Letters From Smart People

Regular readers of Trust Me, I’m a Scientist know that we have never had a comments section.

This is not because I think our articles are the be-all end-all on every topic. I do take some honest pride in all the feedback that suggests our stories are often better fact-checked, fuller in scope and more nuanced than the average in the music and audio fields. But even the best articles that run here (or anywhere else) are merely a starting point for further conversation.

We prefer to avoid having that conversation happen in a comments section. That’s because I deeply believe that instant and anonymous commentary encourages knee-jerk analysis, poorly-fact checked assertions, anonymous incivility, and undercover PR. The are the kinds of things that I wanted to counteract when I started Scientist 14 months ago.

Even professional journalists who work for major outlets and have their work vetted by full-time editors have enough trouble keeping these elements out of their own stories. It would be too much work for us to run a comments section that might avoid undermining the basic values of TMimaS: Empiricism, even-handedness, and halfway-decent writing.

But there’s also another reason I’m resistant to adding a comments section. By doing things this way, I get mail. Really great mail that comes from really smart people. Letters like these:

Chiming in as both a reader and someone who’s actively both recording and designing recording gear and equipment, I’d say part of a great publication is seeing what the community is like. Feedback, notes to the editor – can be a uniting force in audio.

That, along with doing select advertisements, shows that there is community that is reading the magazine, and also, in a way, shares new ideas and services that, hey, we perhaps were searching for anyway.

So, you know, as soon as I button up this ~80db tube preamp, I’d say that you’re the only place I’d think of doing some advertisement.

-Marshall Terry

PS: I’m in Austin, TX. Is there any way I could help spread the word of the blog around? Consider me part of your ‘street team’ down here. Why? Well, you’re doing something I’ve thought of but haven’t had the time to do. So, I can at least help.

Hi Marshall, and thanks for the input.

I agree that we should be publishing more letters-to-the-editor. I originally started out doing this monthly, then bi-monthly, and now seasonally.

This doesn’t always “perform” as well on the site as others, but still I think you’re right: it’s a meaningful part of enabling a real community, so traffic-be-damned! We should ramp it back up.

If and when the site begins generating some revenue, we may consider experimenting with a comments section as well. Until that point, it’s too much work to moderate them properly, and distracts us from our core mission, which is doing good research and writing fun and informative articles.

Thanks for the offer to help get the word out. For now, the best method is to share articles that you like with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Blogs, Email, Smoke Signals, Singing Candygrams and old-fashioned “Conversation.”


My sister Michelle found your article that compares the Auratone 5C’s to other current small studio monitors, and I wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed reading it.

Our parents Jack and Elaine Wilson owned and operated Auratone for over forty years. Michelle and I spent many hours working in their small factory.

I was happy to read that you “get” the purpose of the sound that the 5C’s produce. Uncountable hours were spent creating that sound. Sometimes I can still hear my father asking, “A or B?” In our family it was the children that asked the parents to turn down the music; because speakers were often tested until late into the night.

Thanks again,

Marlaine Hysell

PS – Here’s a link to my virtual museum of Auratone systems. What you see pictured is pretty much all that was left when my father passed away. It is kind of interesting to see how the Cubes evolved over the years.

Thanks so much for your note, Marlaine. The Auratone really is one of my favorite professional speaker designs of all time, and this means a lot to all of us here at Scientist.


Hi, Justin

I just read your 5.6.2012 feature on Trust Me I’m a Scientist about the classic Auratone studio monitor and I’m hoping you might be the guy to point me in the right direction.

I own a pair of the original Auratone 5Cs. They are the monitors in my professional voiceover home studio. I acquired them back in the mid-1990s and I love them because they give me nothing back that I don’t give them so I can trust my ears before I send something off to a client.

Mine are the original black cubes with black foam front covers and that foam is now deteriorating and crumbling. Everything behind that and inside the cube is just fine and dandy. What can I use to replace those covers or is there a source for a replacement kit? What function do these covers serve and do I need them?


Nancy Camp
Voiceovers From Camp

Hi Nancy,

Those foam covers aren’t really necessary, and most of the studios I’ve been in have thrown theirs away long ago. My Auratones at home are actually sitting on top of those square foam covers so that I don’t lose them! Needless to say, I’m not really using them either.

