Emily Lazar knows better than most how great music can sound. At her New York mastering studio, the Lodge, the Grammy-winning engineer puts the finishing touches on songs by the likes of the Foo Fighters, Haim and the Rolling Stones. Her job is to ensure that every harmony, cymbal crash and power chord sounds exactly as the artists intended them to when their albums go out into the world.
When she plays those same songs off a typical streaming service, however, what she hears is anything but what the artists intended. Imagine, she said, going to the Louvre to see “The Mona Lisa,” only to find on the wall “a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of the painting, shrunken down to a postage-stamp size, and then photocopied again.” She’s describing, in effect, what happens when the gargantuan, detail-rich music files she works with get shrunken down—or compressed—for streaming.
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