Debate: Does pop music need to be well recorded?

Welcome to the first in a new series of debates. Each month we’ll ask two experts to argue a thorny sound-related topic. We hope you enjoy the discussion, and we’d love to hear your comments. So, does pop music need to be well recorded?

Ashley Norris, Editor of popjunkie argues NO:

A very long time ago I remember being at a friend’s house, jossticks burning, oil lamps set to the max listening to an album by a group of jazz-rockers called Brand X. After twenty minutes of funky noodles, intricate drum fills and squeaky keyboards the record finally hit the run out groove.

My friend, perhaps the most pretentious person I knew at the time, stroked his attempt at a beard and blurted out – ‘mmm that’s a really well recorded album.’

For me that said it all. No offence Brand X, I might even enjoy your jazz-lite excursions now, but back then it left me feeling cold. Perhaps more importantly my friend’s comments confirmed to me something that I was fast coming round to understanding that a great recording is a bit like authenticity, it matters a little in pop, but is a long way from being essential.

In the recipe that makes the perfect pop stew, a good recording is the seasoning not the main ingredient. For me things like passion, intelligence, humour, playfulness and most of all melody make pop music great.

Pop history is crammed with fantastic musical interludes that were badly recorded, sound tinny, sometimes even anaemic, but still manage to send chills down your spine.

Many of the 60s garage bands in the US were captured in four track mono glory complete with fuzz distortion – yet nearly half a century on they sound vital as ever. Similarly, I’d take much of 80s indie music, a great deal of which was recorded on primitive equipment, to the plastic but perfectly produced pap that clogged up the charts back then.

In writing off poorly recorded pop a great deal of non chart music from before about 1990 suddenly becomes off your radar.

Sure I am no musical Philistine. I think that one of the reasons why the first Sex Pistols album sounds so much better than the first one from The Clash is that it was recorded in a good studios and is helmed by a sympathetic producer. Also I can’t deny that the first Smiths album was a shadow of what it could have been thanks to some very sloppy recording. However these are the exceptions rather than the rule.

If you want contemporary evidence take the New York hipsters The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. The band’s second album, which features big name producers, has some stellar three minute tunes. However most of their fans think it a poor progression from a debut album that, in spite of being recorded in a studio they probably rented out for Doritos, sounds magnificent.

So I am off to give Brand X a second try now. I’ll pass on the josticks this time though…

Jason Kennedy, Hi-Fi journalist, argues YES

Why should pop music be recorded well, because it lasts longer that way. Take the most successful pop band of the last century, the Beatles, their recordings were as good as you could get in the sixties. As a result they remain almost as popular as they were in their heyday. In 2009 EMI remastered the entire Beatles back catalogue for this reason. Yet those remasters did not sound as good as the originals because they were hyped up in level (volume) and pushed slightly into the red (distorted) to give them a more modern sound.

This is about making music sound good on the radio. Since the sixties producers and engineers in the pop world have been trying to make their records stand-out on FM, this has largely been achieved by compressing the recording so that it sounds louder than other tracks. You can hear this effect in ad breaks on TV every day, it works, even if you hit the mute button when they come on. To compound the effect radio stations have been doing the same thing to make themselves jump out on the dial, so what you end up with is the hideously compressed sound of Radio 1 and the like.

But it’s a dying model. We now have alternatives, great music can be loaded onto iPods, found on net radio, listened to again and options like Spotify make it a real sonic adventure, we are no longer slaves to radio programming for our casual listening. We can choose what we want to hear and the better it sounds the more likely we are to listen to it.

There’s nothing wrong with giving records a specific sound in the way that Jack White does for instance, he loves the British invasion sound of the sixties and all of his projects from the White Stripes to the Raconteurs have a raw, pared back quality. It may not be high fidelity in the purest sense but it sounds good on an iPod and a big sound system if you play the CD or vinyl. The same is not true of MP3s, if you buy downloads rather than CDs there could come a time when you wonder what you were investing in. I recently spoke to a musician who was deeply unimpressed by the sound of his MP3 collection when played back on a revealing stereo system. He hoped I had some solution to making his MP3s sound better. Thus far none has appeared.

