I’m sure you’ve seen the word (remastered) somewhere on your Spotify account. You’ve probably just assumed it’s nothing, that it doesn’t matter, or that you couldn’t care less.
And you’d be right.
Listening to anything on your iPhone speaker is gonna sound like garbage. Please stop doing that. And if you only listen to music released after the year 2010, then remastered versions aren’t out yet, but for those of you that care about music as an experience, as an art and as a peek into a zeitgeist, listen up: remastering an album is a cash-grab by labels and producers that tarnishes the artists original sonic desire and undermines the historical value of production style.
For those of you that aren’t neck deep in music all day long or constantly concerned with artistic musical styling, remastering refers to the rerelease of songs after being edited by a new producer with a different production style — often twenty years later with little to no collaboration from the original artist. At face value, this isn’t too disturbing, but in most cases the reason for the new version is to get more money or update sounds to the modern ear: the two worst cases for art. It’s the musical equivalent of deciding to repaint “Mona Lisa.”
So before you stop reading this article because frankly, you probably don’t care, may I remind you that in ten years Taylor Swift may be a victim of (Remastered). The result of remastering (as it applies to rock and pop from 1960-2000) is a boomy, thick tone addition often not present in these eras and genres of music. Sometimes, I will admit, remastering can even make an album sound thicker, cleaner or more dense. But either way, it removes the original artist’s intention and musical styling.
Part of what makes some songs so great is the era it defines. The Nirvana classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is undisputedly seen as the epitome of grunge riffs: it defines the ethos of an era. Grunge was never about perfection, and the production on “Nevermind” reflects the gritty ideals of this niche subculture. Watch a live performance of any grunge band, and you’ll see what I mean.
Really, at the center of this whole issue is a much broader issue within the music industry. Signing to a record deal can really change the music you want to make. At the end of the day, every record company needs to make money. Many of the larger record companies which decide to remaster these albums are primarily focused on making money. In fact, I’m guessing this isn’t the first time you’ve heard about the problems around record companies. Pink Floyd dedicated half an album to complaining about music as an industry. Remastering is just a little piece of this big puzzle.
At this point, it might be prudent to wonder what you should do about this issue. You can always be supportive of buying the artist’s actual work on a CD or vinyl (or dare I say an mp3 file), but nothing beats going to a concert. Getting out and seeing music is the best way to experience it. Live music is the purest form of what the artist is trying to communicate. Remastered music will never really give you the true feeling or emotion that an artist has put into their music.
Consider this your education and warning. Remastered music is coming to an album near you, and you might not like what that means.