At the most, I figure these covers could theoretically take off a tiny touch of high-end, but I’m not sure that the Auratones actually put out much in the way of extreme frequencies high enough to be influenced by such thin foam. You’ll also notice that when Avantone designed their homage to the Auratone, they did so without foam covers of any kind.

My best guess is that the original function of these covers was purely cosmetic and may have made it so the speakers themselves would require less frequent dusting. But perhaps Marlaine could tell us more!


A while back, I took note of your article on The Loudness War, and I want to let you know that you are not alone in your thinking.

I am a member of the Music Loudness Alliance, and we’ve just published a whitepaper that gives some technical backing to these ideas. Please visit http://music-loudness.com and have a look.

There is no limiter in our proposal – it is simply an intelligent volume control and so it is completely transparent, even for album playback. There are some technical reasons why less intelligent normalization schemes can cause trouble (e.g. clipping, inadequate maximum playback level on older material or classical recordings and leveling of intended track-to-track dynamics from an album.)

These issues have given player manufacturers reason to not enable normalization by default. We believe we have successfully corrected these limitations with our proposal and are encouraging normalized level control be enabled by default.

Kevin Gross
Media Network Consultant
AVA Networks

Thanks for reaching out, Kevin.

I think it’s a great idea to educate listeners, designers and music professionals alike, and to advocate the use of transparent normalizing programs. It’s definitely a better strategy than shaming artists for making smashed-sounding records, if that’s the sound they happen to like.

There seems to be much more hand-wringing over the transparency of currently available auto-normalizing software built into consumer music players. I know a lot of smart, capable and respectable engineers and musicians that believe that they have a detrimental effect on playback.

However, based on my own reading and testing, that just doesn’t seem to be the case in 98% of listening situations. (The diehard classical audience is estimated to be about 2% the size of the population, and I do think that I can hear the effect of a software limiter in iTunes Soundcheck if I crank the volume on some of my very quietest Satie pieces.)

To my understanding, the current programs generally take the songs with the highest average level and just turn them down slightly. If that’s the case, then there’s no reason this shouldn’t be a default in iTunes and everywhere else, right now, just as it is in Spotify already.

With that said, if you believe you can improve on these protocols even further, I think that sounds like a very exciting proposal. Anything you can do to help turn the tide on that front is worthy work!


Hey Justin,

I’m a newer reader of the blog and dig it very much!

With that said, I’ve been voraciously following the Spotify debate since it’s inception. I’ve scoured everywhere to get down to the nuts and bolts of what we’re dealing with here. While your article made some great points, there are some additional things that could potentially make the argument a bit more… I don’t know… let’s go with “interesting.”

Major labels have a 20% stake in the company and their catalog powers the service. They can at any time hold the service hostage with higher licensing fees, or by pulling content. The biggest problem now is in the lack of transparent accounting, the company’s evasiveness, and how speculation is playing into their business model. The ideal endgame for Spotify – or any tech startup – is a massive IPO payout.

Spotify currently has hundreds of millions in VC, alongside a growing number of huge corporate sponsors such as Coke, and Yahoo. And the reason they aren’t raising the royalty rates is because as it stands, they don’t have to.

A Spin on Spotify is based on a 90 day “pot” of revenue from ad-based accounts, and subscription based accounts. Once they have the pot, they do some math and create the per spin value, after taking out “operation costs”.

Unfortunately, since the value of a “spin” is based on a completely dynamic system, that we’re not privy to we’ll never know the truth and can basically accept that what we’re getting paid is arbitrary.

The strategy is to get to the point of ubiquity as fast as possible, and to get everyone “by the balls” as Napster founder and Spotify investor Sean Parker so eloquently put it.

IPO then bail. That’s tech.

And while I love the service, and see streaming as the next true paradigm shift, the lack of transparency coupled with blatant evasiveness, ambiguity and speculation just reeks of old model, back door dealings, with a splash of dot-com fever.

Guy Licata

Hi Guy,

Although I think that businesses should be allowed to make private arrangements with one another, I certainly agree that this is one arena where a little more transparency would be a very good thing.

If I had my way, there would be complete transparency over the calculation of a minimum rate, and artists and companies who are in a position to do so would be able to negotiate even better deals for themselves on top of that.

