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The Distortion Of Music

Discussion in 'Studio Lounge' started by DonnyThompson, Jul 4, 2015.

  1. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member



    This is a documentary about the current state of fidelity, with industry people talking about what is happening in the world of compressed-data (MP3) based music delivery.

    I would suggest that you watch the whole thing, but I found the section from 13:00 to 18:00 to be particularly compelling; food for thought and discussion.

    Both pro's and cons are discussed.

    Not all necessarily my own views or opinions ( so don't kill the messenger), but it's done in an intelligent way, so I thought I'd share.

    d.
     
    kmetal and audiokid like this.
  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Good thread.

    I particularly liked the "head bop" test. If this is actual fact, I could see this as something to encourage marketing to develop better sound streaming. I mean, if they know it would sell 4 times more music, that gives reason to improve sound and force humans. Its a win win for all the related downstream products. More people bopping to the beat means mores sales. That is, until someone figures a ways to take all our hard work and put it into a box that will store even more songs...

    Other than that... I have little hope for our business and the record buying population because people don't care like we do. People will steal everything they can, if they can get away with it. So, the more we improve bandwidth the more people will steal and save it.

    Better audio is coming but we need to improve they way people think before it will ever make a difference. If kids had wads of money, I'm sure they would care more about us but I don't see that changing. Computers are replacing humans which is turning the world against humans. Ironically, we have more important things to worry about. Dog eat dog and the economy.

    Being said, it took 50 years of beating to get the gay rights acceptable. Now we are into Aboriginal supremacy, elevated racial tension. and radicals who are distracting us from the simple things in life.

    In the background, musician are singing, "live and let live".

    I don't think its a good time to be expecting my neighbor to buy into high definition sound. When I talk about it they simply smile, then go back online to look for the next free fix.

    Even if we care, mass can't afford to live up to our morals or desires... There are hundreds of thousands of laptop musicians and studios in this pool, I bet only a few of us would ever spend the money to invest in a "studio" or great converters for that matter that actually sound better than average lol.
    I've been running this forum for 17 years, and before that, I was a a full time musicians. I feel pretty alone most of the time. I care enough about our industry that I actually spend the time and money on sound. ;) Can I afford it? no.
    The only way I am able to do what I do is because I get gear in relation to my music services. How many of us are actually making a living from music? I would expect 1% of the population.

    Sadly, I think once music is captured, its a tool to market $*^t.
     
    kmetal likes this.
  3. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Agreed. Even if we did improve the fidelity of the delivery system ( and I hope we do) it's still about getting people to pay for it. I never have understood the mindset that people feel entitled to free music. It costs a lot of money to produce quality music - and that's not even figuring into the cost the hard work and dedication it takes to write a good song. But I fear that we have shot ourselves in the foot, and I see no signs on the horizon that the infection won't continue to spread.

    Andrew Schepps said something in the video that I thought was poignant - and I'm paraphrasing here, but it was something similar to "The music business isn't about music anymore, it's not a business based on music, it's a business based on delivery, it's a delivery business..."
    And whenever people can get products - any products - delivered for free, they will. They would probably do the same thing if it was shoes, or tires, or any other item... if these were delivered for free directly to their living rooms, they'd take advantage of that.

    Another quote I liked was "People think nothing of spending huge amounts of money to get the highest possible resolution on their TV's... the clearest picture possible, but when it comes to music, they are totally satisfied to listen to a degraded resolution."

    I think this is generally because most average listeners haven't ever heard comparisons between a high-res recording and a 128 bit MP3. They are under the impression that this lack of fidelity is just the way things are; and to a great extent, they aren't wrong in thinking that way. MP3's haven't really grown better, they haven't really improved. The industry just hasn't come up with a way to deliver better sounding audio in a format that is as easy and convenient to use as the MP3 is.
    Quincy Jones said that, "We need to find a way to get good sounding music to the people again.." and I couldn't agree more. I just don't know if anyone cares enough to do that, and still make it as easy and affordable as the current lossy format.

    If you put a glass of dirty water in front of a thirsty man, he'll drink it - if that's the only choice he has. But, if you give him a choice between that dirty water and a sparkling clear glass of icy, pure water, he'll obviously choose it.
    We need to figure out a way to give people the choice, to give them an option. But as of yet, no one has offered that pristine "water" (sound) in a format as convenient as MP3 ... at least not yet. I know that Neil Young tried, with his Pono device and the FLAC format, and while I admire the effort, it wasn't cheap, and you had to have a "special subscription" to get the music you wanted, which is apparently pretty limited... Oh, and by the way, have you ever seen an uglier and more clumsy-looking music player than that Banana-Yellow Toblerone-shaped triangle music player? Not exactly something that fits easily into your pocket. LOL
     
  4. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    exactly.

    Delivery system indeed. itunes/ the "internet" is no different to your super market where we buy dead industrial made food. Food that is owned by pharmaceutical companies who own the farmland and the printing companies and write the medical books...

