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New Music Stats – Yearning for Audio Quality

music-infographic

Here are some sobering stats that I found on the Smart Money site and a great infographic that sums them up.  The most frustrating thing for everyone in the music industry these days is the reality of digital music sales.  As you can see in the graphic, digital sales have not replaced the revenue from the good old days of CD sales and the whole pie has pretty much shriveled up.  Its kind of like hoping to eat a ripe juicy plum, closing your eyes and biting into a prune. Disappointing at best.

Until someone comes up with a new compelling digital music format, I am afraid that this trend is going to continue.  I wonder how many more years organizations like NARM and the Recording Academy (of which I am a Governor) will continue to exist, or will need to exist.  I really suggest that they start investing in research and development for new formats as soon as possible.

Last year, only 13 of the approximately 77,000 album releases sold over a million copies. That’s .00016 % folks. We are in an entirely new era for recorded music. Elvis has left the building. Those that are using recorded music to drive sales of other things like merch and tickets and books and DVDs and personal appearances and teaching gigs are making some money. But the odds of making a living from record sales are at an all time low and augering into the earth, unless something unexpected happens.

So where are the new audio formats? Does anyone care about quality anymore or are we forever satisfied with listening to music via $.50 transducers stuffed into our ears?

How do you feel about audio quality? Would an improved format make you pay something reasonable for recorded music once again, or has that train forever left the station?  I believe that the new generation of listeners for the most part have not ever really even heard high quality audio.  That is a shame.  If you grew up with an iPod as your primary music device, you probably don’t even know what I am talking about.

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8 replies
  1. ltgmusic says:

    Hi Dave, as a teenager I grew up on vinyl records. And I’m constantly frustrated by the quality of sound in MP3 or iPod devices. I guess the standards are there (reading the Wired magazine article). Its an issue of making them more economical. Also as the storage capacity grow (on the cloud or on earth…) it will make more technical sense. I’m willing to invest some money and storage to get better quality. If all sound lovers will only buy high quality formats will that start to make it more economical for all?

  2. Sacha R. Droz says:

    Dave, thank you for posting this. There are so many things wrong with the audio quality of most of today’s records that one could write about it for days. Yes, there is a lot of room for improvement with the digital audio formats used nowadays. With the increased storage and bandwidth capacity already available in industrialized countries, it may be time to consider reopening the conversation about using updated uncompressed formats capable of storing metadata. In the case of mobile devices, earbuds will also need some work as most have rather poor frequency responses (unless one is lucky enough to own a pair of fancy Ultimate Ears multi-drivers in-ear monitors). The way contemporary music is produced and mastered should also be revisited, starting by ending the loudness war discussion and standardizing loudness levels internationally (e.g. EBU R128). Finally, what’s up with all these records released containing digitally clipped/distorted material? I find it real hard to believe that a music producer or mastering engineer would, in his/her right mind, consider this as a sonic enhancement technique. Such records hurt my ears (Grammy nominated or not). Let’s fix all of this, and soon!

  3. Pierre-Emmanuel Seguin says:

    New formats? oh no! not again!
    “If you grew up with an iPod as your primary music device, you probably don’t even know what I am talking about.” The ipod is not the problem, and you’re not asking the right questions. Increasing sales by changing the format of music was an opportunity when the cd arrived (we’re talking about the 80s there…). People bought again the music they liked, but then the majors took that for granted and spent their time re-issuing the same music, most often presented as “remastered”. Well, remastered often means butchered. Listen to the 25th Anniversary edition of Thriller, the signal is savagely cut, no dynamics, distorted. It was already the case with the “Special Edition”. At the time I was ten, and I was listening to the pre-recorded tape (they were usually cheaper than LPs)…well I found the original cd edition of Thriller and…i can enjoy a full signal of it, not a loudness war patented one.
    The record industry has enjoyed misleading their listeners and habituating them to the idea that “remastered”=louder. loudness is like sugar, when you tasted it, you get used to it and you want more…until you arrive at saturation or become deaf. I agree with Sacha, stop the loudness war and you might get a positive answer from listeners.

    “Does anyone care about quality anymore or are we forever satisfied with listening to music via $.50 transducers stuffed into our ears?” oh yeah! So that is people’s fault because they have no taste and no ears. Well I refer to my first point above.
    Now comes the second point: the music industry isn’t really facilitating the life of those you care about quality of sound. let’s take an example: I like Esperanza Spalding, and I would like to buy her last album in hight resolution. HDTracks has it, 24bit/96Khz, fantastic! hang on, I can’t buy it because I don’t live in the USA. ok, someone must have it in Europe? Nope. Well i haven’t bought the album yet, it is as simple as that. But it’s fine, I discovered a lot of music on Bancamp, Qobuz, Linn, Bleep, 2L…but that might not be the kind that sells the most.
    Second point, little a: it is not rare (and for that I refer you to the site computer audiophile, section music analysis) that the music sold online (and therefore the files given by the labels), is sold as High Resolution when it is not (upsampled). Some even manage to sell dynamically compressed high resolution files (!!). And I thought the respect of the consumer was at the basis of commerce.
    Second point, little b: there are a handful of website offering music at real CD quality (FLAC/ALAC/WAV), what are the labels waiting for to provide the files! A website like Qobuz in France has a very nice catalogue, but still, some albums regularly disappear, they can’t have the High Res files that other sites have. Have a look at the stores managed by the Majors, it is plain ridiculous: all mp3, no choice, all for the top 40.

    Third point: I am a jazz scholar, and I know that an extremely large amount of records, have never been re-issued on cd…never. No, the reason is not because they are bad records, it’s because they have been forgotten. The music recording industry has no memory, but thinks that they own our culture. the culture is there for everyone to enjoy it, what is in the vaults of EMI, Universal, Warner, Sony should be released. They should be legally obliged to re-issue what hasn’t been re-issued or hand-over the tapes to some archives, or to the musicians themselves when they’re still alive. I am talking about music from the 60s that has never seen the light on cd.

    The music record industry has created the mess we’re in now, and in which the solutions, the viable solutions, that bring high recording and artistic quality online is done by independents stores and artists. It is not a question of format, the formats to listen to music in CD quality or higher are there. It is not about the ipod, it is about what you putting in, and you can put a CD on lossless format in it. And if we want to listen to music in higher resolution we can.
    Stop the loudness war, respect the consumers by selling files that are really high res, re-issue the music, stop selling fifteen thousand edition of the same thing, support the move towards selling Lossless music online and stop restraining people from buying it and then maybe things will get better.

    You say you have, or had EMI, Sony, BMG, A&M as clients, well tell them to get their act together and stop proscratinating on problems that don’t exist like this one: “So where are the new audio formats?”.

  4. davekusek says:

    Can’t agree with you more. “Stop the loudness war, respect the consumers by selling files that are really high res, re-issue the music, stop selling fifteen thousand edition of the same thing, support the move towards selling Lossless music online and stop restraining people from buying it and then maybe things will get better.”

  5. Julian Bond says:

    +1 for all of that. And I suggest you look at the dance music scene where selling files direct is the norm in your choice of wav, flac, 320kb mp3. And where the loudness war is simply not a problem because the aim is to produce more sub-bass on a huge sound system, not to try and make a pop tune grab your attention when played on a car stereo.

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