The decline of pop music quality and increase in loudness

Discussion in 'Members Lounge' started by dalethorn, Aug 3, 2012.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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  2. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

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    Do you think as the quality of Popular music has declined the volume has gone up so it still grabs the attention?

    There are many great musical acts and musicians left in the world - the difference now is that no one in "The Business" can be bothered to work on real music anymore. why would you? You can just hold a crappy competition and sell the tat the winner sings to all the people who entered and then make all the your real money from advertising instead of the records.

    The music industry doesn't deserve to be able to sell records anymore, they don't look for artists important enough for the public to want to pay for records. I'm quite young (despite sounding like a grumpy old git), if you want proof of the decline in quality because you think this is all jaded bitterness, simply look at the UK chart from 1965 to the present day and you will see popular music get worse and worse. People didn't have much better taste in the 1960s, the music industry just looked harder for great musicians and supported them properly! Lecture in misery ends here.:)
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2012
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    From living in the U.S. since way back when, I recollect when things were sometimes better and sometimes worse. When the Mercury Living Presence records appeared they were a big step up in quality from the typical LP, which was designed for the "Console Stereo" of that period. But starting in the 1960's sometime the hi-fi LP was gradually reduced in quality as the treble was also boosted, to sound better on those consoles as well as the other lo-fi stereos of that time.

    By the time I got stereo components in the mid-1970's, the typical pop-music LP was made from vinyl that had a lot of "filler" material, and the surface noise was so bad that many were unlistenable, not to mention the occasional hole that would break a stylus. At that time we ordered as many British, Continental, Japanese and even MOFI pressings as we could get, regardless of cost. For those who are not familiar with all of this, a reading of Stereo Review, High Fidelity, and Audio magazines of the 1970's tells the tale. British magazines might have ignored much of this since the British pressings were not a major issue to my knowledge. And classical recordings were not entirely excepted. The vinyl may have been of better quality, but the treble at least was still too bright for hi-fi purposes.

    One thing that's very interesting to compare are the remasters of Beatles and Rolling Stones recordings of circa 1964 with later recordings by those same bands. The 1964 recordings (Rolling Stones in Chicago mostly by the Chess brothers, Beatles I don't know where) were very high quality stereo recordings with great ambiance and detail, and what followed through the later 60's and 70's were poor in comparison. When the so-called Progressive Rock or Classic Rock became big after the advent of FM radio, those recordings suffered greatly from the bad practices that preceded them in the late 1960's. When the punk era began to wane in the late 1970's, something truly magical happened - New Wave, mostly British-influenced, and with many recordings having great sound quality. The former MTV corporation (since sold out) was a major factor in promoting this new music. Unfortunately in the U.S., not all of those are available in high quality formats as yet.

    Cassettes became a serious hi-fi item after 1971 when Henry Kloss and Advent introduced the hi-fi cassette deck with Dolby noise reduction and Chromium Dioxide (and later "Metal") tapes. I learned many secrets of tape then, particularly how badly you could destroy your cassette collection with a tape head that had barely noticeable wear. Now all professional tapes that I'm aware of were impregnated with silicones so the tape could flow past the heads without "skipping" or causing flutter that didn't originate with the capstan itself. But Columbia corporation issued all (per my experience) of their pre-recorded cassettes on tape that had no silicone impregnated, and thus all of their cassettes would fail after about 10 to 15 plays. I could hardly believe what I was seeing then, but there was no mistaking it.

    I finally got a good reel-to-reel tape deck (Roberts brand) in the 1980's and put what decent vinyl I had onto tapes, then copied those to cassettes for portable play. When digital MP3's became available, I went digital and never looked back. Today I have a large collection of everything from lo-fi 96 kbps MP3's to WAV and FLAC lossless files with a 96 khz bandwidth (compared to a CD's 44 khz bandwidth).

    I don't have any concern for what is done to modern pop recordings as a rule, since I don't watch the Grammys or American Idol or Lawrence Welk etc. My pop music is downloaded from various sites such as Apple and Amazon, and I determine what I want to listen to by following recommendations and links on the Internet.

