Recoil / Alan Wilder - 'Music For The Masses - I think not'

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29 Feb, 2008 Share

Recoil / Alan Wilder
Editor's note: It was late January 2008 when we contacted Alan Wilder (ex-Depeche Mode) for an article on the shifting musicmarket and the position of the artist in this. The request came at the right time since Wilder had just announced that a limited enhanced single for 'Prey'/'Allelujah' would be released on February 25th, surprisingly not by the record label but by Russian fans. An interview quickly became an open letter from Alan Wilder...

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We live in a world of technology - exponentially increasing breakthroughs in all things scientific. So fast that we can't even keep up with it. So why is it that the audio quality of music is degenerating? Music 'sounds' worse. We have stopped listening, we don't have time. We only have time to be smacked in the face by the loudest, most attention-grabbing blast of souped-up noise imaginable until ear fatigue sets in and the desire to 'change the record' takes over. Why are the adverts on TV twice the volume of the regular broadcasts?
It's the only way to get our attention in the VOLUME WAR.

In recent years, a revolution in processing technology has instigated a change in the way albums are mastered. In order to compete, A&R men, producers, even the artists are demanding that mastering engineers, via digital compression, crank up the level so high that all dynamic range is callously sacrificed.

(Compression essentially increases the volume of the quieter elements within a mix while holding steady the peaks of the louder parts)

The effect of excessive compression is to obscure sonic detail and rob music of its emotional power leaving listeners strangely unmoved. In fact, the ear naturally compresses high volume blasts to protect itself - this is why we associate compression with level. Our sophisticated human brains have evolved to pay particular attention to any loud noise, so initially, compressed sounds seem more exciting. It is short lived. After a few minutes, research shows, constant volume grows tiresome and fatiguing.

True excitement comes from variation in rhythm, tone, pitch and a wide range of dynamics which in turn provides space and warmth - something you're unlikely to find in much of today's rock/pop music. If you want a good example, listen to The Arctic Monkeys 'I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor' for a bombardment of the most unsubtle, one-dimensional noise.


The download spiral...

At the moment, MP3 compression allows a smaller file to be created by excluding the musical information that the human ear is less likely to notice. Much of the information left out is at the very high and low end (MP3s don't reproduce reverb well for similar transience reasons). So when the already squashed CD master is then consumed via MP3, the flattening effect is enhanced further. The result - an unsatisfying, brittle, indistinct, hollow experience with no punch.

Just as the CD replaced vinyl, we all know that MP3 and other digital formats are quickly replacing CDs as the most popular way to listen to music. This means more convenience but inferior sound (although that may improve over time). Even the audiophiles have moved on to multi-media - the iPod or iPhone being the 'must have' item of choice. Many have lost interest in high-end stereo systems while younger listeners have grown so used to dynamically compressed music that the battle has already been lost.

But this is not the whole story. We are seeing the ramifications of this subtle but significant listening shift for the record industry. You see, it's not just about audio quality. It is about craft, toil. It's about art...


Art for art's sake

Recoil / Alan WilderI am slightly out of the ordinary in that I am not a hugely 'successful' artist in terms of commercial sales and in that sense, I struggle to be heard just like millions of other musicians. However, because of my background in Depeche Mode, I am secure, which has meant (and continues to mean) that I don't have to tailor what I do to conform in any way. The market shift hasn't really affected me that much. It certainly doesn't change how I approach making music. It does reinforce my cynicism towards the injustice of so much good music lost in the mêlée of dross. But that is nothing new. The nature of mainstream radio hasn't improved in any way; magazines have minimal impact, television exposure is more limited than ever - notwithstanding MTV channels which have become more and more marginalised. In fact the best way to get your music heard is through a TV advertisement.

Leaving viability aside for a moment, I would like to see a return to high quality art, embracing all the wonders of technology and science, delivered at a price that reflects the time and effort the artist has put in. Call me old fashioned. Just as one would expect to pay for a hand-crafted piece of furniture or a designer dress or a beautifully printed photograph. Rather than pandering to mass media, why not also produce higher resolution audio - maybe on DVD since that's a format most people can engage with without having to buy new equipment? Combine this with lovingly produced artwork which, if a printed option is too expensive, can at least be downloaded.

Collectors items are becoming a way to escape the turmoil. It makes a lot of sense to subsidise the production of an expensive format for those who really appreciate quality and collectibility by allowing a wider audience to cough up a minimal amount for the fundamental elements.

Some have tried. For instance, Magne Furuholmen (A-ha) released and sold 300 copies of a special 10" vinyl picture disc with hand-painted original sleeves, accompanied by a CD containing all the songs, a poster and a documentary charting the creation of the artwork. The package sold at 100 Euros a piece. Afterwards, all songs were made available on-line for free via MySpace. Hats off to a bold approach which effectively encouraged each serious fan to also become a kind of personal investor.

The successful implementation of a DVD/art/film package such as this by a major company largely remains to be seen. No reason for it not to work as long as the label takes a pragmatic view about downloads - that they can only really act as a promotional tool rather than generating a sustainable source of income.

But really, coming up with a format is the least of the challenges - the difficulty as always is how to sell it.

Certainly trying to get any sort of coverage in the record stores ceased to be a viable option some time ago. The chains themselves are on their last legs (note the recent demise of the excellent 'Fopp' stores) or they are mutating into something different - focusing on games, merchandise, iPod accessories and so on. To ensure their own survival, with their 'no returns' policy, the record stores exert heavy pressure on the record companies by only agreeing to stock 'dead certs' - just the best selling artists, in order to avoid being left with excess stock.

As for marketing and promotion, I want the first listening experience of one of my records to be exactly as I intend it to be heard. For that reason, no longer will I be offering up advance copies for charlatans posing as journalists to sell on E-bay or upload to The Pirate Bay 3 months ahead of release. Considering the amount of advance promotion I get these days, it won't make a blind bit of difference to the sales performance.

Not that there aren't any positive sides to fan-shared files. Clearly, people in remote parts of the world - Siberia for example - can potentially be exposed to my music this way, albeit not, as yet, at optimum quality. It's not ideal but better than no opportunity to hear it at all. Even with CDs, in Russia, they are impossible to buy outside of the major cities which is why we get sharp, entrepreneurial fan sites buying up all the city's stock and selling it on to others outside for a small profit margin.

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From Russia with love

Recoil / Alan WilderRecoil recently released an enhanced CD including a film and a special booklet. Let's take a look at the process. The 'Prey'/'Allelujah' package was brought about through fan pressure; by those that want a physical product - completists maybe, but also music lovers who prefer the audio and tactile quality of a CD over downloadable 'faceless' products. The tracks had already been available as downloads but it wasn't satisfying for many. The generation gap is showing.

Following a successful promo appearance in Moscow, a local DM/Recoil webmaster managed to persuade Gala Records (EMI's local label - Mute's partner) that it would be worthwhile to release this disc. They agreed - not without conditions mind you. So what was agreed?

Firstly, the promo trip was instigated by an Electro club manager. The club paid for and largely organised the visit. On the back of that, Gala arranged some radio, press and TV. The results were more than encouraging but despite this, the conditions of a release meant that: the fans had to pay for the manufacture of the disc, the fans had to implement pay structures and distribute the disc via their own website, other Recoil fans produced the artwork for a 28 page booklet that accompanied the disc, another fan produced and directed the 9 minute film that was included for 'Allelujah', the artist (me) produced the music in his own studio, the artist funds its own website along with a dedicated webmaster that works for free, the artist and the fans took care of the on-line marketing, promotion and sales support. All these services were provided as labours of love - no cost except for time and effort through sheer will to make it happen. Astounding. And it warms the cockles of my heart.

