Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Digital only release only?

This interesting note I found on the Digital Music Web Log. It seems RadioHead is contemplating "Digital Only " releases. From what I gather hat means no packaging, cover art, liner notes at all.

This is the kind of music business B.S. that drives me nearly over the edge into insanity. Cover art has been a mainstay of the industry for years. For bands, it means visibility and recognition. I have had, in the past, been asked for advice by new recording artists about what they can do to pare down the budget. On idea (and a bad one) is to have very generic cover art. But, as I pointed out to them, it makes you invisible in a world filled with visual images.

Wht's this nonesense about "working best when we are not bothered by making mistakes"? What kind of B.S. is that? I understand that sometimes taking the pressure off an artist can produce some better results, but there are already many studio tricks for doing that.

One of the real problems with the music industry is its percieved glamour and unfortunately some artists actually buy into the "glamour". There isn't any glamour in the music business, It is hard work, it is showing up for studio sessions and reherrsals on time. It is being organized enough that expensive studiio time and professional time are not wasted beause of lateness of becuase someone forgot to arnage or do something.

Fans can be an unforgiving lot. I expect the artists I support to maintain a certain standard of performance. When they don't, I no longer support them and am quite vocal about it. With a so called strategy like Radiohead is implimenting you won't have fans for very much longer. Don't insult us.

Now where did this misguided idea come from. Well a little bit of sluething finds this at Digital Music News. The New York Philharmonic has already begun a series of "digital only" releases on iTunes.

The New York Philharmonic has announced with Deutsche Grammophon the release of upcoming performances of Mozart Symphonies 39, 40 and 41 as file download only from iTunes. (isn't it interesting to hear how it sounds with all the marketing garbage removed. You get a file only! an aac file. That's "lossy" compression!). This does nothing for the reputation of the orchestra as a recording orchestra but lots for Deutsche Grammophon's bottom line. No packaging! Between $8 and $10. By my calculations that is what a CD should go for.

The reason U.S. Orchestras do not record as much as they did in the past is the rising cost of musicians fees. Bluntly, the American Federation of Musicians has priced itself out of the recording market. Major recording labels like London, Philips and EMI have looked elsewhere to find orchestra's which the could afford. Understand, symphony muscians these days are not underpaid! Just U.S. Orchestra's contracts are undercut my European orchestras. So, to gain the market back they think they can provide the customer with less for same money. I doubt it.

I haven't said this here yet, but I will now. I will *not* purchase musci online in a lossy file format! If I were to purchase music online it would have to be at minimum CD-Audio quality or better in a format which I could immediately burn to premanent media.

Any classical music lover will tell you that the packaging is a much needed source of information about the music and the artist who plays the music. As you can see by the name of my blog, I have learned a great deal from what this band wishes to do away with. Good idea? Nonesense, its an excuse not to provide a basic resource to your fans and those who do not know your music.

What's with the double talk? Say what you mean!


bruno said...


Kurtis said...

You overrate packaging. Most music fans I've talked to (I'm an artist, I've talked to many about this) admit to tossing the packaging, and then put the music on their computer and iPod. Digital files are how people consume music more and more every day. Why should I spend a majority of my budget on packaging when so much of it will be discarded and the cd transferred to files anyway? Why not give them what they want in the first place. If the package is so important, then cd sales would not continue to tank. As for "lossy" files, the avg. buying customer is NOT an audiophile as a few are. They don't care about lessened quality of the file. They want it portable and easy, which cds are not. I make my living off of my music and if I continued to invest heavily in cds, I'd be out of business. Instead I make a decent living in a most unforgiving business. These are just my opinions, of course and based off of my experiences. Keep up the thought-provoking blog, discussion is very important to the future of this business....

recordjackethistorian said...

My comments about packaging are heavily influenced by classical music. What some call "the liner notes" are often a valuable source of information to the listener, not only about an artist they may not know, but also about the music they are listening to. Good liner notes can give much needed context to the music.

Pop music is in a slightly different position. Most often the outside covers are just art with a a of tracks, not much more. As someone who often does not know this genre or the band in question, I would really love to have some good pertinent information about the band and its release. I don't blame you for throwing out packaging which adds nothing to the content you purchased. You're right it is a waste. but the recording industry will not pass those savings onto you -- I've made that comment before somewhere. The price of the track(s) or CD or album, bears no relation to what it actually cost to produce -- I'm talking about the industry now, for small tiny labels or individual bands, that situation may be different.

For iPod users, album art can be downloaded. Since I am not a consumer of iTunes, I do not know how much of the actual liner notes survive inside a digital release.

I have personally had this discussion with people who claim that MP3 files are "good enough" and that the difference in quality cannot be heard. Since our discussion took place over the period of several weeks, we both had time to re-assess our positions. My friend came back saying that he was not more inclined to agree with me. The quality of MP3 vs aac (MPEG4 audio) was audible.

Its not a matter of me winning an argument, just a matter of getting a music lover to listen in a way in which he was not used to listening.

Also from experience, I can tell you that listening to a higher quality recorded media be it a file or on a CD-ROM, Hard Drive, Flash Drive, the higher quality recording will be easier on your ears, you will hear more and enjoy it more. It costs them no more to make a high quality recording than it does to make one of those abysmally awful sounding ones.

Looking back in recorded history, some of the best sounding recordings were recorded using the fewest resources! The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's recording of Richard Struass "Ein Heldenleben" is still a stunning recording despite the presence of tape hiss (it was recorded in the early 1950's by RCA -- now owned by BMG) The release you'll hear on of CD or off a digital file will likely be the experimental three track recording make with just three microphones!

I have noticed, even with LPs or CD's that if I walk out of the store with 20 or 30 new albums, none of them will get the attention they'd get if they were purchased at a somewhat slower pace. In fact, I've found that some of my bulk purchases got ignored --- and that's my loss. Either purchasing digitally or on some recordable media, smaller helpings definitely assist in digestion of the content.

I know, I'm comparing music to something like a dinner party, but its definitely true that pigging out doesn't get you more in the end, you may get a bit fatter, your stomach may feel uncomfortably full and OMG ... some of that part of the meal got kind of ignored!

What I'm saying is, take your time, the content is not going away any time soon.

Liner notes and art should either be meaningful in the context of the album or absent completely! Honestly, I do not think doing away with the art work will lower the cost to you. The major labels will not pass on the savings to you. After all, you're just the customer, just a wallet to be drained. (Yes, I know I'm cynical ..... that's from working in the industry for so many years!)

No loss in recorded quality is acceptable! Since there are good lossless formats available and there seems to be no lack of bandwidth or storage media available, there is no longer any reason to use lossy formats.