    No matter how clean our water looks, if I make a cheaper product by removing all the beneficial minerals, humans will still choose price over quality of content. We buy bottled water because it comes in a bottle called water. Do people care that filtered water has no minerals in it? No. Do people care that I use HD converters to make music you can hear the hihat sizzle? No.
    Music is part of the entertainment factor. Its not even a life essential. Who are we kidding here.

    If I put a pretty package on something, put it within reach, its sure to sell regardless of how healthy it is for us. The entreatment world is not about quality. Its about delivery, profit and repeat customers. And... about iphones.

    My take on all this:
    Stellar sound quality has little to do with how music sells.
    Speaking for myself, I think half the people complaining about sound are using that as an excuse to why they can't mix or sell the product. The other half is doing this for themselves and they don't count. They are in it for the love of this which has little to do with money.

    Over and over we prove this here. Who here is buying top end pre's, converters and summing through a world class capture and exporting system?

    When I talk about capturing audio, and how I feel two DAW's produce a better export, who cares enough to even ask why. I get more disbelief because even the best of us can't hear it mattering that much. At least matter enough to pay a bit more money to get it past "good enough".

    The question I ask myself everyday: If it sounded better, would I like this song better? Sound has a lot to do with live music but I don't think it has much value once its captured and being delivered.

    iphones and memory are the most important area kids heads are at. The last thing I would be selling is HD sound files that take up a bunch of memory. The better I can make an MP3 is where my head is at. ;)

    MP3 sound good enough to me. I'm not saying I prefer MP3, but I still like my favourite songs no matter what playback system they are on. And I am musician who actually cares about my art. Imagine what the mass thinks. Who are we kidding here. Its the internet.
     
  5. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    there's two forces at odds. on one side there's the artist who want the music they labored on to be played back in a reasonably accurate fashion. on the other hand there's the techs who are trying to make things as small and as fast as possible. at some point attaining both simultaneously will be possible. the question is, when?
     
  6. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I guess I continue to be optimistic - perhaps to a futile end - that at some point, with all the wonderful advances that technology has made in the last ten years, that someone will have a "Eureka!" moment and find out how to deliver great quality with the same convenience as lower res content.

    Even knowing that most listeners consume music by using earbuds, a laptop speaker, or in their cars, I can't not try to do my best to make the end product ( before the data compression) as good-sounding as I am able. I guess I'm laboring under the mistaken notion that someone might care that I've done my best. I know, it seems like an awful long reach to expect that, yet I continue to pay attention to the details in the recording and the mixing. I guess if nothing else, maybe at the end of the day, I'm just doing it for me. I know that most won't hear the subtle nuances that I take care in preserving, but if even one person does notice, then maybe it's worth it. I dunno... maybe not. But I haven't yet gotten to the point where I'm mixing for the lowest common denominator.... I keep striving for the fidelity that I've heard that pleases me on what I feel are/were seminal albums - Stely Dans' A'ja, Fagen's Nightfly, Alan Parsons I Robot, and even newer stuff I hear as well....and I'd wager that you aren't catering to that lowest denominator either, Chris. If you were, you wouldn't care about the quality of your pre's and conversion, or go to great lengths and experiment with different methods and workflows to see what sounds the best... no?

    I'm most certainly not the best engineer in the world... or in my state, or county or probably even my city... but that doesn't stop me from striving to be the best engineer I think I can be, and lowering my standards to fit those who think that average is fine, that "mediocre" is "good enough", isn't gonna get me there. ;)

    IMHO of course.

    d.
     
  7. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I think space and streaming speed will always trump streaming sound quality. Why will this be any different in ten years.

    Personally, i dont share the same negative opinions others are experiencing with their mixes or uploads (320 bit vs 44.1.
    I am never surprised by a "wtf happened" when it's online. My uploads sound so close to my finished mix, its never an issue for me.

    I can honestly say that since i have put my time into summing I don't share this pain, hate towards MP3. I hear the loss, but its not so extreme that I hear a whacked balance or weird phase.
    The loss I hear is a balanced loss. Like going from a master to a good tape. Yes, its sonically somewhat disappointing but the song is still the song.
    I'm pretty sure I could upload The Nightfly and it would still get me grooving ;)

    I wish online audio sounded better but a good mix is close enough that I really don't complain anymore. Why is this? I don't think I'm going deaf. The best reason I can come up with is I think I'm listening better to the end where it counts. I stopped adding so much high end once I started doing this. I stopped saturating the top end which I suspect kills converters.
    When i was on one DAW, using ProTools I hated my mixes. But, back then I couldn't blame MP3. I was still burning CD's. My CD's always sounded disappointing.

    The new code for itunes is as bob katz says, close to CD, people might not even hear a difference. I believe him.

    I wish i had better songs to produce and was better at my craft in general. I wish I was 20 years younger and I knew what I know now, back then.
    Sound wise though, its there for me now.

    I look forward to a more direct line from my DAW to the delivery system but i think the web is really just a place for marketing now. We can upload two versions, the full file and still use streaming to sell the product of choice.

    Aside from gear quality, just speaking about online audio... I think the problem today is more to do with summing and loudness war.
     
