Not Interesting

This is going to tougher than I thought. I mean the acquisition of original masters of major artists for the purpose of remastering…or even remixing…them as “the best available” version of a particular album. It turns out that we don’t really matter in the marketplace of selling commercial music. Audiophiles occupy a very small niche in the overall music world. We don’t really count.

That’s what I heard today. Through a close friend (and engineer and producer), I made contact with the manager of a very big current artist about the possibility of revisiting a particular recent hit recording in “audiophile” and/or surround mode. I tried to explain in an introductory email what I am hoping to do. The pitch was pretty simple:

“I would like to explore the possibility of revisiting one or more of ArtistX’s hits with an audiophile sensibility and surround presentation (even in headphones!). I have a first class studio with a 5.1 surround mixing system. I’ve been mixing surround records for decades and was a mastering engineer for 13 years…if you would allow me to show you just what can be accomplished with a focus on high fidelity, I think it could be a tremendous opportunity for ArtistX and the world of high-resolution music.”

The initial reaction wasn’t so great:

“Her label isn’t going to give 2 BLEEPs about this.”

But the manager was intrigued and we arranged to talk on the phone. I must say I was impressed that this particular manager had time for me and was genuinely interested in the whole idea. I explained what Neil Young had just done and that there are a lot of music enthusiasts that would love to hear his artist. He was completely unaware of the whole high-resolution audio thing and absolutely convinced that the label wasn’t going to pay any attention to the opportunity I promised him was open to his artist.

So I dangled a large number…$250,000…that I estimated could be achieved through the usual “high-resolution audio” sites and that there would be a lot of press attention paid to a big artist that decided to issue a version of an album tailored to the “audiophile” segment of the music market.

His reaction? He scoffed at a quarter of a million dollars in potential revenue from our niche market. What I thought would be a huge win for all concerned didn’t even register with this guy. “The record label’s legal department is over worked and understaffed. It’s takes a year for them to simply change an address in their system. They aren’t going to pay any attention to this.”

This is very troubling news. Here I am thinking that a major artist and a major label might be interested in the audiophile corner of the market…but no, they’re not. They’re shooting for the huge wins, huge hits and mega dollars. Why should they bother with little efforts like mine…or even major efforts like Ponomusic? The amount of bandwidth that it takes their legal team to spend on a one off license deal isn’t interesting. Not worth the time it would take to write it up.

So we have that to deal with.

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.

26 thoughts on “Not Interesting

  • April 16, 2014 at 4:42 pm
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    Sad, sorry to hear that Mark.
    I wonder what kind of numbers someone like HDTracks has to put up per license for their downloads?

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    • April 16, 2014 at 4:53 pm
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      They are big numbers…but spread out over an entire catalog. This is still chump change in the overall scope of things.

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  • April 16, 2014 at 5:13 pm
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    I worked several years for a large media company. I am not really surprised. And furthermore, record companies have not been recognized for their fine intuition.
    An independent artist interested in superior quality production is probably a good place to start. A trend needs to be created beginning with just a few.

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  • April 16, 2014 at 5:22 pm
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    This is sad news. I know how much you put into what you do and how well you do it Mark. To see you proposition just brushed off like that is truly disappointing. Unfortunately our market appears not to interest major artists unless said artist is an audiophile him(her)self. Keith Jarret comes to mind.

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    • April 17, 2014 at 11:26 am
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      The manager is actually very open to the idea, but he knows the reaction the label will have. I’m undaunted…still pushing.

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  • April 16, 2014 at 5:26 pm
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    This story reminds me two things.

    1. About two~three years ago (I think) Channel Classics decided to release their SACD albums as DSD-format. At that time, it was quite interesting because selling DSD files was very freshing and interesting idea.

    So all of us computeraudiophile.com waited… and du du du! they finally came out with amazing $35 bucks per album.

    Yes. Thirty five bucks for straight SACD-rip (it was not multi-bit DSD). No linear notes, no physical stuffs, just plain file downloads and it cost $35. And we were (and are) complaining about HDtrack’s ridiculously high price of $24 per album. So we asked Channel Classics CEO that why digital download cost so much.

