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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Occupy Audio: Neil Young is "Angered By Today's Sound Quality"

Jonathan Demme and Neil Young
Slamdance Festival 2012, Park City, Utah
Photo by The Hollywood Reporter

Neil Young is not happy about today's sound quality.

So Neil has posted on his Facebook page that he stands in solidarity with the Occupy Audio movement:
OCCUPY AUDIO Rescuing an Art Form!

Occupy Audio and get the sound back to the people.

Musicians hear this. This is the 21st Century. We need to take our tones back. Give your fans what YOU hear. Figure out a way to do it. MP3 audio is the new radio. It should be free like radio. Our record companies need to deliver what we are making the way we hear it. Put pressure on them. Our music loving listeners deserve the best. Sell quality. It is possible. We can do it. Now is the time. Don’t be a slave to the Media corporations. Change what they are doing. Give your audience what YOU hear. Let them FEEL it.


Thanks for listening.

Get More: Music News

From Neil Young Angered By 'Sound Of Music Today' - Music, Celebrity, Artist News | MTV by Josh Wigler, with reporting by Josh Horowitz:
Neil Young, who spoke with MTV News in Park City (where he's promoting the Slamdance release of his new Jonathan Demme-helmed documentary "Neil Young Journeys") and expressed his concerns over the current state of "the sound of music."

"I'm finding that I have a little bit of trouble with the quality of the sound of music today," Young said. "I don't like it. It just makes me angry. Not the quality of the music, but we're in the 21st century and we have the worst sound that we've ever had. It's worse than a 78 [rpm record]. Where are our geniuses? What happened?" Young argued that MP3s feature only 5 percent of the data from an original master file, which he sees as a major problem.

"If you're an artist and you created something and you knew the master was 100 percent great, but the consumer got 5 percent, would you be feeling good?" he asked. "I like to point that out to artists. That's why people listen to music differently today. It's all about the bottom and the beat driving everything, and that's because in the resolution of the music, there's nothing else you can really hear. The warmth and the depth at the high end is gone."

A brief video clip on Occupy Audio's Facebook page demonstrates High Resolution Audio in a Cadillac Eldorado. David Crosby says, "That's the best sound I ever heard in a car ever in my life, and as a matter of fact, it might be some of the best sound I ever heard."

OCCUPY AUDIO: We want the 95%!

ps - Occupy This Music, Occupy This Blog.

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At 1/25/2012 07:42:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Oh, I love that video! A lot of the sound quality was lost when record companies began converting analog to digital back in the early 80s.

There are some people who can't drink tea from a tea bag with a staplebecause they can taste the "metal." There are some people who can't stand to listen to old music unless it's on a vinyl.

Neil has a good point. It shouldn't be this way. Wouldn't it be funny if that sound we hear coming from the Eldorado in the video was from a mono car amp system?

At 1/25/2012 09:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's interesting is that these days artists make most of their money performing rather than through sales of recordings of their music. In a live setting none of the bands performance is lost, filtered or eliminated - it goes straight to your ears. I grew up in the cd era and was always blown away when I went to a live show and could hear the individual instruments and voices so much better - with so much more separation from each other than on the recording. Based on Neil's observations and your graph, the superiority of a live performance is even more evident in the "mp3" era we're in today. You could argue that this fact is a great argument for the value of a live show. You could even say that the value of a live show today is greater due the decreased value of recorded music. I think it is and I think that's probably a good thing for artists who rely on income from live performances as their lifeblood. It doesn't make it right that what's available for us to purchase, own and collect is of increasing lower quality but it is an interesting point to consider.
Somebody once said, "Live music is better" - or something like that. These days, based on the recordings that are available, it's even better than it used to be.

At 1/25/2012 10:49:00 AM, Blogger Keith said...

What I like about this the most, without knowing the actual format that will deliver this quality, is that Neil is talking about the recording industry standard and how to deliver it. Since 99% of recorded music today is recorded in hi-res digital audio, the vinyl push is little more than a novelty. This seems practical and it's possible to image some widespread format to deliver what the artists hear played back in a control room.

At 1/25/2012 10:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The human ear is sensitive to a certain frequency range.

So the loss of sound quality needs to be quantified in terms of the frequency range of human ear.

