01 April 2004

Coinciding nicely with the heated MP3 debate that's been raging in blogdom, International DJ magazine runs a cover story special report on the downloading phenomenon in the April issue, investigating the impact that the internet is having on the dance music industry. Definitely worth a read, for those who still read printed words, that is.

A few points of particular interest:

But for all the negativity, there are many who believe that digital downloads have actually helped boost sales of their singles by allowing people to "try before they buy". In a BPI study conducted in 2002 - at the height of the wars between the major labels and file sharing websites - 60% of respondents said that trying a track out before they bought it was one of the main reasons why they downloaded music illegally.

A nice thought, but deeply suspect in my view.

Just as music buyers have been given a choice, so too have dance labels. On the back of the success of iTunes, the majority have been scrambling to add their catalogues onto the numerous paid-for download services cropping up.....
.....one major factor in the popularity of download sales for labels is the ease with which they can turn a profit. Without the major overheads of a traditional release, you can swell your coffers - and those of your artists - fairly easily. Likewise, you can keep making money on back catalogue, without the need for expensive represses".

I find this very encouraging. The dance labels are getting stuck in and making it pay. Creativity can still be a bankable commodity, even in the MP3 age.

"To be honest, I haven't played off vinyl for over a year now," admits John '00' Fleming. "I'm fully CD and Final Scratch (a hardware/software interface that allows digital music files to be played, scratched and manipulated). I think the kids nowadays are used to looking at waveforms, at home on computers, and that's the format that they want to spin their music off"

John's almost certainly right about that. As the authors humourously suggest in their opening scenario: "..a world where vinyl is purely the stuff of fetishists' fantasies, CDs are our generation's Betamax tapes and Technics 1210s have been replaced by laptops, next generation MP3 decks and portable music storage devices no bigger than your hand." Us (slightly!) older consumers need to get on board now, before our CD collections become useless scrap and our belief-systems shatter into a thousand pieces....

"The problem is" Amon Tobin told us "so far the sound quality of MP3s or whatever is just not good enough. Any digital records I use in my set I make myself or just record from vinyl. This way I can play WAV files, which are better quality then MP3 - similar to CD quality, which is ample for club soundsystems."

I was worried about the sound quality issue too. But for my basic needs and hi-fi equipment, I really can't tell any noticeable difference between CD and MP3 quality. Maybe I've just got crap ears.

"If anything's going to die, it'll be the CD", Amon Tobin says. "I think downloads will replace CDs but not vinyl. My guess is that eventually we'll see all digital formats from CD to MP3 consolidated and streamlined, becoming more and more convenient to use until eventually we're all beaming files through our eyeballs and mapping them into our brains, or whatever. Vinyl, on the other hand, has never been about convenience and will continue to survive, appreciated by a minority for it's unique qualities."

Yeah, I can relate to that. I feel like CDs were just an intermediate holding pattern until something better came along. Even though I've been predominantly buying music on CD for the past 10 years or so, I don't really feel that much emotional attachment to the objects themselves, apart from some of the more lavish packages. But I still have a great deal of affection for certain vinyl treasures. Also, because it's now commonplace to burn your own CD-rs, it's taken all the magic out of the CD format. I remember being very excited the first time I got my own music onto CD, but now I master onto CD-r as a matter of course. Getting music onto vinyl on the other hand, still needs specialist knowledge and equipment that requires a certain level of outlay, belief and commitment from the artist/label. To enshrine your work in wax is to truly immortalise it. That's why vinyl will always have a special appeal, beyond the convenience of digital formats.

By the way, for all you Grime/Eski heads out there, Wiley's "Treadin' On Thin Ice" got the album of the month. "Explosively original"...okay, I'm sold on the idea.

I'm still experimenting with iPod's shuffle play experience, but no new insights yet. But interestingly, the first track that iPod elected to play today was "Rise Up (vocal mix)" by fellow blogger Grievous Angel. Now when he finally gets his shit together, I think Mr Meme is gonna be one of the real pioneers of the MP3 age. An artist who communicates his thoughts and opinions freely and makes his work instantly accessible to anyone who wants it. I will be watching developments at his new blog closely, taking notes. Incidently, I agree with most points that Paul makes concerning download culture. In particular, the freedom to experience a wide range of music without the weight of ownership, particularly resonates with me.

But I much prefer the "Hard Dub" mix, Paul....