as consumers doesn't have to be important or make a social-political statement, but it can be and I argue that every time you purchase a god awful Fun record or contribute more money to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers retirement fund in 2014 via a live stream from Spotify or through the purchase of an mp3 on itunes you are absolutely part of the problem. Voting with your dollars for an agenda that pretty much always looks out for itself, making sure to slap the "artsy," "colored," "queers" who create some of the best product to the side in favor of convenience and a middle of the road agenda is just as gross as that McDonald’s hamburger you so adamantly protest as being garbage or if you prefer like when "poor people" vote republican because they one day hope to be filthy rich, in other words both the system, as it stands now, and you, suck.