Dr. AIX's POSTS — 28 October 2014

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I had breakfast with a close friend this morning in Venice, California. Richard is in town with his daughter to visit USC and check out the music industry program there. His father was the founder and head of a major UK-based record label back in the 60’s and his aunt was one of the leads in “Help”, the second Beatles movie.

He knows the record industry and follows technology as a consultant and expert. It’s always fun to get together and share what’s been going on in our lives. It’s been 8 months since we last had breakfast at the same cafe on Washington Boulevard.

We talked about a variety of things…the school, family, music, my encounter with Sprint in July, Amazon and an artist that he’s been working with Prince Ea, who’s getting lots of views on YouTube and FB. Turns out you can get millions of views on FB and not generate any revenue…no big surprise. Music is not valued. It’s just something to share with friends.

Then he said, “Last month was the lowest month for music sales on record”. I was not really shocked. When was the last time you purchased a CD…or even a vinyl LP? Audiophiles are certainly willing to spend more money than the average Joe, but with streaming and YouTube becoming the norm in music consumption, it’s no wonder that the music business continues to struggle. Even my wife is using the Apple TV in our media room to stream music through our home theater instead of playing CDs or the radio. There is a fundamental shift taking place these days. And it doesn’t bode well for music regardless of fidelity.

High-resolution audio amounts to about 2% of sales. And that’s not even the real stuff! Vinyl LPs are another 2%. Where is the other 96%? Well about half is happening at sites like iTunes and the other half comes from compact discs. There’s additional money being generated by licensing to the movies and games, but it’s important to recognize that fidelity isn’t a driving factor when it comes to music sales.

Music is important. There is more music being played and consumed than at any other period but the reality is fewer and fewer people are playing for it. There’s just no value in spending the time and money to produce music when it ends up spread across the web for free. I appreciate that AIX fans are willing to support my efforts and purchase our recordings. Thursday, I’ll fly to Toronto to the TAVES show and stand in front of a sales table for three days telling people how great music recordings can be. But we live in a bubble.

The music industry train has left the station and frankly I’m uncertain whether it’ll come back. Richard’s daughter and my engineering students may get a great education in the music business and audio engineering but if there’s no one purchasing music…what good will it do them? High-resolution music is not the savior of the music industry as some people have imagined. We’re a blip on the screen with sales in the 100 of thousands not millions. When was the last time a record went Platinum? It hasn’t happened this year.

Brace yourselves…there will be more new record lows.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(16) Readers Comments

  1. If musicians cannot make money because recorded music is not being purchased anymore, they may increase concert tickets, but there is a limit to how much people will pay for one evening. So, are we heading to a few decades of little new music being produced? Hopefully, the collectives who draw copyrights from music exhibition, reproduction and telecommunication may succeed in getting better copyright laws and tariffs, so enough earnings may trickle down again to musicians.

    • Music will continue to be created. But the nature of the business and the money derived from it is undergoing a fundamental change.

    • One point I keep hearing that simply amazes me is how some streaming services may be overpriced. I think the polar opposite is true and, for what they deliver, they are a stunning bargain. I would gladly pay more per month if I knew that better royalties were going to the artists, if only to stem the hyper inflation that’s been going on with concert ticket prices in recent years – doubtless to compensate for reduced earnings from sales of music etc.

      • From what I’ve seen and read, the artists are getting screwed in the streaming model. Too bad but this is going to be the way.

  2. Mark wrote: “Music is important. There is more music being played and consumed than at any other period but the reality is fewer and fewer people are playing for it. There’s just no value in spending the time and money to produce music when it ends up spread across the web for free.”

    If no one records it then it won’t be available to spread across the ‘net for free – it won’t exist as a recorded medium.

    However, talented musicians will always exist, we may have to watch them live, or maybe we can bring our own recording devices and (for a fee maybe) record them ourselves at those live events – I’d be happy to do that.

  3. Don’t fret – Taylor Swift is coming to the rescue…+/- 1,000,000 albums this week for her new release.

    • Amazing isn’t it. I’d actually like to hear it.

      • I probably won’t buy it but I did buy Tom Petty’s “Hypnotic Eye” vinyl – nice surprise to see a flac version download (and mp3 files) included for free. If enough labels adopt that methodology it could help. I prefer vinyl for the music choices available – hi-res is still too limited for me to even consider a player (but I am building a flac music collection in hopes of things changing). As for CD’s they are a necessary evil, as is my Shuffle…

  4. I’ve purchased over 1000 LPs since 2010, more than I bought in the 70’s and 80’s combined (it helps to have more money now). I buy vinyl and CDs mastered before the mid-90’s because I like my music to have some dynamic range to it. Even for new releases, the vinyl format has more dynamic range than any digital format.

    • It’s interesting and a little depressing that with all of the advances in technology that we can’t get better fidelity from our favorite artists these days.

  5. I havn’t bought a disk or LP for years but I love music. Internet is a source of course as is radio and the public library which has a good collection of disks for loan. I do go to more gigs or concerts then I did in the past. This may be a pattern – I know its true for my daughter as well. Artists will have to make money on concerts and not on media. Not sure if it is such a bad thing when you consider the excesses of record companies and some of the few success stories in the past . Sorry – this is not something you want to hear I am sure 🙂

    • It is the way it is…

  6. It is a distinct possibility that within 3 years , streaming hi-res will be the norm. At that point, both audiophiles and the general public will be able to have the best combination of quality and convenience.

    This likelihood alone should give us a bit of hope. I just wish you were less pessimistic; you sound a little battle-weary. After 30 years of selling nice stereos, I might be battle-weary too, but the possibility of master tape grade audio playing in the living rooms of America is not just a pipedream.

    Hi-Res has no momentum yet. Once enough folks have shared this w/ friends on a wide scale, you could well see another “unpredicted ” shift. I’d rather believe that this COULD happen than be confident that things will go from bad to worse as you seem to be. Best,Craig.

    • We live within the 2% of the population that cares about the sound of our music. That’s it…and in fact, that’s being generous. Getting Tidal or Deezer to stream CD spec audio is not going to change that. The rare high-resolution stuff in full surround is a niche within a niche. I’m getting comfortable with that.

      • We should remember that recorded popular music has been a cesspool for a very long time; this might be one reason the public doesn’t “seem” to care about sound quality; they haven’t heard anything that truly commanded attention in light-years.
        They didn’t used to care about diet either; remember “health food stores?”(analogous to little hi-fi shops IMHO.) Well, don’t you wish that you owned stock in Whole Foods now, and why does Safeway line the aisles w/ organic products?
        Don’t sell the public short so soon; if hardly anyone cares about sound quality, then how have I had a fine 30 year career selling audio specialty systems and components in outer territories, not even big urban markets? Great sound and attentive listening at home should be re-positioned as “the organic food of music enjoyment,” and similarly dubbed as “Much more pleasure, Much better for you.” If our industry was smart, (!!!???),audio companies would bond under this basic heading and use hi-res to get folks back into it. We shall see.

  7. A.S. Unfortunately, to become the ultimate quality, a HD soundtrack must be Upsampled to an infinite «frequency».

    So, why exactly Linear LTC2389-18 ?..

    The answer is the higher the sample rate the milder linear phase filter can be applied.

    Furthermore. ‘Single-Electron’ Transistors meant to be Superconducting ones, and along with quantum dot resistors & some superconducting wire, it should be components of the future ADC featuring fabulously high SNR in tandem with extreme sampling frequency.

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