Attention: This post has been pimped out with photos to make your reading experience more enjoyable, and make it seem like this lengthy text is shorter.
We recognise that music has changed. However, can we explore the reason as to why this change occurred? Also, can we blame it on technology! Quite possibly the rapid advancement in technology, the pace of which we have yet to adapt is at fault. The reasons laid out below might overlap with an earlier blog post, but I think it’s necessary so that we can maybe tackle the issue at hand and not let it interfere with us, and quite possibly begin to enjoy more music and movies or any other artistic expression in their respective mediums. …
Blogging for me has become more and more difficult, and time more strenuous. This may be analogous to our translated art consuming habits. The problem that we face today is that we are too busy. There is apparently less time available to us to dedicate to art. It is slightly illogical, because we have come so far, made our lives so much easier, yet we have less time. This can be the only rationale for the decrease in quality, or maybe the decrease in the quality of the promoted works.
I know there is a theme starting to develop in this blog; a feeling of nostalgia for a time before my time. This is another dilemma that needs to be developed in another blog. In the meantime, let’s examine why we have changed our music listening process, and consequently changed our music quality as well. As with every proper explanation, it is generally beneficial to start from the beginning.
In the beginning of music, (skipping the early forms of music that was not documented, but only carried on through generations), when people thought of music as a concept of sound or a collection of sounds organised by tune, tempo and timbre, they made dedicated musical instruments to reproduce a particular sound. Have a moment and think about the ingenuity that was put into these instruments. Who would have thought that tightened hairs when pulled could produce a sound. Yes beating a drum is something intrinsic, but other things are Nobel prize worthy inventions. Imagine the wind instruments, the flute, the trumpet, tuba, etc. That’s some huge dedication to blowing wind through a hole. The string instruments and their wooden shapes to reproduce the reverberation required to make it sweet. That’s enough to become awestruck when you think about it. Now, you have instruments, how do you make a melody? Well, first you have to make those instruments to be able to precicely play the same musical note, so that notes can be categorised and played by each instrument, therefore producing the same melody.
Now we move on to melodies. You create one, what next? You play it for someone. Teach them how to play it on the same instrument. The next step would be mass reproduction of the melody. The most efficient way possible is to write it down on paper and pass it on how many times as you like. The oldest modern and surviving method is the staff. Pretty cool stuff. You create a melody, write it down, and share it with the world, and bring joy to anyone. Playing an instrument back then, was less a novelty as it is today. Imagine creating a mix-tape for someone then. You would have to write many pages of sheet music, mail it to them, then have the addressee play the music to appreciate your effort. Nice. Well not that efficient considering how far we’ve come. Where we stand now, in order for you to play music is to visually find, and then click the play button! Before coming to that stage, let’s examine the old school way of appreciating music.
When a composer…I have to bring you another interlude, because just as soon as I wrote that word ‘composer’ it made me think. You don’t hear that word very often nowadays. Today you have ‘producers’ that have all sorts of ‘equipment’ to make music. There is very little composing going on today when contrasting it with the previous generation of music creation. When a composer creates a work of art, he is thinking about instruments, the sound that they can make, the effect that they can have with the notes that they produce, and then imagine them playing in harmony to deliver something mind blowing. Having this state of mind can make you appreciate classical music much more. He then has to write it down the notes for each of the instruments, on a set tempo, so that an orchestra can play it. Thus we come to the conclusion, that back then, listening to ‘music’ was a team effort. Someone had to compose the melody, someone else had to play it, for you to listen to it. It was a minimum 2 people engagement = ‘composer/player + listener’ or ‘composer + listener/player’. Because human beings have the oral capability of producing various sounds, it is easy to get over the fact that sounds are being produced by instruments. However producing a melody with an instrument that was composed by someone else not even present at the time of playing is something to be amazed by. We can conclude that this method of listening to music required a lot of effort. You had to have the composed music on paper, a musical instrument, the knowledge to play that musical instrument, the dexterity and the skill required to play that musical instrument and the necessary time to play it. In contrast to that, composers knew that it takes a lot of effort to listen to music, hence dedicated a lot of effort and energy on their part to come up with the best music that they can. Listening to music in this way will definitely require you to appreciate it, especially if it’s something good.
But human beings are a very creative creature, and they create and invent and push boundaries with each generation. The same thing happened with music as well. The invention of the phonograph. The technological revolution of sound reproduction was started. You could ‘record’ and subsequently produce sound. Marvelous stuff. This singlehandedly killed 80% of the effort required to listen to music. Gone was the requirement to learn how to read sheet music, and how to play an instrument. Gone was the second ‘person’ required to listen to music. What you needed then was only a record player, a vinyl record, and the very limited knowledge on how to properly operate said record player. Yes, someone had to produce the vinyl records, but they could be mass produced, so the actual composer or sound recorder became an irrelevant part of the equation. Even with this state, the actual effort required was very high (at least by today’s standards), and music could be appreciated much more. Now, instead of knowledge, you had economic incentive to apply much more of your time and attention to music listening, because buying a record player is expensive, and buying records is much more expensive relative to acquiring sheet music.