    Well, his answer was like this. “Well, we have to go through all of these red tapes and all involved personal, and the total cost after everything got their shares and stuffs ended up about $30 bucks. We hardly get much profits after paying bandwidth”.

    I have not seen any industry as inefficient as the music industry, yet. Even government agencies these days are far more competent, faster and inexpensive than the music industry. It is just mind boggling and there needs to be some shockwave to clear all of obstacles and redtapes.

    2. It is no secret that a lot of accountants and CEOs and marketing departments chase ‘big money’. The problem is that those guys only chase ‘big money’. It means, they’d prefer having no money rather than some money unless they can get big money. Video game industry suffers same symptoms, but music industry seems far worse in this regard. See this video for excellent explanation for big money madness.

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/jimquisition/9045-The-Unholy-Trinity-Of-Blind-Greedy-Bastards

    That artistX’s label is prime example of point 1 and 2 above my comment. They are not only so inefficient and expensive to change anything in their system, but also ignores ‘some’ money because it is not ‘big’ money.

    Customers eventually figure those problems, a bit in unconscious ways. They want to get a free or only want to pay about 10 bucks per month for merely renting music, because, in their deep, unconscious mind, they completely understand music labels’ deals are just not worthy enough to pay, well, more than a ten bucks per month.

    High-res audio helps a bit, but until music labels provide better valuves and better productions overall, it will be really hard to convince people to pay more than 10 bucks per month as it is now.

    Now, let me go back to play this computer game called Age of Wonders 3, which only cost 40 bucks yet has hundreds of hours of contents inside.

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    • April 16, 2014 at 5:35 pm
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      For that video linked above, go fast forward to 4:13 for chasing ‘big money’ problem.

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    • April 17, 2014 at 11:33 am
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      The reason that Channel Classics, 2L, Blue Coast, HD Tracks and others charge so much for the recordings that they produce (there’s no additional cost for artists, licenses etc!) is that they believe that audiophile consumers will pay a premium for a DSD, DXD or “HD” new transfer of a particular album…even if the contents of that new album is identical to what is on a CD or other format. I’ve had these conversations with Cookie, David and Morten. In fact, I charge a premium for my own downloads…around $20-25 for a 96 kHz/24-bit 5.1 surround uncompressed file. I think this is a reasonable value for a new “real hd-audio” production. I always tell phone customers that buying the Blu-ray version of our titles is a better value. You get three mixes, video and lots of bonus features AND the BD-ROM section has the Headphones[xi] and HD stereo files.

      It’s going to be hard to get the attention of the major labels and artists. I know a lot of people and plan to go at via relationships. I’ll keep you posted.

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  • April 16, 2014 at 5:31 pm
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    I’m wondering if what Twilight Time is doing with catalog blu-rays might be a business model to look at – http://www.hometheaterforum.com/topic/310943-interview-with-twilight-time-nick-redman-on-who-they-are-their-business-model-and-more/

    Then again, they are repackaging an existing master, so it might be tricky finding the right price point for what you’d like to do, where obviously more work is involved.

    But the whole “limited edition” model they propose to the studios seems to make it an easier decision for them to consider, with simplified legal and accounting requirements, I believe.

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    • April 17, 2014 at 11:38 am
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      I like this idea a lot Felix. Audio downloads are a little trickier…but perhaps going to the Blu-ray format would work. I’m not sure how music fans would react. It is a MoFi model and that’s my current direction.

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  • April 16, 2014 at 6:54 pm
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    In spite of the uninspired response you received, keep taking your message out there! In actual market terms I believe your strongest point was that it will get press attention. Along those lines, audiophiles fulfill the criteria of “brand” advocates. These are folks who have passion for more than high res. They are passionate about the music and the artists. Because of their enthusiasm they spread the word. Marketers all over the world put big resources behind finding and leveraging the energy of brand advocates. In this case the brand can be the artist who is seen as more of an artist by way of their recording quality. The legal departments are often thought of as the anti-marketing division. I’d encourage your manager to appeal to some well informed marketers at the label and let them take on the lawyers. All the best in your efforts!

