Has Music Taken A Backseat In Our Society?

I believe it has in a sense. I have been seeing something happen over the years I have been around regarding how we get our music and ironically, the unfortunate disconnection to music as a result.

I was into music at a very young age well south of 6 years old. While I could not have articulated anything about the details of music at the time of course, I still knew what I liked and what I was hearing.
Back when I was growing up we had FM radio, AM Radio, vinyl records, 8 track tapes, reel to reel tapes and eventually cassettes. Up until the 80s, that was all there was for the consuming public. Some of you might be thinking, yeah, all that was so limited and inconvenient, today we have music in formats so convenient that it feels like the world is at our fingertips and there is more music than ever before. It is true that music has become ultra convenient, but there is a cost that was not taken into account, the cost of sound quality. Here’s a good but short TED talk on this:

I also believe that starting way back in the 50s (even before the 70s when radio and vinyl records were still the major source of music), at the direction of the record companies, the songs were kept around two to two and a half minutes in length with the exception of classical music. It was assumed even back then that people had short attention spans and did not want to sit and listen to long songs. This also accounts for the fact that in the beginning there were a lot more singles (aka, 45s) produced than full length LPs (which by the way stands for Long Play). Something happened in the early 70s and as far back as the late 60s when album-oriented rock started to appear and take hold. People started liking longer songs and since it was that more LPs were starting to be produced in the 60s and forward. LPs whether by chance or design, kind of held the listener captive because most folks did not want to get up and change the record after one song. The inventor of the LP was pretty smart. In fact, it was sort of the invention for the relaxed and convenience oriented before the CD. A person desiring to hear more of an artist could put on an LP and only have to get up once to turn it over and play the other side. (With singles one had to practically monitor the record player and turn over the record or swap it out every two minutes, talk about a pain in the ass! In fact, I believe the industry had built-in a cause for people disengaging with the music. Not terribly bright minded to have a built-in long-term failure on a product that does not go bad or shut down on you for a very long time if ever). While there were some radio stations that adapted to having some special shows that played those longer songs up to the double-digit times once in a blue moon, it never really took hold and was left to the record buying public to get their fix for the long songs that way. By the late 70s we were back to the 2.5 minute versions of songs. Why did this happen? I believe it is once again brought to you by the marketing executives at the record companies assuming that people did not really want to sit and listen to music or cared that much about it. They figured if they keep throwing little catchy poorly done pop songs out there within the short 2 minute time span just to keep interest long enough for people to run out and purchase the single to be played a few times and then tossed away and move on to the next one, then they have done their job.

Back in the mid to late seventies the 8-track tape got crushed by the cassette tape due to the cassette’s compact size and higher convenience than the 8-track. (With the 8-track one could not rewind to a song nor select only certain ones to listen to and the tapes were bulky and really did not sound all that good. Vinyl not only sounded better, but was far more convenient because one could lift the stylus and select certain songs or go backwards or forwards). With cassettes being recordable as well, one could get a vinyl record onto tape and have it sound fairly comparable to the vinyl record as there was no additional compression needed nor any conversions, it was analog to analog. The problem was (aside from the initial legal BS from the record companies), the tapes did not have a long lifespan and after only a few plays, started to show their wear.
Then in the early 80s CDs came to market. The CD was invented by Sony in conjunction with Phillips. What got it going is that the CEO of Sony at the time was a big fan of classical music and a conductor. He wanted to be able to fit the entire Beethoven’s 9th symphony on to one disc and have it sound the best it could, thus the CD was born. The problem was that while it could all fit on a CD and then some unfortunately, due to the extra compression it did not sound so good. Sure it was void of any noise in the background such as found on vinyl records or analog tapes, but it sacrificed dynamics in the process. It thinned out the sound giving it a harsh tone. So what sold the CD and made it popular was convenience, ease of use and marketing hype of no clicks, pops, etc.

In fact, it was marketed so well that many ended up ditching their vinyl records and cassettes and re-purchasing their favorite albums on CD. In my opinion, this was the beginning of the disengagement from music. It takes a tiny bit of work to take care of vinyl records and play them and folks have been doing so for years with very little complaint. Then along comes the CD which offers convenience and takes the so-called “work” out of putting on some music to “listen” to and with it a big trade-off. Consumers need to be aware of any trade offs. The problem is the marketing is so slick that people are lulled or tricked somehow into buying into it without consideration.
Proponents of the CD touted how convenient it is not having to worry about setting up a turntable, lowering a needle onto a record, how it did not take up as much room, how one could use a remote that comes with any CD player to skip or select tracks, and how portable the CD is compared to vinyl, all true and no argument, at least from me. However, they got it wrong in my opinion on two important points. First, they claim the dynamics are better because you can fit more data on a CD than you can an analog vinyl record. What they don’t mention is that the data is severely compressed and with compression comes loss of dynamics and body, so the claim is hyperbole.
When you compress, depending on how and what type of compression is used you end up cutting off certain frequencies and at some point it ends up being the very ones that hold the dynamics of a recording. Now this is not a slam on CDs as a medium, I have plenty that I enjoy, but I also had plenty I did not, due to the harsh sound and/or lack of depth, etc. The CD started to improve in the early 2000s and is not always bad these days, however it’s not the CD itself, but the recording and production that make it good or bad in my opinion. Also, CD players have improved. The early ones up until only about 10 to 15 years ago were fairly poorly built. There have been advances in drives, DACs, etc. that are now in today’s CD players making them sound better, though not a clear rival to analog (vinyl) playback. The second point is that with this overwhelming convenience of skipping and selecting tracks and with a remote no less, it only serves to encourage people not to sit and listen, but just hear a track or two (over and over sometimes as well) and go do something else. In other words it shortened the attention span. It’s an irony of sorts that the record companies would not care about people sitting and listening to the very albums they contracted artists to record. There are some disciplined folks if you will, who will sit and listen to entire albums on CD and it ‘s usually the generation that grew up with vinyl. Sadly the generations that followed didn’t stand a chance. (Of course, now days vinyl is making a huge come back, not only for its sound quality, but it encourages folks to sit and listen to entire LPs. In other words, it encourages the engagement factor through the act of listening. Please see page 2 below

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