Author Topic: State of the music business  (Read 19835 times)

APK

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State of the music business
« on: March 06, 2008, 07:51:21 PM »
A discerning article on the current state of the music business
by Alan Wilder  (ex-Depeche Mode)

http://www.side-line.com/interviews_comments.php?id=29640_0_16_0_C

I agreed with much of this.
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jdh

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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2008, 09:18:34 PM »
Very interesting.Long time fan of D.M.(live and studio) from 1982 onward and Recoil from 1986 on.Two of the points Alan brings up I have mentioned here a few times,with little luck.That is that music is often listened to while doing other activities,more as background noise,than true listening for the art of music production-ie. persons washing dishes while listening or on cheap hi-fis or on airplanes.Also,that music lovers/audiophiles(like me) prefer the quality of of a true CD over downloads(and in my case,CD-Rs from my many bad experiences)This is why I stopped buying from one of my favorite labels,Atmoworks,when they switched to a download only format as well as CD-R only titles from other labels.Why,I just recently listened to an old Ultravox CD I bought in 1988 and it played perfectly,but a CD-R I bought year ago is all distorted-what is wrong here.To me,it does not matter if it is available in FLAC or Lossless or whatever as you still have to listen to it on an I-Pod through the lousy D-A conversion(and I have an I-Pod too,but only use it to transfer CD to Lossless files and then listen to it through very high quality headphones)

MarkM

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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2008, 09:17:24 AM »
Great article. I too, scratch my head at the growing use of MP3s over non-compressed.  But then again, I think the MP3s are a better format than cassettes and 8 track which were popular years ago.  It seems that the playing of music is no longer the "event" it used to be.  Probably the most prolonged listening of an artist occurs in a commuter's car.  Music is in competition for the public's free time.  Radio and TV broadcasters are feeling this as well.  Before the proliferation of cable channels, there were only 3 major networks battling for your attention.  After Johnny Carson there was nothing on the air.   

I have no qualms about purchasing music from sites like Atmoworks.  I bought an uncompressed double CD from them without any difficulty, saved it to CD-R, played, and continue to enjoy it.  This is currently the best method that small niche artists can reach an audience.  Those that are serious about their music will take the time, money, and effort to build a website.  Not every artist can be picked up by small, indy labels like Hypnos. The Hypnos' can't afford to release glass mastered CDs of every good artist in their genre.

One can lament about the passing of the CD and the current state of music, but it is inevitable.  But music is malleable, and in the last 100 years it has endured incredible technological changes in its delivery to the listener's ears:  sheet music and live performance, hand cranked Victrolas, primitive radio, movies, 78s, 45s, LPs, cassettes, CDs, MP3, internet, etc.  I have faith that it will continue and those that are enterprising and creative will endure and be rewarded.  There has never been a better time in music's history where the obscure and fringe can now be heard. True, there's a lot of junk out there, but the gems are there.
« Last Edit: March 08, 2008, 09:19:32 AM by MarkM »

Wayne Higgins

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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #3 on: March 10, 2008, 07:39:08 AM »
Does anyone else consider that the ease of burning and making cds which has happened over the past 10 years has cheapened the view of cds themselves?  To me, cds went from being the "new desired technology" to the "equilivalence of a blank tape" (and much cheaper).  If you can buy 50 blank cds for $15, why are you paying $15 for a new one.  Try not to look at this from an audiophile standpoint but from an everyday consumer standpoint.  I believe that the advancement of the technology has pushed itself out of business.

As far as MP3s, the debate continues.  96 kbs is not nearly as good as 256 kbs, but how many people realize that there is even a difference?  Also, how many people can tell the difference between a 256 kbs mp3 file played on a good mp3 playback system and a cd?  Early cds did not sound as good as vinyl, then 24 bit remasters sounded as good, or to some, better than vinyl, now the comparisson is mp3 to cd to vinyl to cassette and 8-track (thanks for mentioning, MarkM!).  Why is it hardly anyone mentions the quality/creativity of the music itself.  If the music industry is going down the tubes, maybe it's because the music industry is only promoting music that sucks.  Kind of like disco in the seventies.
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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #4 on: March 10, 2008, 09:49:58 AM »
I like digital downloads as well as pressed CD’s. I also like the anticipation & receipt of mailer packages with, say a Hypnos or an ECM release inside.

With downloads I like a lot, I’ll save the zipped file to CD-R and store in case the original burned disc gets damaged and I sometimes tweak the artwork in Illustrator then print out the jewel case card.

