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Pro/Con: Is tech helping music?

By APRILL BRANDON
July 4, 2010 at 2:04 a.m.

Working at his home studio, Michael Weston can record and mix  artist recordings with off-the-shelf software and affordable hardware. The Internet, portable recording devices and smart phones have changed the face of music, not only in how it is obtained but,  more importantly, the vast sources by which it is delivered.

THE ISSUE:

IS TECHNOLOGY RUINING MUSIC?

With the advent of MP3s and iPods, do-it-yourself recording studios and websites like YouTube and Myspace, some audiophiles believe all this new technology is ruining both the sound and integrity of music.

On the other side, some music lovers believe all this technology is helping music by making it more accessible to the masses, giving the public more variety than ever before and helping musicians bypass large, elitist record labels.

From vinyl records to 8-tracks to cassette tapes to CDs, the format of music is constantly changing.

That change, however, isn't necessarily a good thing, according to some audiophiles.

With most music being listened to in a digital format, i.e. MP3s and iPods, sound quality has been sacrificed for convenience.

"I used to scream along to LPs and cassettes. Heck, even 8-tracks. The digital wave and all the neat gadgets it has spawned is moving forward radically. Along the way, sound quality has been compromised," Victoria musician Jose Diaz said. "I once put my entire body of works into a high-end MP3 player. Being an audio aficionado, I was very, very, very disappointed in the quality."

Although every generation has complained about sound quality when music moved from one format to another, it's not just all in their heads.

While vinyl records were analog and captured all the sound waves, in a digital format, it's too much data to capture, said Michael Weston, Blue Armadillo Recording Studio owner and University of Houston-Victoria multimedia specialist. As such, formats like CDs take a sample of the sound wave and the computer has to guess what is in between.

The higher number of samples of the sound wave per second, the higher the sound quality. An audio file on your computer that is 64k won't sound nearly as good as a file that is 320k, he said.

"MP3s exist because when digital music first came out, not a lot of people had high speed Internet. We all had dial-up. When you compressed the file, the file size was much smaller and easier to download," he added. "There are uncompressed files in the .wav format now and on iTunes you can now pay extra to get a high quality sound. It basically comes down to how important sound quality is to you. You can have 50 high quality sound songs on your iPod versus 700 low quality sound songs."

Technology has also isolated music lovers. With the ability to completely personalize your music through things like custom playlists, iTunes and Pandora radio and the ability to listen to that music on a portable device designed for one, technology has taken away the camaraderie music used to provide, Kyle Chambers of Edna said.

"I do miss the visual and tactile experience of acquiring a large vinyl collection and the social aspect of gathering around the record player to listen to music. That can be countered somewhat with the flexibility, portability and fidelity of music today but listening to music today certainly feels a more perfunctory experience that lacks the warmth of days gone by," he added.

Regardless of how you feel about how technology has changed music, the fact of the matter is, these changes are here to stay, Victoria musician Danny Kuykendall said.

"Music, like art, is a representation of where civilization is at, so to speak. When Warhol and others started the pop art movement, many people called them hacks, but really, they changed art forever," he said. "Changes in technology will always find their place in any art form. Good or bad, they're here to stay."

Related story: Con: Technology makes more music accessible to more people

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