So what did the record company do, you ask? A good question. The record company organised the parts into a manufacturable product - this means making a production master from existing music mixes and cobbling together a two-page inlay with label copy from existing artwork. The local licensee added cyrillic legal jargon to the inlay and alerted some press and TV. Not much really is it?

Ok, this is not the norm and as such, slightly unfair. It was a kind of one-off experiment. Gala/Mute might argue - a favour. But it is most definitely the way things are going. Why won't they release the CD in the usual way? Because they don't believe the demand justifies the effort and manufacturing costs when the trend is for cheap or free downloadable music.

The Russian project was an interesting experiment but it could only expect limited success given the current view of that country and the customer mistrust that seemed to permeate the whole enterprise. It wasn't an ideal way to try to sell a product but that doesn't preclude the process itself becoming perfectly workable - as long as solid logistics are in place, making it simple and reliable for the customer.

(Note: despite the obvious hurdles, in fact we still managed to sell all the planned stock prior to release, such was the demand)


Pop will eat itself?

Recoil / Alan WilderSo why bother with a record deal at all? And that is what many artists are now asking themselves. Why wouldn't they when they are being told that their company just can't afford to spend any money? Or that the company wants a cut of the artist's live income to pay for marketing. This is why we see the mass exodus taking place, squeezing the already crippled record industry. The artists that find it easiest to walk away are those that are already highly successful, compounding the problem still further. Why? Because the likes of Radiohead and Prince can afford to give their music away as a cheap promotional gimmick in order to create publicity for their respective machines. They get noticed for doing so and benefit in other areas. So with everyone now expecting free music, all the other artists lose what little income they could expect from record sales, maybe leading to a low credit score, even though the love and money spent producing their product hasn't changed.

I've long since given up expecting to make a profit from what I do. And you might expect that I would be full of resentment and bitterness toward my own record company but that's not really it. Mute are victims in all this. The reality is that all the companies are suffering and are desperately clinging on by their fingernails trying to come up with solutions as the rug is pulled from beneath them.

In Mute's case, EMI have inflicted so many spending restrictions and are 're-shaping' and 'streamlining' with department 'centralisation' and the reduction of the artist roster. EMI big cheese Guy Hands describes his business as 'an unsustainable model' with a need to 'reduce waste'.... Garbage collection. Thinly veiled rhetoric meaning CUTBACKS! He talks of 'eliminating duplication and bureaucracy'. Bottom line: 2000 jobs have to go.

More worryingly, he also offers us the information that currently about 3% of the entire roster is profitable and that those that never will be profitable, no matter how the model is changed, can kiss their arses goodbye.

That is about as far away as you could ever get from what I understood as the Mute philosophy, where the profit from major selling acts is used to nurture all the other artists on the label. Art. A record company does not sell baked beans, it exposes art to the masses. An unquantifiable thing. Baked Beans - a quantifiable thing.

But is that philosophy realistic in these times? Clearly not if you're ruled by a private equity conglomerate. The Mute home (now part of the EMI building) is a shadow of its former self. A few lost souls wandering around in a post-apocalyptic daze, like a scene from '28 Days Later'. There are some good people at the label who have their hands tied. And their feet bound. And some gaffer taped firmly across their mouths, helplessly kidnapped having been lured into the corporate machine.

Of course Mute can't just up and leave. It would be like trying to put your house up for sale when you're only renting it. I imagine Daniel Miller is as concerned as the next tenant. He is contracted to EMI as Mute's label boss and his own future I imagine is unclear. Maybe he is tired of the whole business, his original vision impaired beyond repair. I'm sure he is just as passionate about music as he ever was, but who would want to start a new record company in the current climate?

And can the musician act as entrepreneur? Is it fair to expect our scatterbrained creative songwriters and virtuosos to also hold a degree in business management? Formulating their own strategies and marketing models as they go? I mean wasn't this the whole reason record companies and managers came into existence in the first place? From my own experience, simply trying to 'stage manage' what has been a very small-level experiment has taken up most of the first 3 months of the year - valuable time which I intended to spend composing new music.

Business acumen will vary but it is essential for artists and their representatives to try and stay ahead of the game, to think up new endeavors. One could see the return of small art-focused indie labels employing a new modus operandi (it's already happening if you look around) with minimal overheads, operating more as logistical support to the artists, organising the manufacture and effective mail order distribution via the artists websites and other associated outlets. Taking the strain. (This doesn't mean one has to abandon the idea of mass availability via iTunes or similar)

By the time I finish another album, who knows if I'll have a record deal at all? It would be a shame to end my association with Mute after such so many good years but I've got a feeling the decision could be out of my hands. Much depends on the future of Mute/EMI and indeed all the companies. It could be that the major selling artists on Mute just get sucked into the EMI machine and all the others fall by the wayside, including the Mute label itself. It will be a sad day indeed.

So who shall we blame for the whole mess? Do we stick two fingers up at the record companies who have sat around twiddling their thumbs, peddling overpriced re-issues for years while their A&R men bombard us with shallow, faceless pop idol, X factor boy bands? Is it fair to say “... well, you had it coming”...? Or do we accuse the casual 'non-listener' with the attention span of a three year old living in a disposable, homogenized, Paris Hilton-obsessed society, over stimulated with too much life choice? A society that places value in triviality and accepts mediocrity without much question? Or perhaps the devaluation has evolved from the cult of the DJ, where anyone can regurgitate the very essence of rock 'n' roll by lifting an entire 70's funk classic, adding some rap drivel over the top and calling it their own work? Is modern music regarded as an art form at all anymore? Or is it just another business now?

Alan Wilder (Thanks to Bernard Van Isacker for his input)

More info on Recoil can be found at the links below:
www.recoil.co.uk
www.myspace.com/recoil
www.facebook.com/recoil

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Posted by: Mortal Mind on Jul 10, 09 | 7:36 am

The solution is to let the old record companies to drive against a concrete wall with full throttle. Those who are smarter will see what is coming and they will jump off the car. Then they will realize that there really are others who jumped off as well, before it was too late. They can unite their forces and found new companies that follow sanity and beauty of real music.

Posted by: kaneone on Jul 07, 09 | 2:43 am

Hi Alan, as being a DM fan, I always had the feeing that you made some sort of a mistake or miss- step by leaving DM. I read your article with respect and the true words you speak. I enjoy your music allot, I must say. But leaving DM must have been a grief in lots of respect. Still In my way you have always been a part ( and always will be ) of DM. Myself, I am a good singer with a similar voice as gahan. But not famous :-)\

So nice to hear from you, by the way. Been wondering. John/ Netherlands.

Posted by: Red Sekta on Apr 13, 09 | 5:57 am

Thank you Alan for speaking your mind.

Posted by: Spacehotel on Nov 27, 08 | 4:32 pm

A great article, not a soloution (nor should it be). True those of us really 'in the trenches' with zero income or promotion are in a different position overall but I can associate with much of the sentiment.

I think the reason this debate has gone on and on with no fix is because it's not 'universally bad'. If we could get back to our idealistic 'sound quality' and 'record company is everything' days we'd win as listeners (and some lucky artists), we'd loose as consumers as a whole (And smaller artists).

