I like my gadgets.
I have lots of headphones, audio devices, computers and game consoles. I like having the shiny new thing as much as the next guy. But interestingly, I have noted that right now my gizmo’s of choice are the decidedly less high tech items. I have been spending a good deal of time with my Kindle and my 15 year old Gameboy. This is while my iPad, Xbox and such sit unloved.
Now, the Kindle (or any e-reader) is just a modern way to read books. My love for it stems from the instant access to most any book I wish, along with a beautiful, lightweight form factor and inbuilt illumination perfect for bedtime reading. But I am still simply reading. A book is a book.
My Gameboy plays old games, at low resolution, on a tiny screen. But, oh what games! Yes, rose tinted glasses are no doubt playing their part, but I am still legitimately enjoying my time with Mario circa 1999. In this instance, my choice of gaming device is more connected with the game, not the flashiness of visuals or multitasking abilities of the console.
Now. Music. My argument falters here a little in some respects. I have always been very open about my love of high fidelity sound. But this doesn’t stop me enjoying MP3s on my car stereo or my tinny radio alarm clock each morning (just *five* more minutes…) As is so often stated – a good song on a bad stereo system will always trump a bad song in glorious hi-fi.
Now this argument of substance over style is heavily trodden. As such, I would like to deviate a little. When is good enough, good enough?
We are constantly asking, and receiving, more. In computing and gadgets, we are getting screens with ever increasing resolutions. Faster processors in all our devices. Bigger explosions and more realistic special effects in our movies and games. We are reaching a point where, for many of these aspects, people are calling for a time out – we are possibly going beyond ourselves and reaching negligible returns. Do we need more pixels per inch? Do we need more megapixels in our cameras?
Perhaps, just perhaps, we are reaching a turning point in technology where these things are getting “good enough” for most people. As such, the content creators can focus back on the fundamentals – story, scripting, composing, artistry – rather than chasing the ever moving target that is modern tech. For example, if display resolution stays still for 5 minutes, visual artists can focus more on the art than the frame.
Arguably, music has been there and come back again. CD introduced the market to 16bit high quality audio. Vinyl was pretty nifty in itself (and coming back around with some vigour!). “Super Audio CD” tried to push 24bit on the market. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, no one cared. In blind tests, people cannot tell the difference. 16bit CD is perfect for most home applications. And as stated, we have stepped back on the fidelity scale – MP3s have become dominant format, despite being a “lossy” format, with a lower fidelity of sound reproduction.
Displays on gadgets are now getting obscene compared with 10 or even 5 years ago. Before they are even ready for our homes, 4K “ultra-high-def” displays on 5 inch phones are heading our way. I am sure there are reasons beyond “just because” – split screen usage being the main argument touted – but we have stepped beyond the visual benefits of image reproduction. Apple introduced the nomenclature “Retina display” and in 5 short years we are far past this.
If we are reaching a plateau of fidelity, and importantly, accessible and affordable fidelity, perhaps content will come to the fore regardless of source.
Enter, stage right, the “Indies”
Music has always had a love affair with independent artists. Those divorced or never connected with the big labels. Small of budget but big of heart. And of course these smaller artists can be riskier and more unique than the mainstream players. More than ever home recording and affordable studio time is allowing the smaller fish (like myself!) to get their voice heard, and mass distribution via online vendors is now open to most anyone. Talk of the death of Record Labels is common, with publicity contracts being the new hotness, supplanting the traditional recording contract.
Videogames too are having a surge in Indie love. Last year, many videogame websites were pushing Indie releases alongside the big hitters for “game of the Year” left right and centre. These are games made by small teams with small budgets. But often, the themes and game play are far more fresh and inventive than the shooters and platformers from the giants of the software world. These smaller teams can take greater risks as the outlay is smaller. They can target a smaller pool, rather than casting a wide net across an ocean of mediocrity.
This works similarly in music. When an act is “pitched” at a market, time and money is spent and the label wants payback, quite understandably. Alas, this often means providing safe music; proven patterns that said market will lap up. The pop world has certainly fallen foul to this pattern for a few decades now. It is no wonder “pop” has become somewhat of a derogatory term.
I am not attacking or bemoaning technology. I love tech. The accessibility of decent technology is making it easier for smaller artistic teams to make a dent, and the internet is allowing this content to be distributed to market. It is not tech that needs to slow down, just the march for bigger specs for diminishing returns.
Perhaps this is something the market will dictate itself? If the big-budget games, Hollywood movies and music megastars start losing sales to the Indies, the market will adjust.
The hope is, in a truly open market, the consumer might start demanding more. More than just a repackaged version of a game, a movie or a music act we have bought into over and over. Spoon feeding is over; we have a buffet to explore!