Movie Lovers Coalesce The Vapors Around Streaming

It’s not just music lovers realizing that streaming has a long way to go to match physical media.

Film lovers see the same issues:  degraded quality, no extras, no ownership, unknown/ temporary access.

We give up a lot for the convenience of streaming.  #SaveTheAudio ?  #SaveTheVideo


Youkill Audio Youtube

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Lossless data on the left. The right side is a visual representation of what we’ve been listening to for 20 years now.


Deets on Youtube’s audio handling:

Audio is streamed at either 128k or 320k mp3.

Everything defaults to 128k. You can only get the 320k audio stream by selecting the HD video quality. Some videos start in HD but most don’t. It’s also hard to embed HD youtube into other sites since it seems to default to the basic stream.

It appears there’s no FLAC streaming allowed and no lossy streaming of any kind.

The 320k mp3’s can sound decent, especially coming from 128k, but once you go lossless you won’t want to listen to lossy anymore.


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Which is better? Neither. The compression on the left appears to have slightly fewer artifacts but neither is close to the original.

Streaming’s Shortcomings

Unknown-1images UnknownIf everyone got their music from streaming?  That is a big problem.

Streaming…

  1. has no cross promotion with local events or the local economy.
  2. has no cross promotion with local unsigned bands.
  3. has no direct connection back to the artist.

  4. completely ignores the purchasing power of the listener.
  5. has a limited and unstable (ever changing) catalog.
  6. pays a lower royalty per listener than other performance licenses.

  7. is the worst sound quality of all distribution platforms.
  8. has no production credits or copyright information.
  9. has no writer, composer, or publishing credits.

  10. has no human interaction for discovery of new music.
  11. assumes genre and style over all else when mixing music.
  12. assumes what you liked yesterday morning is what you will like Friday night.

  13. avoids selecting album/deep cuts and non-hits nearly as bad as top 40.
  14. requires multiple subscriptions (network and provider) to be active and paid up.
  15. cannot be rewound and reviewed for additional enjoyment.

  16. cannot easily be recorded or mixed into playlists and sets.
  17. contains only a low-resolution cover image, not complete artwork.
  18. contains no lyrics or artist notes.

  19. just got The Beatles this year.
  20. requires almost no paid humans to get it to your ears.

 

I’ve been around streaming for literally 20 years now, and have programmed it and listened to it since the beginning. If it truly is taking over the music industry we have to be honest about it’s shortcomings. That’s the only way we can start to address them.

Another internet casualty

Another internet casualty

 

More Hi-Res Rumors For Apple

imagesI guess this is good – rumors are floating again that Apple Music is moving into Hi-Res Audio.  Being a rumor there are very few specifics but a few people more influential than me are saying that 24/96 streaming is coming, along with the lightning port replacing the headphone jack on Apple’s mobile products.

It’s not all good because although Apple is the market leader in the consumer tech space, doubters and ignoramuses far and wide are commenting on music formats in the comments section.  It gets pretty ugly with the nonsense spouted there.

No surprise, many who have never heard hi-res digital refuse to believe it exists. Most ignore it completely, or they’ve tried 1 hi-res file on their laptop or phone.  Of course those devices can’t render hi-res properly, so the user reaffirms their belief that this is all a scam devised to charge them more for the same thing. Stupid users!

If you can’t hear that 256k bitrate < 1000k that’s your problem, not mine. If you don’t believe that 5800k > 1000k this lack of mathematical logic is also not my problem.  Your lack of awareness and listening ability should not hurt my ability to enjoy good music. Perhaps your taste in music also needs an improvement?


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Finally, if you won’t accept that each Netflix/Youtube/Hulu stream is 3000k+ you will never understand that most of us have plenty of bandwidth and storage for hi-res audio.  We just value video far more than music on the internet.

Basic Apple nerds are very anti-hi-fi audio because they have been hooked into the lie that is MP3/AAC, where convenience trumps quality every time. Even the late Steve Jobs couldn’t believe how fast MP3 took over, he thought the quality was too low to fully replace previous formats.


 

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Youtube’s Audio Specs

Finally got my answer about Youtube’s audio specification — there isn’t one, really.

The only have a video policy.  Audio stream quality is a part of the video spec.

So here’s the details:

  1. Audio streams as 128k or 320k MP3 only
  2. 320k is only played during videos streaming in HD of 720p or higher
  3. The video must start in HD to get the 320k audio, and most players will not reload the higher audio stream if the user switches video quality during playback.

The end result is that most of youtube is streaming 128k mp3 audio, aka garbage.

The high quality portion of youtube can get 320k MP3 to you but it’s not automatic. They have to force the player into high-quality, which is against the youtube platform defaults.

Low-vs-High-Quality-Image

The FLAC folks on Youtube? They force the 320k MP3 and perhaps they are encoding the video with a high resolution flac as the audio source? Or they are just misrepresenting themselves?

