Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Do You Realize?

Watermarked CDs came up during a recent conversation with a music critic I greatly admire. I have yet to review a watermarked CD -- so I have yet to experience this --, but he had plenty of times. I can see why labels take to this method in hopes of curbing online MP3 leaks, yet I wonder how much they realize this a bad thing.

A recent mention on Idolator led me to this post by a music writer receiving a watermarked copy of Eisley's forthcoming record, Combinations. Not only did it not play in his computer, DVD player or car stereo, it wouldn't even play in his "archaic portable CD player." Which led him to ask Reprise/Warner Bros., "Where am I supposed to listen to this CD that you want me to review?" It's a great question. I think the bigger tragedy lies in not reviewing these records in a variety of places, especially the car.

I spend way more time listening to music while I'm in the car. I'm not so sure I would have clung to records like Clarity and Whatever and Ever Amen had it not been for my car stereo. Since I seem to concentrate on music a little better in the car than when I'm at home, the car ride listen is like a litmus test.

When I'm at home, music is more of a background thing. When I'm in the car, it's not. As a matter of fact, a number of records I reviewed for Punk Planet got the car ride test. Reviews of records like Happy Hollow and All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone were greatly informed by this. Had I not felt the experience of "The Birth and Death of the Day" cranking out of my car stereo, I'm not so sure I would have felt so connected to it. I had to feel my spine move during that searing guitar line found halfway into it to understand.

Think about how the sound merely travels in a car. It's like you're in a booth and you don't have to worry about volume. The sound is travelling all around you and there's no real escape. That's a pretty cool feeling -- and it's a feeling you can't get with an iPod, a boombox or even a den stereo. So what do labels want us to say about their limited listening-setting advance copies? Don't listen to this in a variety of places and base everything off of one or two settings? Right . . .


Mr Atrocity said...

Watermarked CDs are not properly CDs as they do not meet the CD design spec. In the UK you can take them back and demand a refund as they are selling you something not fit for purpose. If the disc has the "Compact Disc" logo on it, then it should not be watermarked and you should complain if it does.

As to the listening in cars thing, though I no longer drive because I live London and a car is a socially irresponsible thing to own in a city with such good public transport, there was once a time when I drove huge distances regularly. I actually found listening to music in the car very frustrating. Music with any sense of dynamic got crushed by the sound absorbing materials in the cabin as did any deep bass frequencies. Listening to Charles Mingus records was an exercise in futility. It is well understood that FM radio and most pop records are generally limited and compressed to within an inch of their lives precisely so people listening in cars can hear the whole piece. Personally I find such audio processing of the dynamics to be very irritating as it removes a whole dimension from the recording when listening on decent hi-fi equipment, but I guess it depends what types of music you listen to whilst driving.

steve said...

I just received two of these (the aforementioned Eisley and Church Mouth by Portugal. The Man), and have yet to see what happens when I try to rip them onto my laptop. I'm hoping the fabric of reality tears a little.

steve said...

To update you, the Portugal the Man CD imported hassle-free into my iTunes.

And the Eisley album sounds like Stevie Nicks fronting Evanescence. blech