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Audio Convergence

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Audio Recording Convergence and the Digital Age
Final Project

Abstract

With information technology advancements and a more computer savvy world, the audio recording medium and digital medium have merged, changing the sound recording industry forever. This convergence has blurred the line between professional and amateur sound recordings. Technology has made new products smaller, feature rich and more affordable where anyone can record their music and offer it on the web for the whole world to enjoy. This medium convergence has closed the gap between musicians and listeners and brought forth a famine in the recording industry, which in turn, has brought new opportunities to the dying market. What does this mean to us?
In short terms, with new digital formatting software available to anyone, the compression of music waves, and the technological advances, the recording industry is struggling to stay afloat. This statement is pretty remarkable, being that the world’s leading recording engineers are having difficulties keeping business alive with the evolution of technology. It is evident, recording engineers need to step backwards to differentiate themselves and find better innovative ways to keep the recording business profitable. This transformation in the world of recording, is affecting all of us as both consumers and producers of audio content. The following research paper discusses these convergence changes with a short look into the history of the recording industry and the transformations that have come about.

Starting with the invention of the phonograph in 1877, by Thomas Edison, sound recording became an entertainment medium that was popular right from the start. As the years progressed and several wars passed, the recording medium adapted to new and innovative heights. With the creation of “records” in which music waves could be transcribed on shellac and played back, and then to vinyl in which transcription became much easier and less expensive, recordings roots arose to great levels. As each decade passed, recording was introduced to new technologies and faster ways to record audio. For example, after the record, it was magnetic tape, and then the compact disc, until sound waves were digitized. Digitizing music was the ultimate “convergence” for sound recording. One of the most influential aspects of convergence in the recording industry is the improvement of technology. Consider the MPEG Audio Layer III player, or MP3 players, for example. The MP3 player is essentially a micro-processing, miniature version of a recording studio held in the palm of your hand. At the cost of a few hundred dollars, the MP3 player makes sound recording much cheaper versus the thousands that used to be spent on recording studio equipment. With its amazing ability to compress and store large amounts of music on a small storage device, the MP3 has become the preferred choice for music compilations. Amazingly the processor chip used in many MP3 players is capable of not only playing back, but also encoding MP3 files onto a small hand held hard drive. This means that a device that fits into your pocket can store hundreds and possibly thousands of songs for listening pleasure. Furthermore, the MP3 player can realistically function as a stereo recorder, which in turn opens up possibilities for recording live shows, practice sessions and demos on a small budget. No longer do you need an expensive studio with racks of gear to put together a demo. Now you can easily record a complete project in a spare bedroom. The home which has traditionally been a playback only domain, now doubles as a recording domain as well, eliminating the need to pay recording engineers to do this.
Additionally, software advancements have also changed the way audio recording is created and recorded. It has been demonstrated that several programs available to the consumer can assist in making digital recordings of any music variety in the clearest tones available to the human ear. Digitally enhanced recordings have been the wave of the new generation and people of all ages have conformed to the crystal clear digitally enhanced musical experience.
Computer advancements in recording have also changed the recording medium. With signal processing having been integrated into computer platforms, recording music via MP3 format and sharing the information over the internet has been made as easy as a push of a button. This has changed the audio recording landscape dramatically, pushing stores out of business who used to be big providers of music via old musical formats. Manufacturers that have responded to this convergence trend are reaping the benefits of the new MP3 market; others need to develop new products fast. Computerized technology has shortened product lifecycles more than ever and development timeframe is now a critical concern. Successful manufacturers understand that while their core competency may be quality audio and not rapid rollout of digital technology, the right outsourcing partner can make all the difference. Companies like Amazon MP3, and Google Music, have emerged as big business partners in this digital era. These new formats have perplexed the Recording Industry Associates of America (RIAA), thus making them push for recourse against piracy with the new digital music output. Since the late 1990’s and the creation of Napster, piracy of music has been at an all time high. People now do not have to buy music from a store, but format their friends compact disc to their hard drive and add it to their MP3 collection, cost free. This has brought forth several legal and moral debacles, and lawsuits were handed out to several pirating individuals, but at a huge cost to the RIAA and to the music industry. Musicians are essentially being robbed of their musical creations and artistry.
Further technological advances have assisted in the recording medium convergence and the digital age. As previously noted, computers and the internet offer other challenges and opportunities to the radio and recording industries. Emerging technologies, such as the versatile Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) has made it possible for radio stations to live stream their programs over the internet. The DAW used for recording, editing, CD mastering and surround sound mix applications can be placed on an internet server where it can automatically play music continuously, without the assistance of a radio DJ.
These technological advancements have made it difficult to combat the piracy of music and changes in the recording realm. However, in an effort to attempt to thwart these changes, some of the recording studios have resorted to switching their musical formats back to analog rather than digital, stating that the sound is much more “original and real than digital”. An analog medium refers to the fact that there is a continuous physical relationship between the original message and its reproduction. For example, speech and writing are represented by print in a book just as musical sounds are represented by grooves in a record, or magnetized iron particles on an audio tape. In contrast, digital representation maps values into discrete numbers, limiting the possible range of values to the resolution of the digital device, essentially compressing music waves.

It is in effort to recoup lost revenue, that recording studios have been reporting complaints about the “cold,” “soulless,” “computerized” sound of digital audio. Cary Sherman, CEO of the RIAA suggests, “Analog continues to possess a special appeal because of its intrinsic non-linear processing capabilities. With analog, every stage in the signal chain is a source of coloration, a source of added processing.” (Sherman Pg. 204) It seems he speaks this is in effort to contest the crystal clear sound of the uncontested digital format.
Today’s young people may not understand the issues with the recording industry, having been brought up in the digital age. Students in college level audio recording programs are truly perplexed when given the opportunity to learn tape based recording. They ask a typical question: “Why should I learn both? Isn’t digital clearly better?” With the recording and production engineers of tomorrow growing up with an entirely different set of tools, the ones driven by arrow keys, an enter button, and 1’s and 0’s as the input to output format, analog recording is all but obsolete. However, it is still the recording industries crutch that the “purists” will continue to prefer analog. Whereas the new generation will likely stay digitized.
In conclusion, faced with new digital technology, the audio and sound recording industry has to adapt to stay alive. The recording industry should embrace convergence, ditch the analog sound format, and find new and innovative ways to reproduce music for the digital age. With the rapid integration of digital technologies into our lives, and the new format choices available to us, adapting won’t be easy. We should hang up our collection of vinyl, 8-track tapes, and cassettes and resort to the excellence of the digitized musical experience. Composing musical masterpieces using software and a keyboard is the wave of the digital age. The fact is, the change from atoms to bits is irrevocable and unstoppable, meaning we will forever become intertwined in the digital future. However, we must not let digitization control everything.
References:
1. Storsul, T., & Stuedahl, D. (2005). Digitalization and Media Change (p. 10-39).

2. de Sola Pool, E. Appelgren, Technologies ,Media Convergence and Digital News Services (doctoral dissertation), www.csc.kth.se/utbildning/forskar/avhandlingar/doktor/2007/AppelgrenEster.pdf, [accessed: 10.11.2009].

3. Bolter, J. D., & Grusen, R. (2000). Understanding new media (p. 204). Retrieved February 21, 2014

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