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No. 147 August 2016

MY TINY LITTLE WISHES
(about music releases)

think that for most people the situation on the music market is clear: no one knows how exactly the digital revolution 2.0 will end. A paradigm shift in which the stronger party were labels, moving sales from record stores to the Internet, a growing market share of streaming services - all these are signs of the new order of things. For now we do not know how this market will work, what form will it take.

zdj. infocours.com

Unless something unexpected happens, it will be – or so it seems - the world of an on-demand access. Streaming will be the obvious answer because no one will need to own files, an access whenever and wherever we want will be good enough. There will probably still be a niche for releases on physical mediums, mostly for vinyl records. Perhaps at some point a renaissance of CD will occur too, but it will have neither the range nor the cultural significance of vinyl renaissance.

Both Long Play and Compact Disc will be used mostly for reissues, while new music will be released as digital files. It seems obvious that there will be bands and labels directing their offer to those for whom a physical object is an important part of experiencing music. These will be products offered as strictly limited releases for a small number of potential customers and therefore they will be expensive. Regardless of everything, music will always be released. The question is - how?

Files are quite ephemeral way of distributing music, especially via streaming. They are almost completely anonymous, ie. they usually include no information about the artist, recording process, release, if necessary also about remastering, and so on. All you see on the display is the name of an artist, title and genre. Sometimes also some sort of the assessment. I think it's quite a lot - after all streaming acts as yesterday's radio and the RDS in analogue radio presented exactly the same information.

It seems that a large group of music fans is satisfied with present situation. During a conference held by the DEG (The Digital Entertainment Group), dedicated to high-resolution files, some data collected by the CTA (Consumer Technology Association) were presented. Music consumers were divided into four categories, of which 9% were not at all interested in music, for 32% of them music was very important, same as the sound quality, but they didn't care enough to actually improve sound quality they listened to and 15% who appreciated high quality sound and had systems allowing them to experience it.

The latest version of the King Crimson catalog released on Platinum SHM-CD format 7" discs with boxes and two versions of covers – it is delightful; the picture presents the debut album of the group.

At the same time, however, up to 44% listen to the music playing in the background, during their daily activities (source: Michael Fremer Sony, UMG, NARAS 'P & E Wing and Capitol Studios Present DEG Hi-Res Symposium AnalogPlanet, June 2nd, 2016, read HERE [Accessed: 06/21/2016]). It seems that they are the main consumers of streaming services.

There is still, however, the rest, ie. 47% who are more demanding consumers. For them it is important to listen to a high quality sound and - I assume – they want to be connected not only with music, but with everything that is associated with it, ie. printing (cover) and information about the artist and release. This information contained in the tags, will be significant, however, only when they listen to files stored on the local servers/discs. And that's a rare case.

Barry Fox, a journalist of the "Hi-Fi News & RR" magazine in its June issue cites the following story: he wanted to buy the Georgie Fame Swan Songs album. Because he couldn't find it in any store, in its naiveté he bought it from the iTunes store. He thought that with the music he would receive a PDF of the cover and insert, as is the case in the Linn Records shop. The only thing he actually got was, "music of poor quality, and a low-resolution cover" (Barry Fox, An insult to the music, "Hi-Fi News & RR", July 2016, p. 105).

These are the meta tags of the Led Zeppelin Coda album - half of information is missing, not to mention graphic files and hi-res cover

As it seems, it is the current standard, and the publishers do not see the necessity of providing a complete product. It does not however concern only the shops providing music for those 44% mentioned above - the same applies to labels, who should know how to do it right. I do not know how many of you bought the "limited" (up to 30 000 units :)) boxes with Led Zeppelin albums. These were beautifully prepared and released, and in addition to the physical mediums - CDs and LPs – owners received a code to download the same material in high-resolution 24/96 files. This release was clearly addressed to (a) people appreciating owning a physical music format and (b) those who have money.

The download process went smoothly. Then it turned out that the files were very poorly described, and majority of meta tags were missing, and there were no high resolution graphic files at all. What's more, despite the fact that there were two, sometimes three albums, files were not even placed in separate folders. The label apparently didn't care about it. I assume that it's not even because they ignored the problem, but because they didn't realize there was one.

The German label Edel: Content (most recently Deep Purple Now What?!) offers a purist series Triple A. In addition to the explanation of the abbreviation covers include also a precise description of recording and mastering process; These releases were prepared by our friends Birgit and Dirk Sommer (The New Mastersounds. The Hamburg Session) and Matthieu Latour (Leon Russell, The Montreux Session).

