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The Death of Quality
Old 25th January 2009
  #1
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🎧 10 years
The Death of Quality

I have been following the "Studio Rates Lower than Ever" thread with some interest ... especially as it gets to discussing the "why's" of the current situation. After talking with some knowledgable people, reading threads in several forums, etc. this seems to a phenomena that cuts across all aspects of recording, composing, performing ... everything to do with music. And as I think about it, it's more than music ... it's kind of everything ... and as much as the economy, technology, etc. have had their effect ... I think the single biggest driver is what I'm calling ... "the Death of Quality" ....

And what is this? Simple ... it's that people simply DO NOT CARE about quality any more ... at least ... only to a point. By "people" i'm talking about the product buying, money spending masses ... not the pros in the industry, although it's bound to filter through at some point.

As I think about the "Drivers" that we all moan about as related to the downturn in rates and so forth .... mp3, iTunes, cheap home recording gear, youtube movies, internet file sharing, mega-volumes of product being produced by everybody and their brother, cable and satellite TV and radio, American Idol etc, and all things like unto or ancillary to these things .... what do they really have in common? They show that people have come to value access, immediacy, and PARTICIPATION in "entertainment art" over QUALITY.

To put it in music terms ... they don't care so much about the quality of a song or production ... as long as it meets some minimum ... what is valued is ease of access to it, the fact that they can acquire it free or cheap, and that they can re-use or re-purpose it freely.

Closely related to all this is the fact that production at this level has now become a commodity. I remember as a teenager in the 70s when getting a new album was an "event" ... I'd listen to it 100 times the first few weeks .. invite friends over to listen .. talk about it at school ... read all the credits, liner notes, album cover, etc. I knew that it might be weeks or months before I could get another album, and I VALUED it ... both the music and the physical medium and packaging it came on and in.

Now ... music is disposable. With instant cheap downloads or "sharing" of millions of songs available all the time ... the medium just 1s and 0s and completely transparent .... there is no value left ... and on an iPod with ear buds ... any quality past that necessary to be loud and intelligible is wasted.

This goes beyond music of course .... Walmart and Kia and Open Source software and crappy sounding cell phones and many other things all point to the same "Access over Quality" paradigm.

Can or will it change? I dunno ... I would hope so ... but what would be the driver for that? Oh well .... think I'll put on some headphones and listen to DSOTM.
Old 25th January 2009
  #2
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by MatsonMusicBox ➑️
I have been following the "Studio Rates Lower than Ever" thread with some interest ... especially as it gets to discussing the "why's" of the current situation. After talking with some knowledgable people, reading threads in several forums, etc. this seems to a phenomena that cuts across all aspects of recording, composing, performing ... everything to do with music. And as I think about it, it's more than music ... it's kind of everything ... and as much as the economy, technology, etc. have had their effect ... I think the single biggest driver is what I'm calling ... "the Death of Quality" ....

And what is this? Simple ... it's that people simply DO NOT CARE about quality any more ... at least ... only to a point. By "people" i'm talking about the product buying, money spending masses ... not the pros in the industry, although it's bound to filter through at some point.

As I think about the "Drivers" that we all moan about as related to the downturn in rates and so forth .... mp3, iTunes, cheap home recording gear, youtube movies, internet file sharing, mega-volumes of product being produced by everybody and their brother, cable and satellite TV and radio, American Idol etc, and all things like unto or ancillary to these things .... what do they really have in common? They show that people have come to value access, immediacy, and PARTICIPATION in "entertainment art" over QUALITY.

To put it in music terms ... they don't care so much about the quality of a song or production ... as long as it meets some minimum ... what is valued is ease of access to it, the fact that they can acquire it free or cheap, and that they can re-use or re-purpose it freely.

Closely related to all this is the fact that production at this level has now become a commodity. I remember as a teenager in the 70s when getting a new album was an "event" ... I'd listen to it 100 times the first few weeks .. invite friends over to listen .. talk about it at school ... read all the credits, liner notes, album cover, etc. I knew that it might be weeks or months before I could get another album, and I VALUED it ... both the music and the physical medium and packaging it came on and in.

Now ... music is disposable. With instant cheap downloads or "sharing" of millions of songs available all the time ... the medium just 1s and 0s and completely transparent .... there is no value left ... and on an iPod with ear buds ... any quality past that necessary to be loud and intelligible is wasted.

This goes beyond music of course .... Walmart and Kia and Open Source software and crappy sounding cell phones and many other things all point to the same "Access over Quality" paradigm.

