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Nathaniel Kunkel InSession: Avatar This

February 19, 2010
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Wow, could the music business be any more challenging right now? Everyone I talk to, and I mean everyone, has a new horror story. What''s going on? People have not stopped listening to music. Sony still has a building at 550 Madison. The sky is still up. Right?

Well, I have a hypothesis. And you don''t have to look much farther than the movie business to find it. Movie-makers increase resolution and improve viewer experience regularly. Whether it''s IMAX, 3D, or both, it''s constantly more and better. And guess what? They are making money hand over fist.

The music business is all about how many corners can be cut. Compress it more, don''t master it, use the fake drums—just get it done. All good ideas to save money, but often bad ideas from a quality standpoint.

So without oversimplifying this, the people who focus on resolution in entertainment are making record profits, and the people who aren''t are going out of business. Coincidence?

And vinyl is now right in the middle of Best Buy. It could be because is it large and has large artwork. It could be because it is cooler to hold onto and feels like a more tangible purchase. Maybe it makes music playback feel more special because, unlike an MP3, it will wear out and sound worse every time you play it. You better dig it when it''s playing because it will never be better than it is right now. Or maybe it is because it has more resolution than most of what people can get their hands on.

You know one thing you can''t do with vinyl? Take it with you. You need to sit down and decide to enjoy it. You don''t skip songs; that damages your new record. You listen to a side front to back. The art of sequencing matters. There is a direct correlation between how long the side is and how good it sounds. Vinyl is reverence. Reverence for the music as well as your time. When you decide to put on a record and listen to it, you have made a commitment. You have just given up the only thing you can''t get back: your time. Music is no longer your audio wallpaper. It is the focus of your moment. Maybe people hear more out of vinyl because it''s the only time they are really listening that closely.

I don''t know about you, but making a decision to sit in a room and enjoy a piece of art for 40 minutes sounds a lot more like going to a movie than jogging with an iPod does. Perhaps the best thing you could do if you were a successful artist would be to release your album only in a high-resolution format, digital or analog. People will buy and listen to it anyway; you''re already a star. All that you would be ensuring is that they will sit down and actually focus on what you have produced. They have to—they need to stop their day to set it up.

And for those of you who think that the people out there buying music don''t have the time, patience, or reverence for the art to make that kind of effort, I have a whole bunch of 3D-glasses-wearing, vinyl-record-playing, resolution-loving people I would like to introduce you to. They spend money on live concerts, they go see movies, and they have demanded the return of vinyl!

The people have spoken. If we treat our art with the reverence it deserves, the public will respect it and do the same because they expect from us exactly what we expect from them. Can you really blame them? 


Nathaniel Kunkel (studiowithoutwalls.com) is a Grammy- and Emmy Award–winning producer, engineer, and mixer who has worked with Sting, James Taylor, B.B. King, Insane Clown Posse, Lyle Lovett, I-Nine, and comedian Robin Williams.

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