The internet HAS changed everything for better and for worse and it's not going to change again overnight, it's us who must change. First and foremost is making music for the love of it rather than profit. Secondly is being able to make music rather than having to make burgers to pay the rent. This clash of requirements is at the heart of the problem for many artists.

I've been making music for over a decade, and it's only in recent years that people worldwide have starting to hear it (thanks Mr Internet).

It does seem at the moment that I must constantly be 'in the red' for my art though, as If I absorb most of the costs of getting it out there (and that includes vast amounts of unpaid time when I could be earning £££ in a regular job).

Nobody knows the answer, and it's unfair to expect Mr Wilder to have the answer, but at least he's another artist speaking up about the need and desire to get things sorted out for everyone's sake. Yes it's been said before but it needs to keep being said by those who feel it pasionately before all we have left is the X-Factor and 'real music' has died through rising costs of living and no viable way outside of 'hobbyist musician' to continue.

I'd also like to add that the power of fans can not be understated. They are the lifeblood.

Posted by: gedlynnuk on May 23, 08 | 1:42 pm

Great article - and would just like to add that it seems Wilder's conception of the Music Industry bears comparison with other such systems throughout history. Whenever an entity -be it country, political system or business becomes too big, it becomes too confident, and consequently, decadent. When this happens, the grass-roots which lose out in this process (in the case of music through lack of choice, reduced sound-quality, homogenisation, art reduced to commodity etc) resort to the greatest power they have : to reclaim the situation through the strengh of NEW IDEAS. This article hints at where those new ideas could be found - it can't tell you where they ALL are, because that's down to US to find out for ourselves. However, from reading this, I do have an idea that there are plenty out there if we ditch the idea of music making as a 'professional occupation' and replace it with one of a 'small, lifelong enterprise done by sharing personal ideas with a group of interested fans/ friends.' In short, by making your music to be a cottage industry in place of expecting it to be a tin of beans.

Posted by: dmlive2k on Mar 13, 08 | 9:28 pm

Great article! There is actually some new studies coming out, one from I believe Harvard if I'm not mistaken, that addresses the issue of compression and it's emotional affect on the listener. Alan eluded to this early in the article and it's definitely true. One song that I think has suffered the most from compression and bad production is "Treat Me Like Your Money" by Macy Gray. The chorus would otherwise be brilliant, but it is so distorted from compression and over limits on sound that the song is destroyed. Buying the CD won't even help! I wish that Alan would have mentioned the Depeche Mode collection that was just released on DVD in 2007. It was brilliantly done! And his own past album was released in 5.1 DD DVD as well which was great. I never even listed to the CD. Just the 5.1 audio Dvd. I'm glad to not be a musician trying to make it today. No wonder for American Idols' success!

Posted by: Oenyaw on Mar 07, 08 | 4:57 pm

This is a great article. I have been writing on my own site for a while now concerns on the issue of the music "industry". http://www.oenyaw.com/The_Story.html
Have a look if you like.

I did just think of something scary....
A couple of years ago, a large entertainment corp. published that a certain artist was "climbing the charts", a big new sensation. The "charts" was their own sales charts. The idea was to fabricate the story that this singer was the next pop star. When such a story is published, all the stores follow suit by stocking the product and pushing the product for sales. Well, the plan worked beautifully and the singer became a multi-million selling pop sensation, even though she doesn't really exist. (Names withheld to protect the writer.)
I think it's brilliant!

Posted by: Jay of Soil & Eclipse on Mar 06, 08 | 5:13 am

I think Alan's words really embody much of what a lot of musicians are thinking but are perhaps not willing to admit. His last comments really hit home with me. If the psychology of listeners has become such that they view music as a disposable item akin to chewing gum, and if the art has lost it's value then the only way to bring value back is to increase it's quality and and rarity. However, I am not advocating the eradication of mp3's or compressed audio nor do I see this as a simple question of supply and demand but there has to be some formula that brings the art back to the art form. We all need to place greater value in music as art and work to re-define it's purpose for our selves and our listeners. Music is meant to be shared but it should also be cherished.

Posted by: NastyByte on Mar 06, 08 | 3:24 am

As a Producer/Director of concert dvds, I have long suggested that artists produce combination cd/dvds, with encryption. Record labels are so busy moaning about their losses they haven't taken the time to look at real possible solutions. I had to bring my work to the distributors to get business moving - the labels are like passengers on a sinking ship that can't even tell when someone's trying to help rescue them.

Unlike audio mp3s, with video, at least the fans are aware that the YouTube version is not as good as what they'd get on dvd, so as much as I don't enjoy seeing my work compressed to hell, at least it draws the attention from fans and gives everyone even in the most remote places on earth a chance to see them.

My videos are my artwork, but in the "real world" I have to compete with video production houses that slap concerts together with editing switchers as if it were on a tv show and finish a whole concert in about a day or two - what I refer to as a McVideo. And to top things off, I have to do my careful, handmade work for the about the same fees as those McVideo companies, even though I'm spending 3-5 days on details and editing each track differently.

As artists, it seems we're driven to plough ahead, against all odds and reason.

Posted by: Lucifer Spam on Mar 05, 08 | 4:24 pm

"The concern of the musician is music. The concern of the professional musician is business. Only become a professional musician if there is no choice." - Robert Fripp

Posted by: DjB® on Mar 05, 08 | 2:04 am

Just forgot to remind you that...
"subHuman" *IS* a loud album, the loudest track peaks at 96dB, it *IS* clip-pressed and qualifies for a bad-mastered album.

Posted by: DjB® on Mar 05, 08 | 1:49 am

Yes, the record companies had it comming. The CD was a very overpriced product in latin america. If you buy 4 copies "Oasis" latest CD, you'd spend the price of a brand new Sony DVD-Player or 3 week groceries - HERE. In Europe and USA is a bit different, because we are monopolized. I used to buy those Depeche Mode vinyls (we only had vinyls in the market way back in 1990) and man, those vinyls costed so much. We had to swallow monopolies and corporation prices to have access to good music, if any artist sealed his retirement and is living in the "safe side" today, it was because of that age.

Internet brought choice, information and liberty. Latest Lame encoded MP3's produces undistiguishable sound from CD (V2, V0). But for those who think this is not enough, why not go FLAC? FLAC is a bit-perfect audio CD replication. Tons of MP3 on the net, tons of FLAC on the net. FLAC is freedom, MP3 is convinience. It's just not convinient anymore to do a 5 hour bus trip and swapping over 8 CD's to listen to on the road.

Of course, we from south america had it coming... we used to wait for years for releases to come down here. I remember seeing "Construction Time Again" hitting the stores almost 10 years later its release in HERE. Because MUTE also played the monopolist just like any other record label. Just like Microsoft pushes for a thousand dollars price for a Windows consumer copy in undeveloped countries, that has been the same way with record companies.

If record companies didn't compete in the loudness war, if the CD was never over-priced, no one was going through this. But you asked!!! The only reason piracy exists is because there is someone "making loads of money" out of something that was not supposed to have that price.

Now the art wants to be free.
And it will be free.
It's just starting to get out of its cage.

Posted by: dirigibl on Mar 02, 08 | 7:05 am

PART I: Casual Listeners vs. Fans
By Cyn Conrad of Blood Ruby (www.bloodruby.com)

Music consumers have always been of different calibers.

I’d say that the majority are casual listeners, who use music as a companion to their daily activities--driving, surfing online, as background at work, at the gym, and so forth. These are uncritical listeners who just want to fill silence with some ambient noise to energize or soothe them.