Can or will it change? I dunno ... I would hope so ... but what would be the driver for that? Oh well .... think I'll put on some headphones and listen to DSOTM.

Much agreed, and I doubt it will change, though I'm hopeful.heh


Remember when you heard album tracks on the radio, bought the LP, and it sounded so much better in every respect than the FM broadcast, and the whole package was truly a religious experience?

Haven't had that happen in 20 years, so it seems...The end product usually sounds worse than the radio these days. A really depressing situation. The age of materialistic atheism.
Old 25th January 2009
  #3
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Smile

Quote:
Originally Posted by MatsonMusicBox ➑️
I have been following the "Studio Rates Lower than Ever" thread with some interest ... especially as it gets to discussing the "why's" of the current situation. After talking with some knowledgable people, reading threads in several forums, etc. this seems to a phenomena that cuts across all aspects of recording, composing, performing ... everything to do with music. And as I think about it, it's more than music ... it's kind of everything ... and as much as the economy, technology, etc. have had their effect ... I think the single biggest driver is what I'm calling ... "the Death of Quality" ....

And what is this? Simple ... it's that people simply DO NOT CARE about quality any more ... at least ... only to a point. By "people" i'm talking about the product buying, money spending masses ... not the pros in the industry, although it's bound to filter through at some point.

As I think about the "Drivers" that we all moan about as related to the downturn in rates and so forth .... mp3, iTunes, cheap home recording gear, youtube movies, internet file sharing, mega-volumes of product being produced by everybody and their brother, cable and satellite TV and radio, American Idol etc, and all things like unto or ancillary to these things .... what do they really have in common? They show that people have come to value access, immediacy, and PARTICIPATION in "entertainment art" over QUALITY.

To put it in music terms ... they don't care so much about the quality of a song or production ... as long as it meets some minimum ... what is valued is ease of access to it, the fact that they can acquire it free or cheap, and that they can re-use or re-purpose it freely.

Closely related to all this is the fact that production at this level has now become a commodity. I remember as a teenager in the 70s when getting a new album was an "event" ... I'd listen to it 100 times the first few weeks .. invite friends over to listen .. talk about it at school ... read all the credits, liner notes, album cover, etc. I knew that it might be weeks or months before I could get another album, and I VALUED it ... both the music and the physical medium and packaging it came on and in.

Now ... music is disposable. With instant cheap downloads or "sharing" of millions of songs available all the time ... the medium just 1s and 0s and completely transparent .... there is no value left ... and on an iPod with ear buds ... any quality past that necessary to be loud and intelligible is wasted.

This goes beyond music of course .... Walmart and Kia and Open Source software and crappy sounding cell phones and many other things all point to the same "Access over Quality" paradigm.

Can or will it change? I dunno ... I would hope so ... but what would be the driver for that? Oh well .... think I'll put on some headphones and listen to DSOTM.
.

spot on post, man. i totally agree.

damn - DSOTM - great record - rock on, dude...

.
Old 25th January 2009 | Show parent
  #4
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🎧 10 years
sadly quality is at an all time low
Old 25th January 2009 | Show parent
  #5
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🎧 15 years
Sadly, the only way quality will return at this point is when we get some decent 24/96 converters in an ipod and people (consumers) actually think they hear a difference for the better. Of course I am only talking about sound quality. Song writing is another topic all together.
Old 25th January 2009 | Show parent
  #6
Registered User
 
🎧 10 years
The quality is based on a lot of factors

- I have spent 30+ years buying gear and recording learning skills
- I have invested $300K into real estate and a good solid acoustical design.
- I have spent $600K in gear over that 30+year period.
- record companies no longer want to pay any kind of a realistic budget to do a project.
- I can't charge $20.00
Here is were it falls apart
- Other studios have grabbed mixing jobs away for $50-$75 song - bands with little or no experience think it's a good deal. ( BTW The final product is terrible but the band does not have the experience know better )
- I even lost a job when a studio in South Carolina charged a band $450.00/song to produce including all the session players, (Drums, Bass, Guitars, Steel, Violin, Mandolin, Dobro)
Why are players charging $25.00 a song or less to record?
The scary thing is that quality was not all the bad they did program the drums but it the rest was all live.
But it was was not amazing.

Maybe I should fire all my employees sell it all get a 003 and charge less.
Don't get me wrong I still have plenty of clients that keep me going but this is some of the wacky stuff I am seeing.
But I gotta ask myself - Is it going to get worse?

