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You just can’t download an experience

Ever since the advent of the CD audio, music had been squeezed into ever more efficient digital formats. Sure the 44.1 sample rate is good and clean but it’s not great. And mp3 is a step or two down from that. But most people are fine with that. It seems that listening to music in general has become a very passive and disengaged process from what it used to be a decade or two ago.

I recently stumbled across this article on Forbes about how Neil Young has a company trying to design a HD audio service for people like professional musicians and others who would pay a premium and be willing to manage the large download files necessary to up the quality of digital audio. Neil Young developes Hi Res Audio service

Whenever you listen to music processed at a 96 or 192 khz sample rate, you realize there’s something missing in the cd/mp3 format. It’s probably why the analog feel and dynamic range of a studio master or a vinyl album just somehow sounds fuller, richer, and warmer.  Attempts have been made to create a High Fidelity Pure Audio Disk using Blue Ray format. It plays files at 96kHz/24bit.

One big problem is that files are huge and the playback devices for these resolutions aren’t readily available on a consumer level.

When I recntly posted this on facebook others quickly chimed in about what they missed about the vinyl album experience and it wasn’t just the sound quality. It was the experience. The release of something anticipated. An event that was shared with others. The cool artwork and interesting liner notes. The tactile sensory experience of cutting open the cellophane and pulling out the disk, putting it on the turntable, dropping the needle and seeing what was going to come out of the speakers. It was an event, an experience. One that you just don’t get with a CD, iTunes download, or stream.

This was consistent with some of  my past thoughts about the music industry over the past few years. Long gone are the days when very many recording artists can get rich selling recorded copies of their work alone. Anyone can make music and put it online for free or stream, or download. Sure there are a lot of good musical artists starting indie labels, recording decent stuff in their bedrooms with garageband. But there are also a lot of crap artists recording crap stuff in their bedrooms with garageband and trying to sell online with the big guys. For these folks the sad reality is no one is going to pony up $.99 except for maybe a few close relatives and some good friends. In a time of limitless non-sequencial music options, the reality is quality and creativity alone probably don’t matter as much as they once did.

Sure the music has to be good. Whatever style. It has to be produced well. It has to have hooks.  But probably most importantly the artist must be able to perform it really well. Because there’s a lot of streaming/niche channels filled with free and pirated content. But you can’t download the experience of being surrounded by others witnessing the performance at the same point in time.

I look back at the purchases I’ve made over the past few years. They were seldom $.99 downloads regardless of the quality or how much I like an artist.  But I did pay a pretty stiff ticket price to see U2 360 and Peter Gabriel Front to Back in concert. They were not even my all time favorite bands, but they had creativity and a serious show. Something I couldn’t possibly download. These were also events in my life. The U2 tickets were actually a gift from my son and we went together the year he turned 21 and I turned 50.It was also the year my mom and only brother passed away.  I’ll remember that trip and that concert for as long as I live. For Christmas, my wife bought me the Blu Ray video which wasn’t real cheap either. Same thing with the Peter Gabriel show. The followup DVD was exceptionally produced and justify the cost. I even ordered the raw board mix on USB as a keepsake from the show.  The value was in the experience not strictly the songs or even the actual performance. The good music is the raw material that makes the experience even possible.

The live performance. If you’re a musical artist and are not really good at live performance,  it I think it will get harder and harder to make a living.  Except for a very exceptional few, being a creative songwriter, vocalist, or recording artist is probably simply not enough to carve out a livelyhood.  Unfortunately people no longer pay well for just content. 

As for Neil Young’s Pono service. I think it will have a niche market. I think it will need to be more than just a download service of high-resolution audio. Maybe the product needs to be bundled with some exceptional artwork, artist video interviews or some other value added surprises that would make the download an event to look forward to. Not just an efficient way to push audio thru the internet. Then some will pay a preium price for it – myself included.


Study suggests 5% don’t repsond to music at all

According to this study 5% of the population may experience something called musical anhedonia.

Basically, they don’t emotionally or physiologically respond to music. Music doesn’t effect them and they don’t connect with it, on any level, the way the majority of the population does. (I know, I can’t imagine either)

If this is true, I wonder what that means for worship time in churches, as much of the worship experience in our Christian culture is music heavy.

