How Digital Music Ruined the Recording Industry (Plus Friday Apprentice Detritus)

I had an interesting conversation the other day with this guy—a hard-core audiophile—about a theory, widely held among his hi-fi purist peers apparently, of why CDs and digital music have ruined the music industry. The argument, unproven to say the least, basically boils down to this: The difference between analog recordings (vinyl) and digital (CDs, MP3s) is similar to that of incandescent light bulbs and florescent ones. The former emits something natural and organic that resonates deeply with our inner psyche, the latter, while offering a technically superior performance, retains a thin veneer of the artificial that fails to fully penetrate our senses, therefore making us unable to form as strong an emotional bond. That explains why, in this guy's opinion, the music industry thrived so heartily up until the early 1980s or so and then began a steady decline as CDs and MP3s ultimately replaced vinyl. Not that I have any studies to prove it, but I think there is something to this notion of connecting to primitive parts of the human brain in order to form a strong emotional connection. Malcolm Gladwell, for example, explored this idea in a fascinating New Yorker article last year about why, despite evidence to the contrary, people think big old honking sport utility vehicles are safer than a handy little compact. Thoughts?

Also, it being Friday, I had to offer up a couple of Apprentice tidbits (I know, I know, the addiction to this show is worse than a bad crack habit).

Tidbit one: I walked into work this morning and found a gigantic box from—guess who—Staples! Yes, a nearby colleague lent a helping hand to pull this hulking monstrosity (more precisely, the logo-emblazoned "Desk Apprentice" from last night's episode) out of its box. So far the thing's been sitting on the floor next to my desk blocking entrance and egress from my cubicle-sweet-cubicle. I'm just waiting for Donnie Trump to send Bren and Alex's Plexiglas whachamajig over so I can have something to set this huge lazy-Susan on. Since it is Friday, though, I'm thinking of filling its enormous center with some ice and setting some beers in it to chill. Perhaps I can stuff some wings, hot dogs, and nuts in the many unexplained exterior crevices. If that works out, okay, then this thing might actually be worth its $34.99 price tag.

Tidbit two: I had missed last week's episode in which the two teams designed a brochure to promote Pontiac's new Solstice model. I did TiVo it, however. On Tuesday my one-year-old son gave us a 4 AM wake-up call and I figured as I fed him a bottle, I might as well catch up on my Apprentice watching (see what a filthy habit this is). So, as is now de rigeur for the product placement sponsors, Donald has a shot just before introducing that episode's task where he asks "the executives" from XYZ company how business is going. Invariably the answer comes back, as it did from these two GM honchos, "great, great—couldn't be better." A few hours later, I make my way into work, log on to the Wall Street Journal, and see that, lo-and-behold, GM just announced a (not unexpected) $1.1 billion quarterly loss, its worst since 1992. Maybe I'm just being persnickety, but it seems as if companies are going to so much trouble to break through the clutter with product placement, you'd think they'd at least offer a grain of truth in the message they choose to convey. But what do I know?

Add New Comment


  • Phantom Poet

    Phantom Poet in association with Spoken X Digital Media Group can put your theory to the test. Analog
    vs. digital: "Sound of Literati" witness the powerful experience of the spoken word Xplosion!
    Out Lord immortal--banned by the physical world alongside analog radio. Available now on MSN,FYE,
    MusicNow,YahooMusic,Rhapsody 25,Napster,opMusicShop
    ,,CatchMusic,AT&T Mmode,Hp Music,
    Delljukebox,ViztasDigital Marketplace,Emusic
    Etherstream,Emepe3,NetMusic,AOL's Musicnet,
    Charter-Highspeed music service and more. . .

  • D Posadas

    I think we all just have this tendency to reminisce about "the good old days" even if they
    weren't really that good. I still remember those clicks and pops (that some people actually like, remember when that record suddenly ended in that movie "The Summer of '45"), and the way you had to clean the fuzz out of a Shure phono cartridge...or maybe those old vinyls do stand for something more than just music ?

    I still have a bunch of classic LP's hanging around in my parent's house. Those do bring back fond memories. But I don't think I will ever trade in my DVD player for another LP's just too much work to listen to some decent music.

    The speakers are another topic though...Ahhh, what I would give to hear my old Advent speakers again...

    Dennis Posadas
    author, Rice Bowl & Chips
    How Asian countries are using the Silicon Valley
    model to develop technology startups

  • Candace Mack

    You can send me the desk apprentice if you don't want it - maybe then I could get the pile on my desk down to where I could actually see my monitor....

  • cubemonkey

    1. Digital Killed the Radio Star? Not hardly. Try more like crappy music being churned out for the masses. Around the late 80s, early 90s, the music business became less about the music and more about the business. Rather than look for a new and innovative artists, they wanted the next (insert-flavor-du-jour-here). Top-heavy rosters meant more ammunition to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. Using "consultants" for radio airplay certainly didn't help either - ever wonder why radio all play the same songs? The digital revolution is actually going to put more creativity and distribution possibilities into the hands of the artists. More money will go into the pockets of the artists and not pay the ridiculous marketing, advertising and promotion costs. The music industry is trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle and protect their interests (of course), but you're going to see that musicians (and indie film directors) will be able to bypass traditional distribution headaches and overhead and go directly to their audience.

    Get Your Own Desk Apprentice at Staples: I too, am in dire need of a 10-step Apprentice Annonymous support group. The Desk Apprentice is the most useless piece of crap I've seen. However, between that and the "second desk" to stack more crap and clutter that Bryn and Alex created, I'll take the Desk Apprentice.

    All the Desk Apprentice does is put more clutter that you wouldn't normally put on your desk in a semi-organized manner. I don't need reams of paper, 20 highlighters, 50 pens, 5 spiral notebooks, and multiple tape dispenser refills on my desk. Where I could see this being of some use is in the office supply room where we keep all these supplies for everyone to restock their desks. Frankly I'm shocked that Staples actually made this and are selling it. I didn't think the body language and reactions from the focus group were all that positive. But they'll probably sell a ton of them just because it was a product invented on TV.

    Truth in Advertising: It's a noble notion, but with all due respect, naive. Any company salaryman or woman that goes on national tv - one that is paying top dollar no doubt for product placement - would be out of a job post haste if they said, "Well Donald, we just had our worst quarterly loss since in over a decade, hemorrhaging cash faster than you can say "conspicuous consumption." What I DO find amazing and somewhat disturbing is when a major tech firm says they plan to be the market leader in a certain sector by 2007 when the sector is currently about 1% of their current revenue today. A seriously tall order for 2 years, but one that they're repeating in the press over and over. It was a sobering reminder that while you certainly can't believe everything you read, you also can't believe everything an executive says. There could be not a shred of truth in what they're saying. Naivete on my part. Like the Beastie Boys say, You Better Check Yo' Self.

    Just some gibberish from a mild-mannered Cubemonkey!

  • Devin

    Keep in mind that your last point is merely coincidence. The show was taped a bit ago... and since when is marketing honest? (Godin, anyone?)

  • Ron Graham

    Nobody says you have to actually LIKE the "Desk Apprentice." But I'd be interested in knowing why your being inconvenienced by the thing should carry greater weight to Fast Company's readers than the opinions of the Staples execs or the focus group people who all praised it -- many of whom said they'd BUY it.

    I'm sitting at a desk right now -- admittedly, someone else's desk, not mine -- that would benefit hugely from a Desk Apprentice on top -- chilled beers or no.