Thursday, January 7, 2010

Confusing the message with the delivery vehicle!

So, I genuinely love my man, Chris Grams. I'm pretty sure we first met when he was hired at Red Hat, but somehow we have several non-Red Hat mutual friends we've since found. I don't see Chris often (not nearly often enough, that's for sure), but I do follow him in the social networking scene. So when this post popped up on his blog, I had to respond.

Normally, one might respond to a specific post like his through the comment section of the original site. I'm not doing that because I haven't updated my own blog enough lately. pause Okay, that's not true...I'm really doing it here because I'm going to disagree with him somewhat vehemently yet at the same time I believe his general point is still valid. It's more the metaphor and some of the quotation I don't agree with. Oh, and I'm also putting it here because this is a topic that my Dad and I were discussing just a few days ago (no kidding).

I had already noticed a trend that traditional albums on vinyl (or LPs, as they are commonly called) had started to make a bit of a comeback. It's long been known that serious musicians haven't given up on tube-type amplifiers, either. In fact, there was a long period where there were no mass produced turntables being made, yet now you can walk into any Restoration Hardware and buy one (thanks to the fact that the Beatles stuff was re-released recently). Chris points this trend out as well, and goes on to give some of the reasons why people are going "lo-fi" (which is short for "low fidelity", the opposite of the trend toward higher fidelity sound systems based on digital music and such).

I just don't get it. These days one can record with incredible accuracy for cheap. There's simply nothing stopping you from sitting in a basement with a dog on the floor and getting a precise recording of "the best stuff." So why would you then dilute your "best stuff" by sending it out the door via what's not only lower quality, but adds errors (cracks and pops)? To me that's using lo-fi to help hide your own flaws that might happen in your "best stuff." And if you do that, aren't you being less "authentic"?

Okay, I do get why someone would want to listen to a 1966 recording via LP. In fact, I see both sides of that coin. There's obviously a market for the remastered stuff for the folks who don't care, but it most definitely is more authentic to listen to it as everyone had to in 1966. What I don't get is why anyone would want to do that with a modern recording. You're just diluting your own authenticity, in my opinion, by lowering the quality of your product intentionally. (And for the record, pun intended, I'm the proud owner of a Seeburg jukebox that sits in my basement full of original vinyl that I dearly love.)

I think you can be "real" as a musician and still release your music in unaltered digital form. I think you can be fake in recording in a studio, obviously. But you can also be fake by recording in your basement with your laptop, editing to high heaven, and then releasing on vinyl. The vinyl and the CD and iTunes are all just vehicles. The vehicle does not define the message. It can't enhance the message, but it can take away. So what's the real reason for the resurgence of vinyl? I think it's just a cool fad. Nothing more.

How a company markets is no different than how authentic a musician chooses to be. A company can go hire a big corporate ad agency and end up with a lie as an advertisement that's nothing more than actors saying what writers who are completely disconnected with the actual company tell them to say. Then they can edit to complete "perfection." But I think we've seen companies hire big corporate ad agencies and get "authentic" advertisements using real employees and real messages. We've seen plenty of companies get even more "authentic" by doing contests to let customers create their advertisements for them and show the winner during the superbowl! The spectrum is there, and a company can certainly do a good job of getting their message out in a lo-fi way.


Unknown said...

wow, I'm honored by the follow-up post! When I first started reading, I thought you were going to ding me with this argument:

a lot of people actually claim that LPs are higher fidelity than CDs, certainly than MP3s. I'm not sure how I feel on that issue, I guess I just think they are different.

You are probably right, the whole lo-fi authenticity thing may just be a fad, but no doubt it is definitely happening, spurred on by the success of YouTube, Garageband, and about 9 million other applications that let anyone be a publisher of content.

One point I take issue with is the idea that someone's "best stuff" is diluted if it is recorded lo-fi. And that cracks and pops are "flaws." Maybe digital leaves nothing to the imagination, and lo-fi recording allows the listener to fill in the blanks, like looking at a piece of artwork by a modern minimalist painter. It's possible...

Still, when I record for the band, I always go 100% digital, so I'm no radical about any of this stuff.

thanks again for the post!

lono said...

I haven't used a turntable since the mid-80s. But, I can dig the love of vinyl among hardcore audiophiles and acoustic purists. Vinyl may be a fad for the masses but for these folks it never went away. They don't listen to vinyl because it's true to how people originally listened to the music, but because they believe it's truer to the live recording. I suspect they have a point when the recording was done in analog.

Would the layperson appreciate the difference? Doubtful. But I'm guessing a professional jazz or bluegrass musician would, and audiophile purists who can afford the proper gear.

Who am I to talk... I'm in the midst of selling my musical soul to the devil as I go from CD to MP3!

Unknown said...

I have an Oracle table. It's handy for listening to things that were early digital. Whcih pretty much sucked. Listen to a early CD of nearly anything, and the same LP on good gear, and the LP is smoother, more open and just better. On crappy analog gear it's well, crappy.

Current processing power is more than enough to create top notch digital recordings, so my current purchases are digital. But, once inawhile, a band like Wilco takes the time to make a sweet sounding LP, AND sell it WITH the to compare and contrast.


Cline said...

Isn't listening to Vinyl similiar to being a Ham Radio operator. I'm not trying to be a smart ass (well at least not this time), I don't really know anything about ham but I just thought the digital age made it unneccessary. Educate me.

Donnie Barnes said...

Unfortunately, if you live in rural America (and I do), your ability to be part of the digital world doesn't always exist. But with a Ham radio I can always be connected (there are even ways to bridge the two nicely). Plus Ham radios don't rely on any elses infrastructure, which can be hugely important in emergencies. There is no true analogy to the ham radio in a commercial sense. And there is no better device to have in an emergency. It kills me everytime there's a search for missing hikers...a couple hundred bucks spent in the right place and that almost CAN'T happen!

Cline said...

That makes sense. Nevermind.