At 1/25/2012 10:58:00 AM, Blogger Old Black said...

It all started with CD's - and it's been downhill from there (until BlueRay). When CD's came on the market, they sampled the analog master (or some copy of that master) at 16 bit, 44.1 MHz which, when you think about it, was the high standard of the early video games. Now that's a high bar to meet! That standard still exists as the "high-end" consumer delivery form. People thought "Wow, that's great sound because I don't have to hear dust/needle pops and the tape hiss has been digitally filtered out. I'm gonna sell my record collection." Thanks to everyone who did that because I bought your records at 25 cents a piece.

Some people realized that CD's had sonic limitations due to sampling size so they came up with the concept of "dithering" in which they became "smarter" about which parts of the sonic spectrum to sample more than others in order to acheive a better sound with the same sampling limitations. There are some very sophisticated dithering routines. Instead of shooting their music through a window screen of a uniform mesh size, they varied the mesh size, with smaller "meshes" in ranges most people hear" and bigger meshes on the low and high ends - all to meet the sampling limitations.

Now, with MP3s, we have even more extreme sampling limitations and the dithering has become draconian - chopping off whole parts of the sonic spectrum. Recording "people" now master the mixes to emphasize those parts of the spectrum best represented in ear buds as opposed to moving air from a speaker. It's really hideous.

The last problem has been the "loudness wars" in mastering. Rather than having dynamics in the performance, ALL sounds are now "brickwalled" by increasing the volume up to just a fraction below the beginnings of digital distortion. They do this so that the 'record' can be just as loud as the next guy's. It's fatiguing to listen to. And it sucks! They even do it to Willie Nelson.

BlueRay has much higher sampling rates that can take advantage of some of the digital advantages but keep the sampling rates so high as to not be a sonic limit. It's the difference between HD TV and older formats - but more so.

So, if a guy like Neil can't stop this race to the bottom, we are all doomed.

At 1/25/2012 11:12:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Live shows are superior. Trying to capture that "sound" for recording purposes has always been a real challenge for musicians who take great pride in what they want their listener to experience.

Do you think you can tell the difference between a CD & vinyl release of Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore or Cash's Folsum Prison or Same Cooke's Live in Harlem? How about a vinyl of After the Goldrush and the CD? Are you ready for the country?

At 1/25/2012 11:16:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...


At 1/25/2012 03:31:00 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

I agree with the need for better quality but I think that vinyls are a bit overrated. Don't get me wrong, I love them and it's mostly what I buy (over cds). But only a few labels actually put the effort to do a right mastering or to use analog sources. Most labels dumb the digital cd file on their LP and charge 30$ instead of 15$. And thats a fucking fraud...

How does A Treasure sound on vinyl anyways? I like the sound of Le Noise for sure.

At 1/26/2012 09:04:00 AM, Blogger Old Black said...

Vinyl is not the end all to be all - especially some newer vinyl. I remember about 30 years ago when "half-speed master" vinyl came out - that was good listening.

There is so much that goes into great sounding recordings that begins before the final mix. But modern digital recording gear can produce superb sound (provided the song is great, the performance is great, the mics are great, the mic preamps are great, etc). Sampling rates at recording are high enough to capture the sound spectrum. If anolog gear is used, some of that old-time "magic" can be captured through various gear-related compression. But it's after the tracks are down that the problems can start - beginning with the mix but more often with the mastering. Human decisions are made at this stage that make-or-break the sound we hear, no matter what medium. But the decision to mix to the medium is hugely important. The Beatles spent weeks tweeking the mono mix for Sgt. Peppers but didn't even bother with the stereo mix - they let George Martin handle that alone. Back then, mono vinyl and radio broadcast were the primary media.

I've always thought Neil and his engineers/producers (especially David Briggs) made excellent mixes/masters. I love the sonics of Ragged Glory - I use it as one of my references mixes for my recordings. Even at its most crunchy and violent, there is incredible space and dynamics in the recording.

BlueRay should eventually beat out vinyl - it has so much going for it. But I love holding that big ol' LP in my hands as I listen.