  8. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    An interesting read.
    http://www.lincomatic.com/mp3/mp3quality.html


    I'm going to do a simple test for myself. I have a mint vinyl of The Nightfly here. When I get time, I'm going to track it to my DAW, then export it to RO. Thats 2 more conversions than what I do in a studio mix. I'll simply track it, normalize and export at 320.

    Even without uploading, Try this for yourselves. Choose your favorite commercial mix and do the comparison for yourself.

    My guess, if you find your 320 too far off of the 44.1 commercial sound, your AD and export is weak.

    Maybe we could even compare all our AD by all choosing example, The Nightfly and seeing if they all sound the same at 320 BR.
    I'm pretty confident my 320BR will sound a bit less shiny and bright but not enough to give me heartburn. I'm expecting the MP3 hate exists in our own mixes and less in other ones we are less attached to (more than we think, or need to worry about).
     
  9. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I think that this is an accurate statement. When we are recording/mixing, we are deeply involved, and we hear those fine details and are more sensitive to them, because we know where they are and what to listen for - it becomes more obvious to us than listening to music by someone else.

    As far as hearing faults in MP3's, I don't so much care about it being "less shiney" as I do that in some conversion systems, there are bad things that are being added. When I was using soundcloud, there were times I would hear weird phasing occurring, and I knew it wasn't on the original MP 3 I had made, because while SC added artifacts, the media player that we use here doesn't. It sounds fine to me when I use the RO Player, terrible to me when I use SC.

    I went as far as to contact SC about it, and they acknowledged that this problem exists, along with occasional distortion, too. So at that point, I can absolutely hear a difference, and it's not one that I'm willing to accept. If all MP3 players sounded as good as the ne here does, I'd have far less objections to the format. ;)
     
  10. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    What bothers me about all this is that many artists started to care less about quality recordings because they are aware of the MP3 and low end listening devices.
    This confidence that it doesn't mather is a confirmation for millions of home studios out there that investing in quality gear is a waste of money.

    I can understand that if all the music you listen comes from mp3skull at 128, you may not care much for quality.
    But, as Chris said, a well recorded song converted to 320 with a good quality converter makes a lot of difference. Of course it is not a wave file yet, but we are far from the overcompressed low fi mp3 that were produced 5 years ago.

    I don't know why low fi became a trend these days. People even use apps to make their pics in low fi. lol

    One thing I'm confident is that even in mp3, a well recorded and performed song sounds better. How could we re-educate people to what quality is ? That's the challenge...
     
  11. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I should have been more clear... I wasn't saying that I'm against MP3's across the board, guys. I was referring to the "average" listener, the majority of which are ear-bud/you tube/streaming/ music listeners who most commonly have the lower res 128k versions on their device(s)...

    And I think this is a big part of the problem... that most listeners aren't downloading the higher res 32ok MP3's... they're using the "standard" 128, and my guess is that this is for a number of reasons:

    The first reason is that they don't know about 320's
    The second reason is that they do know and simply don't care, preferring to sacrifice audio quality in an effort to gain more storage space... allowing them to load more songs onto their devices.
    The third is that they can't hear any difference.

    I often have to remind myself that few of the "average listeners on the street" can or will hear things the way that we do as engineers.
    We've all spent years refining our listening skills, and have honed that skill to a fine point, training our ears to listen for the tiniest, little details and nuances, along with certain frequencies, levels, placement, etc.

    Your average John Q Public doesn't listen in this way. Yet, I can't help but wonder if they might hear a difference, if they were given the opportunity to listen to both, allowed to make a side by side comparison.
    If that standard 128 Resolution is all they've ever heard, then they've grown accustomed to it over time, subconsciously re-training their listening to accept that this format sounds fine.

    ?
    d.
     
  12. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Donny, no wonder you have had issues with Soundcloud. Its also topped out at 128 where we are topped at 320 bitrate.

     
  13. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    More from Quincy:
    http://www.vh1.com/music/tuner/2014-08-05/quincy-jones-the-distortion-of-sound-interview/
     
  14. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    @audiokid @pcrecord

    Great article. Quincy Jones, George Martin and only a handful others are the last of music's royalty. I love this quote from the article:

    “If you don’t know anything about music and you use Pro-Tools, you will be working for the machine. But if you know music, the machine works for you. That’s what it’s designed for.”

    As far as soundcloud, that's pretty much what they told me when I contacted them. They acknowledged that there were "occasional" problems with phase issues and even distortion caused by down-conversion.
    ("occasional" for them was almost every time for me, and I'm fairly sure Marco was having problems with it , too) But while they admitted it, they didn't mention that they were planning on doing anything about it, either.

    I haven't heard a single issue since I started using RO's media player.

    We'd be a lot better off if the average MP3 listener would listen to 320's... unfortunately, I don't think enough MP3 listeners know about it, or, they know and they don't care, preferring quantity to quality.

    Neil Young's Pono player was showing promise for awhile from an audio quality approach, it uses a FLAC format which decompresses to play hi-res files ( 44.1 I think) when the user opens the song... but it's a terrible device aesthetically; clumsy, big, and ugly. It looks like something reminiscent of the 70's. And it's pricey - $399 for 64 gig of storage.

    2015PonoPlayer_Press_070115.jpg
     

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