I am not even going to get started on posts I have read on gear slutz " Why would pay a studio $10K to record your band when you can buy all the gear and do it yourself for less"
Old 25th January 2009
  #7
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🎧 10 years
I agree with 90% of your post. The one place you lost me was here:

Quote:
Originally Posted by MatsonMusicBox ➑️
This goes beyond music of course .... Walmart and Kia and Open Source software and crappy sounding cell phones and many other things all point to the same "Access over Quality" paradigm.
While your other examples are truly about sacrificing quality for availability and affordablility, open source software (OSS) is not one of them. Most people developing OSS are doing it to increase quality and transparency of the software you use, and most of them are doing it for free. Since the code is openly available for developers to study and improve upon, you end up with software that can be significatly more reliable and customizable. One of the best examples I can use is the battle of the browser. The most used browser today is an open source browser: Firefox.

In the audio world, OSS is basically limited to Audacity. Where has Audacity sacrificed quality for access? Granted this isn't typically considered proffesional or competitive software, but your use of OSS in your list doesn't fit. To make it fit you would need to replace Kia with "that car your neighbor built to run on vegitable oil," Walmart with "the mom and pop store down the street," and crappy cell phone with "that camera phone from Flight of the Conchords."

Sorry if this is nitpicky, but I think OSS dev teams and others like them are one of our last bastions of an increasingly corporate driven world. They are the ones that, usually at a personal loss, are trying to bring quality to their end user.

I think it is these people we in the music industry should look to for inspiration. OSS developers do it for the pride of a quality product, and while not making much in the way of income it doesn't stop them.

[This is where I self-edited out a whole off topic section how we can learn from these other industries]

But back on topic, these complaints are one of a much larger problem then music. The way I see it, music is just one of the casualties/symptoms of a social and economic system that's bound to fail. We are part of a disposable society!!!

And hipass: there's no question about it... it's going to get worse before it gets better.
Old 25th January 2009 | Show parent
  #8
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Thompson ➑️
I agree with 90% of your post. The one place you lost me was here:



While your other examples are truly about sacrificing quality for availability and affordablility, open source software (OSS) is not one of them. Most people developing OSS are doing it to increase quality and transparency of the software you use, ...... blah blah blah
Not gonna turn this into an open debate on OSS - but as a pro software developer for almost 30 years and as a VP running a multi-million dollar software department for a billion dollar company ... I know of what I speak.

It has the same features .... give it away free ... anyone can do it ... let the masses participate ... deny the very premise of intellectual property rights, much less the value ... all the same drivers as related to music.

We'll have to agree to disagree on this one, and this will be my only post on it as that is not the subject of this thread. thanks!
Old 26th January 2009 | Show parent
  #9
Here for the gear
 
🎧 10 years
Now let's keep this couth, simplifying a person's argument to "blah blah blah" is not a very encouraging way to have a civil discussion.tutt

I'm not going to hijack the thread to have the conversation about OSS, but do check your PMs as I am curious what you have to say about it.

On the other hand, I do think it pertains to the topic at hand.

Where you have your credentials in software development, I have mine (while maybe not as flamboyent) in music production. Believe me, I work in an amazing studio and I don't like the idea of quality people and quality equipment going the way of the dinosaurs. What you DO have to keep in mind is that society, and with it its morals on intellectual property, IS changing. With the cost of entry level gear at rock bottom prices and the access to independent distribution, the DIY culture can't really be stopped.

This means that really the "Death of Quality" is a battle on two fronts, is it not? You have the creation front, and the consumption front.

The relation to OSS is on the creation front of this:

What happens when the open source, DIY, non-corporate way of doing things ends up surpassing the quality of that which is not?

In the long run, studios will start to be pared down... we're already seeing a lot of that here in NYC. Smaller studios with smaller overhead and lower prices will continue to thrive in the low budget market. On the high end of things, they will continue to close down until there is a reasonable balance of supply and demand.

From the consumption side of this:

Quality in terms of sonic definition for the masses is a lost cause. Those who care about it already understand or will take the energy to find out what they need to do to enjoy fidelity. They are the minority, but they're going to take measures to enjoy music in the best possible way. Those who don't are a lost cause. To use a food metaphor, it's cheap and easy to cook yourself a gormet hamburger, but there's still millions of people who just don't care and are going to drive up to McDonalds to buy dinner.

These aren't things I'm happy about, these are just the things I've observed in my time doing this. I think there are a lot of smart people sifting about on this forum and while it's nice to bitch and moan (this is the subforum for it) I think it's also good to try and find a way to make our own future instead of just being along for the ride.
Old 26th January 2009 | Show parent
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Thompson ➑️
(while maybe not as flamboyent)
Old 26th January 2009 | Show parent
  #11
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🎧 10 years
Radio and the big labels are the one responsible for pushing the lower quality (of music/writing/etc). It's a race to the bottom.

