Digital VS Analog: Does it Really Matter?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Before we dive into this, let’s start with a small story I read a while back which puts things in perspective.

“I thought using loops was cheating, so I programmed my own using samples. I then thought using samples was cheating, so I recorded real drums. I then thought that programming it was cheating, so I learned to play the drums for real. I then thought using bought drums was cheating, so I learned to make my own. I then thought using premade skins was cheating, so I killed a goat and skinned it. I then thought that that was cheating too, so I grew my own goat from a baby goat. I also think that is cheating, but I’m not sure where to go from here. I haven’t made any music lately, being busy with the goat farming and all.” I have no idea who wrote it, but whoever did deserves a medal.

Change is inevitable

If you are into analog and want to pursue it where do you draw the line? Should you use analog synthesizers instead of digital? A hardware compressor instead of a digital one? Real drums instead of samples like the example above? Record on tape instead of using a computer? While you’re busy figuring this out a revolution is going on; photographer purists despised Photoshop and then Instagram came along. Mastering engineers wish death upon Izotope Ozone developers. Vinyl DJ’s where furious about Traktor and then Pioneer introduced the sync button on their new flagship CDJ player. Video editors see the budgets they get dropping harder than the economy crash because you can shoot a pro video on your iPhone nowadays without any knowledge.

Yes, becoming good at most creative things has become easier than ever and yes, it feels like you’ve wasted a decade of your life and thousands of euros when you started out learning to DJ on two Technics SL1200’s, while nowadays you can learn basicDJj’ing in a day. I wouldn’t be surprised if in about ten years you can just plugin to a computer and learn kung fu mastery from a disk like Neo did in the Matrix. Imagine how the Shaolin masters who sacrificed their life to becoming a Shaolin master would feel if they get their ass kicked by some guy who learned kung fu in five minutes download time.

While you have every right to be pissed because your investment (time, money, equipment) from ten years ago is now the equivalent of a bag of groceries, change is happening. Change is happening and it’s happening faster than ever. I was devastated when I sold my Pioneer DJ set I bought years ago for 2500 euros for as little as a couple hundred, but with the new technology it became obsolete and holding on to it just didn’t make sense. I wasn’t using it anymore because I switched to USB, the price would keep dropping and the only use it had in my house was functioning as a 2500 euro spot for my cats to sleep on. It broke my heart, yet I had to face the facts; change is here, either be mad and stick to your guns or embrace the change and move ahead. Technology is taking over and it’s here to do one thing; make the world a better and more effective place.

There are all of these unwritten rules and taboos in every environment. I don’t know about photography or painting, but I know about house music. You almost get send a rope to hang yourself when your production has a Loopmasters shaker loop in it. Your lead came out of Massive? Shame on you! Your lead out of Massive is from a preset? Oh damn, better lay low for six months because the production police are on your ass. While forums full of purists are discussing why a record is good or not, or why a producer should be hung or not, that producer is probably making another hit record and doesn’t give two cents about what the nay-sayers think. Analog gear is awesome, but so is digital.

The question shouldn’t be which one is better, but which do you prefer for your workflow. I use some hardware and the main reason is that I like knobs and buttons. I prefer to jam on the Maschine to make a beat over clicking with my mouse in Cubase any day. The end result can be the same, but it’s just what I like. One time I like to use the Bass Station 2 hardware synth to make a bassline and it sounds awesome. In another record, I use the Massive software synth and it sounds great as well. Does the Bass Station sound better, warmer, more real? Yeah maybe, but does it really matter? When it comes to workflow (knobs and buttons) I prefer the Bass Station over the Massive, but I feel the Massive is much more versatile. The easiest way to get writers block is when you get stuck in all the unwritten rules and taboos that are around. Ask ten different people and you’ll get ten different set of rules.