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  • April 16, 2014 at 8:45 pm
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    I don’t doubt what you say, but how do you explain the success Steve Wilson is having with remastering and remixing the Yes, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson back catalog? I realize it’s just “high resolution” digital copies of “medium resolution” analog recordings, but the results of his remastering and multichannel remixing have been truly outstanding…at least for this fan. And, I assume at least profitable enough to someone that they continue to reissue multiple back catalog albums from those artists. Perhaps its just the “older generation”… although there have been some outstanding high resolution multichannel reissues of more modern “hit” artists too… Perhaps there’s hope…I’m an eternal optimist…

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    • April 17, 2014 at 11:41 am
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      I think Steve is doing a great thing…and I can only hope that I can do something similar.

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  • April 17, 2014 at 12:41 am
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    That is a sad story Doc, but not surprising really. As you know yourself with the loudness thing and the fact that these days we have to be told that people are mega-stars, the mass music industry has gone to pot.

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    • April 17, 2014 at 11:42 am
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      The mainstream music business has indeed lost some of its “love of music” but I do understand that they are going for the big hits.

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  • April 17, 2014 at 1:30 am
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    Hi, Mark!

    Hey! don’t be disappointed. Even when I’ve been on the audiohile “market” for more than 40 years, I don’t consider myself one. I know I am, but I know I am in the league of the music lovers’ side rather than on the “this 30,000 bucks gadget” side.

    I’ve followed Neil Young as a human being and as a musician since 1969 and I can tell you, for sure, that his project -with the Pono hardware or without it, is going to make us very happy in the years to come. I will be clear: I don’t mind if Britney Spears’ records are never published in hi-def, or whatever the so-called artist it is. What we should be aware of is that Neil is not jumping in the wagon all by himself.

    Artists who really care about their sound -because they’re musicians, want people to listen to them as they intended to sound when they were creating their music. That’s it. We need musicians, not labels, to get in the wagon. The rest will be history.

    Radiohead anyone?

    Whatever Neil has in his sight gets done. He’s proved it at least more than 40 times, and that’s a tough record to break (no pun intended).

    I suggest your readers to get some insight on Neil Young’s carreer as a human being, as an activist, as a filmmaker, as a parent… you’ll find out that you just don’t mess with this guy.

    And, for the time being, let’s see the sunny side of the storm. In five years, kids will be listening to their favorite artists in 24/96 as they do now in mp3!

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    • April 17, 2014 at 12:52 pm
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      Cheers Carlos. Like you I have been a big fan of Neil Young since I picked up (on spec) a copy of After The Goldrush as soon as it appeared over here in the UK. Also got into a number of other bands by doing the same thing. So they don’t always need lots of marketing.

      I joined the Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound club and that has been the best value for money I have ever had. For just under £34 (~50 bucks) you get two 24bit downloads each month, one classical and the other is non-classical (LSO recording with the late great Colin Davis & others). When you first join you can download all the stuff on the site. I suppose it’s only excellent value if you are into classical and the non-classical can be a bit weird. One was some geezer recording the noises of the rain-forest – do we need that in London? But there have some excellent ones:
      Pinkunoizu – A Danish Psychedelic band – Yes you read that right and they are brilliant
      Samuel Yirga – An African brilliant Jazz pianist
      9Bach – Welsh folk music with a modern slant – just got this so the court is out
      Dub Colossus – believe it or not a dub band with some great titles like – Stop in the Name of Dub
      The Gloaming – Beautiful folk from some top-notch musicians
      Rhodes – a highly accomplished rock band
      Portico – Brilliant Rock/Jazz/Minimalism – one of my favourite and their live album on here is mesmerising.
      Roller Trio – Just an amazing Experimental Jazz band – really special these guys.
      Peter Gabriel – is involved in the whole project and his Live in Athens is on the list – not a bad album either.
      Three Cane Whale – a traditional North East England folk band who record on the sides of mountains and in rivers – sounds pretty good though.

      So visit the site and you can browse what’s around – just search for society of sound – that should do it and honestly I do not work for B&W or even have shares in them.