I think the bottom line is: if I want the music, I’ll acquire it, whether that  be picking it up at a Borders store, via mail or digital download.

Wayne makes a good point re: creativity. Usually, when someone tells me about their (or their kid’s) I-Pod, they’ll simply tell me the quantity of songs it carries. They’ll rarely say “I have Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin, Ozone Player or Viridian Sun" (actually I’d near faint if they said V-Sun). And what runs through my mind is “quantity, not quality"...

...but I guess it all depends upon what role music plays in one’s life. I make cross-faded ambient & electronic  mixes from my purchases...others simply play music to fill the awkward silence that would otherwise engulf their day.

To each their own.

jdh

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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #5 on: March 10, 2008, 08:06:21 PM »
Well said responses.I agree,that music in one form or another,will be around forever,from the original musical instrument live to a digital reproduction.Downloads are brilliant and the wave of the future,or the present even,and I am all for it.However,for now,the quality is not there yet in terms of audio production,and that means a great deal,probably the engineer in me.If it means missing  out on great music  but on mediocre mediums,so be it.All the popular labels here,Hypnos,Atmo,Databloem,I have both pressed CDs and CD-Rs,and I would say,to my ears,that all the CD-R products are missing something compared to the pressed CDs,sonically,not to mention that some have become distorted pieces of plastic,not all but many.There is something to be said for mastering studios and manufacturing plants though I understand this is not feasible for most indy labels.I question whether MP3s are better sonically than cassette,and certainly,CDs are no better than LPs,so to me, there has been a downgrading of sound,not an upgrade but in terms of convience,no question,CDs and MP3s are the way to go.Atmo,to my understanding,does not offer any pressed CDs anymore on new artists,just downloads so I no longer have the option of choosing.To each his own though,exactly right in the end.

jkn

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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #6 on: March 11, 2008, 04:29:33 AM »
I've been in many debates over the last 8 or 9 years about cdr's vs. cd's vs. vinyl vs. mp3's.   There's definitely a personal taste issue involved and also technical innovations over the years playing into this.   Early cdr's didn't work on every cd player - especially if you had an older model cd player.   Early cdr's sold by artists and labels weren't always made in the best manner.   Comparing early cdr's to currently produced one - or to labels releasing cdr's currently like Hypnos, dataObscura, or AtmoWorks - it's not a truly fair comparison in quality.   It's the same as comparing a cd manufactured in the mid-80's to one made only 5 or 10 years later.   Or cheap, thin vinyl compared to heavy weight carefully mastered vinyl... 

I'm a new co-owner of AtmoWorks - although I've been friends with them and followed them closely for years.    For our new cdr releases, we're investigating having them custom printed and duplicated at a plant.  This is primarily to save time as it's a very intensive process to burn and print the artwork and assemble a cdr.    The printing directly on disc is a nice improvement for me.     I haven't seen the samples yet, although my co-owners have and are extremely pleased.   Downloads are the future of music - there's no denying this.   As a label, we know a lot of people still prefer a physical product - and we'll be releasing both downloads and cdr options on future releases and we're discussing releasing some older download only titles on cdr to give everyone the option.   We're also discussing releasing some of the cdr only titles from several years ago as downloads.

I have a ton of cdr's made by Hypnos, dataObscura, AtmoWorks, Dark Duck, Microrelease, Deepchord, Red Antenna...  I've had no problems with any of the releases on these labels with a couple of minor exceptions that aren't an issue now (for example - my cousin's band made cdr's and put too thick of a label on them so it wouldn't play in my car... or someone at Red Antenna made a normal human error and burnt a compressed version to disc instead of the full version - which they replaced quickly - of course, I'm thinking back to 2002 on this one).   
« Last Edit: March 11, 2008, 05:29:53 AM by jkn »
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Wayne Higgins

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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #7 on: March 11, 2008, 10:05:39 AM »
Just a bit to add to what I wrote yesterday.  This is written more towards the industry and marketting than sound quality or technology.

