Analysis of The Shift: Analog to Digital Media

In the past decade, both the music and film industry have experienced a strong shift. As technology has transitioned from analog to digital, these industries have experienced a similar pattern of change in production and consumption. The topic in question is how this shift has affected the way artists create and how consumers ingest music and film. Within analyzing the evolution of these industries, it is evident how the different forms’ roles are shifting from their original positions.

Music and film have seen strong changes since their conceptions. For example, the music of the rock and roll era was shared and experienced differently than the alternative lo-fi sounds of today. This is due to the shift in consumption and production of music over the past few decades. The change in distribution from vinyl, to cassette, to CD-ROM, to digital downloads, to streaming, has worked to evolve the way music is made and consumed. While it was harder for artists of the sixties to produce their first album on vinyl, it is easy to home-record and upload an album to any of today’s music sharing websites. Because of this, the culture of artists in the music industry has shifted and controversially become less about raw talent and more about its potential to become viral (Kalikow).

Before understanding the debate surrounding mediums, it is important to understand the linear history of music consumption (before the resurgences of physical music). Prior to the current age of streaming and downloading, music was once an item available to physically buy. This era of physical music began with vinyl which, because of its intricate production, must be priced higher than other physical forms of music. After vinyl came the cassette, which was much cheaper to produce and buy. This shifted the way in which new artists could distribute music with ease (Evangelho). One of the cutbacks to this was the quality, as the compressed digitization of the music would affect the sound quality (Howstuffworks). This era of music created a new way of sharing. After the cassette tape, came the CD-ROM. This allowed for the same compressed digital sound, but also the availability to make mixtapes, as well as illegal downloading on websites such as Limewire, where pirated music was shared (Kalikow). Mix-tapes were burned on teenagers’ computers and music could now be shared separate from the full albums they were created in. This shaped the industry as a whole and opened up the possibility to the future of downloading and streaming. Now, with streaming websites such as Spotify, music has become more of a rented and non-physical object. Thus, completely changing the industry from a once physical to now completely digital one (Kalikow).

Taking a look into the artists of the music industry, many of them are reacting differently to the shift in music’s medium. In the age of music websites such as Soundcloud and Bandcamp, it is very easy for new artists to put out music online (Youorski). This has become the culture of the underground scenes of different genres: to find talent from the abyss of uploaded music. For example, this is seen with the rise of the emo subgenre of rap with artists such as Lil Peep (Caramanica) and ITSOKTOCRY, as well as alternative rock with artists such as Mac Demarco (Blistein) and Yellow Days. Although this creates a new platform for artists to create and get discovered, there is some pushback by the older artists of the industry. One artist, Kalikow testifies, “as a struggling artist in the 60’s and 70’s, my ultimate goal was to release an album. Not just a collection of songs, but a unified creation with a theme and purpose” (Magnetic). This argues that the new age of streaming and downloading is creating music with less quality and effort. Physical music such as vinyl, cassette, and CD were once used as a medium to spread a new artists work, but now when the internet makes it easy to do so without the physical copy, many are opting out of analog. But this does not mean an end of vinyl coming from artists, many value the old forms whether it be for the nostalgia or quality. Technically, “by definition, a digital recording is not capturing the complete sound wave. It is approximating it with a series of steps” (The Sound). This allows for distortion and a change in the sound quality. In today’s era, easy and cheap is a commodity bought into by many. It is the true lovers of music that are willing to invest in the higher quality and physicality of analog.

Similarly, the film industry has seen an evolution within movie production and distribution. The industry was built on the use of film cameras, but since the early 2000’s digital filming has gained attention; the first fully digital film was George Lucas’ 2002 Star Wars: Episode II (Alexander and Blakely). He has since become the face of the digital revolution in filmmaking. While digital has taken off in the home-movie and photography world, many directors and photographers prefer the old-school method of film celluloid (Kearton). Film celluloid produces the familiar warmth and grain that many viewers are used to. Nowadays movies with CGI and special effects are creating worlds that seem colder and unreal (Alexander et al.). Unlike the music industry, film’s transition has not been as stark. Many production companies and directors still continue to use film celluloid over digital. But in recent years, some companies have started to transition out from celluloid to digital; this has caused some pushback.

With film, the argument is that 35mm/70mm film has a different feel that digital cannot create in post-production. Because of this, many consumers have fought back against Paramount, who decided to remove film celluloid from its production process. This decision has forced small theaters to invest in digital equipment they don’t have money for (Alexander et al.).