 

Survival of the fittest

Most people know Darwin’s theory of evolution. I sucked big time at biology and history in school so bear with me while I’ll do my best explaining this. In a nutshell, his theory tells why some species are still around while others went extinct millions of years ago. Herbert Spencer was the first to use the term survival of the fittest and to use Darwin’s theory on human society. Please note, it’s called survival of the fittest and not survival of the strongest. The species that could adapt best to their surroundings would last and others would sadly disappear. If it were survival of the strongest, dinosaurs would still be around. Dogs are one of the species that understood the concept of Darwin. Once wild wolves, they quickly understood they had to become friends with people to get food. Over millions of years, wild wolves became tame dogs that nowadays cuddle with our toddlers.

Survival of the fittest is now more relevant than ever. You hardly have the time to become comfortable with your change because you have to keep evolving. Kodak, once the leader and innovator in photography, thought digital photography was a hype, and now they are near bankruptcy. Apple brought the music industry to its knees with a tiny device called the iPod. “A Thousand Songs In Your Pocket”, BOOM that’s it, knockout in the first round. This is basic marketing stuff and there’s a pretty little model for it called the product life cycle. If anything gives me the creeps it’s marketing models, but this one is spot on.

The product life cycle basically tells that there are a couple of phases of a products life. First is the introduction, then there’s growth, then maturity, and last but not least the inevitable decline. This model goes hand in hand with the product adoption curve, which says which customer group is picking up the product. First you have the innovators (they set up camp at the Apple store to get their hands on the newest iPhones), then the early adopters, the early majority, the late majority and finally the laggards which exist of our grandparents who just got their hands on a phone that can take a 1 megapixel photo. What you see with both models is a nice bell curve, which starts at 0, rises to the top and ends back again at almost zero. DVD players were sold for thousands of euros, now you get one for free when you buy a pack of milk.

But what about vinyl making a huge comeback lately? Sure, vinyl has made a mini-comeback, which hardly is a comeback, but the fact is mp3 keeps kicking ass. Sure, it doesn’t sound as good as CD or hasn’t got the edge vinyl has, but here comes the thing: 99% doesn’t care. Even when MP3 came along and it was only available at shitty 96 or 128 kbps it started kicking ass.

 

So, what’s the point?

If you really think about it the whole analog/digital discussion, it’s pointless. In the end of the day, 99% of the end users (consumers) really don’t care if a photo is Photoshopped, a record is made on a 500 dollar laptop, a DJ plays with a laptop or a video is shot by two guys with an iPhone 6. The point is this; at the end of the day does it matter what you used? All that matters is getting the job done. I don’t know which one is better or what the specs are because I don’t care. I just care if it does what I need it to do. When you buy a TV do you really care how it’s made, how many working hours, how many meters of electrical wires are in it and how pissed of the boss was when deadlines weren’t met? No, you don’t. A lot of people don’t even care kids slave away in Bangladesh 16 hours a day so they can buy cheap pants, so why would anyone care what you use when you make your record? They just want to hear good music.

So again, what’s the point? The point is awareness. Know what’s going on and be open to change. Get your head out your ass and accept the new generation. Accept that there are 13-year-old kids that program apps that change the world. Be a part of the change or be forgotten. If you are fully into mixing analog or are a vinyl only DJ, that’s great and there’s nothing wrong it. I love the analog stuff and people who know how to really use it, and I hope it sticks around for many more years to come. All I’m saying is keep an eye out on what’s going on in the world. It would truly be a shame if very talented and skilled artists run out of jobs because they don’t matter anymore, and end up being mad at the world because it doesn’t understand true artistry (but then again, what is true artistry?). If the quality difference between an all in one mastering plugin anybody can use and a mastering engineer with a 100K studio get smaller, so does the justification of the mastering engineer being ten times more expensive. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you got your piano chord. You can record it from a Steinberg piano, make it from a hardware synth, sample it from vinyl, record it at a concert; it’s just a means to an end. Artists like to think they are original, but the fact is we are all stealing. A great eye-opener about this is the book “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon. Be analog, be digital, be both. Just get the job done, break the rules, embrace change, do what you do and stand proud for doing so.

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