Distortion created by the musician is one thing but distortion produced in order to make a record have commercial appeal is another. Even Radio 4 that bastion of anti-pop demonstrated the difference between two versions of a Metallica track last year, revealing that the one mastered for Guitar Hero sounded less distorted than the one released on the album. Fans even complained that this band, renowned for its heavily compressed albums, had gone too far.

I can’t help but wonder if the downward spiral of sound quality in pop music over the last forty years has had something to do with the demise in sales over that period. I for one would rather listen to Beatles albums on vinyl the way that George Martin intended them to be heard, without the cynical interventions of record companies.

31 Comments

  • Steve says:

    Overall, I have to agree with Ashley – I’d rather pop sound cheap and nasty but full of energy and vital than beautifully recorded and lifeless. Obviously it would be great to have both but that seems to so rarely happen these days.

  • jon schofield says:

    yes… all music should be recorded “well”…. if u listen to a cd, unless the player has upscaling its 300 ish kbps… most consider this good as its what they are used to.. same as some people prefer the almost tinny sound from 60′s and 70′s vinal. to me sounds like a head under water or paper tweeters……

    now considering a lot of music is available at 1080kbps online (usually videos on youtube), the change in quality is staggering, bass lines have quicker responce, cleaner trebble and far more prevlilent, natural, realistic vocals….

    the audio market both in terms of kbps of available tracks should be brought inline with the technology of equipment now available…

  • Luis says:

    Of course it has to be well recorded! Why shouldn’t it? Just listen to an old pop album (early Madonna, for example) and compare it to a recent pop album (latest Madonna for example).

    Even what sounded like powerful recordings, like 80´s Pearl Jam now sound thin. Today’s recording equipment and expertise make recordings jaw dropping if well done, so shouldn’t they be? Unless of course, you’re listening to PJ Harvey who occasionally decides to do very lofi recordings on purpose…

  • Felipe says:

    I agree with Luis, of course it should be well recorded (including electronic music). Why? Well i think as there is so many audiophile listeners who likes blues, coutry, jazz, and listen to their favourite cd’s well recorded, the are also people like me, who would like to listen to this kind of music recorded in an audiophile way. If this will happen, I’m sure that sellers will increase their incomes.

  • Rich Teer says:

    I can’t believe this question is even open for debate: OF COURSE pop music–like all other types of music–should be well-recorded! Can you imagine what a crime it would be if something like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was subject to the compression and other crap many modern pop recordings are ruined with. Hint to record company producers: if you want it louder, turn up the volume!

    Remember that once sound quality has been compromised in the studio, there’s no getting it back. Sure, people who think that 320kps MPs are acceptable won’t care, but people with a half decent system, and an appreciation for fine recordings, will care. A lot.

  • Garry says:

    Well, I’m music addicted since I’m 6. I played the piano for 8 years, guitar, etc… I grew up with Beethoven, Dire Straits, Queen and Guns’n'Roses. I had a classical formation in music school so I played a lot of classic music. I then discovered the alternative stuff like Pearl Jam an co. Today i’m listening to TOOL, Mastodon and more heavy music. I do understand Jazz, Pop, Rap, Raggae, New Age, Drum’n'Bass, ..etc.. every style of music has some great bands and artists if you take care to really listen and not to judge before having heard it. I really prefer metal to other types of music but considering my education, I know the differences between ‘intelligent’ music and mainstream music. Most of all: I do enjoy music that makes your heart or mind beat at another pace. Music that makes your legs move and this can be found in all types of music.
    On the other hand, I’m very new to all this high-end stuff. I got good speakers only 6 months ago. The BW CDM 9T. Before, I was listening music on 50€ speakers and amplifiers and I was amazed what a big difference there was.
    I always thought I’d knew TOOL by heart…nope.. Listening to TOOL on good speakers was a complete new experience. So yeah: good sound DOES matter in my eyes/ears.
    On the other hand I was alittle disappointed when listening to old CD’s I really loved. With the new speakers and amplifiers I noticed that some records just didn’t sound as ‘thic or detailed’ as others and I had some problems enjoying them as I was expecting something else.
    Fortunately I’m the guy who prefers ‘good’ music in low quality to ‘bad’ msuic in high quality but having good music in good quality, I guess that’s simply the best you can have and I think every type of music has the right to develop its full potential. Good is always what yourself consider as good and I think there’s lots of people who think that pop is the best music around and that’s cool if they’re happy. I don’t consider POP to be a complex kind of music with very little details and variations but it has other potentials that can be pushed through a good recording.
    So YES! Pop needs to be well recorded as well… Metal too …xD… :)

  • John says:

    The first thought that sprang to mind with this was, like most of the previous comments, yes, of course it should.