Remember that old fashioned feeling when you had 10 dollars burning a hole in your pocket, but you could only buy 1 cassette/vinyl etc, and there were so many ones you wanted? Yeah, I miss those days.
Old 26th January 2009 | Show parent
  #12
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I think what the OP said about commodity is the key point. It's the downside to capitalism. To maintain growth, you have to increase revenue and one of the easiest ways of getting people to part with their money is by making it more convenient for them to access/buy/use a product. This has a naturally declining affect on quality. Quality is attention intensive. Convenience is quite the opposite.

There are very few instances of a true balance of Quality and Convenience/Mass Appeal. Nobody is building The Great Wall or The Pyramids or Notre Dame these days. It's too inconvenient. Something has to drive Quality or quality won't happen.

In a capitalist system, quality is only as valuable as its ability to increase revenue. Once the quality in the marketplace has achieved a certain level, quality is no longer able to increase revenue.
Old 26th January 2009 | Show parent
  #13
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Perhaps it's not that people don't want "high quality", it's just that musicians aren't willing to spend the same amount of money and they're willing to compromise "high quality" sound for fuller wallets. Elitist audiophile jargon aside, I don't think that "lower quality" from a production stand-point is inherently negative. A lot of the songs from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, were all tracked live in one take and by todays standards would sound awful - this, however, does not constitute poor music, poor performance, or even poor quality.

And the fact that artists are learning to record their own music these days is awesome if you ask me.
Old 26th January 2009 | Show parent
  #14
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I would have to agree that, while OSS has it's place, it's not capable of competing with commercial software. It's purely a matter of math. You can't create all the software of the commercial world because the bulk of people doing the open source software development are paying the rent by working for commercial software companies. If you replaced the commercial software world with OSS, then where would those people earn a living?

Generally OSS is fine for plumbing stuff, like the Apache project does. It's not good at end user software. I've done both. I wrote the Xerces C++ XML parser for the Apache project, and parts of the Java version as well. Stuff like XML works well in the OSS world, because in order for it to be widely accepted it can't be owned by anyone. And projects like that will get plenty of manpower because companies like Sun and IBM need those technologies to continue to develop.

And once in a while an OSS project manages to do something reasonably end usery like Reaper. But mostly there's no way that it can compete with the more general world of commercial software development for the end user. There's no legal commitment by the OSS community to continue any given project, and it's not unheard of for projects to just drift away due to lack of abiltiy to find the people to work on it, since they aren't getting paid.

And there's way more to creating a product than just creating the product, as any one in the commercial software world knows.
Old 26th January 2009 | Show parent
  #15
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by superjc ➑️
Radio and the big labels are the one responsible for pushing the lower quality (of music/writing/etc). It's a race to the bottom.

Remember that old fashioned feeling when you had 10 dollars burning a hole in your pocket, but you could only buy 1 cassette/vinyl etc, and there were so many ones you wanted? Yeah, I miss those days.
There are a number of reasons those days don't exist anymore. Some of them are the fault of the record industry, or more to the point of the people who bought out the record industry as an investment but had no inherent interest in music, perhaps.

But, regardless, if everyone is now going to steal it, it will get harder and harder to find anyone willing to invest in the long term development of artists or to get them into high quality studios. If you aren't going to make the money back plus a healthy profit, what's the point from a business perspective? But without commercial backing, how many artists by themselves could afford it? Probably very few.

So it all leads back to the consumer stealing it instead of paying for it. If they don't pay, they are going to get what they pay for.
Old 26th January 2009 | Show parent
  #17
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by NickHiebert ➑️
Perhaps it's not that people don't want "high quality", it's just that musicians aren't willing to spend the same amount of money and they're willing to compromise "high quality" sound for fuller wallets. Elitist audiophile jargon aside, I don't think that "lower quality" from a production stand-point is inherently negative. A lot of the songs from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, were all tracked live in one take and by todays standards would sound awful - this, however, does not constitute poor music, poor performance, or even poor quality.

