Here I Blog: Blogging the Music Back

Prologue

This blog post won’t be as heavy as my last entry but it’s still pretty important to me. As those of you know me already know, music is a huge part of my life. I’m almost always listening to music, I write music, play multiple instruments, and have been in a few bands. Music is a huge passion of mine. With that said, this edition of Here I Blog will focus on – you guessed it – music. It might be best to watch this before reading this blog entry http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDZcz-V29_M


Earlier today, as I was looking for a different documentary, I came across a documentary on YouTube titled The Distortion of Sound, directed by Jacob Rosenberg. I had heard about it before and saw a preview of it which featured Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and Fort Minor, Slash of Guns N’ Roses fame, and Snoop Dogg (or Snoop Lion or whatever he calls himself nowadays. I was instantly intrigued. Unfortunately, I completely forgot about the documentary until I saw it on YouTube today. After watching the 22-minute film, I immediately shared it on Facebook. As I went to write something to accompany the video, I realized that have so much to say on the subject, too much for a Facebook post.

The film basically focuses on the quality of the music that we’re listening to on our mp3 players and computers. By “quality of the music” I don’t mean whether or not the song is good or the artist is talented. What I mean is the quality of the sound of the music. What most people don’t realize is that mp3s and other digital formats are compressed files that are designed to be small in size so you can fit it onto your computer or mp3 player. The problem with that is that it’s not just compressing the size of the file, its compressing the sound of the song.

“What do I mean?” you ask? Well, what compressing music does is identify sounds that are deemed inaudible and remove them. Now if anyone has ever played an instrument, you would know that there are a lot of subtle sounds that one might not pick up right away, but excite the crap out of you. It could be the reverberation of a drum cymbal, the slight scrapping sound of a guitar string from your hand or pick, or even some ambiance effects produced by an effect pedal or keys. That stuff sound be compressed and removed from the song.

“Big deal. So you I won’t hear something irrelevant like reverb on a cymbal. Pft. Who cares?” right? WRONG! You should care. You see, when a song is recorded and mixed, all of the tracked are mixed and mastered together. So when something like a cymbal’s reverb is eliminated, it can actually end up flattening out the sound of that cymbal, along with the reverb coming from a snare that’s happening at the same time. All of a sudden, the drums sound like crap, and you have no idea that they ever sounded great.

I’ve experienced this first hand. When I was in my first band, we bought some studio time and recorded a few songs for a demo that we intended to ship out to try and get a record deal. Because of certain circumstances, we came out of those recording sessions with only one mixed track. When we listened to the song in the studio, it sounded awesome and we were really happy and excited about it. The song was put on a CD and we each took a copy home. When we got back to our drummer’s house, we put it on in his basement entertainment system and everything sounded so professional and full and amazing. Once we ripped the track onto our computers and put the mp3 on our mp3 players, something happened. When we played it for our friends and family, we realized that the awesome, full sound was gone. The drums and bass now sounded thin, the guitars sounded bland, and the vocals didn’t have the same kick. We didn’t understand why or what was going on but it got to a point where we would not listen to it unless it was on the CD. It just sounded better on CD.

I completely understand how someone who has never recorded music in a studio might not hear or see that difference. How could you? But, there is something you can do. Take a CD you own, whatever CD that might be, just make sure it’s a professional CD from a signed recording artist. Put it in a CD player or DVD player of gaming console. Take one song off that album and listen to it a few times. Really listen to it. Turn everything else off, sit down, and do nothing else other than just listen to that one song. Listen to every note, every melody, every lyrics, and feel the music flow through you. Did you do it? Got it? Felt it? Lived it? Great. Now, take that same exact song and download it or search for it on YouTube. Do the same thing. Listen to it. Turn everything else off, sit down, and do nothing else other than just listen to that one song. Listen to every note, every melody, every lyrics, and feel the music flow through you. How did it sound? How did it feel? Odds are, it wasn’t as good as it was on that CD. There’s a reason for that. Compression!

Again, I’m a musician and music fanatic, so this stuff matters to me. But sound quality shouldn’t only matter to musicians and music fanatics. Would you rather watch TV in 480p standard definition or in 1080p high definition? Why not demand the same from your music? Why listen to compressed and distorted mp3 when you can listen to clean and full CD?

There’s a convenience to mp3. I understand that. That’s why I have an mp3 player with over 2,000 songs on it. There has to be a way from technology to bridge the convenience of mp3 with the quality of physical music. Until then, I try my hardest to buy physical CDs or vinyls when and where I can. It’s why I own eight vinyl records and seven CDs (soon to be eight CDs when Machine Head’s new album, Bloodstone and Diamonds, drops in November).

If you’re reading this, please take the time to watch the documentary and really think about how you enjoy the art of music.