While the culture of these industries has shifted, so has the opinion on analog and digital media. Most of the debate on this issue is inquiring which medium is better: analog or digital? In regards to the music industry, the quality of different mediums is called to question. Because of the resurgence of vinyl records around 2012, there have been debates over a superior medium (Sax). Mechanically, vinyl records work by having a needle trace the groves which create vibrations which are amplified. In today’s music, everything is compressed and digitized, because of this many argue that vinyl is a much cleaner medium. The unique sound of vinyl is what drives many listeners to purchase their favorite albums rather than streaming them. Although there is controversy over the solidity of this surge, it has been said that the old medium never truly died (Silver).

Some theorize that the latest pull to physical music is in fact a fad that will fade away. They believe it is merely a marketing ploy fed to young consumers with extra money. On the contrary, it is argued that, “digitization is the peak of convenience, but vinyl is the peak of experience” (Sax). Those who support vinyl’s resurgence agree that in a day of streaming and downloads, physical music is a unique experience that is worth the money and effort. No matter the prospective, the resurgence is seen as largely customer driven. This is proven by the sheer numbers; vinyl sales share of the market is the largest that they’ve had since the mid 1980’s (RIAA).

Within this debate of music mediums, there are pros and cons argued from each side of the table. For example, streaming and online downloads are seen as being cheap and easy. It is argued that because of this, music has lost its commodification and become more of a renting or streaming medium. Some believe this is why there has been a drive to physical forms of music. Not only vinyl, but cassette, and CDs have seen a similar comeback. The tangibility of these products shows how “a large percentage of music lovers still long for physical connection” (Evangelho). Rather than merely streaming their favorite album, many listeners yearn to own a copy with greater quality from the artist, much like owning an original painting. It is argued that the quality and physicality of vinyl outweighs the ease of streaming and downloading. A common counter argument is from those that see this revival as a fad or trend. Today, these forms of music can be seen in stores such as Urban Outfitters and Target.

Likewise, the disagreement over film celluloid and digitization has hit the industry with a dividing line. A large portion of directors has voiced their support for film celluloid as a medium. For example, Nolan states, “the manipulations that digital media allows you to do are seductive, but ultimately a little bit hollow” (Carter). To fully grasp this debate, one must see filmmakers through the lens of an artist. Artists wholeheartedly believe in their mediums and choose which one they want to create with depending on the imagined end product. This is the same in movie creation. This past year, Quentin Tarantino brought back the old-time roadshow that goes around the country to select theaters to show his film The Hateful Eight in 70mm film. This was seen as a protest to the digitization of the industry. The team who worked on the movie boast about how unique the experience is and mark it as a stop to the end of film celluloid (Kearton). The digital revolution has seen a large pushback from big names in the community because of projects such as this.

In the University of Zuruch, there was a study complete to test if, “digitally recorded images are technically and aesthetically inferior” (Lorestcer). The study found that “emotive” and “immersive” experiences between the mediums were not different, but the difference was in the details. The visual memories were more detailed in the digital version, this adds to the arguments from Directors (Lorestcer). Since everything a director does is deliberate, and meant to add to the overall effect, this may shape the final product. The digital form of a movie may emphasize part that are trivial, while the audience should be seeing something greater. In regards to the projectors, mechanical projectors had a more emotional effect on the audience (Lorestcer). This brings in the question the effects of production companies which have begun the switch to digital (Alexander et al.).

Although this study in part disproves the argument for film celluloid, there is no doubt that the large number of fans of the medium will be silenced. Many directors and movie lovers have a certain attachment to the familiar feel of film celluloid and will not give it up for anything. Similarly, to music, it is more expensive to produce, but those who love the craft as an art are willing to take the financial risk. Film celluloid is about ninety percent more expensive to distribute to theaters than digital (Alexander et al.). Because of this, many argue that the medium is outdated and impractical. The impracticality of the medium has shifted the spotlight away from it. Because of companies such as Paramount, small independent theaters are being forced to invest in digital projectors that are upwards of $60,000 (Alexander et al.).

The way in which directors film a movie affects how the final result turns out. This is the way the director sees the movie in their mind before making it. With the introduction of digital cameras, directors have the tendency to “spray and pray”. This describes the phenomena of taking a ton of shots and hoping one is good (Alexander et al.). Rather than taking the time to carefully frame and compose each shot on film celluloid, digital cameras make it easy to manipulate and take many shots. This is both a blessing and a curse, because of the way it changes the filming, the way in which directors go about creating is less genuine. Because of the ease and no extra cost, it is easy to mindlessly shoot. With film cameras, each shot requires greater planning. Because of this the effect is often more evident because the director’s message is carefully planted for the audience to notice. The shift that was originally seen as creating less work and cost, is in part creating more costs in post-production (Alexander et al.). Because of this the argument is often brought back to the magic of film rather than the practicality. Film cameras are more expensive, much like analog music, but for the quality, it is worth it to some.

