Let's Face the Music and Dance Page 2

In the middle, independent record labels with high artistic and sonic goals are being squeezed to death. Chain retailers across the country are cutting back on CD rack space for independent labels, and they certainly don't want to hear about hi-rez audio on DVD or SACD. As the fate of Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab shows, you can't support a label on the few hundred early adopters who have embraced SACD. On my own label, John Marks Records, the 20-bit DTS discrete surround CD of Nathaniel Rosen's Reverie is a perfect example. With the huge installed base of DTS-capable home theaters, you'd think curiosity alone would sell those. Nope. People buy home theaters to...watch movies.

I do wish Sony well with SACD. Were I confident that I would at least get my expenses back, I'd go to the trouble and expense of remastering Arturo Delmoni's Songs My Mother Taught Me for SACD. But I don't see the numbers working. Why? Perhaps because what the high-end press has failed to adequately report and put into context is that now, especially for the youth market, there are so many ways to spend one's time that listening to music for its own sake is far down the menu.

When I was in college, vinyl was king, and everyone I knew wanted to have a great stereo. Everyone I knew wanted to get a good job at least in part so they could get an even better stereo. Today's college kids want a computer fast enough to play video games such as Tomb Raider (go get ;'em, Lara!), and they want cable-modem or ISDN Internet access. The sound that comes from their computer speakers is good enough.

Outside the youth market, satellite music piped through the whole home is what most people seem to be buying. But to appreciate the virtues of a high-end audio system, you have to be willing to sit in one place for a while and pay attention. Our society, as a whole, is less and less willing to do that.

So, what to do? To quote the master, "Let's face the music and dance." There are profitable companies making wooden boats. Many have more work than they know what to do with. A Fiberglas boat floats in much the same way as a wooden one does, and for a lot less money. But the smart wooden-boat companies don't spend time or money trying to convince buyers of Fiberglas boats that they're wrong. Builders of wooden boats assume that the intangible benefits of wooden boats will eventually attract those who can be attracted; those who can't be attracted won't be.

In this regard, the feeling-tone of magazines devoted to wooden boats, fine woodworking, and fine home-building has an equanimity and generosity of spirit often lacking in high-end audio journalism, letters to the editor, and Internet postings. Who wants to join a dysfunctional family?

As overused as the term "paradigm shift" is, I suggest that what high-end audio needs is a paradigm shift. Let's take a vacation from trying to make converts, and instead turn our attention to building up the community we claim to belong to. If the high-end audio community is attractive and rewarding to belong to, the converts will come.

How do we build a community? With tolerance, patience, understanding, and recognition of shared goals. Let go of the anxieties, cultural classism, and economic snobbery that scare normal people off. Celebrate products---and, especially, systems---that deliver exceptional value for the money. Cherish the moment. Enjoy the music. Share that enjoyment. Don't neglect to express gratitude.

If the concertgoing public correctly perceived high-end audio as a way to journey more deeply into the heart of the music, instead of as a game of "my power cord is thicker than your power cord," we'd all be winners.

Footnote: John Marks (jmrcds@jmrcds.com) is the founder and proprietor of John Marks Records, whose CDs have been featured in this magazine's R2D4 listing.--John Atkinson