Often I’ve looked out at the crowd and seen the occasional blank face or the person reading their bulletin while the room is singing. I’ve seen a very small number of people who routinely come in late or hang out in the coffee bar until the “real teaching” time gets started. I think we’ve always just assumed that this was maybe an overly intellectual person, or maybe they just didn’t like the music style, volume, song selections, or are just uncomfortable/awkward singing out among others. Do we need to change our music, singers, production?

Could it be that 5% of listeners in church simply don’t care about the music regardless of the quality or the volume or the “depth” of lyrics? Maybe they’re not music snobs after all. Maybe they would be fine if music was done away with altogether. This study seems to imply just that. If this is indeed true, it could very well explain a few things we’ve struggled with for years.

I’ve always felt that as musicians and tech artists we’re called to lead worship and much of that involves music. We lead with a medium that the majority of the population emotionally connect with and if we flex to accommodate anyone it is those who value music in general and hold worship in particular in a high regard.

But it also suggests the bigger question – As artists (worship leaders) how do we (or can we) even connect this 5% with the biblical idea of corporate worship?


So was it worth it?

I think anyone who goes on/ supports a mission wonders if what they did mattered. I heard a quote once that said “I’d rather fail than succeed at something that doesn’t matter”.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to spend some time with our friend Onesphore. Onesphore is the director Harvest for Christ Burundi, the group we partner with in Africa. When we were there last spring, Onesphore stayed with our group for 10 days as we traveled around Burundi and assisted the Batwa village in Bugenyuzi. He was in the US for several weeks and came to our area for a visit.

Although our initial mission in Africa was just 9 months ago, our visit seemed to set in motion some very interesting and encouraging developments in the village.

“I’d rather fail than succeed at something that doesn’t matter”

Below is a video interview with Onesphore. The first part gives some historical perspective of the relations between the Hutu, Tutsi, and Batwa during the colonization, independence, and the resulting civil wars and genocides of the 70s and 90s. The second part talks about initiatives in quality of life and mortality rates.

So was it worth it? I like to think so. Thanks so much to everyone who helped make this possible. Watch this video and grasp the scope of what your prayers, support, and encouragement helped set into motion. It’s nothing short of remarkable.

When we were there we assisted villagers in the building of 2 mud/tile houses. Since then:

  • Local villagers built 8 more structures using materials that we help supply.
  • Harvest for Christ was able to establish a partnership with a nearby clinic to gain access to some basic medical care which is a game-changer.
  • Above all the village is beginning to trust and view us and HFC as partners. This is huge and often a very slow process. HFC worked for several years, building relationships to a point where the village would allow any outsiders, let alone white Americans, to come in and assist. Our team had the privilege of stepping thru that door. Yeah, it was so worth it.


    Africa video is done – Working with my son on Burundi Documentary

    zach_gary_bulding-bugenyuziIn June of 2013 my son Zach and I accompanied 8 others to visit, assess, and assist a marginalized people group in the small central-Africa country of Burundi. Watch the documentary below.

    On a personal note, it was an amazing opportunity to work with my son on a project such as this. Not only did we get to travel to a distant country together and spend 10 days away from our regular routines, we got to bring our passions and skills together to create something meaningful. Zach shot primary HD takes and I shot mostly b-roll and aerial with a GoPro camera. During the experience we collaborated with our team on story development and got to know our subject matter on a very personal and intimate level. It was a life changing event and a unique chance for my son and I to relate as adults and professionals.

    Our primary role was to film, observe, and document our findings. Over the course of the past 8 weeks we, along with our Burundi missions team, developed a storyboard/script, sorted thru hundreds of video clips, edited and produced this 10-minute documentary. Here’s the story of the Batwa people in the small village of Bugenyuzi.

    Burundi is about the size of the state of Maryland with a population of around 10 million. It’s been said to be one of the 5 poorest countries in the world. 80% of the population live in poverty. The Batwa represent about 1.5% of the population and are only allowed to live in the mountain sides where the soil is rocky and clay like. There is very little food security, access to clean water, medical care, and basic education.

    Zach Yonek: producer, editor, pre/post
    Gary Yonek: pre/post director, writer, narration
    Jay Halley, Donna Gassett: story development, production assist
    Kate Jones: media prep, post editing assistant, developer opening sequence.
    Music: courtesy of Videoblocks royalty free/ used with permission.