I would argue that MP3s are popular because most people multitask when they are listening to music, so the decrease in quality isn’t as noticeable to them. The whole concept of making music portable speaks volumes to this.

For many (but not all) casual listeners, music is a commodity, like fashion. A “flavor of the week” music culture certainly doesn’t help this attitude, either. Music, apparently, is disposable. I also think that’s why illegal downloading is so popular. Why pay for the original when you can get a cheap knock-off that serves your purposes just as well? You'll be on to the next big thing next week.

On the flipside of this are music’s true fans. Chances are, if you’re reading SIDE-LINE, or indeed any music media at all, you’re somewhere on the fan end of the spectrum. On the very extreme of this end are audiophiles, who put aside time to do one thing and one thing only: listen to music. They want to get lost in it, like a good book or movie. These are the people who will choose quality over quantity, longevity over fads, and the listening experience over convenience and price point.

Audiophiles or not, true fans are the people worth marketing to. I’ve always said that one good fan is worth a thousand casual listeners. The problem with major labels is that they are marketing to the larger pool of casual listeners, not to fans.

Casual listeners could care less where they get the music from, just that they get it, so of course they’ll “steal” it if given the opportunity. There is no one-on-one relationship between them and the artists except for the money exchanging hands (and even that is many times removed and diluted).

This is where the Indie music industry is different. Indie artists and small labels take time and care to develop relationships with their fanbases. This personal connection is what sells the music, not just the music itself. After all, would you cheat a friend? If nothing else, it gives a potential pirate pause.

Posted by: dirigibl on Mar 02, 08 | 7:04 am

PART II: The Changing Role of Consumers
By Cyn Conrad of Blood Ruby (www.bloodruby.com)

Isis pointed out that “anybody can make music and distribute it. That there is more music means that there are more bands that are good. But it also means that there are thousands of mediocre and bad bands out there and there is no 'power' in the record labels to weed out what gets published to start out with.”

While it’s true that with any open system comes overwhelming choice, the filters that labels once provided haven’t disappeared; they’ve just changed hands. Informal and formal media, in the form of blogs, forums, and, yes, publications like SIDE-LINE, all exist to sort through the noise and find the best stuff. The problem, then, is finding the filters that best align with your personal taste, or failing to find any, creating your own.

Fans, in essence, are becoming the new labels--filtering music for others, providing publicity, even going so far as to finance artist projects (such as the Recoil example here). The audience for a particular artist is in a state of constant flux, being created, compounded and fragmented in ways that even the savviest marketer couldn’t predict. Whether this is good or bad depends on your point of view--is it mob rule, or wisdom of the masses?

Posted by: dirigibl on Mar 02, 08 | 7:03 am

PART III: Degrading Audio Quality
By Cyn Conrad of Blood Ruby (www.bloodruby.com)

Olli writes, “you can't expect sound quality on an MP3 player with cheap headphones (it's just another reason for recording companies to compress sound).” I think Olli is on to something here, especially when it comes to spending time and money on music production.

Why should an artist record music with sonic nuance if those details won’t be audible in the final product? Studio time is money; the goal is to get the artist in and out of the studio as fast as possible. Pitch-correct the off-key vocals. Quantize the drumbeat. Sequence in some keyboard fills. Flubbed the bassline? Don’t worry, we can fix that in post. The result? All the quality of cheap sweatshop manufacturing.

What’s the advantage of buying a degraded, compressed CD over an MP3? On the opposite pole, why should people buy lossy MP3s of a far superior-sounding CD? An inferior product has little value in the eyes of the consumer. Which brings us back to illegal downloading, doesn’t it?

Shadow27 writes, “I think that some quality issues of MP3 degradation will disappear as memory prices continue to drop. Why compress files?” I'd add that it’s not just a question of memory, it’s also bandwidth. In an instant-gratification world, why would a casual listener want to wait for a lossless file to download? Eventually this problem, too, should disappear. But will the consumer mindset also change?

Look at how long it’s taken for HD video to finally set in. The technology has been around for quite awhile. It’s only now that the price for HD electronics has finally fallen within reach of the average consumer. Even then, I'd argue that consumer motivation has more to do with impending broadcast format changes than connoisseurship. In fact, while the popularity of HD video is on the rise, so too are compressed iPod videos, low-bandwidth streaming video… and illegal torrents pirated straight from, you guessed it, inferior DVDs and worse.

For now, the only way I see of getting around the problem of degraded audio formats is for artists to tap and nurture the audience for audiophile formats. That, of course, means producing something worthy of audiophile listening. Until the demand for a quality listening experience supersedes the demand for cheap and plentiful music, though, I don’t foresee much of a mainstream market for high-quality formats in the future.

Posted by: dirigibl on Mar 02, 08 | 7:02 am

PART IV: Free Music for Sale
By Cyn Conrad of Blood Ruby (www.bloodruby.com)

If the only way to deal with piracy is to co-opt it into a marketing model, where does that leave music?

The problem with marginalizing music into a mere promotional vehicle is that music is the essence of what a musician does. Of all the ways an artist can make money (everything from CD sales to licensing to touring to t-shirts), no other component is done with more care and soul than the music itself. So why would anyone give the best part away in hopes of selling the lesser parts? That is exactly what this model is asking artists to do.

And if music is the throwaway part, then more attention and care needs to go into the other stuff, the “real product,” much to the chagrin of music fans like isis who writes, “What if I'm only interested in the music and not the paraphernalia? Can I only aspire to the mp3 copy?”

Using recorded music to promote concerts and tours, as TheConcluder suggests, doesn’t work for every artist. Especially when you consider that, for the average band, the costs involved in touring are often greater than the earnings. Many smaller venues nowadays don’t pay artists much, if anything—and in some cases, artists wind up “paying” venues instead, via minimum draw (aka Pay to Play) agreements.

So should music be free? Perhaps, but the money has to come from somewhere. Some artists might opt for selling the by-products, others for selling advertising space on their websites, and still others for selling tickets to their concerts. And perhaps a few will still produce a product that is worth buying, in and of itself.

Posted by: dirigibl on Mar 02, 08 | 7:02 am

PART V: The Changing Role of the Artist
By Cyn Conrad of Blood Ruby (www.bloodruby.com)

Regardless, the idea that music is no longer the product leads musicians through a bit of an identity crisis. As Neuroticpuppy writes, “Some people only make music because that's what they live for, and want to live from. Not every artist wants to ‘keep their day’ job. Their day job is their art.” If your art isn’t profitable enough to support yourself, though, there is little choice but to have a day job. In the DIY music business, the day job for the profitable artist is the business related to their art.

To that end, I find myself agreeing with vleon1012, who writes, “Artists should learn to embrace the full spectrum of what it means to be an artist. …A true artist, with a comprehensive vision, can take it outside of the studio and self-distribute.” But that is because I’m not only a musician, I am also a marketer by trade, and so I recognize and appreciate the art of marketing as well as the art of music. Marketing doesn’t have to be something distasteful, manipulative or soul-crushing. The whole package can be artful, which is at the heart of what vleon1012 is saying.

But as an artist, I also sympathize with the opposite opinion, as expressed by Shotgun: “it comes back to marketing and not what music was supposed to be - pure expression.” Most of us create music for ourselves, first and foremost. However, the moment we play our music for someone else, we are promoting it, whether we think of it that way or not. It’s no longer just about us and our need to “express.” It’s also about them and their need to be entertained. Music is as much about the fans as it is about the artists.

