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Nathaniel Kunkel InSession: Memories and Fortune Telling

October 1, 2009
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It's AES time in New York City (the annual Audio Engineering Society convention), and while things are surely changing for the future, thinking about where we are for AES 2009 makes me realize how far we've come.

I remember my first AES show. It was the 79th convention in New York, in 1985 I believe. As soon as I walked through the doors, I saw a huge Gauss bin duplicator running at full speed and a Mitsubishi woofer, which seemed as tall as I was, blowing tissue paper across the room. They had me from the start.

Since then, I have rarely missed a U.S. show. I remember the 1999 AES convention in New York, where Rodger Lagadec gave the inaugural Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture, which was entitled “Digital Audio and the Challenge of the Internet.” (Lagadec received his Ph.D. in digital signal processing for telecommunications and is an AES Fellow, among many other accomplishments.) I remember my friend John Hurst gave me a copy of the lecture after the fact, and said, “Read this.” I did, and I still reread it periodically. Let me briefly QUOTE and discuss some of the prescient ideas Lagadec put forth in that lecture. (You can read the entire lecture at www.aes.org/technical/heyser/aes107.cfm.)

Just to help set the picture, remember this was in 1999. “A good notebook computer,” he said, “may have 6 GB of hard disk space,” and computers are communicating “at 56k and 128k.” But Lagadec was still able to illustrate the problem that Apple would eventually solve in 2001 with the iPod. “Today's Internet is, in consumer audio terms, in the wrong room,” he said. He addressed what independent labels would learn quickly, which was that, “the threatening potential of the Internet to challenge the existing business system by enabling large-scale bypassing of both the existing distribution systems and their protection of copyrights” would be the major labels' albatross.

Most importantly, for the artists and self-promoters out there, he identified the great migration that we are now witnessing: “All this must mean that all the songs on a CD will cost less than a physical CD,” Lagadec said. “Somewhere in the near future, though, there will be the full CD's true successor — the full CD, with its subscription, with information services, gossip [and] online forums for those who are interested in buying more than just sound files, tailored to the user's needs and profile. Co-branded, co-marketed, profile generating, interactive, customer-driven, partly customer-defined.” It's hard to imagine nailing it more on the head than he did right there.

My intention here is not to get you to print out that lecture and find an answer to all your business-model questions of 2009. Instead, I want to shed light on the fact that the professional audio community combines technological zeal with art in a way that is wholly its own. And if you're an engineer (or a recording musician), AES is your organization. There are people who are every bit as visionary as Lagadec at every AES show, and they are asking the right questions.

Go read the lecture and join the AES. It's a bunch of people you want to be associated with, and how easy is that to find these days?


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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