In Part I, I ranted on about the evils of compression. How it has been used to make records louder and louder to the point that they are not only far less musical but also almost painful to listen to.
The flip side to this has been that music is itself changing in response to the technology. As I pointed out, this started out as a subtle enhancement to the pulse of music… aka ‘disco’, but now the effects are far more dramatic.
In fact, I’d suggest that things went so far afield that the music that so thrived during the heyday of CDs… culminating in rap, with the thundering 808 kick drum, has now been superseded by music that can have no bottom or top because, frankly, we’re all listening on ear buds while doing other things.
In other words, the music itself is changing to reflect the fact that music is a background activity; listened to (if one can call it that) even in a crowded place. So, what kinds of music are best suited to being heard whilst listening via earbuds? Speech.
Think about it. What music really grabs people these days? No, not niche artists (and they are now niche artists) like Michael Buble or AC/DC or anyone who started in the era of CDs. What really moves now are, largely spoken word artists. That means anyone from Sufjan Stevens to Flo-Rida. They don’t ‘sing’; they rap. It may be hip-hop, or ‘alt’ or ‘indie’ or whatever you want to call it, but the vocal is mostly spoken and the other instruments are designed to stay out of the way. Even the mixes are all decidedly in that mid-range–a far cry from the days of ‘classic rock’ with ‘solos’ and complex arrangements that required full-range speakers to be understood.
Wow. Remember back when compression was invented? Oh… yeah…. it was designed to make sound more intelligible for transmission over phone lines.
The circle is complete, young Skywalker. We have laboured for the past seventy years to develop music technologies that bring us back to the same aesthetic that made listening to ‘crooners’ over a bullhorn such a pleasure—back in the ‘Roaring 20’s’. Now that’s progress!