Irony In The Music Industry

When my commute to work included a drive in the car, I would often listen to the radio on my way in because I always forgot to change out the CD selection in the car. Of course, the stations that played any of the good indy stuff that I liked never made any money and so were always short-lived. There were two Christian stations in town, but the good one went belly up and the remaining one was a little koombayah for my taste. So, I wound up listening to NPR. Even though their ‘news’ broadcasts are a little slanted, their shows are entertaining. I especially liked their music reviews.

Radio is now dead. When I was a kid, there were multiple stations in town that gave a nice cross-section taste of what was out there. There were multiple CD stores in town that had nice selections of new and used CDs. They had single-disc CD players set up with headphones where one could pre-listen a used CD prior to buying it. The clerk didn’t care if I sat there and listened to the full 45-minute CD prior to spending my eight bucks to take the CD home with me in my little station wagon. There, I discovered Bjork. There, they’d recommend new CDs to me that they had just gotten in, based on my tastes. If I pointed out that it was wrapped in cellophane, they would roll their eyes and unwrap it so I could give it a listen. In those days, I’d hear something on the radio and go buy the CD locally.

Now that radio is dead, we have the internet. Youtube and Pandora have filled the space of FM. When I find something interesting on the internet, I seek it out at the stores. I see embedded videos and links to songs that are entertaining. When I go to a store that has a generous CD section, I scan interesting selections with my smart phone to compare prices on Amazon. This Johnny Cash CD is eight bucks here, and I can get it for five on Amazon Prime.

For at least a decade now, the artists and even more so, the record labels, have fought to keep music from being downloaded off the internet. And yet, the smarter artists have freely given their music in various forms. In listening to NPR, I was fascinated by Infected Mushroom when they were featured one afternoon. When I found their website, I found that their music is all streaming there. In working at my last place of traditional employment, and subsequently for myself, I have streamed Infected Mushroom for many hours for free.

I decided that I wanted to hear Infected Mushroom in better sound quality than is streamed online. For years, we had cut out all of our excess spending for the purpose of business building. I had asked about Infected Mushroom at several CD stores because I couldn’t find any of their CDs. I was usually met with, “No, I’ve had all my shots.” No, do you have any of their CDs? “Is that the new Garth Brooks album?” I kid, I kid. To all you who may be IM fans out there, do you download MP3s, or order CDs on the internet, or do you find them in stores?

I know that MP3s are the new thing, but they lack depth of sound definition and clarity. Personally, I prefer the warmth of vinyl, but I can certainly live with the resolution of modern CD tracks or WAV files. It’s also nice to get cover art and a physical, hard copy. I have ripped all of our CDs to the hard drive on our media server and stream that when I want to listen to our music library now. Hard drive space is cheap, and it keeps the wear and tear off the originals. This has pointed out some transfer speed weaknesses in the network, which has been interesting.

Anyway, having grown fond of Infected Mushroom, I placed a $45.00 order on Amazon for some of their CDs last night. I’m excited to receive them. I will rip the discs to the media server and listen to them from there, which will certainly be better sound quality than streaming from their website or YouTube. And, I will have put a little money in their pockets too. For all of the musical artists out there that don’t make their work more accessible, I don’t know of their work and have not placed an order for CDs. There is the difference.

Aging in a changing world is interesting. I try very hard to roll with the punches without blindly folding to whatever comes next. Shopping for music is vastly different than it used to be. I don’t hate all the new music in a generalized fashion, but MP3s aren’t worth the price of a physical disc that has superior sound quality and cover art. It benefits the artist to put their work out there to be heard prior to purchase. Just as I would spend hours pouring over used CDs on the player in the CD shop in town, I now spend hours listening to music on the internet to determine what I want to invest in. Where I used to adventurously put money down on a disc to add to the collection, now I see if I can have it delivered for a better price, but plenty of times I still buy on location.

I wish that the record shop was still a major industry, but I understand why it can’t be anymore. MP3s are inferior in sound quality, but they aren’t the sucking mistake that cassettes were. I keep hoping for an improvement over CDs, as this is now almost thirty-year-old technology on the consumer level, and it leaves sound resolution to be desired, but despite SACD, HDCD, and DVD Audio, nothing better has stuck. As Murphy’s Law dictates, once I settle into CDs as the defacto, common use, audiophile medium, the next great thing will happen and then all my stuff will be obsolete. And, it probably won’t even be played over conventional speakers.


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5 thoughts on “Irony In The Music Industry

  1. People can argue endlessly about different formats, but until mastering engineers quit trying to make everything the loudest possible it doesn’t matter. Most people can’t hear the difference between a decently recorded MP3 and the original master tape, especially with electric instruments as sources. What people can hear is when the masters are recorded FULL LOUD, extreme analog compression with no dynamic range and no impact. I was interested in SACD because it’s technical specs required headroom, eliminating the advantage of loudness-war mastering–but another chicken and egg problem, until there were enough players, it wasn’t worth remastering, until there’s remastering there’s no reason to get a new player. I’d much rather listen to an MP3 that was recorded and mastered properly, with reasonable dynamic range than I would the best possible consumer format with typical modern mastering. Loud is fine, but I should be the one turning it up, not the mastering engineer.

    • “Loud is fine, but I should be the one turning it up, not the mastering engineer.”

      Seriously. My receiver has a knob for that.

      Even so, I get worn out on high-compression, lossy tracks that they try to pass off. Most people can’t tell the difference? Oh, absolutely. That’s why they are prevalent in the market. But, for those of us who want more, there should be an answer.

  2. I have a large collection of vinyl (33 rpm) records. Years ago I started to look for a way to remaster them to CD and not lose the quality of sound via mp3.

    I discovered a software program called “Wave Corrector” that does an excellent job of processing vinyl or tape. It not only keeps the warmth of LPs but also will clean up most of the scratches and pops.

    I used it to remaster the Beetles “White Album” that had been too many parties and was a piece of trash played on a turntable. Could not believe how well it removed the scratches, pizza, booze, etc. I did wash the album in dish soap before I played it for recording purposes.

    You need to be slightly “techie” to get the most out of the software, but it works just fine in all of the default options.

    I have no connection, interest, etc. with the Wave Corrector guys, but I can tell you they have a great program and super tech support.

    Give their free version a trial if you want to remaster vinyl. It is free forever and will do 75% of what the professional version will. Most casual users will never need the professional version.

    Sorry if this sounds like spam, but since they are in the UK and I’m in Dallas, TX, perhaps you will recognize this for what it is — just a satisfied user that wanted to move his vinyl over to CDs and perhaps help you do the same.

  3. I’ve never really been a fan of the mass market music. I discovered Nine Inch Nails through my friends. (Even though Pretty Hate Machine sold well, it was not played on the local music channels.)

    I’m willing to bet that I can count on one hand the number of bands I started listening to because they were played on the radio. As a matter of fact, most of the songs that got me to buy an album were not the #1 hits. (The station played “Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man” and I became a Concrete Blonde fan. I can barely stand “Caroline.”

    • I can definitely relate to liking some of the less mainstream, but I do love me some formulaic pop for just what it is. For instance, I am a Lady Gaga fan not because her work is musically significantly, but for the whole show. The fact that she’s such a marketing genius attracts me to purchasing her CDs. I have been guilty of buying a few albums because of whatever I heard on the radio, but I feel like that’s been pretty decently balanced out with more esoteric stuff. I don’t get the people who exclusively listen to whatever the DJ picks out for them.

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