Posted by: dirigibl on Mar 02, 08 | 7:00 am

PART VI: The State of the Industry
By Cyn Conrad of Blood Ruby (www.bloodruby.com)

I think that at least part of the problem the major labels are facing has to do with the limits that corporate profitability puts on their ability to adapt. Whether funded by private equity or traded publicly, record companies are expected to create sustainable growth for their investors and shareholders. This means being more profitable this year than last. The five-year, ten-year plan has been increasingly cannibalized for more immediate returns. No wonder the majors are scaling back their rosters to only the most profitable artists while ignoring the need to keep the pipeline filled with up-and-comers, as tristraum points out.

When you’re expected to maintain growth, there’s no room to experiment, never mind reinvent. Taking any kind of risk when your company is already at the verge is tantamount to suicide. Therefore, record companies try to make the best they can of the existing model. They try to retrofit the old machine instead of building a new one. It is simply the reality of doing business in that kind of corporate environment.

You would think that an industry that capitalized on the reduced manufacturing costs and improved stability and portability of CDs versus vinyl could have figured out a way of capitalizing on the potentially “infinite returns” of a digital file. But it was too slow to do it, so others did, and now the genie is out of the bottle and no one can stuff it back in.

MrTangent suggests that “the solution to the woes of the industry is simply to lower the price of the CD.” But, as he points out, this really can’t happen unless the old structure of who gets paid what is dismantled. Or until record companies become non-profit organizations, which isn’t very likely.

Posted by: dirigibl on Mar 02, 08 | 7:00 am

PART VII: The Future of the Business
By Cyn Conrad of Blood Ruby (www.bloodruby.com)

As landrvr1 pointed out, “The music business needs to be reinvented from the ground up and, in many ways, that's already happening on the kind of grassroots level. …The use of the net to promote and sell new music - without any help from the record companies - is in its infancy and the possibilities are as exciting as they are endless.” Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, fans are now promoting artists better than any record company can.

Regardless of the business model, if the big players can’t or won’t change the essence of their business, the smaller upstarts will, and already are. As shadow27 writes, “I think …we'll see more indie labels working more as representatives - in the sense that illustrators or photographers have reps - than as labels in the future.”

This is the model that I see working best in the new music industry--artists hiring any number of agencies to handle various parts of their business, or even one-stop shops that handle everything. The best that the majors can hope for is to transform their business into high-level agencies, whether as venture capitalists for promising acts or as marketers and distributors of the final product. That’s what the majors are really good at and, in many cases, what separates a major-label success from a talented Indie artist.

Artists would then be free to create the product, and be artists, if they choose. The decline of the record company may be a disaster for fat-cat corporate execs, but it is also an opportunity to place the artists where they should have been all along--right in the center of the enterprise.

Posted by: nvcameron on Mar 01, 08 | 10:18 am

I agree music doesnt sound as good these days but if you love your ipod & want great sound then simply do what I have done:Throw away the earbuds that come with an Apple ipod a.s.a.p. & buy some high end ear monitors like Westone's & then go a step further & get custom molds made to fit your inner ear by an audiologists then add an amplifier to your ipod & use Apple lossless. I truly cant tell the difference between cd's & mp3's like this. Most folks dont do this & then they wonder why mp3's sound like crap. You have to spend some cash!

Posted by: Happiest girl on Mar 01, 08 | 7:04 am

I totally agree with Wilder on some disappointments on where the music industry is at this point. Statements on the dynamics of today's music, and the given music examples are true. So is the fact that recording labels are on their knees, thanks to technology. However, fans devotion to art and music, has not changed. Depeche Mode, as a collective entity, has always been and still is a viable "product" no matter what changes has occurred in technology, or, the various musical landscapes through which the band as a collective has been consistently successful in. We're talking over two decades, where other bands couldn't keep up with "changes."

Once demand is secured, there is given room to artists, to put thinking boots in motion in new and creative ways. Yes, technology has changed everything, and facilitated the one hit wonder rap, or, idol act, it also provides room for more creativity, and participative on hands involvement by the artist who has an artistic product to sell. The recent Recoil projects, and related events have all been exciting and refreshing!

The idea is, as an artist, to move ahead keeping one step ahead of the game. Depeche Mode was the first band to have an album digital download, in conjunction with a pre - sale for concert tickets through Itunes, and Ticketmaster. It scored a top 10 release, profitable tour, and fans were happy. That's pretty much keeping up, and ensuring longevity in tough times.

Who mind musicians as business men? I couldn't care less for the never seen corporate old geezers collecting fat checks. I also still listen to the
crappy cd quality DM cds released in the 80's, with the same passion, and have yet to drop $$$ on the recent DM remasters.

Posted by: TheConcluder on Mar 01, 08 | 2:13 am

I dont mean to offend here but this comes accross as being a bit bitter and like someone else said, bitchy.

First of the the writing has been on the wall for a long long time concerning the record industry, this is just going over the same old BS. The word dinosaur comes to mind. Where have you been the last 15 years.
The whole "lets put in some arwork to sell with the music" idea is so played out, nothing new at all.

Getting angry at TV advertisments and all the crap it promotes, well my friend the world is what you make it, and what you choose to take from it is up to you but if you sit watching TV I have no sympathy. Simply put, dont watch TV. Its brain rot. Always has, always will. If someone is stupid enough to buy music because of constant promotion on TV with out going out and finding "real" music well I dont want them listening or rather couldnt care less if they ever hear my art.

Making money from your trade? Well this is what you do now. You make an album, EP, LP, single whatever and release it through your website for free (yes for free) at the best possible quality digital audio can offer, build up a fan base through a forum on your website and the other millions of potential forums, so the artist can directly communicate with the fans (then they will see what a "genuine, down to earth" person you are). Then you go on tour and make the millions you so desire if your into that sort of thing. The web is the best promo tool an artist could ever hope to have at this moment in time, certainley better than a record company. You just have to know how to utilise it.

As for real artist not making the bucks compared to the pop stars well thats nothing new either.From the dawn of time Mr Technical Musical Virtuoso have always had their ideas stolen and then diluted down to what we now know as "popular music" for the masses.

As to the quality, well I think MP3 serves its purpose for me when I'm jogging down the street or on a bus, I dont need 64 bit quality, or even the full analog sonic range and if i do I go home get out a vinyl record and play it, yes I still buy vinyl, loads to be had at charity shops.

You finally took a cheap dig at rap as "drivel". Man, you hould hook up with Cliff Richard and do a "Dinosuars On Tour". But get out from that rock you've been living under first.

Times change, no good thing lasts forever. So you either change with it or shrivel up into obscurity. Dont be a dinosaur.