The two I contacted about their sources never answered me, so I don’t know. From what I’ve read youtube cannot stream FLAC or even lossless audio.

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And yes, 320k MP3 sounds pretty good, it’s almost CD quality. But there’s still digital loss, artifacts, and a fatigue from listening.

CD’s usually push about 800k bitrate at you, so the perceptual coding at 320k sounds pretty close to the original.

But once you up that lossless original to between 2000-6000k (24bit audio) you really hear it pop and become realistic as compared to 320k.

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Relatively accurate representation of some of what is LOST: things masked by louder sounds, aka the feel of the space as the note plays.

Here’s to hoping youtube allows lossless streaming soon, or at least defaults to 320k mp3.

 

Spotify Wants Your Profile For The Highest Bidder

While Pono makes news with their righteous promise to give you free content upgrades for life, Spotify is making news with an update to their privacy policy that informs the users of their service – particularly the free subscription tier – through a million words of legalese that they are agreeing to share their contact, photo album, location data, browsing history and Facebook profile in order to listen to music on the service.

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Give your life away to hear rented 10% music files?  Haha yeah right.

Even previously happy Spotify customers are canceling subscriptions over this new (yet totally predictable) revenue stream.

Low-vs-High-Quality-Image

 

I’ve been saying for a couple of years that the streaming services aren’t going to make it. I know they continue to get more and more subscribers, and more listeners. More 10%’ers.

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But they can’t sustain their business because there is no margin. They can barely pay the crazy-low royalties now, and they won’t be able to pay the increased royalties in the near future.  Advertisers will ruin the service trying to get those clicks.

 

 

You simply can’t give access to the world’s entire catalog of music for $0.30 a day, there’s no margin there. There’s too much good music out there with more being made every day. This model will not sustain.


 

Buy your music people, whether it’s vinyl or digital download, and try to buy the highest quality you can get. The rental model is a disaster in the process.

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Spend the $120/year that used to go to Spotify on buying legal retail music and trading with your actual friends and the music industry will survive and prosper.

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Own your own music in full quality, non-tracking, files. Stop renting 10% versions for your digital sanity. Actual social media is enjoying music with other people.

Music Business vs. Youtube

The battle for pennies is heating up. The 3 major record labels are supposedly fed up with Youtube’s lame attempts to monetize their content, feeling that Google, who owns Youtube and the entire ad network and search engine that drives it, has been less than honest about their intentions and more than willing to keep most of the generated revenue for themselves.

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No record label supports free music, and no music lover should either.*

 

As Apple was prepping their streaming service they poured gas on the fire by trying to convince the Big 3 to pull their content from Youtube, even reportedly going so far as to offer them compensation for lost revenue.

The labels did not go with Apple’s plan but according to latest reports are continuing their talks regarding how to negotiate with Google, including a nuclear option where they pull their entire catalogs at the same time and make a big stink about it, leaving Google to act on either increasing monetization or going on without official releases.

Of course Youtube will continue to host all variety of bootlegs until they are taken down by the copyright police.

*Of course I’ll continue to link to free youtube stuff for your pleasure, hoping they soon work out their royalty problem. As always, I recommend you buy the music you love in the highest quality possible from stores like PonoMusic, HDTracks, and ProStudioMasters, and if the artist is still working then support their efforts monetarily as much as you can.

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The Sad State of Consumer Audio

There is a lot of technology available today, some at very affordable prices. Choice appears abundant but it’s a false narrative.

Why is choice a false narrative? Because most of the choices are already compromised and the actual quality of the product is clouded with confusion.

Continue reading

Vinyl Sales Continue To Grow

More vinyl albums were sold last year than any year since 1991. This is because of quality not irony.

The mainstream music world has moved to streaming, locking in low-quality expectations. Streamers don’t even talk about sound quality anymore because it’s the elephant in the room.

Vinyl sounds better than streaming. 24bit digital sounds better than streaming. CD sounds better than streaming. Even radio sounds better than streaming.

Vinyl delivers artwork, lyrics, and a physical connection to your beloved music like streaming cannot.

Plus you own vinyl forever. Not a single penny needed in the future to hear it again and again.

Tidal Shows The Ghost In The MP3

This is a good start. Here’s Tidal trying to explain simply why MP3 sounds worse than CD quality. They want $20/month the stream CD-quality to you, so they will strongly market against lossy compression.

How great can music sound? from TIDAL on Vimeo.

 

But it is also a bit misleading because so much music is recorded in 24bit and then down sampled to CD quality. I do believe that 16/44 is officially the start of “high-resolution” these days, because MP3 lowered the bar so much.

16/44 is just the start of high-definition (it is high definition from 1980) and if people are willing to pay $20/month to stream it, I’m all for it. If they ever add a radio to the PonoPlayer I would stream 16/44.

