Bringing back the Physical Album In Digital Music…?

This list of ideas for digital music seems a little too little, too late to me. Bonus materials were awesome 15 years ago, but today I can just go on Youtube and probably find the behind the scenes footage…if I even wanted to. Most of that stuff is boring anyway.

How many iTunes LPs have you bought? I bought one…once. I don’t want a 150 meg screensaver.

Link: eMusic CEO Explains Controversial Price Increase, Sony Deal

Wired interviews eMusic CEO Danny Stein about their recent price increases and the addition of Sony’s back catalog.

Wired.com: What do you have to say to longtime subscribers who are so upset about prices going up?
Stein: We knew it was going to be tough breaking the news about the price increase, so we’ve been listening to all the reactions. We appreciate that our users have such a strong connection to eMusic and are very passionate and vigorous music fans. As I said at the top of this call, the price change is something that all of our labels have been asking for, for a long time, and it’s really a necessary move for us to maintain a viable business. Not only that, but to support the independent label community and their artists, through royalties. We still offer one of the best values for digital music. We’re about 50 percent cheaper than iTunes and Amazon. And we hope those people will stick with us and see what we do with the Sony catalog and all the other labels that we may get in the future. We hope that they’ll give it a shot and stay.

Many eMusic subscribers are upset about their announced price increases that more than double the price per track they got before. However, surely there are subscribers that saw the writing on the wall with 24¢ tracks and labels like Epitaph pulling out.

50¢ for a track isn’t that bad, but it still stings when you’ve been getting them for less than half that.

Link: Sony Adding All Songs Over Two Years Old To EMusic; EMusic Raising Prices [Cheap Music]

Sony is coming to eMusic, and eMusic will raise prices.

This is the first I’m reading about the price increase. I haven’t received an email about my plan changing – I’m on an annual plan so I’m not sure they can do much until I resubscribe in the fall.

Today eMusic will announce that Sony is adding its back catalog of songs to eMusic’s library. The bad news is that eMusic also plans to slightly raise prices and/or drop the number of downloads per month. Even if it works out to between 50-60 cents per track, though, that’s still far less than iTunes Music Store or Amazon, and probably the cheapest way to grab music from Sony artists without resorting to piracy.

Having been grandfathered in to eMusic’s 90 downloads per month plan at $20 (which is a really sweet deal) I suppose I should’ve known that it wouldn’t last forever.

Mixing for MP3 Is Stupid

In my opinion.

Once in a while I’ll read something about mixing engineers and how they create different mixes for CDs and digital music services. The arguments are that encodes don’t recreate certain frequencies well, like anything below 100hz. So because of that they may suggest boosting the low-end on anything that will be used for an MP3 encode.

I think this is a bad idea.

I think mixing and mastering engineers should work on music for ears, not encoders. These days, bitrates for digital music stores are about 256k, which may as well be lossless for most people. And someday we all may get lossless encodes – which leaves a catalog of mixes that were poorly engineered in the hopes of making up for the weaknesses of an MP3 encoder.

Plus, there are so many variables to think about (which mp3 encoder? bitrate? AAC/WMA/OGG?) that trying to create the perfect mix for each of them means chasing your own tail, and it doesn’t account for the fact that I, and many others, will be ripping the official mix to a digital format anyway.

Besides, mixing for a certain encoder means giving those encoders a pass. Better to let the flaws of the encoder shine through so that the market can choose to not use that encoder and move on to something better.

However, I think you should arrange your album for digital formats. Please spare us hidden tracks or 5 minute stretches of silence that were a trend during the 90s. Downloading a 10meg file of 256k CBR encoded silence is obnoxious.

Lovin’ The Amazon MP3 Store: Deals, Tweets, and User Feedback

Want to get some really good deals on music? Make sure you follow AmazonMP3 on Twitter.

If you’re a music lover then you don’t want to miss Amazon’s Daily Deals. It’s a great way to discover and purchase music with a low risk. At prices as low as 99¢ an album you’re likely to buy stuff you might not even like that much. That’s how much I got Steely Dan’s Aja for.

What kinds of albums have been in the daily deal? These:

  • Soundgarden – Superunknown
  • Death Cab For Cutie – We Have The Facts and We’re Voting Yes
  • Radiohead – OK Computer
  • Beirut – Gulag Orkestar
  • Brian Wilson – Smile

There’s plenty more. Amazon picks albums for the daily deal based on their Facebook group.

Amazon’s MP3 store has also given me another reason to look forward to the weekend. On Fridays they have the Friday 5 – 5 albums for $5 each. It’s a great opportunity to pick up albums at a discount.

Lovin’ The Amazon MP3 Store: The AAC/MP3 Fidelity Argument

MP3 vs AAC

I’ve been getting upset that AAC hasn’t gotten as much support as MP3, but the more I think about it the more I realize that MP3 is the smarter choices for these stores. I prefer AAC, but MP3 has wider compatibility and has much larger recognition behind it. MP3 is synonymous with digital music.

The other part of wanting AAC over MP3 is the encoding quality, but things have changed. The codec used to matter when bitrates hovered around 128-192kbps. Now that everything is basically 256kbps it’s a wash. It doesn’t matter anymore.

The file sizes are the same and you’ll have a hard time telling the difference between AAC and MP3 at these bitrates. Don’t even try. Stop worrying about codecs and start listening to more of the music you love.

The iTunes “Last Chance” Playlist

If you’ve read the iTunes Zero article you’ll know that I’m very meticulous about everything in my iTunes library – and chances are you probably do the same things.

One of the other problems you may be facing is that there’s SO MUCH STUFF in your iTunes library. How do you handle it all?

Here’s what works for me – the “Last Chance” Playlist.

The Process

Here’s the method I use when I add new music to iTunes and homogenize it into the library:

  1. Everything new goes into a static Process playlist. It’s a holding cell for me to verify the metadata before I’m comfortable unleashing it into the wild. Consider it the GTD inbox for iTunes.
  2. Music that hasn’t been listened to shows up in the Playcount = 0 smart playlist.
  3. 3 months after that first listen, music shows up again in the Only 1 Listen playlist. This is my opportunity to make sure that the assigned rating is what I want it be, because after that it’s banished into the iTunes abyss, until the special day when it arrives in the…
  4. Last Chance playlist.

You’re Up For Review, Tune

Why do this?

The purpose of the Last Chance playlist is to listen to tracks in shuffle mode, out of context, in order to rate each track on its own. Let’s take a look at its properties.

lastchanceplaylist.gif

The Last Chance smart playlist is the last hurrah of a misfit song. If after two years I still don’t like the song enough to give it a 4-star or higher rating, in it goes to the huge library, likely to be skipped over and ignored for the rest of eternity.

But, there’s the chance that after 2 years I’ll suddenly realize the genius in a song, and grant it a 4-star or higher rating and save it from the 82 gig (as of this writing) Rancor pit.

Rancor

And with a 4-star or higher rating, the track enters regular rotation in smart playlists that rely on ratings.

This works for me for the following reasons:

  1. Anything I’ve already rated on the extremes (2 stars or less, or 4 stars or more) doesn’t really change for me – but I’ve still got my eye on those 4-star rated tracks.
  2. 3 listens should be enough for me to know if I like a song or not.
  3. 2 years (or 1 year) is far enough out for a song to be removed from the popular culture of the time to realize I like a song because it’s a good song, and not because it’s in a car insurance commercial or something.

This is what works for me. Storage is cheap these days, so if you set up a system with this and other smart playlists you can keep only the good stuff on your iPod and regular playlist (or Party Shuffle sources) and not have to delete anything based on the idea that you might like it years from now.