New Buzz About “Artist’s Intent”

Have you noticed it? I certainly have. There is an increasing tendency to market better sounding music and even high-resolution audio by saying the fidelity is “as the artists intended”. The implication is that we should be happy if we get a copy of their music in whatever uncompressed format because it represents the sound that the artist approved and therefore is as good as it can possibly be.

I’ve heard this for a while in various places. Some of the conference calls on “high-resolution audio” that I’ve been participating in have discussed this notion. There has been a shift from actually identifying the potential quality of the final delivered audio to simply saying, “this is how the artist wants their record to sound so you consumers should love it”. There is some proposed language floating around that includes this very reference.

And just this morning, I happened on a press release from Harman talking about the inclusion of their new “Clari-Fi” technology in new 2015 Lexus NX automobile (I’ll do a proper post on their process soon). In the Press Release they said:

“The audio industry has experienced a dramatic shift from vinyl LPs and CDs to compressed, digital files enabling the sharing of music across a variety of mobile devices as well as streaming music services increasingly accessed found in today’s vehicles. The compression process has made audio more mobile than ever, but at the price of audio quality. Compressing audio files can discard up to 90 percent of the original audio content captured in the studio. As a result, consumers cannot experience music in the way the artist originally intended. Clari-Fi transforms the listening experience back to a pre-compression era, by addressing this deterioration of audio quality by restoring what has been lost, to deliver a rich, uncompromised listening experience from any compressed music source.”

I would quibble with some of the details of the preceding statement (90% loss and restoring things back to the “pre-compression era”) and I seriously doubt that the “Clari-fi” algorithms are able to restore the music to its original fidelity but I have to check it out first.

Just what do the artists want? Do you really think that they want the best sounding album? Or perhaps they want their release to sound like all of the other hit records out there so that it will be competitive and successful? In the end, I think it’s all about maintaining their careers in the music business…aka making money. And for relatively new artists that means going with the flow.

For established artists like Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Neil Young or Steely Dan, the music business is much, much different. They’ve already made their stake and depend less on record sales than on touring revenue. If you can fill a 3000-10,000 seat venue and charge $100-$400 per ticket, the gravy train is very lucrative and long lasting. But then there are guys making new recordings, so maybe the fidelity thing is less important. In the case of Neil Young, he’s a huge fan of better sound quality but I’m not yet convinced that he knows what updated production techniques might be able to offer for his music. There is a level of fidelity that even Neil Young hasn’t experienced.

This whole “artists intent” thing is a smoke screen that will only add to the confusion about what is and what isn’t high-resolution music. How are we supposed to know if the artists really signed off on the tracks that we purchase as “high-resolution” tracks? My experience is that the raw mixes represent what the artists want but any subsequent (and often repeated) mastering, processing and encoding is outside their field of vision. And that’s where the life is sucked out. This is where the management and the record company come in and say…”Forget about your artistic intent! Do you want a hit record or not?”

What would you choose…money or better sound?


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

9 thoughts on “New Buzz About “Artist’s Intent”

  • W Baker

    Of course, none of this ‘artist’s intent’ addresses where and what sort of equipment the artist heard his music – whether is be the raw recording or final cut. Maybe he was recovering from a cold or was in a flippant or hurried mood and “signed” off. The subjective variables are many.

    ‘Artist’s intent’ sounds like marketing gibberish to me. Or, even if they’re taken at face value, like a vintner who may have signed off on a wine only to have it poorly stored before meeting the consumer’s palate.

  • One of the reasons we desperately need ‘standard’ for high-res music. And/or we may need regulations, too.

    As a person who used to play some instruments and did some recordings for a church, I understand there is some serious gap between what artists want and what listeners want.

    • I think one of the major problems is the misinformation being put out there.
      I’m an early riser and like to watch Squawk Box on MSNBC. I usually turn it on around 4:00am. Friday morn they were talking about Musicians For Audio Quality.
      Here is a quote from Mr Liesman (one of my favorite Wall Street Guru’s)
      “Vinyl is way, way better, but you can get close to vinyl or analogue sound with digital music.”

  • Hi, Mark… interesting ideas. I’m sharing with you my own experience with hi-res audio. It may bed relate with how I was reared as a child at home in the 60’s and 70’s. We always had very good audio equipments from MacIntosh, B&O, Luxman and Phillips, Tannoys and Advents, some Nagras and flagship Pioneers, along with Tandbergs, Revox and Uher recorders and turntables. We had a huge collection of SuperStereo 4 records… the list went on with Deutsche Gramophone and, at last, in the early 70’s with the superbly produced audio of Mannheim Steamroller in American Gramaphone.