    Then I thought about the music I listened to most, all those Jam albums, the Smiths, the Pixies and the Flaming Lips I play regularly, and you know what, most of it is not what I would call well recorded. It’s not terrible, but it’s certainly not audiophile. and what about Marquee Moon – possibly one of the finest albums ever made to my mind, but certainly not the record i would put on to show off my 802s. not even the vinyl version.

    So no, pop music doesn’t NEED to be well recorded. (although I wish it was)

  • Garry says:

    @Rich Teer: ooh… oops… I always thought Pink Floyd was alternative rock…xD… well.. in that case that makes me a pop lover as well… and pop can be very complex as well…. just changed my mind… haha ;)

  • John Suitcase says:

    I think this debate is fundamentally flawed, since it fails to define ‘well-recorded.’ Are we talking about fidelity to reality? Are we talking about low distortion specs?

    ‘Well-recorded’ has to mean only that something is recorded in a way that serves the music and allows the music to affect the listener in the way that the artist intended. ‘Lo-fi’ recordings can have more emotional impact than perfectly honed studio albums, and in those cases, lo-fi is the way to go. Nothing is gained by beating the life out of a Guided By Voices song.

    On the other hand, a boombox recording of a metal band will probably not work for the genre.

    So, the only way to ascertain whether a song is ‘well-recored’ is whether it moves you. If it does, it was recorded well. End of story.

  • Jake Purches says:

    All music aught to be recorded well, just as a work of art aught to be good quality. A good high definition sound is always more engaging. An awful lot of mainstream music in the 80s and 90s were compressed to death, with little stereo definition, not existent bass lines and shouty treble. But bands like Pink floyd were masters of this domain and all their albums from the 60s to 90s sound superb. Michael Jackson also had excellent recording engineers. One of the worst recordings are from Genesis. I even bought one of their remastered albums on SA-CD in 5.1 surround sound, in the hope that it would be amazing – it was worse than the old vinyl album I have. Is that because it was badly recorded in the first place? Well it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the songs, but how much better it would have been if they paid more attention to sound quality, dynamics and bass quality. All these issues were totally do-able in the 1970s and 80s, it was just lazy technical work, not the lack of ‘technology’, which wasn’t the case at all. Certainly music compression on FM should be outlawed. This is why we think FM is no good, when its the best possible analogue radio system available, and beats DAB hands down.

  • Stephen Lerch says:

    All music, as another stated, should be mastered and recorded well.

    I agree slightly with Jason Kennedy in that too many musicians and groups let producers push their sound past the limits, but I don’t think it has ANYTHING to do with Radio today. It has everything to do with the other thing he hinted at… MP3s. For some reason everyone thinks that what comes out of those white ear buds needs to be pushed beyond belief to compete with everyone else and in the meantime creating albums that while you can listen to once or twice, they quickly become forgettable. Maybe it has more to do with record companies trying to sell records, right? So if all the churn out are albums you can only stomach for 10 plays, they know you’ll come back to the shop to purchase another. Or rather, perhaps stop out on iTunes and purchase another album and this is what keeps them going.

    That and endlessly “remastering” what are truly classic albums, such as The Beatles collections.

  • jeff says:

    I agree with Garry,with a decent sound system and all of a sudden, only remastered cds will do. Some old cds are good. Back to the subject ,all pop music should be well recorded. But if you just use mp3 you wouldnt know.

  • Chris says:

    More “Pop” for Society of Sound! I fully agree with Jason Kennedy!