Similarly, with consumption of film, although some see no difference, it is often apparent that digital film attempts to mimic the effects of film celluloid (Carter). The large argument here is from creators, who see their art as struggling if they cannot use film celluloid. This post production effect that mimics the feel of film celluloid may seem to be redundant after the long debate between the mediums. Some believe that the shift is necessary to continue to evolve as an industry. Because digital filmmaking has made it easier to be a filmmaker today more than ever, there is no doubt that digital will become the main medium. But similarly, to music, a resurgence or niche clique of film cellulous will arise.

In retrospect, the music industry saw a relatively linear evolution in forms of media. When the resurgence of vinyl came along, the industry’s grasp loosened and the niche markets for independent genres began controlling the popular mediums. Now, many artists release digital and analog forms of music. Whether it is for the quality or nostalgia factor of the music, both analog and digital forms are being used to create and listen to this day. With the abundance of record shops and growing collections, physical music is once again becoming both a collectable and a form of entertainment shared with many, rather than the “headphone in, world out” culture we live in today.

Similarly, to any artist, filmmakers make the conscious decisions to choose their tools. Like a painter, the perfect paintbrush is needed to execute their vision. Without it, the end product is distorted from the artist’s original vision. This is like the choice of medium of filming; to execute their vision, a director or filmmaker must choose their tool for creation. I believe in the future that both mediums will be used as tools to create a middle ground integrating the warm feel of film and high-tech advantages of digital. Similarly, with music, the way in which an artist chooses how to share their music is important in the effect it has. The artists’ ability to control how we consume their creations affects the way we experience it. This as well as the artisanship of each medium changes our perception of the artist. A fully streamed album versus a well-crafted vinyl collection will affect the way an album is listened to. In my opinion, I believe that vinyl is the most outlasting form of physical music and it will remain to be a collector’s piece as well as a medium to listen with. While they may coexist, with the ease of streaming, I believe physical will not surpass digital in the future.

The future of this debate lays within the mixture of the future of technology and human nature. While more digital advancements occur, it is possible analog become less prevalent within these industries. But as seen with the copying of vinyl crackling or film grain with digital effects, the impact that analog has had on us is everlasting. Even if the analog forms themselves fade, their legacies as mediums will remain. No matter which medium is objectively better than the other, it is in the end up to the artist’s discretion as well as the consumer’s preference.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Alexander, Helen, and Rhys Blakely. “That’s All, Folks: What the End of 35mm Film Means for Cinema.” New Statesman, www.newstatesman.com/2014/08/s-all-folks.

Blistein, Jon. “Watch Mac DeMarco Live the Indie-Rock Dream.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 11 Sept. 2015, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/watch-mac-demarco-live-the-indie-rock-dream-20150911.

Caramanica, Jon. “Lil Peep, Rapper Who Blended Hip-Hop and Emo, Is Dead at 21.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 Nov. 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/16/obituaries/lil-peep-dead.html.

Carter, Beth. “Side By Side Takes Digital vs. Analog Debate to the Movies.” Wired, Conde Nast, 26 Apr. 2012, http://www.wired.com/2012/04/side-by-side/.

Evangelho, Jason. “Forget Vinyl, Let’s Talk About the Cassette Comeback.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 24 Mar. 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonevangelho/2016/03/24/forget-vinyl-lets-talk-about-the-cassette-comeback/#3a3e2db64d71.

“Is the Sound on Vinyl Records Better than on CDs or DVDs?” HowStuffWorks, HowStuffWorks, 11 Oct. 2000, electronics.howstuffworks.com/question487.htm.

Kearton, Toby. “Film VS Digital | Video Essay.” YouTube, YouTube, 13 Jan. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfNKtxGMHig.

Kalikow, L.E. “What Happened to The Music? An Analysis of the Industry’s Evolution.” Magnetic Magazine, 22 Apr. 2016.

Loertscher, M. L., Weibel, D., Spiegel, S., Flueckiger, B., Mennel, P., Mast, F. W., & Iseli, C. (2016). As film goes byte: The change from analog to digital film perception. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 10(4), 458-471.

“RIAA Mid-Year 2017 Music Industry Revenue Report.” RIAA, 20 Sept. 2017, www.riaa.com/riaa-mid-year-2017-music-industry-revenue-report/.

Sax, David. Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter. Public Affairs, 2017.

Silver, Curtis. “Why Cassette Tapes And Other Dead Media Formats Won’t Stay Dead.”Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 25 Feb. 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/curtissilver/2016/02/25/why-cassette-tapes-and-other-dead-media-formats-wont-just-die-already/#73c710832377.

Youorski, Joe. “A Musician’s Guide to Streaming: The Pros & Cons of Spotify, Bandcamp, SoundCloud & More.” Pastemagazine.com, 21 Aug. 2014, http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2014/08/where-to-share-the-costs-and-royalties-of-having-m.html.

 

 

 

 

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