A couple of decades afterwards, radio was invented. It conceived the profession of the disk jockey, the person that was responsible for playing music on the radio. By this time, costs of vinyls and record players had gone down, and recording started becoming more ubiquitous. Companies dedicated to recording and selling songs were created. Now all you needed was a radio player which you could use to tune into the appropriate frequency and listen to news or music all day long. This brought down the requirements for listening to music even further, as well as the required effort. Music started becoming a social thing, and present in more and more places, even in cars. However, in contrast to today, even then listening to music in such an easy way was more greatly appreciated, because the radio waves were not filled with radio stations, and you only had a handful to choose from. Also tuning into a radio station was a bit complicated, because you had to ‘dial’ to the right frequency. When you tuned in, and found a clear signal of the radio station, then changing it just because you didn’t like the song was not the appropriate response. You waited it out, and trusted the DJ, because he was the person tasked with the responsibility of sifting through new and old songs and playing only the best. Otherwise he would be out of a job. So although the songs on the radio were not 100% to your satisfaction, you listened to them.
Radio and Vinyl lived side by side for many years. One being a casual music (and news) player, while the other being more personal which people extended part of their personality to them; they developed collections of vinyls, that they could play any time they wanted, or any time they didn’t like the radio programme. People could scratch their specific itch for music whenever they wanted. But back then, artists didn’t make one song. They used all the time available to them on a single side of a vinyl record to create an album. It is too much trouble to change records. Stop the turntable, lift the needle, remove record, place new record, start turntable, place needle. It’s not as simple as pressing Next. Back then, you place a record on the record player, and listen to the whole journey that the artist has decided to take you. More than just a collection of songs. In our 0.99$ per song world, this is almost unheard of. This is probably a dying trend, and singers will soon stop producing albums, and just start pumping out songs. Nobody is listening to whole albums anymore, so what’s the use. Even if they’re listening to the whole album, it is very rarely coherent, and it’s difficult to listen it from start to end, because it wasn’t recorded as an ‘album’, but rather an amalgamation of various songs. Yes, a song is good enough to evoke emotions, but those really good artists tie their songs together to make whole albums. You know, the difference of composing a movement and a symphony. Good artists try and make symphonies out of albums, not just movements. This means that nowadays, instead of albums being a nice novel, it’s just a collection of stories. The frustrating thing about that is, if we analogize it with movies, it’s just like buying a movie, and instead of a full length movie, you just get a collection of various episodes of different TV shows.
Having previously mentioned in another post that our society is becoming more and more short spanned (in terms of patience and concentration), this change is probably a cause of that. Although in reflecting everything that human beings do, it is easy to conclude that humans are more than mere animals. Our consciousness and our ability to wilfully work against our instincts is what makes us more than animals. Sugary things are sweet and tasty, and we like to eat/drink them forever. People that are slightly more above than the level of being classified as mentally challenged know this, and do not indulge in that urge to eat themselves into obesity/diabetes. This means that we can change things, ask for more. Reflect on previous works, and expect better. Why does Mozart, the Beetles, or Michael Jackson have to be worshipped and be considered geniuses? Of course they were, and they and others like them always raised the bar, but instead of revelling in their creations, can we just use them as a reference point and try and make better stuff? Our living standards and access to information has improved exponentially and continues to do so, and we’re in a much better position to best their creations. Meanwhile, we’re moving in the other direction.
Of course, this blog post, isn’t about the few, that actually try to utilize every possible inch of their space to create works of art. This is about society (in our profit driven existence) limiting their space to the detriment of music quality. Imagine Picasso being denied a canvas size because larger sizes don’t sell. Imagine limiting The Godfather to 90 minutes, because 175 minutes is too long for people, and it’s a risk they’ll walk halfway during the movie. This is what’s happening with music. Artists are pushed to create a certain number of songs, in a limited timeframe, as well has have most of the songs with catchy beats, so that they can be successfully marketed within 10 seconds or less. The requirement of pressing the ‘buy’ icon is what is pushing artists in the wrong direction. Of course, in this formation of society, they have no other choice but to oblige, because they face starvation/homelessness otherwise. On the contrary, let’s just stop paying musicians altogether and the whole music world can become a large collection of hobbyists. That will definitely increase the music quality, since artists wouldn’t be bound by the necessity to create established record company requirements for sellable songs.
Just because it’s easy to acquire music, and it’s easy to listen to it, doesn’t mean that its quality has to deteriorate. Technology’s sole purpose is not to establish a new profit path. It’s meant to make our lives better, as well as easier. It should make music listening better, not just easier. Speakers, amplifiers, players should improve to provide the best sound reproduction possible, not just cheap and easy pathways of playing some sounds. Digital formats should provide more efficient uncompressed files. Online music stores should provide an easy way to listen/acquire music, not just serves as a business to increase profits.
Not only is new technology changing the way we listen to music, but that change is also working against the improvement of the listening experience. Apple invented the iPod that could hold Gigabytes of music, and it sold it with very shitty earphones. The sad thing is, iTunes started selling uncompressed music files, while still providing shitty earphones with their phones/music players. It’s sad that with all this technological revolution, those asking and pushing the music listening experience forward are considered a niche, and have the suffix ‘phile’ added to their kind.
This is not just some rant about the above mentioned frustrations. This is a plea for everyone reading this, to make an effort to better their listening experience. Next time you’re in the mood for music, don’t play it through your phone speaker, or listen it with shitty earphones. Get (buy, borrow, steal) a decent pair of headphones or speakers, get an (at least) an audio CD or uncompressed format of your intended song, a player of said medium, close your eyes, and do nothing and just listen. If you minimally care about music, you will find that this process infectious and ask for more. Then if you have the will, money and enthusiasm, you can get into researching about sample rates, Digital-to-Analog converters, amplifiers, speakers, cables, etc. Don’t worry, you won’t be the only one. It is very evident that the number of people asking for this is on the rise, as is evident by rising vinyl record sales. Let’s just become a bigger group and ask for more so that we are given more.