    What’s your name? My “One-Story”

    During the course of building a short film about our experience in Africa I asked each member of our team to submit a “one-story” – A short interview about one thing. Maybe a brief moment that involved a profound human connection that may have stood apart from all others. Here’s my “one-story”:

    It was our 2nd day in the village of Bugenyuzi where we, along with a team from Harvest for Christ – Burundi, were assisting the Batwa people with some building and VBS type activities. The scene, from the time we arrived, was chaotic (in a loud/ fun/ adventurous way). From the moment we stepped off our small bus and started walking the trails into the mountainous village, there were people – crowds of people. Most seemed glad to see us, some were maybe just curious but everyone seemed very excited to have visitors. They followed us everywhere, closely. They wanted to touch our skin and shake our hands. Some would ask for food, or money or just find humor in the fact we didn’t understand their language. It was always a little noisy, lots of chatter, even singing and laughter! And everyone loved to have their picture taken and then gather around to look at the result. I believe that many of them have never seen their reflection or image before. As someone who was responsible for filming I always had a camera with me and usually a small group of people close by – always. The African culture seems to have a different understanding of “personal space” than we have in the west – and for good reasons.

    As someone responsible for filming, I found myself often observing my surroundings thru the confines of the lens more than experiencing the journey. And in a way I guess it acted as shield or buffer sometimes. I think the camera often distracted me emotionally from the devastating poverty and pain that was just, well, – everywhere.

    On this day, however I found myself a little restless. I’m the type of person who values solitude. Sometimes I just need to be alone and get quiet with my thoughts and feelings, to process, go for a walk and meet with God. It seemed quite selfish but, I found myself wanting to break away from the village and look at the countryside, and walk, and just think and be alone for a few minutes. But that probably wasn’t a very safe idea.

    So in the afternoon I looked out across this open area and saw a large rock that was about as tall as I – maybe 50 yards out. I tucked my camera away in my bag and when things quieted down I slowly walked out to this rock. And amazingly no one followed me. I saw a few villagers along a nearby trail. I waved, smiled, and greeted them with “Amahoro” which means peace. They politely smiled, waved, replied the same and went about their daily activity.


    I got to the rock, leaned back against it, and just gazed out at the mountainous horizon. It was beautiful. I then lost it a little, emotionally, as the harsh realities of my surroundings began to sink in a little deeper. I asked God what it was I was supposed to be learning here. Just then I glanced down to my left side and noticed a boy who looked to be about 8 years old, quietly standing next to me, his little hands tucked in his dirty pockets, just leaning back against the rock with me – quietly looking out at the mountains. And we just stood there, the two of us, taking in the mountains and the air.

    After a minute or so, I again looked down and he looked up, smiled, and in simple English with a French accent he slowly said “what’s your name?”

    I said “Gary”. And he carefully repeated “Gary” as if to make sure he had it right.
    I then asked “what’s your name”? He said “Rafael”.
    Struggling for something else to say, I asked if he was having fun building the house. (I don’t know if he understood but he smiled and looked over toward the construction site). Then, using the only other Kirundi words that I knew, I pointed toward the building where my son was working and said “Umwana Wanje” which loosely means child mine. And before I could finish my sentence he said “Zach”? He already knew who my son was and remembered his name!

    Then within a few seconds an old villager approached and chased Rafael away. I don’t know if he thought the boy was bothering me or if he was looking out after the boy’s safety. Either way I never saw Rafael again and couldn’t pick him out of the large crowd that gathered as we left the next day. I desperately wanted to say goodbye, but I couldn’t.

    This whole encounter at the rock seemed like it only lasted maybe 2-3 minutes but had a profound impact on me. There was a child who appeared to be searching for some solitude and just wanted to hang with me. It’s as though he got the whole Psalm 46:10 thing that says “be still and know that I am God”. There are times when we need to stop and just release things. “Be still” means to let go. Understand that God is God and I’m not. Find comfort in His care and oversight.

    So I pray for Rafael. In my mind I think maybe he could someday become the “person of peace” of this village. That calm leader who listens for God’s voice and brings hope and healing to an otherwise hopeless situation. My prayer is that he grows up with a loving heart and a care and concern for his people – to lead them toward the God of the Bible and the love and grace found in Jesus Christ. Maybe that’s what this trip was about. Maybe this boy needed to see that some one cared enough to travel half way around the world to just listen and “be.”

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