The Tidal proposition – $120/year for random-generated CD-quality music. That’s what you’d pay for 7-10 HD album downloads, not a bad deal.

Apple’s Upcoming Music Announcement

Will it have anything to do with sound quality?  I doubt it.

Apple likes to roll out new products with slick presentations touting all of the improvements in the product, or how the new product improves upon an existing solution.

This new rumored streaming audio service (a re-branded Beats Music service) looks like more of the same – random, computer generated playlists or hunt & peck streaming at a compressed rate, trying it’s damnedest to sell you that same compressed copy to own.

No one wants to buy those compressed little MP3’s when you can stream them. If they were smart enough to offer an HD version of the song I bet people would buy more when streaming. I know I would.

A new walkman sounded better than the old one. What happened?

A new walkman usually sounded better than the old one. What happened?

Since iPod shipped 14 years ago, I can recall one single upgrade to the sound quality in Apple’s iTunes ecosystem. This was around 2009 when they introduced the “mastered for iTunes” program, that allowed you to deliver files in 24bit lossless but they would not sell the HD version, they reduce it to 320k AAC (apple’s version of MP3) and sell it for $1.29 a track instead of $.99.

All of this is why I have a PonoPlayer and haven’t looked back. iTunes was always a toy musically, and since they’ve made absolutely no effort to really improve sound quality in 15 years, it’s even more of a toy.

The sad thing is how popular it is, with millions of people listening to tinny, distorted audio devices playing horribly compressed files. None of it is necessary anymore but it lives on as “The modern way”.  A huge decrease in quality in the name of perceived convenience.

Pure Sound Quality

Quality:

  1. GoodMusic as MP3  =  sounds pretty good – get your jam on!
  2. GoodMusic as 16bit FLAC  or   CD  =  sounds better – damn listen to that bass! – time to dance – pure and clean and timeless
  3. GoodMusic as 24bit FLAC  or  Vinyl  =   oh wow am I in the studio? Is the artist in my room with me? Am I crying? This is outstanding and I don’t want to go back.

vs. Convenience:

  1. GoodMusic as MP3  =  easiest and everywhere
  2. GoodMusic as CD  =  barely surviving in cars and clubs
  3. GoodMusic as Vinyl  =  you are a manual no mix/playlist throwback and can’t take that mobile at all, totally dusty and crusty
  4. GoodMusic as FLAC   =  as easy as MP3 if you load onto your player, because it’s not going to stream reliably anytime soon

 

If you are willing to swim back up that river just a little bit – to owning and carrying your own music on a little player – you can enter a whole new world of sound quality and not lose much convenience at all.

 

gotta do what you gotta do

gotta do what you gotta do

Taylor Swift verses Streaming

Recently Taylor Swift made news by pulling her latest album from Spotify and other streaming music services. Her statement calls these new services “a grand experiment” and said she doesn’t feel comfortable putting her music into that system as it’s currently set up.


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I agree with her. Taylor is smart to negotiate with her record being a hot commodity right now. I believe this comes down to royalty rates, not a full retreat from streaming pop music.

Before streaming/mp3 – Old Way– you heard a new song/artist either from a friend, browsing, or on the radio. If you decided you must hear it on-demand, you bought a copy for yourself. You’d pay $10-20 for a hard copy complete with artwork and case and take it home.

How did this system sustain for 50+ years?  Old Way

1 – Radio payed royalties for every track they played, based on their total listenership. The radio earned their money from advertisers based on listenership/ratings.
2 – The $10-20 you paid for the album/cd/cassette was split up amongst the various parties that got that music to you: about $5 to the store, $5 to the record label, $3 to the distributor/warehouse,  and maybe $1 made it back to the artist. This changed based on the deal the artist had, but no artist earned below $.25 per album sale.
3 – This gave us a functioning network of music stores, music distributors, music labels, and popular recording artists that could earn a decent living from their succesful recorded work.

The streaming system works very differently: New Way

1 – Radio is still around and paying royalties, but listenership has declined steadily for 20+ years, reducing ad rates and royalty payments.
2 – If you add Taylor Swift to your streaming favorites and can hear her songs whenever you want, Spotify pays royalties at the level of $.0005 per song streamed. Let’s use this to project some earnings. Taylor Swift now needs 100,000 streamed plays to earn the same as selling 1 single CD. New Way

Out of 10k fans, if half buy the new album that earns her $5000 Old Way. To earn that from streaming she would need 10 million plays from those 10k fans, or 1ooo plays per person (20 per week) all year.  5k fans that would have bought the CD would need to stream her song 40 times a week for a year to equal the same earnings from the CD years. New Way

3 – It’s not just Miss Swift’s bank account – think of how many other jobs are removed in this model — the music store (most are long gone), the music distributor (also going extinct), the music label (down to 2 majors left), the professional music studios (paid for by the labels), all the artwork and packaging, truck drivers, etc. and on top of that artists can no longer earn the same streaming hits to people. That’s a lot of jobs wiped out by online distribution of music.

