Music Is Changing

I remember as a kid when my grandparents would come over to our house. I would be playing with some sort of technology gadget. My grandfather would sit down and begin questioning me on what the device was and what its capabilities were. I would explain the details as best as I understood them and we would talk about the various uses would be for the device. This inevitably would lead to my grandfather uttering a sentence that began with, “Back in my day…” followed by a dissertation of what society and more importantly technology was like when he was my age. I remember snickering whenever he started thinking there is absolutely no way I am ever going to do that. First off I never thought nor do I still think that the “good old days” were all that good. I am a technologist and an avid collector of gadgets. I am an early adopter and hence get involved with the technology before it is quite ready for primetime. Sometimes this is good and other times it can be quite expensive.

I had an 8-Track recorder for recording music and I own a Sony Betamax VCR because the technology was better than VHS. Not all my choices were wrongly placed. I have one of the early Blu-Ray players as I felt that technology had more capabilities than what HD-DVD could provide. I realized early on the power of digital photography and have a fairly large collection of digital cameras of various sizes and capabilities. I could make a nearly endless list of technology and gadgets that I have accumulated over the years. A few weeks back I began going through the stack of hardware I have accumulated trying to decide how to dispose of some of these relics. As I looked at each device I tried to categorize it. What I found was that I have an abundance of devices dealing with audio. These included phonographs, 8-Track players, cassette recorders, Walkmans, Mini-Disc players, Compact Disc players, and now several generations of iPods from the original all the way up to the latest iPod Touch.
I had not realized how important music had been in my life nor had I realized how many different formats I had migrated from to maintain my music collection. I initially had a collection of vinyl albums but those were migrated to 8-Track tapes due to the ease with which those could be portable. Those 8-Track tapes were in turn repurchased or migrated to cassette tapes to allow further mobility and to reduce storage space. My cassette collection turned into compact discs again reducing storage but more importantly to increase quality. This format put my music into a digital format and gave me a fairly sturdy medium to keep and maintain. From the CDs I would create Mini-Disc recordings to take with me and later would rip the songs into a format that could be transmitted to my iPod. To me compact disc was the appropriate trade-off between quality and storage. As iTunes began to grow and the MP3 format proliferated I refused to move to a totally electronic model. I didn’t care much for the quality of MP3 sound. Its lossy format degraded the sound to the point that I didn’t care for it at all. I chose instead to migrate my music to a lossless format such as Apple Lossless MP4, APE, or Windows Media Player lossless. None of electronic outlets were willing to provide this level of quality so I continued to purchase compact discs. I honestly don’t remember the last time I put a CD in my stereo system as a playback mechanism. Mostly I buy the CD then rip it into a lossless file and then store the CD for safe keeping. This has worked out quite well and I am content with the workflow I have developed.
Lately I have noticed that the CD and music sections of most major stores have begun to shrink. Beyond a few new releases the number of compact discs has begun to diminish. I still have a few older format media that I would like to move to CD and I am not having a harder time finding these as a CD. I can find the electronic MP3 songs but not a CD pressing of the album. I’m ok with technological shifts as long as it brings an increase to quality or somehow edifies my way of life but when technology changes for the sake of reducing the quality of a product I am not happy. Lately I have begun channeling my grandfather. Each time one of my kids comes to me with a new MP3 file they have downloaded that sounds muddled and of low quality I find myself starting sentences just like my grandfather, “Back in my day…” followed by a long explanation of how audio quality has declined since the invention of the CD. The next thing you know I’ll be telling stories about having to walk 20 miles to school in the snow and how we had to eat dirt because we couldn’t afford anything else. The most telling sign happened with my daughter Mallorie who at 22 is now feeling old. For the first time in her life she said, “back in my day Pluto was a planet” whereby I responded, “back in my day Pluto was a dog”. I guess everything is relative. I’m just not sure I am ready for my music to take a step back from a quality perspective. I’ll stick with the compact disc until someone can convince me that they can provide a high-quality lossless file in downloadable electronic format. Until then don’t take away my CDs sonny!

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