Analogue vs. Digital ?

How many years have i been both a more than mildly interested observer and an occasionally involved partisan in that old chestnut of an argument, the one that says – for starters – that you HAVE to take sides in the ‘cultural clash’ between these two ‘worlds’ , or whatever would best describe the supposed belief-conflict between advocates of one ‘way of doing sound’ and the other.

The fact is of course that, diehard analogue music enthusiasts aside ( and i’ll come back to them ), the whole original ‘argument’ that had people fired up in the late 70s onwards has, in recent years been almost completely sidestepped by a number of related factors, some of these factors are, in my opinion;..

1) there’s been a much wider diffusion of ‘hifi’ or plain stereo music storage and reproduction equipment, crucially in portable form, going far beyond the likely limits of consumption ( of both hardware and ‘software’ ) that would have been the case if only ‘conventional’ equipment had been bought for conventional fixed homes. And all this started off with such ‘desired’ consumer items as a certain-named cassette-based portable music player, i.e. still within the ‘age of analogue’….

2)  following on from that, the all-around ubiquity and availability of recorded music outside the home, which, for want of a better word, ‘downgraded’ the status of recorded music itself as a technological ‘treat’ – in the sense of being able to listen to it on high-quality reproduction systems, during that brief peak after the Dansette and the single were no longer, both having been superseded by the album and the ‘stereo’. This became the mode of listening to much music at home from the late 60s on, but…

… now there’s been a kind of return to the Dansette ‘mode’, except now it’s more often a solitary activity ( also silent to onlookers ), and more often outdoors than in. The result in any case was that the ‘album’, while still remaining the usual ‘purchase-format’ for most serious music listeners, ceased to be regarded as the only way of listening to that recording, whether this was due to people taping their own albums to listen to on the move or else –  something i never understood at all except as an indication of peoples low standards and high disposable income… – buying albums AS compact cassettes which cost nearly the same as the proper Vinyl version !

3)  skip forward a few years, and in general skip ( literally ) the use of portable CD players once these became ‘affordable’ ( i had one, prone to jumping but in any case they weren’t taken up in anything like the numbers that owned a Walkman ) , and it’s only a practical not a conceptual step from the portable cassette/CD player to the MP3 player and their ilk.

The driving commercial reason behind these players was not ‘bringing digital to the masses’, who in any case had all heard CDs already for several years – though without all but a fraction of them hearing how ‘good’ those could sound – but rather to use the then/now-available technology to solve the prior handicap of all portable music players;  that while the player was eminently portable already the actual MUSIC in the form of tapes or discs was not.

Or rather the ammount of music that anyone might want to listen to, before they had the chance to return to their home base and select other recordings, could take up half a bag while the player itself would go in a coat pocket. By comparison replacing batteries was of course easy as anywhere had the right batteries to buy, whereas nowhere else had YOUR collection of music.

I myself remember years of travelling on trains with a 3rd-generation Sony Walkman player that would play for the length of 4 C90s ( both sides ) on 1 set of AA batteries – and therefore do a whole journey one way with delays and changes and waiting rooms.

But that wasn’t nearly enough selection/variety to keep me in music for the whole of my stay where i was travelling to, AND let me listen to different music on the journey back, so that the bag-space needed for the collection of cassettes i regularly took with me rivalled that used up for clothes for a short trip !

4)  last but definitely not least the ‘download revolution’, or whatever we want to politely call it that, arguments about one or other parties legalities aside, has indisputably accustomed a whole generation to NOT PAYING FOR RECORDED MUSIC.

Now this is not the same as saying that all those young people think that Musicians and groups themselves should not be paid for performing and providing entertainment –  and the numbers continuing to fork out for live concerts seemingly disprove that –  but aren’t all those present-day teenyboppers thinking that they’re paying for THE SHOW, the night of entertainment as an ephemeral happening, rather than paying the practitioners of the actual music performance itself ?

I’d suggest that if any of them think about it at all ( and it seems to me few do )  they do NOT make any tangible connection between recording revenues and their favourite singer being able to afford a Ferrari, or his coke habit, or just pay his rent ( tick one according to how ‘commercial’ and or rock-n-roll lifestyle the ‘artist’ is ).

And its probably pointless trying to RE-make that causal connection ( if ever it was consciously made by the mass of physical record buyers )  in the present situation.

And there are those who actually seem prepared to argue that paying at all for a ‘copy’ of a music recording, whether on physical media or as a file, is itself somehow immoral because of the whole issue of copyright and artists royalties.

None of which resolves or excuses the above-mentioned phenomenon, of there being a whole swathe of people who not only PREFER to only have inferior compressed copies of music, but also ‘don’t see why they should pay for it’

Of course there’s more to it than that, one angle being that without the current ‘availability’ of music in ‘digital’ form and the easy copiability of the same, many people who might never have been able to ‘pre-listen’ to new music in the days of vinyl and CD can introduce themselves or their friends to non-chart stuff that IS subsequently bought as a physical CD.

Of course we’re now being told that CDs are ‘on the way out’, and the fact that the format is now 32 years old means that it’s lasted at least as long as its vinyl stereo predecessor, but mainly it makes me feel a bit old for remembering very clearly when it was the latest thing, and how exciting it all seemed that everything newly recorded was going to be, in the words of the unfortunate slogan  ‘perfect sound, forever’ …….