Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull on the Future of Recorded Music
What do you think of downloading? In the days when I grew up, you really had to work hard just to find music. Besides the obvious pop that was being played on the one or two channels playing it, there wasn't much access to jazz or blues or any other "minority" music that could be arrived at short of listening to live music or going to specialty shops that stocked that sort of thing. I was quite lucky that there was a shop in the town I grew up in that stocked jazz and blues records. As a teenager, I wasn't listening to pop and rock; I was listening to jazz and blues, primarily. Some of those specialty shops exist today selling physical product, be it vinyl or CD, and for those people who want to sift through racks of records, that's fine. But those of us who perhaps don't have the fortune to live near those stores rely on postal deliveries of physical product from people like Amazon who pretty much have anything on current release. And, of course, the great advantage is that you can listen to streaming excerpts of a wide variety of music on the Web and find out more about it.
With digital delivery available at virtually every fingertip hovering over a keyboard, is the physical product being threatened? Are we at the point that CDs could disappear? I don't think most people believe that's true. But CDs have overstayed their welcome in the sense that the 16-bit musical format has been around for about 25 years. That's a long time. Back in '74 or '75, I was in JVC's studios in Los Angeles cutting some of the first quadraphonic discs. It was the beginning of a new age. But of course quad never really caught on at the time, and that technology that was used back then was being reconfigured for the laserdisc. JVC and Philips pioneered these things back then, giving rise almost accidentally to the CD. I can remember going to speak to the folks at our record company: "Imagine that you could put all of this stuff on a videodisc, but forget about the video. Just concentrate on the sound. You can probably get a whole record on something the size of a single." And they said, "Hmm, yeah, that's very interesting." And they didn't think too much about it. But then a few years later, that became commonplace and the face of audio music.
Really, the fidelity of audio CDs has been in question from the beginning. It's amazing that people have stuck with them, and that, in this day and age, sub-CD quality seems to be the order of the day since most of the people experiencing the joys of downloading just aren't aware how limited the audio quality is of what they're paying for. The MP3 is universal, regardless of where you send it to and what people have on the other end to play it.
Sooner or later there will be a successor to the CD that will make sense for the audiophile, whether it's going to be like a CD or some kind of solid-state storage device that hold large file sizes. Whatever succeeds the CD, it probably won't be round. It'll probably be square. [laughs]
Surround Sound in the Gallery
About six years ago, you and I talked about music being remixed in surround sound, a concept then in the embryonic stages. What do you think about it now? I think that surround sound is most intelligently used in audio when you use the rear channels simply to provide the ambience and the specific nature of the listening space, be it a concert hall or a club. With live albums, you have audience sounds coming mostly from the back rather than the front. But it's not really exciting compared to the use of surround sound in a Star Wars movie, or whatever, where big and dramatic things happen all around you in the audio spectrum. Listening to music isn't really like that. It's a much more subtle experience. I would think that a lot of people buying surround sound equipment are enjoying it the most primarily by watching a movie.
When music DVDs first came out, they were pretty popular. People looked forward to the idea that that there was actually something they could play on the shiny new DVD players that they'd spent a few hundred dollars on. But music DVD sales have dropped dramatically around the world, and movies go to DVD very often within a very short space of time. They last in the movie theaters for 6 weeks and they're on the racks just a few weeks later. The reality is, most people are not watching music - most people are listening to music. That's really the whole point of it. You may buy the DVD and watch it once - or twice, if even that. But music, you may listen to that your whole life - a couple hundred times, or more. How many hundreds of times have people heard The Dark Side of the Moon, or Sgt. Pepper, or whatever? They're pieces of music that not only will be enjoyed over hundreds of listenings, but they may never really fade away at all. Watching the experience doesn't really cut it for most people.
People listen to music when they're doing something else. It's part of the soundtrack that makes the day go by. People are listening to music when they're driving their car, or sitting at their office desks. I guess many people, me included, are doing office work while connected to broadband Internet and are streaming live music from a favorite radio station. That's what radio is also about these days.