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Friday, October 03, 2014

Stop whinging about the distortion of sound and make records we like.

This has had three and a half million views on You Tube. It's a short documentary about the shortcomings of compressed music made by audio firm Harman.

It features Snoop Dog, Slash, Kate Nash, Hans Zimmer, Lianne La Havas, Mike Shinoda and other musicians, bemoaning the fact that over the last ten years we've traded audio excellence for convenience. An MP3 file short-changes us in terms of quality and we don't care. Given the amount of time and care the musicians put into their recordings, ain't that a shame?

Problem is there's no sign that we care. And there's no point bitching about our obsession with convenience or the fact that these days You Tube is the record business, the radio and the printed media all put together.

That massive movement has benefited the musicians. If it weren't for today's virtual free flow of recorded music most of those people in that film wouldn't be well-known enough to be in that film. When music was hard to find and difficult to afford there were far fewer prominent musicians. The perceived preciousness of music is directly related to its scarcity. Those days are not coming back. These people should thank their lucky stars.

Some of the greatest records I ever heard were made in spite of the limitations of the recording medium and the manufacturing technology. Lee Perry's records wouldn't have been any better if the tape had run at the proper speed and the record had been on virgin vinyl. They had the power to move and next to that sound quality is nothing.

I listen to the musicians in that film and I think that if I were to hear their recordings in the way they intended it wouldn't make all that much difference to the way I felt about them. If it's great music it will be great no matter how compressed it is. If it's middling all the expansion in the world won't make it any more than that.

This is a classic case of Hepworth's Law Of Improvement, which I developed over years of watching people trying to improve magazines. There's improvement, then there's the kind of improvement which is recognised by the user and finally there's the kind of improvement which is both recognised and valued by the user.

Only the third sort is worth the trouble.