    But what really does bother me is the reissues of older recordings such as those by Frank Sinatra, where the volume has been boosted and the voice brought forward, so the instrumentation of those great bands is pushed farther into the background. The real problem is not any one particular remaster either - it's the fact that as the library of remasters grows, and the fact that it's a lot of work for audio professionals who do those remasters to do that work, we will accumulate so many of these with such a large monetary investment that a future high quality reissue of many recordings will not be economically feasible.

    EDIT: My first recollection of the automating of music production (which had nothing to do with synthesizers since those were played by real people) was listening to reggae in the late 1970's and noting that much of the background rhythm was automated - not played by people. By now of course many or most of the automation devices or software have become more sophisticated in adding small irregularities to the sound to disguise the automation effect. But even so, our brains are still far ahead of these processes, and even when you don't detect such automation consciously, you'll be less satisfied with such music if you're really tuned in to good quality performance.
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2012
  4. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

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    Having been a studio junior engineer, in my deep dark past, and having mastered quite a few demos and B-Sides for small acts - the pressure to turn up the lead vocal and squash the recording within an inch of its life is virtually standard now. Although mastering is a creative process something has gone wrong when all records are treated the same no matter what their genre or the vibe of the record. So many albums in recent years sound like a kind of karaoke backing track version of themselves - overcooked and lacking space. I wonder whether at some enlightened point in the future some of the better recordings suffering this fate will be remastered properly so they don't contasntly punch 0db even in quiet sections. Is this all the fault of FM radio? If so we may see the same thing carry on as digital radio is likely to stay low quality (cheaper with less bandwidth) in the main and therefore benefits from overcooked recordings. The worst thing I have heard is recording mixed and mastered to sound good on laptop or other small speakers, what a silly idea!
     
  5. ianmedium

    ianmedium New Member

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    I found this started to get really bad with the advent of the power divas such as whitney Huston where volume replaced quality, texture and intimacy. Listen to Dolly's original recording of I will always love you then Whitneys. Whitney conveys non of the feeling or emotion, the tearing of emotion, she just blasts it and production is way over produced.

    This has now led to that most awful of things, idol and X factor shows! I swear listen to those from another room and you would be hard placed to define anything other than gender in the voice as they sound all the same and they blast songs.

    Compression robs music of so much emotion. I listen to Wav, not as good as Hi rez or vinyl but a hundred times better than a compressed format in terms of delivering emotion and texture I feel
     
  6. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Most corporations I know of are shedding labor as much as they can, and automating. As Robin notes about how it seems like the backing is often disconnected from the lead, that's the standard now with most of the processes computerized. The small consolation is that eventually the engineers will get (from computer programmers) utility programs to use in mastering that will "heal" the interface between these disconnected sounds, much like Photoshop uses "healing" tools to patch up such things in photographs. The new tools are already far ahead of the early automation devices such as electronic drum kits, since they can simulate human playing better with the usual small irregularities. Real music, to whatever extent it exists, is moving ever farther away from the commercial stuff. We should have gotten on top of this 30 years ago and built a larger and more robust community of real music lovers. Today we are both isolated physically and not isolated via the Internet. I just hope someone has a grand plan to rescue our music.

    I wasn't joking about the 'healing' tools, but that's not to say I'm going to enjoy my 19th copy of Solti's 9th Beethoven (disc, tape, cassette, CD, download, SACD, XRCD....) not knowing exactly what they did to which master to create the latest copy. I'll listen, and I'll think - "Ooh, that sounds good - never heard those triangles that clearly before, and don't those bassoons have a really nice weight to them..." -- and then, "Uh-oh..."
     
  7. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    User 'JuneBangs' posted the following, but it got lost:

    "Hmm somehow I always thought that pop music could never boast of high qiuality as it was always oriented on diverse audience. The exceptions were such legends as Michel Jackson, Abba etc. I would not even call this music pop, at least not in the current meaning of this word."

    Popular music always reflected a current cultural trend. Radio helped spread its influence, TV pushed it further with visuals, and the Internet has pushed it even more with videos, gaming, etc. So many things are happening today in so many places at once, that it would be very difficult to have anything develop without morphing into a thousand different things in no time at all, so that it would become unrecognizable from its origin.
     
  8. KLHUihGYBUH

    KLHUihGYBUH New Member

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    The music industry just looked harder for great musicians.
     
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