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You gotta love Neil’s honesty. We owe it all to artists to stand up to what they believe in and drive us forward. Without them, we would have nothing.

“Still the searcher
must ride the dark horse
Racing alone in his fright.”

“I’m finding that I have a little bit of trouble with the quality of the sound of music today,” says Neil Young. “I don’t like it. It just makes me angry. Not the quality of the music, but we’re in the 21st century and we have the worst sound that we’ve ever had. It’s worse than in 1978. Where are our geniuses? What happened?”

I can’t agree more.  We need a new format that breathes life into the music industry by improving the quality of the sound that we listen to.   If you are under the age of 22, I will bet that most of you have never really heard a great audio recording.  You don’t even know what I am talking about.

This issue is vital to the future of the music business.  What we have today with the proliferation of ear buds as the primary listening medium and compressed MP3 files is a low res music experience that is the bottom of the barrel, lowest common denominator form of a listening experience there can be.  Really listening to music is simply lost on most people these days, and as a result the art form has lost the majority of its value.

It commonly accepted that crappy sounding music is the norm and people, by and large, have no idea what they are missing.  The MP3 has stripped the emotional value from music today and has reduced it to a commodity.  The audio business has truly been compressed and marginalized and is nearing extinction.  We cannot let that happen to the music business.

As artists, “We can’t control the back end of the donkey, laments Young.  The donkey has two ends, products like Beats and Bose and every little product that comes out for your car, the whole thing – is all about the back end of the donkey.  There is nothing talking about the front end of the donkey, that’s what I’m talking about.  You don’t have to that rich to do this, you just have to be smart…  We are in the low res world, make no mistake that is right where we are…

“I look at the internet as the new radio.  I look at the radio as gone…  People change and do their music, people trade it they do whatever and Apple makes it very possible for you to store stolen or traded songs in the cloud, they opened up the door so that that can happen… its acceptable.  Thats the way it is… Piracy is the new radio, that’s how music gets around, thats the real world for kids, thats the (new) radio… Lets let them really hear it.

“I’m hoping that some people who want the hi-res would have the choice in buying it.  It has to be convenient, people should not associate hi-res with inconvenience.  That’s a myth, we’re living in the 21st century and all of these things are possible.  The technology exists, the internet is fast enough to support it…  If Steve Jobs had lived long enough, he would be eventually have done what I am trying to do.”

Quality.  We need a new format that will deliver better quality sound to drive the business forward.  Period.  Here is a true clarion call for innovation, and something that we all need to pay attention to.   Neil Young cares about music. He is successful enough that he could sit back and ignore the realities of the marketplace today, but instead chooses to push the agenda forward. Awesome. I would not be surprised to hear a new song from Neil about a donkey.  Maybe I can sing backup on it.

See the video with Neil Young and Walt Mossberg from All things D here.

Here is a brief description of some of the technical issues from Thinkdigit.  “The renewed focus on audio quality in some circles has a sense of déjà vu about it. Some of it recalls the 1970s, back when the term “high fidelity” was thrown around to indicate quality stereo recordings. We also saw this go around again at the turn of the millennium with the introduction of SACD and DVD Audio formats, which brought 24-bit fidelity and surround sound to audio mixes, although neither took off at the time.

So what’s going on here? In a word, it’s about data. More data translates to better-sounding audio files—but those files are largely unavailable to most consumers. Granted, to the casual listener, Amazon MP3 and Apple iTunes Store sound pretty good, as they’re encoded as 256Kbps MP3 and AAC files for the most part. Amazon has some MP3 files encoded at variable bit rates, but most of them center around the 224Kbps to 256Kbps range. AAC generally sounds slightly better than MP3 when encoded at the same bit rate, although recent improvements in MP3 encoding algorithms have largely rendered this academic.

Aside from music purchases, 256Kbps is also iTunes’ default encoding rate for when you rip audio CDs in iTunes (although you can change it), and it’s the size iCloud uses to deliver tracks to other PCs or mobile devices on your network if you’re a subscriber. I’m just using Apple products here as an example; Windows Media Player, Winamp, and countless other apps do similar things. Any way you cut it, 256Kbps files sound a lot better than ones encoded at 128Kbps, which is what Apple used years ago before it removed DRM from its iTunes Store tracks. Granted, 256Kbps files take up twice the space as 128Kbps files, but on today’s devices, that usually isn’t a problem, and the improved sound quality is worth it.

The thing is, 256Kbps still isn’t enough. Higher-resolution, uncompressed, 16-bit audio files match the sound you get on an actual CD. 24-bit sound files even sound better; the increased headroom matches the format most artists and mix engineers have been working in over the past decade or so.

Cheap consumer electronics manufacturers abused the phrase “CD-quality” for many years, but in this case it still has meaning. True CD-quality files take up anywhere from three to 10 times as much as space as an MP3 or AAC file, depending on the latter’s bit rate; 24-bit files take up even more space. They come in several formats: FLAC, WAV, AIFF, and Apple Lossless. (FLAC and Apple Lossless contain some data compression but only in a method that doesn’t affect sound quality. FLAC is much more widely supported than Apple Lossless, though.)”