At 1/26/2012 10:11:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

The old vinyls are real keepers, Old Black. I think it's the way were were raised. It's the pathways that lit up in our brain (and hearts) lit up when we first discovered those treasures on black vinyl that people today are re-discovering today. It was a sensory rush - the feel, touch, look, smell, and taste.

I read somewhere where some of the newer vinyls are a rip off, too. I wouldn't pay $40 for any vinyl. And I have Dylan's Biograph and a few other treasures. There are plenty still around for under $10 and in good condition. You just got to get off the computer and go look. I'm still looking for one Keith Jarrett masterpiece.

At 1/26/2012 12:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if Neil will be giving away free MP3 copies of all his back catalog?
If not, why not?
Well, maybe because he doesn't actually own the full distribution rights to his past works? I'm guessing.
Okay, so then I will await the next Archives Vol 2, which will be available free (in MP3) to download from his website?
Surely he can tell the record company what he wants to do with his music that has no prior 'deal with the man' Maybe?
Basically Neil sees the music audio quality as being one that fans will pay for. And with good reason in his case. Could we argue the same for Justin Beiber? Nope.
I respect Neil 1000%
And he is doing what he says. The ahem 'high quality' audio and video of Le Noise is on Youtube, why pay Itunes for this exclusive download content when any person slightly IT savvy can rip it from the site for free?
What's my point? Well, no one is going to buy Beiber Blue-Ray. As, back in the day when bootleggers were making money from that cultural revolutionary band CSNY a young guy walked into a record store and confiscated all the records. Hmmm was it about money that Neil's protest was back then or sound quality?
I can't remember so will have to re visit the archives Bonus material for the clip and make up my mind, as I'm sure everyone else should.
When Young was young, was he unhappy that his music was being released because of the quality or the lack of royalties? Something he now doesn't need so much now? The cash, not the quality.
Hmm maybe that's another debate. Quality costs?
But to counter, the industry robs new talent then and now, so real talent are now looking for distribution outlets that cut out 'the man'. And THE MAN is not happy. Which is what is going on now with the Web 2.0 controversy. They want their distribution back (the digital cloud) MP3 was never on their agenda. But has changed everything. Sound wise and distribution wise. MP3 is about distribution , and they really missed that. (hats off to Richard Branson of Virgin records who got out of direct distribution and now controls the flow, via Internet access.
An MP3 can fly around the Net in seconds, But so can Flac and Blue Ray (well hours, at the moment But not for long)
But Neil's too big to kick around, Beiber, too small not to squash.
So I see Neil walking a fine line and he knows it. The clip of him delivering video's 'by hand' to Youtube is a hefty nod to his ideas on media distribution. Here it is, free from me to you. (sorry I was trying to be a Young Devil's advocate to Neil, but I love the guy, so sue me, I can't critique what I can't do or change, or can I?)
Didn't the music industry try taxing compact cassette's at one time? And now advertising is all over the 'tube and the net.
So what does THE MAN want. Simple. EVERYTHING. Total control and all the money. What does Neil want? As always, freedom. The day Geffen sued him for not following the previous artistic distribution of his muse, ie in another catagory, Neil Rightly said, Sponsored by No One and This notes for you. Always ahead of the curve, yet still in the arc, can he change the tradjectory of this debate, Maybe?
But as Neil hints and knows, but the Man doesn't, there is someone who can. YOU.
The SOPA and PIPA laws that are before the US Senate will not give anyone the freedom of speach that Neil did, by putting Le Noise up on Youtube did.
And my sincere apology for mentioning Bieber and Young in the same digital breath. I will now go prey at my Crazy Horse alter, repeating to myself Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.
And Neil, please tour England, I will be there, which is somewhere.

At 1/26/2012 03:53:00 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

One - You don't make a whole lot of sense
two - Bashing Bieber is old shit
three - you're boring to read
four - i didnt finish reading
five- i saw at the bottom that you want Neil to play the UK, anything else? A coffee?

At 1/26/2012 04:31:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Oh Alex, be nice. The funny thing is that I understand what he's trying to say. His synopsis is heroic and brilliant. I will join him at that altar of sound quality. And he's right about not supporting SOPA or PIP Act. Should we really care about a bunch of music and movie lobbyists complaining because their clients were sipping martinis on their yachts and cheating on their spouses instead of putting in a decent days work doing REAL research instead of paying somebody who pays somebody who pays somebody to do the research.