      Reply
  • April 17, 2014 at 4:40 am
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    Thats very disappointing. Perhaps like most novel ideas, the concept of remastering to achieve the best sound possible will gain traction once the artists themselves begin insisting their labels provide to the public a representation of their music the way it was recorded in the studio.
    For this we have Neil Young’s PONO initiative to thank.

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    • April 17, 2014 at 11:43 am
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      I’m looking forward to chatting with Pono’s John Hamm and eventually Neil…I think there’s a big opportunity looming.

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  • April 17, 2014 at 7:09 am
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    Great one. But it’s the cold hard facts. Hence, I don’t know how Neil Young will do it with a bloated overhead. Frankly, you almost have to BS or lie like Itunes will do to make it profitable on a large scale.

    I’m just hungry for some new titles other than Dire Straits, Miles Davis, Billy Joel, etc. in DSD. I mean, when Counting Crows is the Crown Jewel of DSD, wow. Great album, but it’s not Moondance.

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    • April 17, 2014 at 11:44 am
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      Moondance…ah, now we’re talking. What others are in the top ten…those should be the ones that I ask for first.

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  • April 17, 2014 at 8:43 am
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    Blue Coast is having their stable of artists perform the recent hits of more popular artists. How much did Cookie have to pay Adele? The Society of Sound from Bowers & Wilkens is doing a decent job of marketing young pop artists and Abbey Road Studio is doing a good job of recording them. I would love to see AIX diversify their catalog a bit more. You have a repeat customer in me — AIX does a better job than the other studios I’ve mentioned and they do better than most.

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    • April 17, 2014 at 11:45 am
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      I’d love to have the resources to continue recording the kinds of projects that I’ve been doing for the past 14 years…but shooting video and high-resolution audio is a very expensive undertaking. It’s no wonder that no one else is doing it.

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  • April 17, 2014 at 10:26 am
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    High end audio is similar to high end photography. A few people will spend $4000 on a camera, but for most, a cell phone picture is fine. Even CD quality audio is overkill for a portable music player with ear buds. I am saying this as one who has a good digital SLR camera and a nice home stereo. I enjoy both.

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  • April 17, 2014 at 1:44 pm
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    Mark,
    Sorry to say I’m not surprised at the response you got, but certainly saddened.

    Most people I speak to about the joys of listening to great sounding audio and the differences out there goes by with a, “I can’t tell the difference, so who cares?”, or the good old “The sample rates and word length used in FLAC or other lossless is more than enough to cover human hearing already, anything else is a waste. You are just hearing things!”.

    I retort that perhaps some folks hear things because they have learned how and what to listen for.

    Sort of how some people can taste a dish and tell you many of the ingredients in it, while another will reply “Beef stew”.

    Since you have the studio and equipment, perhaps recording and producing acts, putting out BR discs (glad to see you ate cosidering revisiting continuing to make more BR format) and having the artists on your label sound better than everything else.

    Why not become one of the hit makers?

    This business was always a lot more fun from the outside (politically) for me, but if you can play their game and educate the listening public in the process, why not?

    I buy a lot of albums for the quility of production, so a great engineer and producer is just as likely to get my attention than a favored artist.

    Yellowjackets: Shades is a fantastic sounding album, and music I enjoy as well.

    Michael Jackson is not my first choice to listen to, but to hear Swedien’s engineering along with Michael’s musical talent, roll that up with the quality of the musicians and it is hard not to be blown away.

    It is time for a game changer!

    Do your thing and sell hard copy for $ and ultra high res, and use D/L for standard and crap res for those who just don’t care about audio quality.

    Some of us like poached wild salmon with hollandaise, others perfer a Big Mac and would never touch “That Fancy Stuff”

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  • April 17, 2014 at 3:11 pm
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    This is why I doubt the rumor about itunes selling hi-def. I suspect most of that customer base just doesn’t care and I would expect them to have largely the same response as the labels. Must have taken some real persuasion and money dangling to get those Mobile Fidelity half speed masters done way back when.

    Reply

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