Music Lovers Pursue Technologies to Return to High Fidelity
Recording engineer Pat McMakin approaches his work with an almost obsessive pursuit of the perfect sound.
Even a millimeter misdirection of a microphone or a minor adjustment in bass can mean the difference between a good recording and an inferior one to his ears.
By the time a recording makes its way to fans via iTunes or over Internet radio, it possesses a fraction of the total sound information captured in the studio — as little as 3% of the original, live sound waves. Even CD formats are stripped of up to 90% of the live recording to fit onto a 4 3/4-inch disc.
VIDEO: The difference between CD, MP3 via The Tennessean
Often gone are the last lingering notes of a bass guitar, the echo of a drumbeat, the very high and very low notes.
But now, in Nashville, a handful of Music Row businesses are beginning to invest in new products and technologies to increase the fidelity of music at every stage of the recording and listening process, from new in-studio recording technologies to new music formats to home stereo equipment.
Whether consumers who have grown accustomed to listening to tunes over $10 ear buds will be willing to pay for better sounds, however, remains a big question mark.
“I already invest a lot in my music, in my laptop and my iPhone and my Wi-Fi at home,” said Corey First, 28, a marketing assistant from Franklin, Tenn. “I don’t have the bucks to spend more. I have no complaints about my music.
Still, the steep drop in sound quality as digital music has taken hold remains a source of aggravation for artists and music professionals — and audiophiles among consumers — who argue that music is losing many of the subtle qualities that gave it emotion, spaciousness and depth in order to make songs Internet ready.
“The irony is that we’ve been making better- and better-sounding records in the studio, but the technology has been dumbing them down for years,” said McMakin, director of operations at Ocean Way Studios on Music Row.
“All of us —the engineers, the artists, the musicians — put a lot of heart, a lot of time, a lot of care into making music. For us to hear the same piece of music on an MP3 or radio sounds disheartening,” said McMakin, who has engineered audio for Dolly Parton, ‘N Sync, Brooks and Dunn, George Jones and Ray Charles.
Many in the music industry are now beginning to advocate for sound quality solutions.
Last week, singer Neil Young took his campaign for higher-fidelity digital music to a technology conference, revealing that Apple’s Steve Jobs, before his death, had been working on creating bigger digital files to capture a wider range of sound. (Jobs, Young noted, preferred listening to his music on vinyl records.)