  • Lee says:

    The recording shouldn’t impact or should have as little impact as possible to the way the artist intended the music to sound, be it clean, smooth and details or fuzzy, distorted and rough. Good pop music or any genre can be good at either end of the spectrum. A poor recording can only lessen the desired impact of the artist!

    What is a crime is when a recording is hacked down to a lower fidelity than it is available in!

  • hugh says:

    Any recording that wants me to buy it had better be high quality. I did not spend money on an expensive audio setup to listen to a bad recordings. I’d prefer to listen to high quality bad music than poor quality music. I want to hear every sound from the artist and the instruments. To me that brings you closer to the artist and the music.
    Recording in your basement with a cheap mic and be assured I will not buy. Sorry.

  • Woodface says:

    ‘Music as George Martin intended it’???

    That would be mono then!

    When Motown left their Detroit shack with its stone-age gear, they enjoyed the run of LA’s state of the art studios.

    When Motown left their Detroit shack with its stone-age gear, it died. The magic was gone. Much of that magic the result of ‘bad recording’ – ie distortion and compression, which gave an awesome raw edge and vitality to what came to sound smooth and bland in LA. Where the artists were ‘properly recorded’.

    With the exception of a certain S Wonder, they barely made another record of import. The thrill was gone.

    So many audiophiles are like butterfly collectors. Everything in pristine glass cases, sterile and dead.

  • Lawrence de Martin says:

    Both your experts got part of it.

    One one hand, signal is sacred. Distortion compounds geometrically, i.e. distortion of distortion sounds worse than distortion of signal. Everything an engineer does beyond putting up two microphones in a good room IS distortion. EQ is distortion, compression, limiting and gating are distortion, added echo and reverb are distortion, pan pots are distortion, gobos and iso booths are distortion, spot mics are distortion, splicing is distortion, even mixing is distortion – and mastering makes it worse, pandering to the lowest common denominator in playback systems.

    Listening to these distortions causes the brain to work harder deciphering sound from all this electronica. “Stands out in the mix” translates to “annoying” in today’s Standard Operating Procedures. This in turn causes stress, which it seems most of the music business sees as desirable, raising adrenalin levels in false excitement. However, a constant adrenalin rush adversely affects health. Natural recording promotes relaxation and longevity. Further, contemplative and spiritual compositions are a vital ingredient in music, as is SILENCE.

    OTOH, Human is Better Than Perfect. An organic performance by musicians who play every day together captured in the same room at the same time sounds better than isolated overdubs. This is the secret of The Funk Brothers, The Wrecking Crew and the Stax house band. It’s not the distortion of Berry Gordy’s basement, it’s breathing the same air and the audio coherence of ACOUSTIC MIXING and NATURAL REVERB.

    Sinatra and Tony Bennett always recorded “live” in the studio like this. This is the secret to audiophile recordings that work – but they don’t all work. If the musicians are intimidated or don’t play together enough you can hear it and it is not pretty.

    It has been said that a pop band tries to make the live act sound like the record while a REAL band tries to make the recording sound like the live act. Financially ambitious acts have taken the “Radio Friendly” over-production route which means the concerts are artificially sweetened; and also leaving those acts with less commercial potential for the audiophile movement. This is the crux of the dichotomy.

    I credit producers from boutique labels with achieving the ideal: first rate musicianship combined with first rate sound. 2L, Aliavox, Astree, Bis, Blue Coast, Chesky, Claves, Concord, ECM, Harmonia Mundi, Linn, Mapleshade, Scheffield, Soundkeeper, Telarc and of course B&W – and that’s off the top of my head.

    As for pop recordings, musicianship has largely been squeezed out of the mix by loops, samples and thousands of digital transforms. There is nothing of the quality of “Thriller”, Steely Dan or the aforementioned pop powerhouse house bands. Hiphop is mostly commercial remixes of The Last Poets’ sound and corrupt re-purposing of Germanic metrical poesy. If you want to hear the real thing, check out Benjamin Bagby’s rendition of Beowulf.

    Pop musicians are still highly skilled – but the skill is in manipulation rather than delivering a sincere message of social import, doing Mammon’s work instead of God’s. Note that this statement is intended to be pantheistic. I support spirituality in all forms, especially in music.