And finally, The Tennessean wrote a great piece on the lure of high fidelity and what some people in Nashville are working on to bring it back.
More to come.  This is a big issue.  Chime in on what you think and how can we move this agenda forward.

Here is a guest post excerpt from my friend and artist MC Lars from the Huffington Post UK.

“In last week’s State of the Union, President Obama stressed the importance of creatively revitalising our nation’s economy. He called for “an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values,” the blueprint for lasting domestic prosperity. There are some parallels to this shift in thinking in today’s indie rap game, specifically in application of sustainable new media economics.”

“What this means then is that in order for artists like me to survive, I must be creative with how I let people hear my music. A primary means of distribution in 2011 was my USB robot, a two-gigabyte hard drive keychain that housed all of my albums digitally. I also sell t-shirts with cartoon characters I draw myself and I try to print on shirts manufactured domestically when I can. 47% of my income comes from merchandise, 40% from ticket sales, and 13% comes from iTunes, Spotify or other paid music services through the internet. I used a crowdsourced funding site called Kickstarter to produce my last album, with added bonuses of drawings and personalized songs to the highest contributors.

If the internet were compromised or regulated to the point where the 13% of my traditional digital income (from iTunes, Spotify, and others) were to disappear, it could likely mean that people would turn to getting my music for free, which would then mean that I would need more ticket and t-shirt sales in order to maintain my income level. (My income, by the way, covers my expenses, taxes, and health insurance, and that’s it.)

“Economically, we are living in an era that takes us back to the punk and indie roots of the 70s and 80s. Musicians must be able to go out and perform for years in small clubs to tiny crowds; it’s the way one perfects his or her craft and pays his or her dues. It’s how bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat became legendary, they had explosive, powerful shows and were willing to sacrifice everything to make their music heard. Henry Rollins of Black Flag tells his story in his classic book of journals, Get in the Van, an important read for any indie musician today.

We live in an era of innovative fusion of old and new. Being a musician no longer means simply being a songwriter and performer. One must also know a little bit about business, branding, t-shirt design, social networking, production, publicity, accounting and tour managing.

Ultimately, what this is means is that if you own and run your own business, no one can take that away from you. (The MPAA and RIAA exist to maintain the status quo of the entertainment industry, but I don’t need someone with a large salary lobbying for my interests as an artist when that person is disconnected from the reality of new media economics that I’ve described above.)

The internet in its current free and open format is important to me as an independent indie rap musician and artist. In fact the internet is essential to me and to all of the other artists who are like me. The government’s harnessing and regulating the internet and its free flow of information would be a dangerous thing in that it could lead to government control of a very important channel of a portion of the income that I earn – and through which I express myself freely, exercising my First Amendment rights as an artist.”

Read the whole thing here from the Huff Post UK.

I had the good fortune of meeting Matthew Daniel of R2G in China a couple of weeks ago. He presented his thoughts on the Chinese music market and reconciling the intrinsic value of music over there. It is very interesting that Intellectual Property has had very little monetary value in China and they are struggling with a situation that the rest of the world is just beginning to learn about.

Music in China has essentially always been free. They are now just trying to put structures in place to encourage people to pay for recorded music. Access and Convenience are the keys to his strategy. Lots of lessons to be learned for sure.

“While commercial music consumption has never been more widespread in the known history of man, and with the Internet offering the most capacious vehicle the world has ever seen to disseminate the near infinite body of musical works that exists universally to the greatest number of people, the existing music industry powers-that-be have yet to formulate a system to set this music free – even 10 years after Napster showed the way technologically.

And as elements in the music industry still continue to control the amount of legally accessible music to consumers, and only feed them the acts from which it can make the most money while keeping its vast catalogs in obviously porous vaults, other companies and intermediaries have capitalized on the clarion call to set the music free in all senses of the word. But some of these very companies and intermediaries are themselves simply in the game to enrich themselves via other ancillary services and products which use the pull of music and the accompanying audience, with minimal revenues trickling back to the very creators of the music.

Whilst this tug-of-war continues, one casualty is the increasing reference to music as a commodity,which is a gross misrepresentation of what music really is. Music is food for the soul which creates an emotional attachment with the listener and where it strikes a chord, an intrinsic value in the music is realized.

The industry needs to re-focus on this value in music that many seem to have forgotten, and which others have seemed to have contributed to its devaluation.”

Here is a link to Matthew’s Blog and his presentation from the Transmission Conference I recently attended in Vancouver.

British Music Rights survey on music consumption of people aged 14-24. The average age of respondents was 22. This is the largest UK academic survey of its kind.

* 14-24 year olds love music – arguably more than any previous generation.

Well I am not quite sure about this one, but lets move on.

