April 3, 2017 - Robert John Hadfield

Music - the Immersive Experience

For many people paying for an MP3 is a tough sell, but why?


When it comes to sound, I am both old school and new school. I LOVE the world of digital music. I love the convenience, the "quality" and the price. MP3s are so simple. Copy your music anywhere as many times as you like without losing quality. Listen to it however, whenever and wherever you like. And for musicians like myself, digital music goes way beyond the MP3s. When I was working in recording studios in the 80s and 90s, we were using tape to record music. One roll of 2" professional audio tape cost $300! And it only recorded 18 minutes of music! And that was nothing, the machine you needed to use the tape could cost over a hundred thousand dollars.

We would spend a small fortune just to record a couple of songs in a studio.

But digital changed all of that.

For $100 today I can buy a hard drive that I can record tens of thousands of hours of music on! And the computer it sits in only cost a few hundred dollars. Digital music is the great equalizer for musicians - it's not about who can afford to pay to get their stuff recorded. It's all about talent. It's not about who can get a record company to distribute their music because distribution to the entire planet can happen in an instant.

But something BIG is lost for the consumer. The immersive experience.

I used to buy records - Thousands of them. And the experience with a record was SO much more than listening to music. It was a fully immersive experience. Buying a record with 40 minutes of music would often occupy an entire afternoon of sight, sound, touch and smell.

1. The trip to the record store - that's right! music required a person to leave home! And at the record store, I would walk from bin to bin flipping through records, looking at the artwork.

2. The trip home - Ten minutes thinking about the record you just bought. Wondering if it was a good choice. Excited to hear it.

3. Opening the record - The plastic wrap around a new record was tight. There was a little trick where you would rub the open end on your jeans back and forth so the friction would open the plastic enough to get your finger in there to remove it and get to the record.

4. Removing the record - Gingerly taking the inner sleeve out. This was a moment of great excitement to see if there was an inner sleeve with pictures, writing, lyrics, etc. Sometimes there was, sometimes it was just a clear plastic bag, sometimes it was just a bunch of pictures of other records that the record company had to offer. But when it was a full color sleeve with writing, pictures, etc. it was another adventure waiting to happen.

5. The turntable - the moment of truth! if you weren't familiar with the music, would it suck? would it amaze you? You place the needle on the record and the sound begins. Maybe a little pop or crackle, and then...sound.

6. Immersing yourself - If the record was decent you would spend the next 30-40 minutes listening to it. But you weren't just listening, you were looking at the record art, you were reading the lyrics, looking at pictures, checking out the special thanks from the artist, studying details, etc.

Music was a fully immersive experience involving many senses. You were connected to the music in multiple ways. There was sound, sight, touch and even smell! When you bought music, you were buying a fully immersive, interactive experience. And beyond that, you could relive that experience anytime. Sometimes you would get a record out and not even listen to it, just look at the pictures, read the notes, and imagine.

Is it any wonder that MP3s are a tough sell? For $7.99 we used to have a fully-immersive product that took us on a journey. Compare!

When people send cassettes into our studio to convert to digital, they frequently want audio CDs for the simple reason of having something physical. I frequently suggest MP3s to customers for the convenience, etc. But often people will hem and haw and even apologize when they tell you they prefer to have a CD.

At least you can touch a CD.

I get it too. It's human nature to want to see, touch a smell something. We have senses for a reason; we want to use them.

I am not living in the past, I love MP3s, I love digital music, but there's nothing wrong with acknowledging that with everything we have gained in convenience, we have lost a little something too.

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