    If this post upsets you, I suggest some Hildegard von Bingen, Arvo Part, Jan Garbarek, Bheki Mseleku, Kenny Barron, James Williams or John Taverner to regain your composure.

    Bach and Mozart will also do – they’re pretty deep for popular musicians!

  • jean-francois says:

    I am on a constant search for improved (or better) mastering release (or original versions). Some great albums have been destroyed by poor mastering, mostly dictated not by an artistic choice but by a misguided greed (kind of a bigger boobs syndrome).

    Doing a good job from the get go might be harder, more expensive but makes more sense in the long term. Doing it right does not remove any dynamic or life from music, on the contrary it helps it come through.

    Picasso or Michel Angelo could have painted with crap, hurried by a greedy promoter… and nothing would be left of it. Music is to important to be left to an industry which is showing again and again it does not give a s..t about anything but money the required one hit wonder to support their luxury car addiction.

  • Sandy Untermyer says:

    The real problem with this discussion: What does ‘well-recorded’ mean? What does ‘pop music’ mean? Pop music could mean music by the Boston Pops; ‘well-recorded’ could well mean ‘using only Revox decks, not any other kind.’ Depending, you see, on who’s talking.

    Having said that…..

    Bob Dylan has made the point that the song ‘That’s All Right’ as performed by Elvis Presley in 1969 on the television special wasn’t as good as the same song he had recorded back in 1954 because the early version was recorded with ‘power and sensitivity,’ while the later one was recorded with only ‘power.’ Of course, the second recording used better electronics and audiophile upgrades.

    But still… Dylan’s right, of course. Just listen and you will hear.

    To my ears, on a Rotel + Marantz + B&W system, using an older V-15 Shure on a Pro-Ject table, Little Richard on Specialty, Rick Nelson on Imperial, and Elvis Presley on Sun all sound just great. Wouldn’t change a thing. Sure, I wish Hank Williams, Charlie Parker, and Lady Day had had the benefit of today’s superior technology — but they didn’t, and I’ll take them any way I can get them, and be grateful, too.

    No — The Beatles were NOT ‘the most successful’ group of their era, though they were one of them. Some we still listen to. Others we don’t, anymore — but that has nothing to do with how well recorded they were or how great they were at the time. For example, personally, I always considered Ike Turner a superior record producer of the 1960s. But I don’t listen to Ike and Tina any more than I do to the Rolling Stones — notoriously ill-produced — because of that.

    And keep in mind they both did similar material, even, in some cases, the same songs.

    Here’s another engineering insight: There’s no question that back in the 1960s Lotus out-engineered Ferrari. But that doesn’t mean that Ferrari wasn’t able to beat Lotus, sometimes. And there’s no question that Ferrari out-engineered Shelby’s Cobras. But that doesn’t mean that the Cobras didn’t beat the Ferraris, sometimes, too. Engineering is all well and good, you see.

    It’s just that the human element always can upset the best engineering. Both for ill — and for good!!

  • DJ Jonathan E. says:

    Obviously and logically, pop music does not NEED to be well recorded. That is not to say that it is not preferable for it to be well recorded. What is important is that it sounds GOOD, a subjective judgment that explains why, in fact, such a wide range of recording and production techniques have been successfully employed over the years to varied effect in conveying emotion. As a DJ, however, there are plenty of otherwise good songs that cannot be played in public because of deficiencies in their sonic qualities; sometimes simply because they don’t “match” the qualities of the song played before or after.

  • Dru Kepple says:

    I can’t believe that so far only John Suitcase seems to have hit on the lack of debate in this article. I started reading this “debate” with intrigue because it’s something I find myself debating with…myself. But these debaters seem to be debating two different things:

    Ashley Norris argues that a musical performance is more important than spit and polish. He’d rather have the lo-fi Clash than the pristine Lady Gaga. I agree with this.

    Jason Kennedy argues that a more natural mix is more important than over compression and brick wall limiting for volume’s sake. In addition, he argues that MP3s sound worse that CDs. He would rather have the Guitar Hero Metallica than the album Metallica, or the original Beatles than the remastered Beatles, or music played on your own equipment than on the compressed FM radio. I agree with this, too.