Sadly Neil is preaching to the choir driving around in his Eldorado because I don't think anyone can convert people to undergo that process though which some of us pass when it comes to "wanting" better sound quality. Too many factors at play here. Too many variables.

People love their mp3s & free stuff. What they have is good enough.

At 1/26/2012 04:45:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

I only disagree about little girls not wanting a bluray of Justin Bieber. Are you kidding? If it's out there and promoted correctly, that little girl is gonna get a bluray of Justin in concert so she can watch it at home on her big screen television with surround sound.

At 1/26/2012 09:55:00 PM, Blogger Kimball said...

Somehow, something about this issue is hitting me off center. Sound quality is 2nd place for me, right behind Musical quality, or the spook factor, which is where the music magically connects with something inside me. I can still connect with music if the sound quality isn't there, but it can be more difficult, to impossible depending on what the music is playing on. On the other hand I've connected with music on my laptop speakers only to find that its not the same when I put the CD or better on my full up stereo. Can't exactly explain all the factors at play, but I know I have a much fuller experience when the medium and stereo equipment and mastering all get out of the way resulting in a beautiful musical experience. For that stuff to get out of the way, it needs to be of high quality, full bandwidth, non-coloring and the mix and recording need to be as unaffecting and transparent as possible. I've done my part by putting my main 2 channel stereo system together. When I find recordings that fulfil their part (including performance and recording quality) all is well. Luckily most of the music that I enjoy these days has been recorded quite well. That being all but the first Jack Johnson records, Mark Knopfler's newer solo stuff, John Mayer's Continuum [minus John always singing too close to the mic]. Black Keys' Brothers and even James Blunt's Back to Bedlam are pretty decent recordings. But I still get goosebumps EVERY TIME I hear that soundstage open up toward the end of Music is Love on my vinyl copy of Crosby's "If I could only rememeber my name". B-52's Party Mix is a beautiful sounding LP.

Continued below...

At 1/26/2012 09:56:00 PM, Blogger Kimball said...

Anyway, what I was saying when I started this post, is that I don't think that the current problem of music quality is the fault of the record companies. There is PLENTY of fault in the public's side of the equation. High Resolution DVD Audio and SACD have been around for what, about a decade. Most people just don't care enough about sound quality to seek out a high fidelity experience. I can't say I understand it because that's the opposite of what drives me, but I know most people are either unaware of what is possible or they don't care to take their connection with their music farther. An example of this apathy of ignorance is how many people buy their low resolution music from apple's itunes store at 99 cents, with oodles of digital rights managements limitations and huge amounts of lost data from lossy digital compression. In my mind, apple itunes is the absolute WORST place to buy music. The customer gets the least amount of product for the most amount of money and they don't even own the product enough to be able to move it around to all their players. Its basically the equivalent of going to radio shack to buy electronics. Or going to bose for your stereo speakers. Or getting your supper at McDonalds. Its all one big tornado of ignorance, convenience and an under-informed public. As an engineering type, I'm not averse to seeking out lots of information before making decisions. I recognize that my mindset is different from most other people's, and I can accept that they're interests and values aren't going to match mine. But it boggles my mind to understand what is different with this american population today from what it was in the 60's and 70's when people cared about the sound of their music and actually owned hi fi stereos. The real question in this discussion is what is different about the public between then and now. For some reason people aren't pursuing sound quality as a component of their connection with music. There is alot of good music out there now, I've been feeling for the last couple three years that we're entering into or are in a high point in great music, kind of like the late 60's and 70's. You just have to look further than your local hot hits FM radio stations with those damned screaming car stealership commercials.

But when it comes to Neil's mission here, I hope that he is able to wake some of the masses up SO THAT THEY can demand more high resolution audio. If people demand it by buying it with their dollars the rec. co's will happily deliver to make the sales. DVD Audio and SACD have been available for a long time, they actualy used to have a pretty good selection of them in most Best Buys, but because people didn't buy them, they dedicated the floor space to something else. Best Buy is foraying into vinyl but when they only have 10-15 different titles, how can they expect to make anything more than novelty sales.

