The impact of high-definition audio has been top of mind lately for Alicia Keys, who teased new music and talked about her experience with the technology during a panel overseen by Amazon Music at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Wednesday (January 8) in Las Vegas. The 15-time Grammy winner was joined on the panel — which was titled “A New Era of Music: HD Streaming” and moderated by Variety contributor Andrew Hampp — by veteran engineer and Lodge founder Emily Lazar (herself a Grammy winner) and Amazon Music’s North American head of label relations Andre Stapleton.
During the discussion, Keys talked about the role high-definition audio played in putting together her upcoming studio album “Alicia,” which will include the single “Underdog” that Keys co-wrote with Ed Sheeran and premiered on Thursday (January 9). The new album will be Keys’ first to become available in immersive audio upon release, with plans to re-release her “As I Am” and “The Diary of Alicia Keys” in HD audio formats as well.
“I’m so excited about being able to mix ‘Underdog’ in immersive audio and for my entire album on its way to be in the highest HD that can exist because it just creates this spiritual experience that connects us,” Keys said. “Music coming will be mixed in immersive, HD and Ultra HD and also we’re going to go back to ‘The Diary of Alicia Keys’ which I’m crazy excited about and we’re also going back to ‘As I Am’ which is going to be sick.”
Lazar and Stapleton also spoke of the importance of high-quality audio, especially to a generation raised on tinny MP3s, earbuds and laptop speakers. Back in September, the company launched Amazon Music HD, which features an extensive catalog of lossless sound that is available to stream in the US, UK, Germany and Japan. Lazar said, “I’m desperate to help the industry get to a better place [with streaming audio quality] and so grateful that Amazon is leading the charge.”
Stapleton added, “We know that audio quality really matters in terms of detail in the instrumentation, the emotion that was in the performance, space dynamics- it’s a really noticeable difference,” said Stapleton. “Our vision is really simple, we want to take the music exactly the way it was recorded in the studio and to deliver it to music fans. The opportunity now exists through advancing technology for convenience plus quality and we know that music fans want to hear all of the music, not a truncated or degraded version of it.”
The selection of panelists was no accident, as the low number of female producers and engineers in the industry is a focal point of Keys’ female-empowerment organization She Is The Music.
“It’s unbelievable and incredible and an asset for any young woman who wants to get in the field, get experience,” Lazar said. “They have songwriter camps, they have tons of things. And it’s something that didn’t even exist. And just to make it very clear to you guys the [University of Southern California’s] Annenberg Inclusion study figured out that 3% of all producers and engineers in the music business are female. That’s not enough.”
Lazar recalled being the first female mastering engineer to win a Grammy, for Best Engineered Album-Non-Classical, for her work on Beck’s 2017 album “Colors.” “We were all up on the stage together but none of them were aware that this was a ceiling-breaking moment,” she said. “As a matter of fact, the Grammys were not even aware!
“It was important for me to raise that conversation globally,” she continued, “so I did point it out to everybody while we were up there and say something because I really believe that that if you can see it then you can be it, as a young person. And I’d like to be able to inspire the young engineers – male, female, whoever – to really feel confident that they can pursue careers that are traditionally difficult to pursue.”
Additional reporting by Andrew Hampp.