Posted by: practicedm on Mar 01, 08 | 1:41 am

Well articulated, as always. I must say it is sad that blind criticism is still blind, albeit makes for good response from those that still fail to see the overall end. I think the responses herein speak volumes to Mr. Wilder’s intellect and overall philosophical input which may never be fully appreciated, so the reasons for a quite voice. But for me I thank you for your voice Mr. Wilder and all your music, which reflects your intellectual input in our global society. Only fewer and fewer get it. You are most appreciated

Posted by: Ruben on Mar 01, 08 | 12:49 am

Well, that caused quite an outburst. I wholly agree with what Alan Wilder said, but I do also in part think that the artists are also part to blame, for this, shall we say crisis in the music industry.
Why? I think, for too long now, too many artists/musicians have taken what the record industry has done to them, in terms of royalty splits and so forth, and to the consumers, in terms of over priced product on every level, as the norm and allowed the labels to get away with this.
When they really should have been, if they had kept their integrity, going back to the labels once they had read there contracts and said to the labels, "this is not right and we will not accept this until the following details are amended".
If then, there contracts weren't amended as to the artists requirements, they should've all, in solidarity, walked away from the labels. But as is the wont of men, and women, that when money is flashed before there eye's all integrity counts for nothing, so the above is, granted, easier said than done.
My point is, this can all go around in an endless cycle of blame. Myself as an artist, I have a regular job, I'm hopeless at money matters and thus would be rendered completely useless and dead from starvation were I to turn my art, into my livelihood.
Yes, my music is all generated from within a computer, but it does not mean, that just because I'm able to program software in such a manner as to make it produce what I want to hear, that I can run my own business.
I'm afraid that the cliche of the artist as a scatterbrain when it comes to business matters, Mr vleon1012, holds true for myself, but then again we are not all the same. That's why some of us put alot of time and effort into producing our art and some of us can only produce money and in some cases, some of us can do both. Lucky you, I guess, Mr vleon1012.

Good article, Side-Line and Mr Alan Wilder, granted their are no solutions from either party, but then again I see no tangible one's from anybody else here either. Maybe we're all standing alittle too close to be able to see the bigger picture. Maybe the new business model lies in the way a TV broadcaster functions? Who knows?

Posted by: MrTangent on Feb 29, 08 | 11:47 pm

The solution to the woes of the industry is simply to lower the price of the CD. I thoroughly believe that they would get a LOT of piraters back in to the stores and buying music if they offered new CDs for around $7.99 USD and all older releases for no more than $5.99 USD.

There should be NO DRM and it would be wise if the album had a 192 kbps bitrate or higher versions of the songs on a data sector on the CD if space provides.

Do this, and maintain the usual CD quality of artwork and uncompressed redbook audio and I think the industry could turn the mess around. Sure there will always be pirates who steal the music but they're lost forever. Lowering the price will bring the honest consumers back to the store.

They would be remiss also if they didn't leverage the power of the internet by seeding copies of select songs on to torrent sites (with a link to their website in the ID3 headers) and by offering lossless versions of the album for download somewhere. Using Digg, StumbledUpon, del.icio.us, viral campaigns and even ARGs would be wise too.

I think that my figures would still allow the industry to maintain a profit but they would have to obviously downsize a little in order to be leaner and meaner.

Remember, the mammals survived because they were smaller and more agile. The dinosaurs were too large and unable to adapt. The industry must become furry little animals...

Posted by: landrvr1 on Feb 29, 08 | 8:45 pm

@Side-Line, Like I said, it's very well written and will serve to get people talking. However, nearly all of the points made have been discussed ad nauseum before in any number of interviews/forums/broadcasts.

This piece suffers from the same problem as 99% of other recent pieces in that it reaches the same conclusion: the music business sucks and is getting worse. We know already. Jesus.

The music business needs to be reinvented from the ground up and, in many ways, that's already happening on the kind of grassroots level that Alan hasn't been a part of in 20+ years. The same delivery system that allows people to download and listen to those inferior mp3 files is, in fact, the best tool that any new artist has. The use of the net to promote and sell new music - without any help from the record companies - is in it's infancy and the possibilities are as exciting as they are endless.

Perhaps if Alan were truly back in the trenches, and didn't have the DM background, he might offer a bit more insight as to solutions. In fact, here's a challenge for Alan:

Freeze all of your assets for at least 18 months. No access to any royalty checks or investments from DM money. Get back to the real bottom. The front lines, my friend. The trenches. Make a real go at having to survive in this new music business climate. And you can't call on any of your former buds or associates to help you out. That would be cheating!

After the 18 months is over, revisit the article you just wrote. I'm willing to bet my new copy of Ableton Live 7 that you'll have some fascinating insights and ideas as to how one can navigate through the new music business and actually make a living.

Posted by: Shotgun on Feb 29, 08 | 8:38 pm

Taking from what I said on myspace

"That's pretty much what's gone wrong with the music industry today in the sense that it takes the word "industry" literally and view it more as capital gains and it's original over-zealous condemnation of "illegal downloads" has backfired. It got jaded and with that complacency they've been playing catch up by trying to keep on top of things which in today's age is, I would think, impossible. As far as I can see they've been introducing gimmicks to entice the consumer back. Some I like, some I don't but ultimately I see it as the only method that seems like it will work. I don't think one can truly innovate through music these days, what is needed is a novel marketing approach.......and there lies the problem, it comes back to marketing and not what music was supposed to be - pure expression. It's a cruel game at the moment and it doesn't look like it'll be getting kinder for the foreseeable future."

Posted by: vleon1012 on Feb 29, 08 | 8:35 pm

Alan Wilder..... brilliant brilliant essay, especially the discussion on the deterioration of sound.

But I do have some points I don't completely agree with:

I think artists ~should always~ strive to understand, accept, and apply the fact that the music business has always been a business. The music business has always been about moving units. Those that didn't sell units got dropped.

The notion of the scatterbrained artist is a little cliche and incongruent. I can't picture such a scatterbrained artist who knows how to use complicated sequencing software, synthesizers, and various programming applications. Artists should learn to embrace the full spectrum of what it means to be an artist. If all you do is write songs and record them and don't know about anything else, you're not really an artist - you're more of a hobbyist. A true artist is not limited to time in the studio. A true artist, with a comprehensive vision, can take it outside of the studio and self-distribute.

I also think Alan paints too rosy a picture of the record-industry ethics of yore. Motown had its boy-bands and cut-throat managers.. Elvis was marketed as The King.. The Monkees were a boy band... Menudo is a boy-band that started in the 80s... etc, etc were all "machines" and "products".

But the sound quality of music does suck these days..

Posted by: Side-Line on Feb 29, 08 | 8:01 pm

@ landrvr1 : Just to make it clear to you ad everyone, the piece was never intended to deliver ready to use solutions but wants to act as a way to reflect on things. And as such it seems to be working quite well, over 10.000 people have now read this piece since it went online last night and it is causing quite some commotion on tons of websit, forums etc. Mission accomplished at least for starting the debate again.

Posted by: landrvr1 on Feb 29, 08 | 7:56 pm

A very thoughtful, well written piece. However, Alan is being a bit like the Rush Limbaugh of music. The article is nothing but a bitch fest, without one solid idea with respect to a solution.

Waa-waa-waa, the music industry stucks. Any idiot can identify problems. An articulate person like Alan can put them into coherent structure. But a visionary can do the first 2 AND come up with some halfway decent solutions.

It's one thing to bitch and moan, but without some sort of insight as to how things might be made better it's only angry, bitter masturbation.

Posted by: DarkVince on Feb 29, 08 | 6:52 pm

What a great article from someone that I truly respect.
I've always ask myself why the audio DVD format which already exists has not been used for quality recordings? Probably labels are affraid only a few fans will pay for such high quality product knowing that people already shown less interest for audio CDs (mainly because of piracy). Too bad that we felt into mass mediocrity with mp3 and technological piracy...At least I'm not the only one saying that mp3's are crap compared to the standard CD quality but I'm afraid only expert ears can make the difference these days.

We said it hundred times, over and over again, piracy is killing...it's killing art (music especially), it's killing labels, it's killing artists...and we (artists) are waiting for it to stop because we believe in art and we believe in what we do and I'll never accept that governements let illegal acts ruin our art and passion.