My son and I were talking about this issue.  He is 25.  He agreed, with more intent than I mentioned, that music today pretty much sucks.  I think it's quite odd that a large percentage of younger people today are listening to old music (classic rock such as Led Zep, Van Halen, Hendrix, ect.)   His favorite band happens to be Jethro Tull.  You can argue that things are very different today, but what I mean be "being odd" is that when I was 15-25, I NEVER listened to the music my parents listened to.  No one could even imagine a party in 1979 where everyone was sitting around listening to Nat King Cole, Buck Owens, or Stan Getz.  I do now, but back then, no way.  We had our own music to listen to.  The kids today, from 12-38, do not have "their own music".  Rap just doesn't cut it for many, and pop is always pop.  My son does like bands like Green Day, Rage Against the Machine, System of a Down, Audioslave.  He's not only into old stuff (besides, I got him into Disturbed and Cannible Corpse. :D)  Over all point remains.  The industry isn't going anywhere because the segment of the population with the most money to spend on entertainment (which has always been teenagers) just doesn't like what's available.
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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #8 on: March 11, 2008, 05:17:51 PM »
I don't know if this is the norm or not, but my 22-year son is disenchanted with a lot of the music dispensed via radio and TV. He and his friends spends a lot of their free time on YouTube looking for wacky videos as well as music videos.  He's been coming up with some vintage Raymond Scott, Chemical Bros., Aphex Twin, James Brown, etc.  Perhaps YouTube and the like are the new media for that generation's music.

APK

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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #9 on: March 11, 2008, 09:03:10 PM »
All the popular labels here,Hypnos,Atmo,Databloem,I have both pressed CDs and CD-Rs,and I would say,to my ears,that all the CD-R products are missing something compared to the pressed CDs, sonically, not to mention that some have become distorted pieces of plastic,not all but many.There is something to be said for mastering studios and manufacturing plants though I understand this is not feasible for most indy labels.I question whether MP3s are better sonically than cassette,and certainly,CDs are no better than LPs,so to me,

Well, I think we've probably had this discussion before, Jordan, but its hard to believe you can hear a distinction between CD and CDr ... provided what's put on both is the identical Master disk, and the CD was well-pressed and the CDr was burned at a reasonably slow speed. My experience of CDs is that both CDr and pressed CDs last equally well ... in fact I've had more trouble with pressed ones going bad in my collection (though its statistically insignificant). Where what you say rings true, and LOUDLY so, is in the realm of mastering. There can be a seriously significant difference between a pro mastered album and an amateur job. And clearly, with everyone and his dog releasing albums that receive absolutely no mastering attention on many web labels it is clear why many CDr releases might sound not so good. When money is put into a pressed release it is likely that more time is put into it too, to get it right. To justify the expense. I know that some labels just put out what an artist hands them ... no changes. This is like thinking everyone is a recording and mastering engineer. Or can become one overnight. Its crazy. Its a skill, and one that requires practice and time ... it isn't just a matter of "normalizing" to the max. So yep, a lot of music in our realm is not produced well, and it's more than likely the material on CDr or mp3 (which is probably the majority). But this is not to say because its CDr it can't be as good as pressed, only that the chances are it is not produced as well.

That's how I see it.




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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #10 on: March 11, 2008, 09:17:26 PM »
I have probably been buying more CDRs than CDs recently, having stumbled upon several groups I've enjoyed on microlabels such as Foxglove that only release on CDR.  I've found that CDRs are less forgiving of surface scratches than CDs.  This may be due to the fact that the CDR "burning" is dye-based, while the digital information on CDs is etched on by manufacture.  The method of storage/packaging may be a key consideration.  Anthony's fine CDRs may be less likely to act up, because they are securely packed in a slimline plastic case.  Some CDRs I've purchased that are packaged in a paper or cardboard sleeve have not fared that well in the scratch department.

Forrest

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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #11 on: March 12, 2008, 09:30:03 AM »
I couldn't agree with APK more on this subject.  There is no real difference in audio quality due to the actual disc itself.  In fact, if anyone is sitting there straining to hear the supposed "differences" between the two then they are really missing out on the experience the music offers.  It's all about the mastering.  Mastering is an artform and one that I take seriously.  I master all of my own albums and take great care in sound quality when doing so.  I think that also improves the sound of MP3s as well.  The reason why a lot of cdrs and MP3s sound bad is because garbage was put in there to begin with.  Don't blame the media or format, blame the person doing the mixing and mastering.  The beatles sounded great on analog tape, cassettes, LPs, etc.  One doesn't need the high resolution that only dogs can hear in order to sound good.  It's getting way too technical about the process and missing the point of the art.  That's why a little hiss in analog tape never bothered me much.  It's just the grain of the film as far I'm concerned.

