Guest Blog by Lauren
Lauren wrote this essay for a class she is taking. I thought it was interesting and wanted to share with you.
Copyright 2008 Lauren and LifetimeLearning
From the early twentieth century, music was listened to by many through the use of the record player. Through advancements in technology, the cassette tape was made available, then the Compact Disk. (CD) The switch was made to mostly digital recordings on cassette tapes and CD’s for convenience, but some of the quality of sound that record players have because of analog recording has been all but lost. Increasingly, the people of our modern-day culture have settled for less quality for the convenience of the newest gadgets and gizmos, though there still remain a few audiophiles that hold on to and strive for the perfect sound. The quality of music has also been impacted by wide availability of music on the Internet.
Analog vs. Digital. What’s the difference? In analog recording, the actual sound waves are carved into a surface of a vinyl record. Sound is produced when the needle of the record player vibrates, and the sound is amplified through speakers. So the sound coming from the record player is directly related to the original sound when it was recorded and every sound is recorded in its entirety. In digital recording, the sound is converted into a sequence of numbers. The numbers can be played back through a CD player, or another form of player that “reads” the numbers and sound is produced. One example to help understand the difference between analog and digital is the comparison of a film camera vs. a digital camera. In a film camera, the film is the exact light representation, what your eyes see, whereas a digital camera is a digital interpretation of the light sensor, converted into numbers just like making a CD.
Quality. What about it? When you think of the “quality” of music in general, there are two different ways to think of it. One is quality of sound, either by the way of recording (analog or digital) or hearing a certain range of notes with no scratching or static within it. The other way of thinking is the quality of musicianship of the actual musician performing the piece. Now, everyone has their own opinions about what is “good, quality music,” but if you were given the choice of listening to a recording by the London Philharmonic Orchestra or a recording by some town band performing the same piece, which would you choose? This question could be unfair in a way, because in some cases it would depend on the music education of the individual answering to be able to answer such a question. But regardless of the music education an individual has had, most people can pick out what sounds good, and what doesn’t, if given the opportunity to listen to the recordings side by side. Yet, in our modern day, most people have grown accustomed to the way things sound. For instance, I own an iPod, and I thought iPods had excellent sound quality. But in comparison to an analog recording, it doesn’t hold a candle to the sound produced by a record.
How has Technology Changed the Quality of Music? It used to be that everyone listened to music from a record player. But we traded in better sound for convenience for both recording and listening. There are certainly benefits of recording digitally, which music producer Robert DiFazio explained in an interview. Basically, when you’re recording digitally, it’s possible to fix any little mistake. You could pick any place in the entire piece and move things around and make them sound just “right.” Or if the artist messes up, he wouldn’t play the whole piece over again, you could just record over that spot. But is that necessarily good? DiFazio said, “…one can make the argument that digital recordings have lowered the artists’ expectations of themselves.”
This argument grows closer to the truth each day. If music artists record their music digitally, and do start to have lower expectations of themselves, will the ability for these artists to reproduce live music be something of the past?
The comparison to recording analogically is a little different. DiFazio spoke of what it’s like when recording by analog:
“When the clients know that the tape is running, they are on point. They are not expecting me to perform a miracle as soon as I hit stop. ‘Oh I was off key,’ ‘Oh I was out of time,’ ‘Oh can you move this snare drum around.’ No! This is a tape machine, this is no different than what you have in your cassette player. You can’t just cut those individual sounds out and move them around. You have to cut out the whole thing. If you all screw up, then maybe I can fix it. But if just you screw up, then maybe this isn’t a keeper.”
It’s easy to see that recording digitally has changed the way music is produced and the way it is heard. In an interview with Carl Beatty, he explained the difference of sound between digital and analog:
“…what digital doesn’t do well with is low level signals. In terms of ambience and all the things that make the reverb (reverberation) kind of incoherent and out of phase, that’s all low level detail. So if digital is not handling that, or doesn’t know how to handle that stuff, you can hear it in analog.”
He also explained that the average person just doesn’t care if the sound quality is not that great:
“I think it’s personal. I used to say to my students, ‘people don’t care what it sounds like, the average audience doesn’t care what it sounds like. It’s been proven…”
So how did we slide down this slippery slope of poorer quality music? Between the growing availability of music and the advancements in technology, which continue to provide convenience over quality, we have come to where we are today. Yes, the quality of music has changed. But the question remains, will the sound we have now remain the same? Or will technology continue to advance and recover the quality of sound we once had in analog recordings?
Robert DiFazio. December 2007. How Analog and Digital Recording Techniques Influence the Recording Process. http://www.artistshousemusic.org/videos/how+analog+and+digital+recording+techniques+influence+the+recording+process
Carl Beatty. October 2007. Can Digital Recordings Sound as Good as Analog?
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