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Friday, April 10, 2009

Move Over MP3, Here Comes MP3HD

Just when you thought that we had enough digital audio formats, along comes MP3HD, a new lossless format from Thomson.

MP3 is a data compression format that makes a digital music file smaller the same way a bicycle tire gets smaller when you let the air out of it. The problem with an MP3 file is that it's a "lossy" format in that it literally throws away some data to make the file smaller using an algorithm based on the way we perceive audio. It keeps the loudest frequencies that we hear and gets rid of the rest.

"Lossless" data compression doesn't throw anything away perceptually, which is why everyone likes the way it sounds. It sounds the same as the original file, only the file is smaller. Cool, eh? The problem is that the file is only 40 to 50% smaller, while a lossy format can be as small as 10% of the original.

But the question here is why we even need another data compression scheme. We already have a number of them that work just fine already.

As an example, Techradar did a test between the popular lossless encoders using Feist's 1234 and this is what they found:

The original WAV file: 30.8MB
WMA Lossless : 18.7MB
Apple Lossless : 19.4MB
FLAC (Level 8) : 19MB
MP3HD (maximum): 20.7MB

So what's the point of a new format if it doesn't do a better compression job that it's competitors? In fact, it did worse! In the article, it states that MP3HD and an MP3 at 320Kbps sound virtually indistinguishable, so why bother? This seems like another example of technology for technology's sake (or a royalty stream) instead of filling any real market need.

Bandwidth is becoming so cheap and abundant that pretty soon any sort of data compression will be a thing of the past. Let's stop using low bandwidth MP3s in favor of 320Kbps unitl we can make the jump to pure wave or aiff files. They're not perfect but they're so much better than what we used to now.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The 3 P's - Band Improvement Book Excerpt On Hypebot

Once again, a new excerpt from my band improvement book How To Make Your Band Sound Great is in the DYI section of Bruce Houghton's wonderfully entertaining music blog, Hypebot.

Today's excerpt is on the things that they don't normally teach you in vocal lessons, the 3 P's - pitch, pocket and passion.

The 3 P's are something that every record producer uses to get the best performance from a vocalist, but they're equally useful on-stage as well. Read the article for some great vocal tips.

Multi-tiered Pricing Come To iTunes

Well, it finally happened the way everyone predicted. Songs on iTunes are now priced at either $0.69, $0.99 or $1.29. The pricing is by the record labels supply the songs, not iTunes.

Doesn't raising prices when the economy is so bad seem like a bad business decision? Doesn't raising prices when the public is loosing interest in music seem like a bad idea? Doesn't it seem like the music industry can't get out of its own way? Don't you think that all the other music services will raise their prices now as well?

Certainly this wasn't the work of Steve Jobs. You know that he's held the 99 cent line all along, but after years of prodding, cajoling, and whining, the labels finally got what they wanted.

So 48 of the top 100 songs on iTunes are now priced at $1.29. What do you get for the extra money? The privilege of buying something new (not so great) and 320Kbps encodes (pretty good).

It should be noted that both Amazon MP3 and the Wal-Mart music store also raised their prices, but the majority of songs that did raise to $1.29 came from Sony Music. EMI chose not to raise their prices at all.

Let's see what happens to the download numbers next week. I have a feeling that the downloads off the Torrents are going to increase.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Digitally Remastered Beatles Catalog To Be Released

The digitally remastered Beatles catalog will be released on 09/09/09 in conjunction with the Beatles Rock Band game.

For Beatles fans this is pretty exciting since there hasn't been a technically up to date release of their work ever (at least after the original releases). And it's the entire catalog too - all 12 albums including the complete British release of Magical Mystery Tour as well as Past Masters Volumes I and II. Each CD will also have a short documentary about how it was made, as well as additional rare photos, expanded booklets and liner notes. The albums will be available individually or in a box set.

Perhaps what's most exciting about the remastering is that there's also an additional CD box set, The Beatles In Mono, containing all of the Beatles singles originally mixed in mono. For those who've heard the difference between the stereo and mono mixes, the mono mixes were always considered to be superior. Certainly the band's inner circle always thought so.