As far as the "state of the music business", it is what is is.  It's a dying business format and has nothing to do with the quality of music being produced.  There's a lot of bad music out there and there's a lot of good music as well.  I don't think that ever changes.  Humans creating art is a timeless process.  The business model is what is being destroyed and people that are accustomed to the major labels deciding what is good for them are missing out on finding good music on their own.  Go and find it!  The internet is a great tool for that.  Don't worry about "the state"!  It's a liberating time to be a musician and to realize there's so much good stuff out there.  If I wanna waste my time plastering my ears against the monitors and trying to see if there's a couple bits missing from an MP3 that were on the cd, then I've completely lost the value that was offered to me....

VU

LNerell

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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #12 on: March 12, 2008, 09:56:09 AM »
when I was 15-25, I NEVER listened to the music my parents listened to.  No one could even imagine a party in 1979 where everyone was sitting around listening to Nat King Cole, Buck Owens, or Stan Getz.  I do now, but back then, no way.  We had our own music to listen to.

I can concur that, in fact I remember it going so far as you were identified by your favorite band.

Quote from: APK
My experience of CDs is that both CDr and pressed CDs last equally well ... in fact I've had more trouble with pressed ones going bad in my collection.

My experience is 180 degrees different. Most of the bad discs I have bought over the years that no longer work are CDrs, including the few Atmos discs I own, and its not because of scratches its because the dye has faded over time. CDrs are more susceptible to UV damage, when I worked for Philips Media we tested this out. We burned two discs, one we put away out of the sun, the other we put in a window with the dye side exposed. After about a month you could see the difference, the color was not as bright as the control disc. And when we attempted to play them the exposed disc had many more errors then the one we didn't expose to the sun.

Quote from: Vir Unis
There is no real difference in audio quality due to the actual disc itself.  In fact, if anyone is sitting there straining to hear the supposed "differences" between the two then they are really missing out on the experience the music offers.  It's all about the mastering.

Not quite true, I have heard differences in burned and pressed CDs. The difference mainly being in the way the disc is burned. If you burn a disc at too fast a rate then you get more errors and a worse sound. If a disc is burned at an optimal rate then their should be no real difference. Of course mastering is important but has no relevance in a debate between the differences of CDrs and pressed CDs.

Personally I think if you are going to go to all the trouble of having discs burned and printed at a factory then why not go the whole way and have them pressed?

Of course the funny part is I am typing this in my new office which contains multiply CDr duplicators, along with some old cassette duplicators and some DAT recorders.  :P Anyone wants some copies made?  ;D
Take care.

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jkn

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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #13 on: March 12, 2008, 10:26:19 AM »

I think the music business is in a state of flux... then again - to not think it wasn't in a state of flux 10, 20, 30 years ago is a humorous thought as well.  The world changes - the music business is changing along with it.   

Loren's right - a badly made cdr is a badly made cdr.   I don't know of any labels typically mentioned here that make bad cdr's.   A correctly made cdr should sound identical to a pressed cd.   There's no difference in the 1's and 0's going onto the disc.   

APK and Vir Unis nailed it with the mastering, care, and craftsmanship argument.   People that care and go the extra mile to make things right will make good recordings regardless of media.

Whether to press or duplicate - that's a good question.   Reality is that for short runs of a release - pressing just doesn't make financial sense.  Many, many labels and artists have realized this over the last 5 or 10 years.   It's a lot cheaper per unit to get 1,000 or 1,500 pressed of a cd - however, if there's only a market for few hundred units sold... it may take many years to break even on just that release.    A cdr run either at home or through a duplication plant is higher priced per unit, but the much smaller run makes it work out for the label or artist releasing.

Good points from everyone.   

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APK

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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #14 on: March 12, 2008, 11:16:10 AM »
Yes, as Loren said, CDr disks are certainly prone to deterioration from uv radiation ... its their main failing. They must be stored our of sunlight. Which is probably an argument for opaque cases.  UV radiation, and heat, are bad for most unprotected plastics. I'd imagine pressed disks suffer to some degree in dirrect sunlight too.
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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #15 on: March 12, 2008, 11:52:43 AM »
Absolutely if you burn a disc too fast there will be problems, but not with the actual sound quality, just with the playback of that quality.  Digital sound is a transparent medium, it doesn't color or distort the sound.  If it's digital at 44.1 khz then it's gonna be that regardless of what medium it's on.  Any possible problems would be in the interpretation of that by A/D converters or the quality of the burn.

I like what Johnny Greenwood (Radiohead) said about audio.... (and this quote btw is paraphased as I remember it from MOJO, not word for word)...."Hi-fi is for middle aged men trying to recreate the sound of their youth.  No matter how many audiophile systems they buy they'll never get it to sound the way it sounded coming out of that one speaker when they were 18...."

