brand

The lo-fi communications revolution is not being televised


I have a decent (and still growing) LP collection, and my turntable gets almost daily use. In fact, I often buy music on vinyl rather than downloading it or buying CDs.

One of my recent vinyl purchases was Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. Probably one of the greatest albums of all time, but it wasn’t until I heard it on LP that I really felt like I started to get it. There was something about listening to it in the way it would have been listened to when it came out in 1966. Pops, crackles, and Brian Wilson just felt right together.

But as I’ve made my way around music stores, I’ve noticed the number of brand new releases coming out on vinyl seems to be increasing. And I’ve also seen many bands going (on purpose) for a lower fidelity sound.

I remember the lead singer of a local group here in NC, The Love Language, was quoted on why he liked low fidelity in Spin Magazine a while back:

I’m a real lo-fi junkie,” [Stuart McLamb] says. “I like the [Band’s] Big Pink philosophy — you should have a dog on the floor of a basement while you’re recording. That’s where the best stuff happens.”

A dog on the floor, man! Not some fancy studio in New York City run by rich guys in suits named Hunter and Cody. The places where the dog is invited is where the best stuff happens.

Where am I going with this? I believe that there is a lo-fi movement not only in music but in communications more broadly that continues to gain momentum. Communications that are too high fidelity may not be viewed as trustworthy anymore. Take this quote from the Wikipedia page for “Low fidelity”:

“Lo-fi techniques are espoused by some genres… where the very low-quality of the recording has become a desirable quality, as it is associated with authenticity…”

What makes lo-fi more authentic to people? Perhaps people feel like they’ve been lied to by the slick, hi-fi languages of advertising, marketing, the law, the media, and politics too long. Perhaps people no longer trust things that feel too corporate or processed.

So in a world where corporations are closely associated with high fidelity communication, what do us corporate communications types do? After all, the dogs usually don’t get to sit on the floor in most big corporations.

At Red Hat, we made a conscious decision many years ago not to be higher fidelity than our budgets allowed. Of course now in the world of YouTube you’d think it was always done that way. Part of the beauty of lo-fi communications is that they are cheap and quick to make. That’s why we Red Hat brand folks (to butcher the words of Barbara Mandrell from her 1981 LP I don’t have) were lo-fi when lo-fi wasn’t cool. We couldn’t afford to do it any other way.

Take our video strategy. Five years ago, in a world where video still meant studio, actors, professional lighting, and makeup, we bought a decent camera and brought a guy on staff to shoot video. Our lighting? Whatever was on. Our “actors”? Regular employees. Our editing room? A laptop. Our scripts? What scripts?

But what we quickly discovered is that where we were trying to save money and time, there was another side effect. We actually created stuff that was more authentic. Because we featured real people. Saying real stuff. In their words. In their clothes. It wasn’t always pretty, but it worked.

Let me be clear. I’m not interested in fake lo-fi, where you record digitally and add pops and crackles in post production. I see lots of communications like this by companies that are trying to hide their high fidelity through a thin veneer. All so much shabby-chic BS.

I mean making things quick and dirty because they actually are quick and dirty. I think this is why I love Twitter so much. In this intensely digital world, there is something beautiful about 140 characters of ASCII text that usually has at least one typing error in it. Personally, I trust Twitter more than I trust CNN.

To butcher the lyrics of Gil Scott-Heron (from his 1971 LP I don’t have) the lo-fi communications revolution certainly is not going to be televised. But it may  have some pops and crackles if we do things right.

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “The lo-fi communications revolution is not being televised

  1. “God Only Knows” is the greatest pop song ever written. That is all.

    Posted by Paul W. Frields | January 8, 2010, 10:29 am

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