    In other words, Ashley seems to be arguing that “well recorded” means*recording the artist*, while Jason seems to be arguing that “well recorded” means *mastering and distribution medium*. In which case, throw out Jason’s argument, because the question was about *recording.*

    As John said, the terms of the debate were never defined, thus we have a link baiting headline, and I am no better off for having spent the time reading this.

  • David Jenkins says:

    I am saddened by a lot of things, yes, the re-masters of the Beatles is a travesty! Along with the “Mothership” by Led Zeppelin, both compressed, and WAY TOO LOUD!!! I was given the Mothership album for Christmas, so at least I did not spend my own money, but the needle was about to jump out of the groove because of the obnoxious increase in volume! And many of todays music suffer the same fate, and I WON’T buy them!
    Secondly, this encoding or something put on CD’s now that do not allow you to download them to your computer so you can put them on your iPod/iPhone/iPad. I bought Carlos Santana’s new album, and it refuses to download on my MacBook Pro. I paid $14.00 for the album, I should be able to put it on my iPod!!!! And no warning, no sticker on it saying that this CD has some security crap on it, and you cannot download it. It’s now a crap-shoot as to if an album will be able to be downloaded or not. I only download albums so I can turn them into lostless FLAC files, iTunes is NOT good enough sonically.

    So I am angry about both: compressed/too loud albums, and this new security stuff on CD’s now, with no mention on the CD that it exists, and you only find out after you have opened it.

    NOT HAPPY with where music is going. I spent way too much on my gear to have my music ruined by these record Companies so they play LOUDER on the radio.

    Cheers,
    David

  • David Jenkins says:

    Recent albums that sound good, well recorded, and no compression that I can hear:

    1) Sting – Live in Berlin
    2) The live Corrs albums, like the VH-1 album. Stunning vocals! Like they are in your living room!
    3) Nirvana – Nevermind – not new, but wow, what a recording!
    4) Any Pink Floyd album.
    5) The new SHM-CD’s, or the new Japanese box set of all the Led Zeppelin albums – STUNNING!
    6) The re-mastered Miles Davis and John Coltrane albums – not exactly pop, but neither is Nirvana. Fantastic
    sound.
    7) Any of the Guns and Roses albums, VERY well recorded! Except “Chinese Democracy” which is NOT Guns
    and Roses.
    8) Any REM album.
    9) Any Fleetwood Mac album, the “The Dance” live album is pure magic!!
    10) Robbie Williams “Swing When You’re Winning” album, fantastic! And having Frank Sinatra (rest in peace)
    recording play halfway into “It was a very year” song will have you reaching for the tissues. Extremely well
    recorded! Also, who knew Nicole Kidman could sing so good! She was pitch perfect! A must buy!

    BAD ones:
    1) The re- mastered U2 albums, especially the Joshua Tree album, is the bass drum shut in a box?? Terrible!
    I cannot believe a band as big as U2 would listen to these re-masters, and say they sound good. Stunned.
    2) The “Mothership” by Led Zeppelin, gives new meaning to compressed and LOUD!!! Again, terrible!
    3) The Beatles re-masters, such a shame! Thank god I have the ones before this was done, and they sound
    awesome!
    4) And I did not buy this, but the newest Metallica album, I’ve seen the computer graph on this, the music signal is literally off the charts, clipped so bad, no CD can handle this!, and it HAS to win some prize for the WORST mastered, most compressed, LOUDEST album ever! Would never buy!

    Would me interested in what you guys think are great albums.

    Cheers,
    David

  • Lawrence de Martin says:

    p.s. It seems that Gil Scott-Heron, the leader of The Last Poets, is no longer with us, rest in Peace. He passed about the time I was posting.

    He was eulogized by many rap artists who credit him with the original inspiration, years before Sugar Hill Gang and Run-DMC. OTOH, he disavowed responsibility for the devolution of his Beat-Jazz path in more popular directions.

    I had the privilege of seeing Scott-Heron in concert with The Midnight Band; and although I have a well-recorded album, the live show was better.