I think we get too caught up in the minuteau about cdrs, mp3s, pressed cds, etc....All things degrade whether they are cds, cdrs, vinyl, cassettes, etc.  Store things as best as you can and make back up copies every now and then and be done with it....Play the music imbibe the spirit of what's going on and be thankful for the space provided in which you can indulge yourself in sound....I'm not gonna worry about radiation deteriorating my discs 5-10 years from now or plaster my head against some speakers thinking that some of the bits and bytes might be different on my burned cd....Just seems odd to me, no offense to anyone.

jkn

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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #16 on: March 12, 2008, 12:29:54 PM »
Yes, as Loren said, CDr disks are certainly prone to deterioration from uv radiation ... its their main failing. They must be stored our of sunlight. Which is probably an argument for opaque cases.  UV radiation, and heat, are bad for most unprotected plastics. I'd imagine pressed disks suffer to some degree in dirrect sunlight too.

I let a friend borrow my Cocteau Twins - Pink Opaque record (the vinyl kind)... he left it on his dashboard (idiot!) - it was so warped afterwards it had this weird warbled wavy sound to it when played.   ;)

Cassettes would stretch and break.   mp3 files can be deleted with one good hard drive crash. 
« Last Edit: March 12, 2008, 02:49:37 PM by jkn »
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Wayne Higgins

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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #17 on: March 12, 2008, 02:58:29 PM »
and don't forget that wonderful feeling driving down the highway and your 8-track tape getting eaten by the player.

One other thing about the music business today that puzzles me.  I will factor in the ever increasing variable of gasoline prices, but in the 70's, concerts were huge and plentiful.  It's sad when I go to clubs to hear new music by some band that's on tour, travelling the country, and less than 50 people are out to see them.  It's not that the music isn't good, it's just that the difference between big popular bands and the little underground bands are extreme.  I know there is good music out there, I just spent the day listening to lots of new stuff on VIRB sites.  Point is that when you turn on the radio, tv, sit in a theatre and hear the new sounds, its beyond garbage.  That's the reason the industry is having problems.  There are only three major labels in the world and they can't release anything even close to good.  I'm not talking about small independents that are putting out great music being produced in a basement.  It's in the overall percentages.  If 1% of the music released is getting 99% of the marketing budget (numbers are off the top of my head, so don't shoot me. albiet, I'm probably close to correct), it's not a good thing.  An industry that wants to sell a product to the population has to produce a worthwhile product.  The quality of the art should not be inversely proportional to the number of people targeted.
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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #18 on: March 14, 2008, 10:23:26 AM »
Part of the changing nature of the Record Industry is the way that music is made.
The 'democracy' of doing everything in-house (or 'in bedroom' more typically :) ) naturally has positives and negatives. One area this applies to is mastering. The tools are now affordably available (I'm referring to software here primarily). Given experience and a good ear, the artist can do a good enough job themselves. I agree with Tony's points, but there's also great sounding 'bedroom creations' out there as well.

I would imagine most ambient artists can't afford to have their work externally mastered any more than they can afford a pressed CD run (and have hundreds of lovely pressed CDs in the basement for years to come)

For most people, 256/320 kbps mp3s are indistinguishable from CD quality audio. I'm not making any judgements on this, but I agree that a higher quality option would be a welcome option for the people who are more concerned with fidelity. Ian Boddy's 'Musiczeit' venture offers Flac downloads as well as mp3s.

Personally, I don't think there's any difference between a pressed CD and CDr in terms of audio quality - unless (as has been said previously) the CDr has been burned too quickly. I also believe that audiophiles should enjoy their systems as much as most people with average to good quality gear enjoy their music collections - Depeche Mode's 'Songs of Faith and Devotion' album sounds pretty lousy to me these days, but I'm not going to stop listening to one of my favourite albums for that reason alone.

The download music genie is well and truly out of the bottle, the big record labels are doomed and piracy is rife. I wonder how the indie labels will fare in time...

cheers
Pete

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Re: State of the music business
« Reply #19 on: March 14, 2008, 07:03:26 PM »
I like what Johnny Greenwood (Radiohead) said about audio.... (and this quote btw is paraphased as I remember it from MOJO, not word for word)...."Hi-fi is for middle aged men trying to recreate the sound of their youth.  No matter how many audiophile systems they buy they'll never get it to sound the way it sounded coming out of that one speaker when they were 18...."

This is why pop stars should be muzzled! ;)