Posted by: W1REHEAD on Feb 29, 08 | 6:19 pm

I think MP3 format is just an "in-between step" to UNCOMPRESSED one (WAV for example) - so it's just a matter of time i guess...

Posted by: tristraum on Feb 29, 08 | 5:11 pm

Interesting thoughts. I wouldn't give-up the notion of making a profit. Ok, we're not rich, but we at least break-even as a whole in the Section 44 Records model. We've found that digital sales are the only thing that keeps that model working. There's no demand for actual product anymore. DJs are on computers now. They don't want cds. None of our artists on S44 are rich from music. But we continue to fund our own music through the collective and it works..

Frankly, unless your the top of the top... you don't need a "traditional" label. The thing that worries me.. who's out there funding new acts like the old days in hopes that some of them make it.. if majors are only investing in the sure things,, the market will be shit. The rise of indi label is here. Make music your way. get it out there.. and see what happens. But it's not an easy game to play. Nothing easy about it. It's a constant struggle for all aspects of the biz. Good luck.

Posted by: popuman on Feb 29, 08 | 2:21 pm

This essay and Steve Albini's "The Problem WIth Music" should be required reading to anyone who's considering to make music for a living. Like his music, Alan Wilder is brilliant and pulls no punches in this essay. We need more people like Wilder and Albini to give the public and aspiring musicians a much needed wake-up call. Thanks to Side-Line for making this happen.

Once again, thank you.

Jose aka popuman

Posted by: leovleibnitz on Feb 29, 08 | 1:30 pm

I have nothing to add but to fully agree. We ourselves intended to make art no without any restrictions and do it the way we like it - without restrictions of marketing aspects of sales. i as musician and mastering engineer have noticed that degeneration of music and mastering years ago - but i ran against the mainstream with masters of high dynamic range, less maximum level and most attention paid to maximum music quality. something, many artists and labels even do not care about anymore!!!!
well, we even tried to contact other artists of the same ideology to come together to speak about their experience and ways to increase the respect of our artistic performance - but this is nothing many collegues are interested in. we also tried to get business collegues of labels, booking agents, bands, magazines, websites, distribution together for a new way to deal with the demand of the today's music industry - it has been neglected to even come together to meet and get to know each other!
i personally think, that many artists and labels itself have full responsibility for the situation now - but now they just neglect it.
i hope, that we will have to power to continue our way to release different music away of typical trends and marketing schemes - for the sake of ART!

leo (Y-Luk-O) & PromoFabrik.com

Posted by: isis on Feb 29, 08 | 12:38 pm



On the other level, and since mid twentieth century: fashion, youth movements, going out, etc will always consume music and there will always be music made specifically for that reason (as happens with a large ammount of teh bands in the 'dark alternative scene' that look the same, sound the same, blablabla). Can that be changed? I doubt it.

Worriyng about quality music, quality sound, actually listening to compositions is, and always has been, something that only a few really take in account.

As long as I can still listen to the music I like in good quality (which is not that easy anymore) I will still be more or less content.

Wow. I'm bored at work.

Posted by: isis on Feb 29, 08 | 12:38 pm

Well, the record labels did have it coming.

They 'obliged' everyone to change to cd system, knowing fully well that digital music sounds worse, can be copied and compressed. They sell a vynil record at 12 € when it costs, say, 4€ to make and have been selling cds at 18€ when they costs circe 0.50cents to make. They've had their years of way too much profit, in which the artista have never been paid more in the same percentage.

Now, with digital music all over the place, anybody can make music and distribute it. That there is more music means that there are more bands that are good. But it also means that there are thousands of mediocre and bad bands out there and there is no 'power' in the record labels to weed out what gets published to start out with. Each listener has to decide for themselves, which means way too much time to invest in listening and ammounts to everybody listening to the same stuff and deciding what to listen to on scenes, what the artists wears, who he sounds like, etc.

If you are willing to listen to all, you can find some really good stuff.

About special material, I also think it is one of the best options to sell to fans. But maybe I want a good souding vynil version of a record but don't want to pay the extra 60€ for the t-shirt, artwork, booklet, etc. What if I'm only interested in the music and not the paraphernalia? Can I only aspire to the mp3 copy?

About deejay culture, yeah, there are too many and too many of them don't know anything abotu music to start out with. They only spin because it is in fashion. But djs, real djs, have also done a lot for good music to still be published in good formats. After all, mp3 can't be played at a club - things that you should know if you are a dj - becasue they sound like shit, screech all over the place and will give everyone a headache.

Conclusion: Vynils, analogic sound, sound much better.

There has always been only a certain ammount of people truly interested in music, and there has been record labels for a hundread years. If they could make profit and exists then, they can do both now. They simply have to live at the level they should, instead of becoming way too rich on other people's jobs. If that means the that 'industry machinery' needs to change, it will. There will always be prefabricated artists that sell lots and exist for very little, but, since the 80's how many bands have survived for more that 10/15 years? 10%?

Posted by: Neuroticpuppy on Feb 29, 08 | 11:50 am

and as an answer to Northern Kind, not everyone has a job and does music on the side. Some people only make music because that's what they live for, and want to live from. Not every artist wants to "keep their day" job. Their day job is their art.

Posted by: Neuroticpuppy on Feb 29, 08 | 11:45 am

Damn, I didn't know the Fopp chain was closed until I read this article. Sad, and yeah I think Mute isn't gonna hold out much longer. Amazing that they still release Diamanda Galas. Alan is not a grumpy old man whoever said that! He speaks for all artists who feel they have something unique to offer, and are being suffocated by all the crap on the market. Even the indie scene has tons of meaningless music being spewed out every week. Some people think just because they can record on their laptop, that the world needs to know. The new Recoil isn't exactly a revelation in music either, but obviously done with more care. I think it's gonna be special packaging or iTunes from now on. Giving away all your music for free is not an option for indie artists who want to live from their small amount of sales. Welcome to the Matrix, do you know what's real?

Posted by: northernkind on Feb 29, 08 | 11:43 am

Not wanting to jump on to a potentially well visited post but I do agree with Alan.

However.

I don't have the luxury of having been in one of the most successful recording/touring bands so my financial security isn't yet sound. The reason why I make music as Northern Kind is because of the love I have for doing it. We are not doing it to make money, we have regular jobs and spend nearly all of our spare time on our project.

We made the decision to approach the mastering of our music as an extension to the process of mixing. We could have got our mastering guy to crank everything up to compete with the other music out there but we decided to keep the integrity in the sound. The main vehicle for selling our music is iTunes so I accept that the quality isn't the best it could be but people still buy our CDs directly from our website.

The thing is Alan, you really don't need a record company anymore. You have enough fans to keep buying the music, you own the Recoil brand and website, make the most of what you have.

Do it for the Love, not for the money and keep your integrity.

And stop being so grumpy.

Matt / Northern Kind

Posted by: Olli on Feb 29, 08 | 11:38 am

cool report. thx.

Posted by: GGLapkizzz on Feb 29, 08 | 8:45 am

I'd say the industry is not dying, it's just seriously ill. So some species will recover and some will go six feet under. And yes, the MP3ed music after mastering precompression sounds awful even for my not so acute hearing (yet, most of my audio collection is MP3). Above all, the author has a right to show his artwork as it meant to be, not just some poor-made copy with faded colours and halved sound range. If someone likes overcompressed sound, it's his choice, but he'll never get the whole picture. Anyway you can't expect sound quality on MP3 player with cheap headphones (it's just another reason for recording companies to compress sound).
Great article. Thanks, Alan. Good luck!