Anyways, that's the way I see this issue and I hope that if I touched a nerve with anyone by slaying your sacred cow above (mcdonalds, bose etc) that you take a deep look at why you've settled for such meager crap. Life is too short to settle for low grade mass consumer trash. Seek knowledge and live a fuller life with the quality products and services that ARE available out there. Create the demand for the good stuff and we'll be rewarded with more good options.

At 1/26/2012 10:49:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Ahhh Kimball! Sound quality is still a big variable today as it was yesteryear. Don't forget that not everyone had hifi stereo systems in their home and the vinyl quality varied, too. Always somebody out there cutting the cost of something regardless what era.

Maybe the big difference between then and now is that there is more competition for our personal "leisure time."

It's not that people don't value "sound quality" anymore. Their brains aren't as focused on "quality listening" because there are other things competing for their time.

At 1/26/2012 11:02:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1/26/2012 11:13:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

The mp3 generation will feel no more cheated for "sound quality" then the boomers who grew up listening to vinyl on lousy record players.

At 1/27/2012 10:20:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Why don't they play the Eldorado short ideo at Cinema duplexes across the country? I cannot stand to listen to my chldren play music through the iPod dock or computer because it sounds flat & tinny. The music quality is good b/c she listens to Mumford, Kings of Leon, Arcade Fire, Gillian & David, Wilco et al. They go to concerts so don't understand why they put up with that tinny/flat sound. It's possible this is a generational thing, too?

At 1/28/2012 10:12:00 AM, Blogger Sam said...


Where I agree is that no one makes an effort to create a listening environment and sit still and listen to an entire album. That may be unique to the 60s and 70s.

I cringed that I couldn't give my sister a Hi Res version of her favorite music because she only listens to music from a smart phone! Even people who grew up in the Golden Age are now slaves to mp3 lossy.

An audiophile community exists out there, I have ventured into that world.

I have tried to marry the old and the new, so in a way, I have compromised as well.

Still, the sound is far better than my 90s era modest tuner/ receiver/ player/Cambridge Soundworks setup, simply because the DA converter I have in 2012 isolates noise and allows playback of 24 bit recordings, my software up-samples 16 bit CD origin data to 24 bit.

But back to audiophile.. just to have the playback equipment, you need to make an investment equivalent to the purchase of 75 per cent down payment on a car or many people can do that? I am talking about a world where people drop over a thousand dollars on AC power chords.

I would listen to everything in 24 bit 96kHz vs. CD quality 16 bit 44.1kHz (the difference between hearing someone breathing in your ear and listening to a recording of someone breathing in your ear but C'mon..17.98 to 35.98, which are worth it,(and I have invested in a few) but if you don't have the Benjamins you don't.

Like computer technology, volume sales of higher quality gear and recordings would bring the price down, but I don't see that happening.

Companies like HRT technology are trying to do just that with the very affordable USB DAC technology.

But again, before any of that can happen, people will have to learn to sit still and care about music again.

At 1/28/2012 12:23:00 PM, Blogger Sam said...

Mother nature on the run said: "I cannot stand to listen to my chldren play music through the iPod dock or computer because it sounds flat & tinny".

The thought occurred to me in a previous comment that I didn't state that I and many others have married the computer and the old standard of audiophile quality stereo.

There are those from my generation who grew up with vinyl, AR turntables and Marantz components that still laugh at this notion.

But there are a growing number, like myself who have found middle ground or better.

I evolved toward this when my 90s era stereo and CD collection were destroyed in a house fire.

I began to notice that there were people developing better quality standards for computer based audio.

The chain of evolution that allows me to enjoy audiophile quality on a computer:

1) Powered, high quality studio monitors.

2) A GREAT software playback engine that delivers bit perfect data streams higher than CD quality. This same software also allows you to view your music collection at the touch of a mouse click.

3) A reasonably priced USB Digital To Analog Converter (My HRT Streamer competes with REALLY expensive DACs only available in really expensive CD players manufactured a decade ago)

4) Playback at 24/96. some really classic albums are now available at HD Tracks as digital downloads, for example "Madman Across The Water" you can hear Elton breathing before he sings a verse, it's that good.

Sorry to go on , but this seems to be a common prejudice.


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