There’s a lot of precedent for this idea. It’s been a feature of the music industry for decades, and for good reason.


I just read your article on How To Fix Spotify. Great write up. Good to see that my quest for data about Spotify payments leads to interesting articles like this. I also would like to see streaming that is sustainable for artists, audiences and the company. It can be done, I’m sure.

Don’t get me wrong, I am on the artist side but I also try to make them see that the rate is not the most important part. I try to explain how the calculation of the rates works. A lot of artists who beg for higher rates seem to have another problem: their music is not being streamed much. That’s a thing that streaming services cannot solve.


Thanks Hans. We may not always agree on the analysis, but I’m glad to see you remain devoted to taking a serious and honest look at the numbers.


Nice article on Spotify! I have to look at your website more often.

Irene Trudel
Senior Broadcast Engineer and Technical Director
WNYC’s Soundcheck

Swoon. Thanks Irene!

Hi Justin,

I introduced myself to you a while ago via email and I’ve been reading a lot of the articles you’ve been writing for SonicScoop and Scientist.

Since we last spoke, my band Stone Cold Fox has taken off a little bit and I wanted to seek some advice from you since you write about and interview a lot of local New York independent labels. I also know you work with a lot of indie bands that may have walked this road before.

Now that I’ve graduated from SUNY Purchase my focus is 100% on the band and figuring out what to do with myself in the NYC music scene. We’ve been playing shows in Manhattan and Brooklyn for the past 4 months. We played Northside Fest, CBGB Fest, we have a Mercury Lounge show coming up and we are also playing KahBang Fest in Maine. We released our debut EP, The Young, on iTunes in May, so we have something out there, and now we have been writing new songs and want to start recording a full length soon.

I would still love to release the album through a label and be able to have some sort of tour support and publicity. But my question is, do we really need a label in this instance? If yes, then what is the best way to go about contacting labels to at least initiate conversation? Right now, all I’m sure of is writing, demoing and recording new songs. Any advice or direction would be of great help!

Thanks for your time and keep up the awesome work,

Ariel Loh
Stone Cold Fox

Glad to hear about all the great shows, Alex. I think that’s a really big thing. And it’s good that you’re not only playing here in the city.

In my experience, the artists who tend to do best with self-releases are ones that have built up a considerable audience of their own. These are the artists who moved on to self-releasing as soon as that made more financial sense for them. Wilco, Radiohead, NIN and Amanda Palmer are all obvious examples.

The new bands who seem to gain the most traction while self-releasing have usually set aside some budget for PR and/or management, or have close friends in those fields. And a lot of them seem to end up on labels eventually as well.

Even Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – who are famous for being one of the internet’s first (and few) – big, label-less success stories ended up using labels for all their later releases. The same is true for a lot of smaller artists who have used self-released EPs (and occasionally albums) to help build a following before joining a label that might help them grow past their plateaus.

Some artists start on tiny-press labels or communal labels, and I think that can be a great strategy too. Anything that expands your network, credibility and potential fanbase is a huge plus.

So, I’d say that no, labels aren’t “necessary.” But they sure can help new bands gain credibilityand get put in front of a potential audience that they might not have access to otherwise.

I can’t tell you a surefire way to approach labels, but suffice it to say that building a following and being personable helps. It’s also easier to get taken seriously by influential strangers when you know some of the same people, and those people are willing to vouch for you. But of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know already.

It’s certainly worthwhile to pursue the label route, and if all fails, either re-approach the material or – if you really believe in the material as-is – self-release it anyway.

The only thing I don’t advocate is self-releasing music without trying to find excited people who can help out first, or without developing a concrete and structured plan to help break through the noise.

The music is the most important thing, certainly. But without these other elements in place, careers fizzle more often than not. I’ve seen it happen so many times.

The good news is that with a little talent, planning, discipline – and especially persistence – plenty of people are still able to find a corner of the music world that can help support what they do.

Best of luck and happy tracking,

Justin Colletti
Audio Producer, Educator and Journalist
Editor-in-Chief at Trust Me, I’m a Scientist

Click here to send in a letter of your own, or to pitch a story that you’d like to write. Please note that letters are subject to editing for length and clarity.

This entry was posted in Featured Stories, Industry Trends, September 2012. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
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