Do Musicians Care About Sound Quality?


That is the question the
Audiophile (barf) corner over at Cnet is asking.  I have the answer for them! Yes, when it comes to their record and absolutely
not when it comes to other people’s records.

As a Producer who has worked with hundreds of bands, I have noticed a pattern. Good musicians don’t listen to a lot of music. When they do it is in transit and usually only when they can’t be actually playing it. Long ago I realized why I was never going to be a good musician. I liked listening to music much more then I liked playing it. Despite some musicians having vast musical lexicons, it never ceases to amaze me how most of them have never heard basic classics. When you hang out with the average musician for a while, you realize they immediately pick up an instrument once they get a chance.

On a daily basis I will play a musician back on of his favorite songs over mediocre studio monitors, watching their faces turn to amazement. You have never seen a musician’s mind blown quite like when you play back a poorly recorded record they like the playing on and then a Hi-Fi record over studio monitors. They hear good playing as being Hi-Fi.

The next clue to musicians not caring about audio quality is to take a ride in the car of a musician. I don’t drive, so if we take a break the band is driving, and when I get in their car one of 2 scenarios happens: Deafening treble or a smiling face loudness curve. I am always shocked how much bands notice hiss in a recording that I neglected, since I pride myself as good listener. I then realize their treble is up 12 db more then mine so it becomes all the more obvious to them.

Now as someone who mixes records I have a lot of experience getting feedback from musicians after they have listened to mixes. I tell them to listen to whatever they normally listen to music on and usually that is their car and their computer. As much as that bemoans me as someone who works on sound quality all day it is in many ways for the better.

Obviously, I am making some serious generalizations but this is a VERY common trend I have witnessed. This is the wakeup call for the audiophiles. AUDIO QUALITY SHOULD NOT BE A HIGH PRIORITY FOR MUSICIANS. I have a problem, a record can have the most amazing playing and composition you have ever heard and if it is recorded below my standards I cannot bare to listen to it. When all the audio pundits are bitching about the death of music, the last thing we need are musicians getting jaded to a poor recording and becoming like me. We need musicians paying attention to records compositions to hone their crafts and not the subtle textures of ride cymbals and shimmering delay tails and whatever else these guys masturbate to the sound of. Let’s hope they focus on great chord structures, and writing good lyrics instead. Though I will continue to fight against turning the treble all the way up, there is a greater good to come of musician’s priority being elsewhere. 

photo by flickr user [nati]

Jesse Cannon is the editor of Musformation. He produces records at his studio Cannon Found Soundation. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseCannonMusF. For more info please visit his website.