Sunday, April 7, 2013

Musician's books and MP3

I've been reading a few books that reflect on some of the things I go on about here. (Some are just fun - like Keith Richard's which I only really bought cause the Kindle edition was briefly $2.99 or books about Bowie).

Neil Young's Waging Heavy Peace is a good read - a combination of reminiscences, reflections on his current state of mind, commentary on issues. One thing that really bothers him is MP3s - he feels that they lose too much of the sound (containing something like 15% of the original information [which reflects the changed way we have come to think about thigs as per James Gleick]). He is developing a new system called Pono which will provide digital music with the richness and content of vinyl. He even sings about in on the new album (which I bought through iTunes)

Well, as indicated by TIMR 2, I have never had a high end system, and while there are things I miss about vinyl it wasn't the sound. Despite my best efforts disks got dirty, scratched and just gained that surface noise. many things I like to listen to now would have got lost within that.

And then I was halfway through How Music Works. David Byrne combines some degree of memoir with reflection on audio-technology - the changes that the way we listen to, record and play back music has changed and how that has changed music.

I was pleased to read 
'After years of hoarding LPs and CDs, I have to admit that I'm now getting rid of them. I occasionally pop a CD into a player, but I've pretty much completely converted to listening to MP3s either on my computer or, gulp, my phone.'
which is pretty much my state at the moment - I have a ceiling full of vinyl which my head says get rid of but my heart says no. But all it is doing is sitting up there.

Another issue he crosses paths with here is how the changing technology has affected the size of music pieces. Vinyl really limited the side to 20+ minutes, 40 for an album (more for a bloated double or triple). With CDs we could go to 80 minutes. Now with digital there is really no limit (he doesn't mention looped music like Scape which can be left to play indefinitely, but that fits too).

In some ways the removal of size limit could be a blessing. As I have argued, I think that the CD led people (artists and purchasers) to expect 80 minutes, and that a short album was a rip off.(Robert Palmer's Clues faced a similar vinyl issue at 16minutes per side). This led to too much filler as people had to make every album a double. The trend to reissues with bonus tracks overcame this a bit - but many of the bonus tracks were not used originally for good reason.

There is a place for long disks - many do work & compilations/history sets work very well. As on old vinyl boy the 20 minute side is my touchstone. Artists thought about the sequence and the songs which would fit together. 20 minutes also seemed the right length - hence the use by some artists of 3" CDs (like the Metamkine series, which is in my room).

But with digital maybe we need to think more about virtual disks and suites. OK, sell albums, but through the metadata call one collection of songs Disk 1 and another Disk 2 (I'll expand on this idea in my first Dave Stafford review). Or collect pieces as suites; complete stand alone EPs which are self contained (not single and remixes or fillers); or other models (for example, almost crowdsourcing: you pay for the album, and get the songs as they are produced).

With self-selling the price structure could reflect this - the artist can set the price dependent on the amount of time to create and the amount of music - a general price for an 80 minute album, a bit less for a 30 minute suite, a bit more for an extended 100+. (DGM live for example charges less for a soundscape below about 40 minutes and a little more for really long ones: they also have a reduced price if you buy a whole series - another model which self-sellers could use).

David Byrne demonstrates that all aspects of the music industry develop, and the loss of vinyl means sides and sequencing have dropped below the radar, but as we move to no time restrictions at all, some form of shaping needs to come into play.

1 comment:

dave stafford said...

jeremy - thanks for this, I've been considering if I should buy "waging heavy peace" - and as with all things neil young, a lot of them, I do eventually end up buying.

while I understand neil's gripes with MP3s - I look at it this way - having my music portable means I can hear it anywhere - all day long - and it means I can carry 30,000 songs in my shirt pocket.

I am willing to give up some sound quality - with the understanding that, if I want sound quality, I will go home, and put the CD into my 5.1 surround system - a modest sony one - and I will enjoy it to the fullest then...

I've never really owned a high quality stereo system either, and I tend to listen to all music in headphones anyway - the only way my failing ears will hear all the detail anyway!

but I wish neil the best - if he can create a portable file that sounds great - well, I'd like to hear it...

good stuff - keep going.

dave stafford