I agree that streaming won’t go away any time soon, so the major artists will continue to negotiate over rates. I don’t buy any of the crying from the streaming companies about how expensive it is to license songs. You are launching an entire business on the art/content of others and you should have to pay a rate that allows your content creators to not just survive, but thrive.

I have legally streamed my music to at least hundreds of thousands of people and I have earned < $1 in all that time. It is not a sustainable model, convenient or not.

Buying Musical Product – What Do You Want?

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So the CD is dead, the mp3 is going nowhere fast, everyone seems to stream or listen to their mp3 libraries, the HD Digital files are just starting to gain traction, and analog records keeps chugging along towards their 100th birthday.

What’s a music lover to do with their money these days? Many that I know go to shows whenever possible, buy vinyl, both new for around $25/LP and used around $2/LP. Many pay Apple, Google, Spotify or whoever to buy or stream an mp3 version. One strange dude I know still goes to BestBuy to buy new CD’s. Indie shops and truck stops still have random cassettes.

I’m getting a first generation Pono Player any day now, so I’ll be soon buying some HD digital albums to expand on the 5-10 I own now. I’ll also be re-ripping some of my favorite CD’s as 16/44 WAV’s to load onto the Pono Player – it’s high-end amp and DAC should make them fresh and new after years of mp3’ing my ears to death.

Figuring out what to buy from the world of music (and sadly, the fraction of it that is available in HD digital) will be tough but I’m all about getting as close to the “album” model of listening – put it on and let it play, in order, with no random access cueing, for 12-20 minutes, with an endless side. Then flip the side and play the rest.

Then’s there’s the issue of storage…. do we want nearly permanent discs of plastic, to be read by either vibrating stylus or laser light, for our precious music? Do we want to own nothing and just rent everything? Somewhere between those two extremes lies the answer.

More to come on this topic soon…

Streaming For Profits – Online Radio and Royalties

Interesting post from David Lowery from the band Cracker, showing the dirty details of what artists make in royalties these days.

My Song Got Played On Pandora 1 Million Times and All I Got Was $16.89, Less Than What I Make From a Single T-Shirt Sale! | The Trichordist.

Still a relatively popular outfit with some good songs in the back-catalog, Lowery shows how 1 million plays of a Cracker song on a service like Pandora trickles back down to him and the other songwriters and stake holders. He also shows how this royalty payment compares to services like XM/Sirius (satellite) radio and AM/FM (terrestrial) radio.

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Besides interesting behind the scenes stuff, why is this news now? Because the internet radio services are lobbying congress to reduce their royalty rates even further. I, of course, am against this, and most artists are starting to see the ridiculousness of this proposal. Continue reading

Numerica! Finally

Yeah yeah yeah I know my projects take forever to come out sometimes. I’ve heard that before. I try to make it worth the wait.


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So there’s a new 2MERICA LP entitled “Mass Entertainment”, featuring 5 songs of fresh funky goodness, about to hit the interwebs in a couple of weeks. Yes finally, some new funk from the #1 funk band in Cleveland (look it up!!).

The title track is out exclusive on Jango Radio and it’s bumpin up the echarts, so click over to http://www.jango.com/music/2MERICA and give the thumbs up so we can keep on truckin…

 

The Day I Cut The Cord

I hate TV. I watch too much TV. How much? Anything more than an hour a day equals too much. I can get a weeks worth of sitting around done in one lazy night in front of the the TV. I always said If I just wrote/played music or worked on my other projects instead of watching the boob tube then Hello Productivity!

Plus nowadays, I just turn off the TV to end up on Netflix, Hulu, or watching a DVD for another couple hours. So I’ve finally done something I’ve wanted to do for years — yes, today the man is coming to shut OFF my cable.

It’s called “capping the line” according to my friendly cable company rep, who’s voice dropped to a silent defeat when I told him I want to keep my broadband and get rid of the cable package. He must have known from my cheap package and the tone of my voice that I wasn’t going to be talked out of it.


 

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I think I’ve lived with cable about 29 of the past 30 years so it will be an adjustment for sure. I’ll have to report back after a few months.

But for now, today is the big day, February 2011, goodbye Pawn Stars. Goodbye Top Chef. Goodbye Operacion Repo. Goodbye Sportscenter. Goodbye Daily Show and Colbert. Goodbye Chelsea Lately. Goodbye Tosh.O. Goodbye anything else that I can’t find (or won’t bother to watch) on the internet.

If I can survive this cold-turkey I’ll probably end up with Apple TV and an iPad sharing more media than ever before to every room in my house. But at least it will be things selected by me, and my preferred* ‘promotional messages’ will be selected by me also.

*yeah right