It’s the time of year for saving money!
It’s 2011 and I’ve survived the hell of giving birth to two online magazines about audio and video three weeks before the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, I’ve weathered the Great Recession and changes to Google’s algorithms and a tough market to sell ads in despite an improving economy, and I thought I deserved something nice for my efforts (outside of a stroke or heart attack). What I found that I liked was an artist’s proof of Andy Warhol’s Moonwalk. It is a print on fancy paper using diamond dust and is pretty fantastic. I didn’t spend crazy money on the piece, but it has pretty good provenance, although it isn’t estate stamped or signed like the edition prints. Nevertheless, it is going to look pretty cool in my hallway next to a big, colorful Damien Hirst “Spot” print on the accompany wall.
The Warhol print showed up packed fantastically, and I immediately took it to the local framer with whom I have a very good working relationship. When I walked in the door, there was a guy about my age accompanied by a teenaged boy. They had a number of hockey-related memorabilia prints that they wanted reprinted, including a vintage photo of the Edmonton Oilers. As a huge hockey fan, having grown up in Philadelphia in the 1980s, I shared that the Oilers pretty much ruined my childhood (1984 and 1987 Stanley Cups specifically) and they laughed. I did some schtick with the kid, who had an outrageously dark tan for February, even by California standards. I asked him if he wanted to see my print, which was being opened in the back. He did.
Before we went to the back of the frame shop, I offered this young man a bet if his father would allow it. I said “Kid, if you can tell me the significance of the imagery of this piece of art and its relationship to TV history, I’ll give you $20.” His dad authorized the no-downside bet and we all went to the back. The kid came back out front and the dad said, “you get one chance at this.” (Tough dad.) The kid started in about how technology changed the world starting with the moon landing, which was compelling but completely wrong. I asked the dad to tell us and he said, “The moonwalk was used to promote MTV.” The kid looked at us both and sincerely asked, “What is MTV?”
What is MTV?! Oh, I don’t know, maybe the most important thing to ever happen to music pretty much ever? For a generation, no band could be successful without music videos played on this television channel. But you know what? That generation isn’t this kid’s generation.
They don’t watch MTV. They don’t watch “Money for Nothing” videos. They have no idea what it’s like to sit in front of a VHS deck for hours on end with the Record light flashing, finger over the pause button, waiting for the extended cut of “Thriller” to air.
They don’t watch Beavis and Butthead (too bad for them… heh heh). If they know MTV for anything, it’s as a reality TV-focused network (which they also pioneered). YouTube and a few other legit sites, on the other hand, offer his generation access to music videos and access to musical content that is pretty much unlimited and on demand. We pull videos for content here at AudiophileReview.com and HomeTheaterReview.com all the time, and often I will see that an official video for a classic song has 10,000,000 or more plays. Some, like this gem from Psy, have broken the 1,000,000,000 mark.
I harp on the issues that the audiophile hobby has, and demographics are perhaps the biggest. Walk with me at an AXPONA or Rocky Mountain Audio Fest show and bet me on how many non-hotel 4K or 8K TVs we will see in the demo rooms? I will take the under on five and I will win. Yet, Generation Z gets their content via video monitors and online streaming and content sites. How many pairs of wireless headphones will you see in an entire hotel ballroom full of sexy cans? I will bet you another $100 that the over-under is safe at under five. How many pairs of wireless speakers will you see at one of these audiophile shows? Again, I might be less safe with this bet (Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo, Kanto, RBH) but I might still take the under at five.
Change is needed in the audiophile hobby. The elders need to bring the younger, music loving generation into the fold in ways that they can understand. These kids are simply used to consuming media differently and don’t have nostalgic feelings about retro technologies, be it low-resolution, low dynamics vinyl, silver discs of any kind, or anything we loved from our past. They are fully comfortable with the idea of disruptive technology changing the world and fast. And they don’t care what bodies get left by the side of the road as a result. I am not sure how much more proof we need than hearing the honest, heart-felt question of, “What is MTV?” from a Generation Z youth. Point well made, son.
This was my fondest memory of MTV when they played the whole of Matt Johnson’s The The infected album. https://youtu.be/Snup4XmKioU
Video Killed the Radio
Sadly FM radio often offered better quality than MP3s today, you just had to invest in a decent tuner or receiver. If you were a radio listener like me, we were the first streamers. WLS AM in Chicago in the early 60’s got me started, then FM was a revelation in quality. Of course not most of radio is MP3s and playlists from a few major station owners.
It is sad what younger ones don’t know and you could ask them the difference between 128kbps and 1411kbps, and not just subtracting the small from the large (lol) and get something close to actual knowledge that would be nice. Now, most of the get their MTV from YouTube, so all is not lost, accept audio quality from at least redbook standards. I still fondly remember going to Cook’s record store and taking 45’s into their “Phone Booths” to listen on little, 45rpm players before I bought. We are not doing that anymore. I doubt I ever bought an unused copy. Now it seems they buy their “cans” based on “style” would never think that certain models would be tested by someone who cares and would pass along that needed info before we put out our hundreds of dollars and bought a mistake. Music and Art have much in common. They probably don’t know that Michael Jackson’s Thriller really started the ball rolling…in a great way.
“Woke” identity politics and the departure from music killed MTV. In short, MTV sought to deliver something to its audience that most people didn’t want.
To a similar extent, this is also true with the audio industry. Thus, when I read about $14,000 streamers or $20,000 speakers (that sound better than $100,000 speakers!), or when I hear audiophiles say “Bose sucks!” or “Bluetooth sucks”, I am reminded that the audio industry is a tiny bubble fairly removed from the rest of the consumer world.
I don’t fault companies for building ultra high quality aspirational products but, as Jerry points out, they have to offer features that most people want. For example, a large number of people listen to music in the same place they watch TV. However, very few components offer a video display via HDMI. And why aren’t home theater bypass, two-way Bluetooth, headphone jacks and remote controls standard features? The answer, we’re told, is that these are “lifestyle features” that no serious audiophile really wants. Really?
This disconnect carries over into the way many of these companies market their products. They seem astonishingly unaware of a vibrant community of YouTube reviewers with large and devoted audiences. These include Z Reviews, DMS, Joe N Tell, New Record Day, YouthMan, The Next Best Thing, Zero Fidelity, AV Rant, Techno Dad, Audioholics, Thomas & Stereo (let me catch my breath!) and many others. These guys are movers and shakers who can make or break a company and yet they are ignored by large segments of the audio industry.
Like MTV, the audio industry largely remains stuck in a shrinking bubble and reminds me of the saying, “Get woke, and go broke.” As long as they remain in their echo chamber and ignore what people want, they will continue to see a shrinking market for their products.
“Change is needed in the audiophile hobby.” Jerry has made a living selling us this line or something like it for years.
When will it ever end?
No because Jerry is right.
I don’t worry about the people making expensive gear. That is their business, financial choice. 95% of the market is wanting convenience over all else. Next is style as how else can you explain Beats. If it has bass it has to be good, right? There are plenty of companies making affordable audio gear line Project, Rega, Denon, Yamaha, Marantz, Music Hall and many others and their sales are good globally. Headphone market has gotten very strong I just wish people would audition before they bought. There is good and bad, often and the same price. For all too many their phone is also their music device. It that doesn’t improve most will not experience great sound about 320kbps. People don’t or won’t listen and the recommended advice of self-quarantine of COVID-19 is a case in point. Even deadly doesn’t scare all too many. If people won’t take good advice seriously, audio advice is way behind.