Why music doesn't sound great any more

Growing up, I listened to music on vinyl records. I had a huge stack of mostly classical music at home, and it was a real treat to put on a record, sit the needle on it, and hear music come out of the speakers. It was never tiring. It was always enjoyable, and I could listen to music while doing homework or reading.

As I got older and moved to CDs, and more recently, MP3s, I kept wondering why I couldn’t do the same. I kept getting headaches from listening to music for prolonged periods of time. Even while driving, too much music was stressful. I found that when I turned off the radio, it was as if I’d break down a wall of sound that would constantly barrage my ears. I put it down to changes in my personality and tastes in music, though I’d read some articles in the past that suggested music recording practices were changing.

It turns out those early grumblers were right. The Rolling Stones have a great article called “The Death of High Fidelity“, and it explains very well what’s going on. Now that I’m aware of these practices, I call them the bastardization of music as we know it, and I don’t think I’m mincing words.

It’s no wonder most music just plain stinks when we listen to it. And it’s also no wonder that certain recordings resonate with us if they’re done correctly. Norah Jones is one famous example. Another, more recent one, is Yael Naim. You may not know her name, but you’ve probably heard her song, “New Soul”, in the MacBook Air commercial.

While I’m on the subject, I’d like to ask music producers to stop putting police sirens and telephone rings in songs. They hide these sounds behind the normal tracks, but they make them stand out just enough to be noticed. Seriously, it’s very disturbing to drive on a road minding your own business and hear a muted police siren, then freak out because you don’t know where the sound is coming from. I understand the reasoning behind it: jog the listener’s short attention span, get them to listen to the music, subconsciously trigger an emotional response, etc. The way I see it, it’s disingenuous, it’s manipulative, and it cheapens the song. Stop doing it, please.

Here’s hoping things get back to normal. Or if they don’t, that at the very least, recordings using preferable sound mastering methods are labeled accordingly, as some people suggest.

1 Comment

  1. I couldn’t agree more. After years of my speakers getting smaller and smaller, I inherited a pair of floor standing, full range loudspeakers last year which, along with top and bass, came with a *shock horror* MID RANGE cone. What a huge difference that made. Listening to music, even from CD and MP3 is now a huge pleasure.

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