* But their consumption of music is changing significantly – the perceived value of sharing, recommendation and copying have all increased.

The world has changed for the digital kids.

* The upshot? Emotional importance does not correlate with spending – especially compared to other entertainment sectors.

* Around 90% of respondents now own an MP3 player. They contain an average of 1770 tracks – half of which have not been paid for.

IMPORTANT TO NOTE – the MP3 player is only about 8 years old.

* 58% have copied music from a friend’s hard drive to their own, and 95% copy music in some way.

* 63% download music using P2P file-sharing networks.

* 42% have allowed P2P users to upload music from their computer. Much of this behaviour is viewed as altruistic.

* 80% of current P2P users would be interested in a legal file-sharing
service – and they would pay for it too.

* The CD is not dead. Even if a legal file-sharing service existed, over 60% say they would continue to buy CDs.

* Money spent on live music exceeds that spent on recorded music

This is all very good news for the music industry.

British Rights Survey

Great to see a band of this stature make a bold move like this.  Radiohead has released their latest album "In Rainbows" online and for free, if you want it.  They will also accept whatever amount you wish to pay for the songs.  Brilliant!

Bertis Downs, manager of R.E.M., says "This is the sort of model that people have been talking about doing,
but this is the first time an act of this stature has stepped up and
done it. . . . They were a band that could go off the grid, and they
did it."

Just watch what happens when they launch their tour!  Tickets, t-shirts, hats, box sets, other goods – watch the cash register ring.  KA-CHING

LA Times reported the story on Sunday.

Good reporting from the NYT, as usual. 

Some of my favorite morsels are below, plus my comments.

Link: Music Labels – EMI – New York Times.

NYT:
"Despite costly efforts to build buzz around new talent and thwart
piracy, CD sales have plunged more than 20 percent this year, far
outweighing any gains made by digital sales at iTunes and similar
services. Aram Sinnreich, a media industry consultant at Radar Research
in Los Angeles, said the CD format, introduced in the United States 24
years ago, is in its death throes. “Everyone in the industry thinks of
this Christmas as the last big holiday season for CD sales,” Mr.
Sinnreich said, “and then everything goes kaput…”

Gerd says: guess there IS hope: once the pain is big enough, changing
seems like a real option, all of a sudden – that is what we are seeing
now. Maybe this ship really has to be steered into the cliffs first,
after all?  Call me an optimist but I used to think there were
other options ;). My 2 cents: if you have the guts CHANGE NOW, you can
still own a good chunk of the market, and prosper.  But: band-aids are
over – it’s time for real, hard-core changes. Drop copy-protection (at
least for now – until something can be used that is of super-value to
the USER!), tell the users, fans & artists that you screwed up, go
for flexible pricing and bundles, package music into other media, offer
agency-type deals to artists, become completely transparent and drop
the ‘secret sauce’ antics, and start using syndication as the prime
vehicle of promotion, marketing and distribution. It’s not the COPY – it’s the ACCESS. It’s not Prevention – it’s Participation.

NYT: "For the companies that choose to plow ahead, the question is how to
weather the worsening storm. One answer: diversify into businesses that
do not rely directly on CD sales or downloads. The biggest one is music
publishing, which represents songwriters (who may or may not also be
performers) and earns money when their songs are used in TV
commercials, video games or other media…"

Gerd says: ok, now, I have talked about this until the cows came
home, but here is again: switch to music as a service. Again: never
mind the copies – the next big thing is offering ACCESS. Brands.
Experiences. Added Values. Stuff that only you can provide – together
with the artists. Values and experiences can’t just be downloaded.

Picture_3_2
NYT: "But very few albums have gained traction. And that is compounded by the
industry’s core structural problem: Its main product is widely
available free. More than half of all music acquired by fans last year
came from unpaid sources including Internet file sharing and CD
burning, according to the market research company NPD Group. The
“social” ripping and burning of CDs among friends — which takes place
offline and almost entirely out of reach of industry policing efforts —
accounted for 37 percent of all music consumption, more than
file-sharing, NPD said…."

Gerd says: sounds like an obvious problem – it’s all out there for
free so they stopped buying. But the thing is that this is not the real
problem. ‘Free distribution’ is a blessing not a curse, and P2P /
Super-Dustribution will emerge as the main mechanism for digital
distribution in the next 3 years (and not just for music). Rather, it
is – still seriously counter-assumptive, and beyond grasp of
most of the incumbents of ‘music1.0’ – the unfailing desire to, at any
cost (including self-destruction), want to control the ecosystem that
the large music companies must keep in check – and then we can understand and monetize what people actually do
with technology. They are doing this because they like the music and
the artists, not because they want to  do as much damage as they can –
YOU simply have not given them good enough options to act differently.

If the model of uber-control over music distribution isn’t working
any longer, wouldn’t it make sense to try to come up with a new model?
Lesser control does not mean zero revenues. There is life after selling
expensive copies of plastic, or indeed of 0s and 1s. Trust me.