Posted by: nvcameron on Feb 29, 08 | 8:26 am

Alan Wilder = Grumpy old man

Posted by: shadow27 on Feb 28, 08 | 11:14 pm

Srsly though. I think that some quality issues of MP3 degradation will disappear as memory prices continue to drop. Why compress files.

Finely crafted DVD audio versions of CDs. Nanopop went all DVD a few years back. Nanoppop.de "is currently offline" Sucks because I was really looking forward to NoComment's movie. Maybe when car players can play DVDs more readily, it'll work. Though, again, I think we're seeing more of this now (Nanopop tried it too early) and dropping HD and Flash memory prices will only encourage this.

I'm a hair sick of everyone decrying the death of the industry and music as we know it. It survived the end of the wax cylinder and it will survive this.

If you burrow down to the bottom of it what you really see is people, and labels moaning that they can't turn out tons of shit and overcharge people for it anymore. Because of that they're forced to cut rosters and work like a legitimate fucking business.

Yes I am saying that a core issue is the industries unwillingness to support itself legitimately and not through the abuse of end users.

I think Wilder is correct in saying we'll see more indie labels working more as representatives - in the sense that illustrators or photographers have reps - than as Labels in the future.

I find it a bit sad, and telling, in his closing comments he finds fault with everyone in the world, except artists.

Posted by: Brian Hazard of Color Theory on Feb 28, 08 | 11:00 pm

Some wonderful insights, and a glimmer of hope in the success of the "Russian experiment."

As a mastering engineer, I'm seeing a lot less resistance from clients to creating dynamic and genuinely powerful recordings. Usually I just need to cough up a few examples of current successful major label releases that aren't over-the-top squashed. I've signed on to be a Turn Me Up! Mastering Facility (www.turnmeup.org). In the near future, I'll be able to certify CDs that I master as meeting a set of objective criteria in regard to overall dynamics and volume. Qualified CDs can then use the Turn Me Up! logo on their graphics as an audiophile "seal of approval." Whether or not the record-buying public will care remains to be seen.

As a recording artist, I too have given up any hope of profit. My sights are set on film and TV at this point. But my overhead is low and I've been doing this long enough that I at least won't lose money.

As a music fan, I'm not ready to buy music online until it's sonically identical to a pressed CD. A few niche download sites sell FLAC-encoded files, but nothing that I want to buy. So for now, I'll continue buying CDs and encoding them as Apple Lossless for my iPod and iPhone.

I believe that art for art's sake will continue to survive, if not thrive, in one form or the other. Alan Wilder and Recoil are testament to it!

Posted by: Sigsaly Transmissions on Feb 28, 08 | 10:55 pm

Great article! Time so stay small and reinvent. I agree, it's about the art.

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Official Johnny Rotten bio to be released in 3 weeks + new PiL album in the making

READ MORE | Posted on 09/18/14

John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten is a busy bee nowadays! His band PiL (Public Image Limited) is currently preparing to enter the studio to record its 10th studio album. This new album will be recorded end 2014 and is planned to be released in summer 2015. (...)

3-track vinyl for Orphx

READ MORE | Posted on 09/18/14

Out via Sonic Groove Experiments by mid-October is the Orphx 3-track vinyl 'Sacrifice'. (...)

Studio-X vs. Simon Carter strike back with 'Angels Of The Dark' download EP

READ MORE | Posted on 09/18/14

'Angels Of The Dark' will be the 3rd EP taken from the Studio-X vs. Simon Carter album 'Breaking The Void'. (...)

Did you get this one? 'Recoiled' vinyl, the Trent Reznor commissioned Nine Inch Nails material by Coil

READ MORE | Posted on 09/18/14

The past few days people asked us where they could get 'Recoiled', a release by Coil as recorded in the early studios of Danny Hyde / Peter Christopherson. (...)

Mari and The Ghost release their first single, 'Wolves'

READ MORE | Posted on 09/16/14

Out now is the smashing debut single for the new project Mari and The Ghost, a collaboration between Mari Kattman and Jean-Marc Lederman from The Weathermen and Ghost & Writer fame. (...)

More news

Skinny Puppy's 2007 album 'Mythmaker' re-released on vinyl - order now

READ MORE | Posted on 09/16/14

Clock DVA issues 'The Future Begins / Clock 2' USB - order now

READ MORE | Posted on 09/16/14

Cult electro act The Psychic Force remix Aesthetische for new 'Colder Lights' 4-track single - order now via Bandcamp

READ MORE | Posted on 09/16/14

Tyske Ludder side-project Harmjoy debuts with 'Silver Lining of the Mushroom Cloud'

READ MORE | Posted on 09/16/14

Former Primal Scream gitarist Robert Young dead at 49

READ MORE | Posted on 09/16/14

'V' star Jane Badler sings on newly released Junksista single 'Live A little'

READ MORE | Posted on 09/15/14

Simon Fisher Turner remixes Olivia Louvel

READ MORE | Posted on 09/15/14

a-ha fans campaign to get more remastered deluxes edition CDs

READ MORE | Posted on 09/15/14

Massive The Cure tribute CD to be unleashed on Alfa Matrix - Bandcamp users get 2 extra tracks!

READ MORE | Posted on 09/12/14

The Cure cover the Beatles - their first new recording for 6 years

READ MORE | Posted on 09/10/14

New Desireless video comes password protected - we give you that password!

READ MORE | Posted on 09/10/14

L'Ame Imortelle returns with 'Drahtseilakt' in December - order the limited edition now

READ MORE | Posted on 09/10/14

Diarmaid O Meara & Daniel Munkelberg join for 'Extra Fine' EP - out now

READ MORE | Posted on 09/10/14

Fraulein Z returns with new single featuring Horrorist remix + video

READ MORE | Posted on 09/10/14

Metal press and fans NOT amused by Rational Youth / Psyche AC/DC cover - Rational Youth reacts to cyberbullying

READ MORE | Posted on 09/09/14

Celldweller releases title track 'End of an Empire' from new album

READ MORE | Posted on 09/09/14

Fatal Casualties release new album 'Psalm'

READ MORE | Posted on 09/09/14

Kraftwerk to play 8 nights at the Paradiso in Amsterdam

READ MORE | Posted on 09/09/14

Limited edition vinyl version for Birthday Massacre's new album 'Superstition'

READ MORE | Posted on 09/04/14

Suicide Tribute including Front 242, DAF, Die Krupps, etc members

READ MORE | Posted on 09/04/14

Daily Planet returns with 'Two' after 18 years of silence

READ MORE | Posted on 09/04/14

Rational Youth & Psyche cover AC/DC classic 'Thunderstruck' on 7 inch

READ MORE | Posted on 09/04/14

Estonian Industrial rockers Evestus release new video + free album

READ MORE | Posted on 09/03/14

Psy'Aviah to launch 'The Xenogamous Endeavour' album in October - listen + order now

READ MORE | Posted on 09/03/14

New Order sign with Mute

READ MORE | Posted on 09/02/14

Electro Spectre back with new album 'Bullets & Desert Blooms'

READ MORE | Posted on 09/02/14

Oil 10 releases 'Human Decision Required' video

READ MORE | Posted on 09/02/14

Diffuzion member launches final release for solo project Eff Dst

READ MORE | Posted on 09/02/14

Double vinyl release for Iris' 'Radiant' album

READ MORE | Posted on 09/02/14

Pre-orders available now for new Lovelorn Dolls album!

READ MORE | Posted on 08/29/14
READ MORE

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