    I am working on technology to resolve the two aspects of “well recorded” – the technological and the human. It will enable a band to play live in a room with an audience and achieve the same recorded clarity as a pure acoustic performance while elevating the instruments that are too quiet into balance. I will probably die in obscurity like Scott-Heron, while popular music will descend to 8kbps from players that fit in your ear canal; but maybe in fifty years my methods will be used.

  • Pete says:

    I think not. Most of Pop is designed to sound good on a car stereo etc, which tends to mean it’s mostly over processed which sounds absolute kack on a good system. My view is that most people that listen to Pop have no real interest how the finished product is presented to them & that’s my point. Most Pop is about commercial success, it’s about numbers, downloads etc, a product, its produced with the masses in mind.

    I do think it has to change though. Now we’re having our cake & eating it in regards to digitally stored music & the products to access & playback, an education needs to happen. The capability is out there.

  • nolo172 says:

    Gentlemen, you will never now what pop music of today will be classical in the future. I wish Mozart, Beethoven or Mahler had left his music recorded and directed by himself.
    Any music deserves the right to be well recorded, just listen to Becks audiophile HD tracks. If not for you, do it for the next generations.

  • Ashley Norris says:

    Glad that we have sparked a debate here. Thanks for anyone who has commented that they agree with me. I do think it is worth making the point that in general I do agree with Jason that I like music that has been well recorded and mastered. What I am trying to say though is that it is not essential. Many bands make their best music on their first albums where budgets may be tight and consequently recording equipment not of an especially high standard – hence their best work may technically sound inferior to their third album which musically may be a little less inspired. I think this is true of a lot of the bands that came out of the grunge era. They invariably never managed to replicate the power and energy of their early recordings invariably because ‘supposedly sympathetic’ producers took them in directions that were of the time, but sound very strange now.

    Ultimately I can only echo what John says – So no, pop music doesn’t NEED to be well recorded. (although I wish it was)

  • Eric Baldwin says:

    Surely the enjoyment of music not only depends on the type of music you like, the artists performing that music BUT equally as important the quality of sound. Poor sounding music stops me listening, the same as poor quality artists. Another excellent reason for making sure quality is important is the strides made in the equipment to be able to provide excellent music, otherwise why bother at all. This debate is a no brainer to me!! – A big yes for improved quality in the Pop world is a must.

  • Mr. Bear says:

    Listening to Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” (for over 30 years now!) addresses this question in full. What a fine recording- the balance is perfect (recognizing that, for electric instruments there is no “natural” balance, nevertheless this album achieves a perfect blending of instruments and voices), the dynamics reach out and grab you without boxing your ears, the musical spectrum seems vibrant and perfect. Wipikedia sez “it took Becker, Fagen, Nichols and Katz over 55 tries to properly mix the 50-second fade out of ‘Babylon Sisters’” The list of almost 50 musicians who contributed to the album is astounding; Mark Knopfler was recorded for several hours resulting in around three seconds of guitar in ‘Time Out of Mind’- you get the idea. Obsessive? Sure, Worth it? Sure!

  • RAJAN GERA says:

    Hi, why is classical & Jazz accepted when recorded good, its the need that applies to every genre of music. The issue is that pop lovers are probably more interested in the energy of music and they are less disturbed with recording quality, for those who are particular about recording are helpless.
    Now old analog recording sounds best on vinyl and the digital masters(new recordings) DSD sound best on SACD.
    The older recordings were recorded with available best and hence sometimes preserve the natural flavor of the times. Today to make a compromise when there are better studios and production house is like intentionally killing the sound. Actually over dose of electronics and engineering also add to the problem.
    You wont stop listening to pop because its not recorded well , you would surely appreciate it more if its well recorded and final pressing also delivers the same.
    The sad part being that the most heard genre is now not earning royalties for the reasons that need no mention , and hence the labels not investing as much as the recording deserves.

  • Rich Davis says:

    I think popular music should go back and hire musicians, singers, songwriters that can actually produce music and recordings worth listening to and that actually have half a chance at being a classic recording/song.

    These record labels should NOT put out what I call demo music/recordings. They should also ban the use of cheap speakers, cheap converters, quantizing, Pitch Correction and actually pay more attention to the overall sense of what music is all about rather than focusing on what sells to little girls that only have an iPod.

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