I'm always a little leery when I hear about new mixes or mastering of classic music since I've heard plenty of them that destroyed the original feel of the records we loved. Certainly the classic Who's Next remix was a total disappointment. I listened to the remixed/remastered version once and could never listen again. All the power of Glyn John's original mix was gone.

But there's some comfort in the fact that Apple Corp. has been working on this for 4 years, since they're known for their careful oversight and protection of the Beatles legacy. The fact that it was done at Abbey Road also gives you a warm feeling inside.

So let's all go buy the product yet once again. I'm pretty sure it will be worth it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

New Excerpt From Band Improvement Book On Hypebot

Once again, the fine Hypebot music blog is publishing another new excerpt from my band improvement book "How To Make Your Band Sound Great."

Today's excerpt is about the single most important thing that band members can do to get tighter yet so seldom do - listen to each other. It's one of the most overlooked skills that a musicians has to develop.

Check it out here.

US Teens Listening To Music More But Buying It Less

In a new survey from the entertainment industry market research firm NPD Group, US teens are listening to more music but buying it less. In the study, teens aged 13 to 17 acquired 19 percent less music in 2008 than they did in 2007. CD purchasing declined 26 percent and paid digital downloads fell 13 percent compared with the prior year.

What was really scary for the music industry was that 32 percent of teens purchasing less digital music expressed discontent with the music that was available for purchase, while 23 percent claimed to already have a suitable collection of digital music. Twenty-four percent of teens also cited cutbacks in entertainment spending as a reason for buying fewer downloads.

Even tracks downloaded from peer-to-peer (P2P) networks fell 6 percent in 2008, while the number of teens borrowing music, either to rip to a computer or burn to a CD, fell by 28 percent.

This means that the music industry is in real trouble and it goes way beyond the change of format from CD to digital online media. It proves what a lot of people have been saying for so long - the music today is just not that compelling. If your prime target demographic isn't interested, it means that the entire business model is bankrupt.

But we knew this already and many posts here have pointed it out. When the club scene died after the drinking and driving laws of the early 80's were passed, the training ground where artists could get their music together was lost. We lost the "farm team," so to speak.

When the major labels were acquired by conglomerates, music became beholden to the bottom line of quarterly returns instead of artist development.

When MTV became the rage, the emphasis of the major labels turned to artist image over artistic substance.

When the focus groups of Madison Avenue became more important in picking music than the ear of the fan, the fans began to tune out.

I can go on and on, but the bottom line is that we're losing a generation of potential music fans, and that threatens an already weakened and bloody industry with decimation.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Band Improvement Tips From My Book On Hypebot

The DIY section of Bruce Houghton's fine music blog Hypebot will feature band improvement tips from my new book "How To Make Your Band Sound Great" all this week.

Today's post is "Improving Your Band's Performance In 3 Easy Steps," which covers the importance of dynamics, articulations and turnarounds in making a band sound really tight and taking it to the next level.

Twitter's Is On Top

A new survey from Nielsen about the five fastest growing "community destinations" reveals that the microblogger Twitter is on top.

For the last year, Twitter scored a huge 1,382 percent growth rate, which is not that unexpected considering the buzz that it's getting from the press and just about everyone you talk to these days. The 35-to-49 age group is its largest demographic, which is also a surprise.

A post by Nielsen Online's Michelle McGiboney goes on to say:
"PC Web usage of doesn't tell the whole story. The ability to (use) Twitter via a mobile phone--whether through the mobile Web or via text messages--is a driving factor in the social network's success. In January, 735,000 unique visitors accessed the Twitter Web site through their mobile phones. The average unique visitor went to 14 times during the month and spent an average of seven minutes on the site."
Third place Facebook was still growing with a 228 percent growth in the same period according to Nielsen, but I bet it slows down since they changed the interface. Empirically, traffic on Facebook has slowed considerably since their ill-advised facelift, which ironically looks like it's trying to copy some aspects of Twitter.

What does this have to do with music? Today's artist needs to utilize the resources of social media to be successful, and Twitter is being used more and more as a way to keep in touch with fans. If you're not on Twitter, go there now. It's unbelievable how much you can say in 140 characters.

You can follow me on Twitter @2bbobby.


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