This article is from the March / April issue of Sonic Traveler Magazine http://sonictraveler.biz/
Some interesting points and a lot of food for thought.
Just wondering what others think about this?
The Age of Digital Music Downloads
The Digital Music Era has arrived.
2007 marked a dramatic fall in music CD sales around the world... especially in Japan, regarded as the highest selling and most important psytrance CD market in the world... some estimates say sales dropped by 50% - 60%. Meanwhile, digital music websites like Beatport and Cytopia are on the rise. And new stores like our own Sonic Traveler Digital Downloads (STDD) have opened.
So what can we expect from this new digital music era? How will it reshape the scene? How will artists and labels survive in this new frontier? We examine some of the issues and give some advice to those venturing into this new era...
Why did the CD market fail?
There have been many reasons offered as the answer to this question. The truth most likely being a combination of the various reasons. Let's have a look at some of the reasons...
Illegal Download Sites:
Many argue the illegal download sites are to blame, offering a huge range including the latest releases for free.
Quantity over quality:
Some blame the large number of releases and the poor quality of many releases. CD production costs came down to levels that made it affordable for people to produce their own CDs. Computer software that made it cheaper and easier for musicians and novices a-like to produce music. This combination together with greedy distribution companies flooded the market with poor quality CDs.
This point is related to the previous one. With the low quality of releases, many consumers felt that CDs were over priced as there was only 1 or 2 tracks that they really liked from a 10 track CD.
Many new labels were operating on very small promotion budgets - if any. Email shots that went straight into junk mail folders, forum postings with friends of the artists saying "good luck, all the best with this release" was the style that characterized PsyTrance promotion over the last few years.
With all these factors taken into account its no wonder that consumers stopped buying CDs!
How will the system change in the Digital Download Era?
One of the main differences is that customers will be able to buy individual tracks. In a sense the EP is back!
MP3 is a compressed audio file. So, even if its encoded at 320kbps, it is not CD quality. Wav files are ofcourse CD quality. For ordinary music fans who listen to music on their MP3 players with small earphones, the difference is not really noticeable. For the maniac music fans and DJs who play this music on big systems then Wav is a must!!! Unfortunately, most large music download shops like iTunes only offer 256kbps MP3 which is poor quality compared to Wav.
Many people like the CD packaging, cover art and information. This is a very valid point. For me, I love reading books. The feel and smell of it as I turn the pages. In Japan today there is a craze amoungst teenagers, they are reading romance stories written by other teenagers on their mobile phones! Many people loved the feel and packaging of vinyl too before CDs became popular. I see digital download packaging as having great potential: you can include anything digital with the download... pdf booklets and flyers, videos, interviews with artists, movies, even the individual elements of the track. Unfortunately, at the moment, customers usually only get a jpeg of the cover art. As the market develops it will be interesting to see what other digital content is packaged with the music.
It takes time to download music. With the world becoming more and more wired and connection speeds getting faster and faster, we feel this is not a major issue. In fact, digital downloads may save time for the customer. It takes time to travel to the CD Shop and listen to tracks. This way, customers can listen to tracks in their own time and let the computer download the track when they are out or busy doing other things. We tested Sonic Traveler Digital Digital Downloads on a broadband connection... (the test song is 7:57minutes long)
Approx. 4 minutes download time for 320kbps MP3
Approx. 8 minutes download time for Wav
The security of using credit cards online is still of great concern to many people around the world and especially the Japanese who still very much prefer the "furikomi" system. I think attitudes are changing and internet payment solution companies lilke PayPal are becoming more accepted. A tip for users is to look for the "lock" next to the URL or at the bottom right of your browser window when you are entering personal information such as credit card details, this lock symbol means the website is secured by SSL data encryption.
How will this affect producers and labels?
Just as with the CD market, there are many digital content distributors. This can be very convenient but just as with the CD market there are many different types, and producers and labels must choose carefully as to which ones are best for them. In this new digital market, it is easier for labels and producers to distribute directly to online download sites through FTP accounts and other internet transfer services (cutting out the middle man will also increase your royalty percentage). The most important thing is the relationship between the download site and the label / producer. As we found in the CD market, the support of the shop can really increase sales.
Licensing and Royalties
The general rule is the same: DO NOT sign exclusive contracts unless you get advance payment for your music. The digital market is still evolving and the technology is moving very fast. If you sign away your exclusive rights, its gone and you cannot take advantage of any changes in the market.
Almost all music download shops work on a royalty system; with the percentages around 50% of Sale Price and no other costs passed on. The higher royalty percentage may seem great for Labels and Producers but digital sales are still nowhere near the level of CD sales. Some predict it will still take a few years before digital sales take over CD sales, maybe less for non-mainstream music like psytrance.
Making your own digital download store
With CD sales hitting rock bottom and digital sales booming, why not develop your own download site. Well, lets just say its not as easy as it sounds. Developing a digital download site is far different from a normal webshop. Security, SQL Databases, Backend Admin, Design... will cost you a lot of money and time. Basic HTML knowledge and pirated flash software wont cut it.
Individual Labels and Sites may develop their own digital download sites but people are still likely to visit sites where the can get a wide selection of trax.
Well this has been the key for a long time, and even more important in the digital music age. This goes for producers and labels as well as music download sites. For labels and download sites to survive, they will have to have good promotion budgets and think about ways to promote beyond your standard email shot and forum postings.
Will people really buy digital downloads?
This is the zillion dollar question. Why would people buy digital downloads when they can get them for free. Illegal digital download sites are certainly popular but they also pose many hazards to users. In January 2008, Japanese users of Winny (the biggest P2P site in Japan), got a real shock when an Osaka student made a virus that evaded protection programs and once downloaded would maliciously delete the contents of the computers Hard Drive... and the contents could not be recovered. Apart from this danger, you have poor quality or incorrect files on these illegal download networks.
Another way to get free music is to copy from friends, this avoids the hassle of using these dodgy illegal download sites. The answer to this is attitude adjustment. Fans of psychedelic trance must be made aware that by copying music or downloading illegally, they are hurting the artists and labels who produce the music they love. They are hurting the scene!!!
This attitude coupled with the low price and convenience of digital downloads gives no excuse for people to download illegally. Question is... do fans really CARE? We will see.
As I once said to a friend, and Damion (psyreviews) so eloquently signed off on in his last review for this magazine, "Its not the music that makes the party, people make the party" The scene will go on because there are too many people who care.
Part of the philosophy of our scene is to embrace technology and also to use it for creating a wonderful future for the world.
Sonic Traveler encourages everyone to embrace this new digital music era. Please use it for creating a strong and beautiful future for our scene!