    So… this las week I installed a very capable mobile DAC (the A&K 120) with a massive investment on McIntosh and JLAudio speakers and amps and a software driven hardware processor with analysers… the whole sheebang.

    After calibrating the system in my Mercedes Vito (a huge room) with only four speakers and a sub, I made the adjusments for road and engine noise. It would be absurd to put all this effort to listen to the wind, the tyres and the passing lorries!

    I used, for my first “take” on the system, the iPhone with some ALAC files from HDTracks. The sound was absolutely mind-blowing.

    Then I switched to the all-digital path with the A&K playing some really Hi-rez files.

    I went from very subtle passages in Bach’s Passion to pretty hard-driven sound from Neil Young’s Zuma.

    The experience is simply non-describable. For me, the whole thing is not if the sound from the music is as it was intenended by the artists. The experience is if the music moves ME, as it moves me when I listen to it in my studio or at home. I think that, as with all fads in this life, the issue of hi-def audio is not IF it’s better or not than mp3’s (it obviously is), but if what reaches your heart and soul is as good.

    So, we have a difficult conundrum, that will always be the same in audio: there are millions upon millions (billions, actually) who listen to their music because it makes them happier, deeper… it takes them to an inner sanctum of their own even when they’re commuting in the tube or the tram or the car, or when they’re relaxing at their couch at home. It’s a life experience. And, then, the other segment of people, who talk about their equipment, the systems, the latest gadgets, the DAC’s internals, the acoustics of the rooms… everything we know from being “audiophiles”.

    And that’s the big issue here: yes! Artists want the money, but… and this is a big BUT… if they’re artists they want their work to be played as close as they intended their sound when recording, mixing and mastering it. See, I can’t see an artist that is NOT interested in his/her sound in the whole process. No matter the system they use. They have their work in the hands of people who know their job, who care about the artist (usually) and who listen to them. There are other who really are all about making money and not caring at all about their sound, because they don’t know anything about production.

    We should approach this whole thing based on the above: people want music, not sound, that makes the FEEL something. They will buy better “sounding” equipment if we’re not into telling them all the lies (because most of them are lies) about how 96/24 is waaaay better than 48/24 or 44/24… that they’re ignorant. That they can’t grasp the absurdity of mp3’s (we have amazing sounding codecs today, please!) and so on.

    We need to understand that if we want hi-def sound to reach the masses, we need the vehicle to deliver it to them. If we just do it with the right equipment and the right prices, it will happen -as I stated in previous comments, if we don’t reach that point, the whole exercise is pointless. It will only reach, as it has for decades, only the very rich and the very stubborn.

  • Mark,

    Why do you always hit us over the head with real life?

    Yeah, the tag line “As the artist intended” is the crock you describe. I bet most artists have very little awareness of what high definition means; They hear their ideas and intentions in their head/imagination and what comes out of the speakers (do people still use speakers?) is an approximation; Hey, it’s the original form of compression!

    The audacity of anybody other than the artist saying the product is what the artist intended is repugnant! I have a viscerally negative opinion of the company and their spin doctors that make claims putting words into some artist mouth and worst yet them trying to con me with such sentimental dribble.

  • John Mazur

    I had to laugh a little at the mention of “the artist’s intent”. Laura Nyro, in the biography of her, was asked by the engineer how she wanted her album “Smile” to sound. Her response was, “Like my chair.” The chair she was referring to was wooden. What was probably her most beautiful albums was ruined as a result.

    • This whole “artist’s intent” is baloney…just another attempt to justify the current state of affairs. Thanks for sharing this.

  • “More of the same misinformed and single sided analysis of the emergence of high-resolution audio…the title should more aptly be “Half Of The Story of High-Resolution Audio””

    Disappointing to see someone we have interviewed for the site – and whom we look up to – be so patronizing. I think your message would have gone a long way if you offered to help Caleb or added some positive insight instead of trying to drive traffic back to your own site.

    • Ian…I’m sorry that I leaned so heavily on Caleb’s article. I’m always open to collaborating with anyone on you staff to ensure accuracy and authority. It was not my intent to use your site to drive traffic. It’s been a rough week with other writers and perhaps I should have given him the benefit of the doubt. We need to clarify the message and I’m happy to help in any way I can.


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