I base my observations also on the way labels present the information on the new re-issues – mainly, but not only, on LP releases. As you surely know, the vast majority of new releases uses digital files as source material instead of analog master-tapes. The buyers should be informed about this, they should know what they are actually acquiring. I think that most assume that since they buy vinyl it means they get an analog sound. And that's not entirely true. They should also know what kind of file was used for the particular release and who prepared the remaster. And again - apparently labels do not see the problem. Even with such prestigious releases as the Polish Jazz series, the analog version, one won't find any of these information. And it is important – they (releases) should feature a information: "Digital Remaster 2016" or even "Digital Remaster 24/88.2 from analogue master-tapes by Jacek Gawłowski (2016)."

On the vinyl version from 2009, for example on A Day At The Races and A Night At The Opera EMI Records indicated that it was based on the "digital remaster" from 1998.

It should be taken into account that, as a stated above, up to 15% of music buyers are people who want it, need it, for whom it is an important feature of the product. And this is an important group of potential customers as they are people who buy albums and recordings, who rarely copy material from someone else. It is them that this whole re-issue industry should target. It is easy to discourage them, and it will cost not only money but also the votes FOR – these are opinion leaders that have influence on the group of 32% who want to have high-class product, but have not yet decided to take action to achieve that. I emphasize the word yet ...

Me mentioning “money” issue was not a coincident. In a quickly changing world of music everything is ultimately revolving around it - labels, artists and vendors want to make money of music – there is nothing wrong about it. But if they really care about their profits, about people with money willing to spend it on music, this group demanding high quality sound and fully-fledged products is crucial to achieve that. A large part of them still does and will listen to CDs. I see this as an opportunity for small labels such as, for example, GAD Records, Kameleon Records and so on. The re-issues produced by them are very well prepared and offer a really good sound. The only thing they lack is a product that would be perceived as an exclusive one.

The re-release of Kraftwerk catalog of 2009 was accurately described on LPs: "Digital master 2009"

Kameleon Records every now and then follows the right path, releasing discs as "mini-LPs". But what would have happened if these were released as 7" ones, just as Japanese labels release their re-issues (most recently with the King Crimson catalog)? If GAD Records released in such form SBB, Komendarek and Polish Jazz albums, I could guarantee that they would sell the whole lot immediately. They could think about preparing exact replicas of the original printing, and additional information could be printed on OBI, similar to that which many Japanese editions feature. These wouldn't need to be large editions - 300 pieces would be a lot – but it would have to be numbered, perfectly executed, exclusive. These could also be much more expensive than regular jewel-case edition.

The German label Stockist keeps experimenting with all kinds of possible combinations – it pressed vinyl from analog media, digital DSD and produces Direct-To Disc albums. Whatever the combination owner learn everything about it from the cover.

And what if we could press these releases in Japan? It is not so impossible as it might seem – let me remind you that the Japanese label Belle Records did a great job giving us four SBB albums with additional box. And maybe one could boldly think even about XRCD version - after all, we know Mr. Kazuo Kiuchi, co-owner of the format, the producer of numerous XRCD24 releases. I do not know whether large label would be interested in such undertaking but maybe these small, specialists ones would? The problem will be to get a license, but then it would be in the interest of all of us if the big labels shared their catalogs; after all it would be great advertisement for them too.

Compact Discs can also be nicely described – the photo presents the latest album produced by Mr. Kazuo Kiuchi (Combak Corporation): Fausto Mesolella Live ad Alcatraz fone / Master Music NT017, XRCD24 (2014/2016).

The meeting Michael Fremer described was surprising for him because he found out that labels, even the big ones, are beginning to pay attention to these consumers, for whom the sound and product quality matter. It is therefore not surprising that he concluded that the meeting organized by The Digital Entertainment Group made sense:

Label listen. What about consumers? Only time will tell but for now better times for those who care about sound quality are coming.

Instead of being happy about current state of affairs lets keep demanding complete, fully fledged products with metatags and graphical information (files), with information about the type of mastering and signal source (vinyl), as well as the exclusive releases (CD). It is worth to pay for such products - I'm ready to do it, what about you?

WOJCIECH PACUŁA
Chief Editor

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Our reviewers regularly contribute to  “Enjoy the Music.com”, “Positive-Feedback.com”“HiFiStatement.net”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

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