Seduced by low cost, random access (no waiting for the tape to roll back!), no tape hiss and the ability to lay down hundreds of tracks for each song, music creators jumped quickly and enthusiastically onto the digital bandwagon. A few held out, especially in the early days, when the resolution and overall sound quality of nascent digital technologies were not as good as what we have today. But, for the most part, the digital revolution was a swift takeover.
It was so swift that music creators didn’t stop to think about a few critical things, including labeling, archiving, credits and other recording documentation, how the digital files really sounded and — oh! — how to get paid for music when perfect copies could be easily made and readily distributed, for free.
Early in the transition to digital recording, producers and engineers voiced concern about the degradation of sound quality in consumer listening formats and the disappearance of recording credits. Both of these matters have proved to be of huge importance to the industry overall, but the realization that these problems had developed became apparent first to those actively working in the craft of recording.
Almost 20 years later, we are still in the midst of solving these problems. Sound quality is finally being addressed. High-resolution (better than CD-quality) recordings made with best practices are now recognized with excitement by even the “golden ears” of the recording community as being able to perfectly reproduce what they created.
But the lack of credits for creative contributors and contextual information about how recordings are made continues to be a major problem. We have less information available about many recordings today than we did when vinyl was the main means of music distribution.
The value of music and the flow of data are music industry hot topics. Transparency, inaccurate and missing payments are issues at the top of music industry news. Often, the reasons cited for lack of payment revolve around participants who can’t be identified. The Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing has been working on these issues for years, and, in particular, addressing the technical challenges behind these problems. That experience has taught us that the end goal must be to have vital technical and descriptive information about a recording travel in a standardized manner, from the genesis of a recording project through mixing, mastering, delivery, archiving and distribution.
Knowing who created the music and how — telling the story — gives the music itself more value, just like hearing music with the quality that the artists, producers and engineers intended it to have also makes the music more valuable. It is the emotion music makes us feel that we crave. Hearing music the way it was meant to be heard and knowing how and why it was made create the emotional bond that gives music its true and lasting value.