And the fact that artists are learning to record their own music these days is awesome if you ask me.
But back in the day you HAD to be talented, now talent is not a must - it only helps.
Sound quality is also relative depending on who listens to it. Some people think recording technology from the 60's and earlier is great while others don't like it at all. Before it was very expensive to produce so record companies did want to take any chances. Today it's cheap to launch a new artist in comparison so we a glut of mediocre music
Old 26th January 2009 | Show parent
  #18
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I agree, but it's hard to maintain any level of originality and innovation with just guitar, bass, and drums. Talent is no longer a must, but artists who aren't good just won't be listened to in the new digital age... Record labels won't have to force mediocre artists down anyone's throat anymore.
Old 26th January 2009 | Show parent
  #19
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by NickHiebert ➑️
but artists who aren't good just won't be listened to in the new digital age...

huh? have you listened to the radio or checked out the top-40 lately?
Old 26th January 2009 | Show parent
  #20
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🎧 15 years
Quote:
I remember as a teenager in the 70s when getting a new album was an "event" ... I'd listen to it 100 times the first few weeks .. invite friends over to listen .. talk about it at school ... read all the credits, liner notes, album cover, etc. I knew that it might be weeks or months before I could get another album, and I VALUED it ... both the music and the physical medium and packaging it came on and in.
Yes, it was the same way for me as a teenager in the 80s as well...but I'm not sure if that had more to do with that particular era than it did with me just being a teenager. I really wish that I did have the time to sit down and listen to albums from front to back like I used to be able to, but between work, wife and kids, and just getting older it's hard to find the time to do that any more. Once in a while I am able to pop a CD in the studio and just sit there and listen to it, but unfortunately most of my listening these days is either as background music in the house or in the car.

As far as it being weeks or months before you could get another album...that, I think, probably has more to do with being a teenager as well...

But I do remember going through the bargain bins, etc and seeing all kind of crap in there, so there were certainly quality issues at that time as well.

Quote:
Remember that old fashioned feeling when you had 10 dollars burning a hole in your pocket, but you could only buy 1 cassette/vinyl etc, and there were so many ones you wanted? Yeah, I miss those days.
I do kind of miss those days, but not really...I much prefer being able to buy an album when I want it than not...but sure, the excitement was nice.
Old 26th January 2009 | Show parent
  #21
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Old 27th January 2009 | Show parent
  #22
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🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by mprewett ➑️
In a capitalist system, quality is only as valuable as its ability to increase revenue. Once the quality in the marketplace has achieved a certain level, quality is no longer able to increase revenue.
I never thought of it that way, but it seems you're right.
Old 27th January 2009 | Show parent
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MatsonMusicBox ➑️
huh? have you listened to the radio or checked out the top-40 lately?
Actually... no.

Case in point.
Old 27th January 2009 | Show parent
  #24
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Studio Addict ➑️
I never thought of it that way, but it seems you're right.

Yeah, I think it doesn't have that much to do with whether people steal or whether the quality has actually degraded or not. That's simply a fall-out from making it all accessible. If you turn something into a commodity, you should expect it to act like a commodity. There *are* people in the world that care about the intricacies of wheat flavor, milling properties, texture, baking properties, etc., and they make some *amazing* baked goods, but most people are perfectly happy buying store brand flour. Most people probably can't tell the difference between ALDI flour and Pillsbury's Best, let alone something for more demanding bakers. Even if they can tell the difference, they probably buy store brand flour anyway.

Quality is *always* a niche market.

Rolex, Ferrari, Rembrandt, heck, when was the last time you had a truly awe-inspring donut?? (When I reach for a pack of Krispie Kremes at Wal-mart, it's not because they're the world's best.) An awe-inspiring deli sandwich?? Is that a commonplace experience? The most spectacular sunsets don't happen everyday...

If two people were on the same street, one handing out ancient Roman coins and the other $100 bills, which person would have the longer line? But which has more actual value?

It's a shame nobody values quality, but not a surprise. If you have to teach kids the value of using a toilet to poop in, it's no surprise if you have to teach them the value of everything else.
Old 27th January 2009 | Show parent
  #25
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🎧 10 years
I was thinking about another direct component of the lack of quality in commercial music. There aren't that many bands that rise to commercial prominence after having already risen to performing prominence. Back in the day, you had to prove your worth on the road before anyone would take a chance promoting you commercially. That's not really the case anymore.
Old 27th January 2009 | Show parent
  #26
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pashatom's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
relative values

I remember when I had a leather diary which was a treasure to me. It was very ingenious, and I had it for years. It got more worn and the more I had it the greater its value was to me. Then after much effort I won a contract to market and sell the diaries and, suddenly, I had 10,000 of them in my house. they were everywhere, black, blue, big, small, miniature, you name it.... All of a sudden I could have a different one every day. They no longer meant anything to me anymore. It was too easy and I had too many.

My point is this: when things get too easy and we get too greedy, we lose a sense of worth and value, but it's also difficult to go back again and regain what we lost. I think this is applicable to this thread.
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