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Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree on the Degradation of Audio Quality & the Music Industry

by August 11, 2011
Fear of a Blank Planet

Fear of a Blank Planet

As I sit here listening to Porcupine Tree's "Fear of a Blank Planet" on DVD-A, I wonder to myself why this band has not caught on into the USA music mainstream.  One only needs to spend a few minutes perusing the airwaves both Terrestrial and Satellite to understand why.  Porcupine Tree doesn't have that safe and sterile sound found in most mainstream music today.  A majority of their songs aren't under 5 minutes long, and their music sucks for dancing.  However, if you're a progressive rock fan or appreciate the musicianship of good musicians who can actually play their instruments and sing, then you would likely find some merit in the art of their sound.

Wanting to find out a little more about what makes Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree tick, I went to Youtube and searched out some interviews. 

I was pleasantly surprised to discover he shares many of the views I have about the constant degradation of audio quality and musical substance happening in the music industry these days.

In an age of convenience winning out over quality, more and more people are settling for poorer and poorer audio quality.  This is leading to generation of youngsters never being exposed to anything better and accepting highly distorted and compressed music as the norm.  We now live in an era of people totally content with the sound quality of XM radio and steaming music via Bluetooth from their iPods to their car or home stereos.  In fact the mastering of most music today is being done to sound good on iPods/MP3 players with limited dynamic range rather than hifi systems. 

This reminds me of an article I authored years ago called:

Steve Wilson understands this better than most artists today as he is quite vocal about the demise of audio quality for convenience and doesn't buy into it.

This short video interview with Steve Wilson discusses how he doesn't make music for iPods:

In fact, most of the latest Porcupine Tree music is available either on Vinyl or via a 5.1 high resolution surround format such as DVD-A and Blu-ray.

Interestingly enough, this recent CEA study shows that average consumers prefer higher quality audio once exposed to it.

If you're an avid reader of Audioholics.com you probably understand these issues all too well.  Sadly despite our commanding readership of over 1 million a month, you and I don't represent the masses.  I shrug my head anytime I go to a party and have to put earplugs in my ears to protect them from the offense of distorted and compressed audio streaming from the DJ's computer hard drive or iPod into his budget two-way horn loaded speaker boxes designed for maximum output over high fidelity.  My ears shriek whenever I go to a friends or family members house and they boast about how great XM radio sounds on their cubed speaker system.  They are usually totally unaware how metallic the voices sound or how frail and lifeless the percussion and cymbals sound until I actually spend time to point it out to them. Of course this becomes even more obvious when they actually pay me a visit and I play them high resolution audio on a respectable pair of speakers. 

Bad Quality Audio Leads to Bad Music in General

Not only is our expectation of audio quality going down with each generation, but so is our expectation for what constitutes good music.  In the era of autotuners and over processing, much of the mainstream music of today has become a manufactured good void of creativity or substance.  A pop artist today doesn't need to know how to play an instrument, or even how to sing.  All they need is sex appeal and a catchy repetitive phrase combined with a production studio to lay some prefabricated music in the background.   Wham, you've got a hit that will now be marketed all over the airwaves and on the latest American Idol show to 12 year old pre-adolescents.

I love how Steve discusses the dumbing down of our culture explaining why programs like American Idol thrive in our society.  To paraphrase Steve "most of the people on these shows should be singing on cruise ships or wine bars, but instead they are considered icons.  They are inspiring a whole generation of people after them to aspire to the most important thing in life is to be famous.  American Idol is a way for the music business to regain control of pop music.

Bravo, Steve, and well said!

So What Can We Do?

As fellow Audioholics, it should be our mission to educate our friends and family about the merits of high quality audio much like a food critic educates consumers about fine culinary or a climate scientist educates the public about man made climate change (ok bad example). 

It is my belief that once people are exposed to good audio quality, they will also expect music of more substance.  I don't know too many audiophiles listening to Justin Beber or Brittney Spears, do you?  

For those wanting to check out the latest Porcupine Tree albums in high resolution 5.1 audio surround sound, I suggest a visit to the Burning Shed website.

Next time you have a friend over that wants to hear the latest Lady Gaga song on your hifi system, you may instead consider surprising them with a little Porcupine Tree or other well engineered 5.1 audio mix from a band that produces music of substance. Most importantly, support high resolution multi channel audio before it becomes a relic of the past forcing us all to succumb to the dumbed down compressed manufactured music genome. 

In closing, it's important for me to note I am not at all against portability and convenience for music.  I enjoy streaming music from Pandora to my desktop system or from my iPhone to my car system.  My concern is when people are never exposed to anything better and thus never have higher expectations for audio quality.  It is my belief that if people never spend the time sitting down and listening to high resolution recordings on a high quality playback system, they may lose the appreciation for the art of music and simply devalue its true importance and influence on our culture.


About the author:
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Gene manages this organization, establishes relations with manufacturers and keeps Audioholics a well oiled machine. His goal is to educate about home theater and develop more standards in the industry to eliminate consumer confusion clouded by industry snake oil.

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