|WEDNESDAY 18 SEPTEMBER 2019||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Amazon yesterday confirmed that it was adding a new higher priced higher audio quality option at the top of its menu of music services. Amazon Music HD will cost subscribers £5 more than the company's main full-catalogue on-demand streaming set up... [READ MORE]|
Amazon launches higher-quality audio streaming option
It means that Amazon now offers five levels of music streaming in some markets. A free playlists-based service for use on Alexa-controlled devices. A limited catalogue on-demand service as part of Amazon Prime. A full catalogue on-demand service locked to Amazon's Echo and Fire devices for 3.99 a month. A straight up Spotify/Apple Music competitor for 9.99 a month (discounted for Prime members). And now the HD option.
An Amazon Music HD subscription will cost £14.99 a month in the UK, discounted to £12.99 for Amazon Prime members. The new option also went live yesterday in the US, Germany, Austria and Japan.
Subscribers on HD will be able to access the entire catalogue in higher quality audio, and a slice of the catalogue in "ultra high definition". For those who care about such things, HD means a bit depth of 16 bits and a sample rate of 44.1kHz (basically CD quality), while ultra HD equates to a bit depth of 24 bits and a sample rate up to 192 kHz.
Amazon is by no means the first company to offer higher quality audio streams, of course, with Tidal, Deezer and Qobuz already doing the HD thing. Tidal is perhaps best known for offering higher quality audio, the HD option being added before Jay-Z acquired the company, with the Tidal brand originally created specifically for the HD service.
In fact, around Jay-Z's acquisition so much was made about Tidal offering this higher priced higher audio quality service, you sensed that many consumers thought it was the only option the platform offered. Which arguably worked against Tidal, given that most consumers aren't sufficiently interested in higher quality audio to pay extra cash to access it.
Which makes Amazon's move into HD interesting. The company has always pitched its music services as targeting more mainstream audiences than the likes of Spotify and Apple. Hence the lower price point options with less catalogue or functionality. But past experiments with higher quality audio - whether in the physical product space, downloads or streams - have generally confirmed that HD music is of interest to a very niche audience.
Most users aren't even streaming via the kinds of devices or headphones where you would notice the difference between a 320kbps MP3 and a higher quality audio file. And even on decent sound systems, for a lot of tracks the difference is hardly noticeable.
Of course, some consumers might still be attracted by the "hear it like you're in the studio" line, even if they can't actually tell the difference. But past campaigns based around that concept have still only resulted in a modest number of sign ups.
So, it remains to be seen if Amazon has more luck in turning larger numbers of consumers onto the "pay more for better audio" proposition. It is entering that particular market with a lower price point than its competitors. The market standard rate for HD audio is 19.99 per month. Amazon is undercutting that by five pounds/dollars/euros, before you even take into account the additional discount for Prime members.
That might be enough to get more people signed up. Though, for the music industry, one of the attractions of HD was the thinking that it could be a way to push up the cost of subscription streaming from the standard ten pounds/dollars/euros price point, generating extra income for both rights owners and services.
Obviously, Amazon Music HD does that, but not to the same extent as Tidal, Deezer and Qobuz. And now Amazon's HD service is available for 14.99, it will be interesting to see if its competitors in the higher audio quality space seek to also drop their prices in order to compete. Meaning the overall cash boost of HD across the market will drop on a user-by-user basis. Though maybe that's worth it if overall uptake goes up.
Of course, for some in the music community, increasing the audio quality of streams isn't just about the money. Which is something the VP of Amazon Music, Steve Boom, wanted to stress as he put his HD service live yesterday.
"We spoke with many artists while developing Amazon Music HD, who were excited about the potential for fans to be able to stream their favourite music and hear it as it was originally recorded", he said. "As we usher in a new listening experience for our customers and the industry, we're combining the convenience of streaming with all of the emotion, power, clarity and nuance of the original recordings".
To what extent the music community is really "excited" about the prospect of their songs and recordings being available in a higher audio quality that most fans can't even detect is debatable. Though at least one member of the music community definitely is "excited". And that, of course, is Mr Neil Young, who has led his own ultimately unsuccessful business ventures in an attempt to boost the audio quality of digital music.
"Earth will be changed forever when Amazon introduces high quality streaming to the masses", he shouted to the sky yesterday, very much on board with Amazon's HD audio adventure. "This will be the biggest thing to happen in music since the introduction of digital audio 40 years ago", he added, somewhat optimistically.
So there you go. The earth has changed forever. Amazon Music HD is here. The biggest thing to happen in music since, well, definitely Monday.
Sony/ATV signs Sam Hollander
"Sam has been one of my favourite songwriters and a dear friend for a very long time", says Sony/ATV's SVP A&R Rich Christina. "It's beyond an honour to finally get to work directly with him and have him join the Sony/ATV family".
Too right it is. Hollander, by the way, is joining the Sony/ATV family. Like what Rich just said. Though by that I mean he's signed a worldwide deal with the Sony music publisher. No adoption papers will be filed. A lengthy copyright contract has been signed.
But how does Hollander himself feel about all this? Need you ask? We all know how Hollander feels about all this. "I'm so THRILLED to begin this chapter of my career, joining the almighty Sony/ATV", he says. Yeah, of course!
Now all that gubbins is done, Hollander can get back to the business of writing and producing fine music. His CV so far includes collaborations with Panic! At The Disco, One Direction, Katy Perry, Train, Blink 182, Weezer and Carole King, among others.
MLC sets out proposed budget for new mechanical rights collecting society
The US, of course, doesn't currently have a conventional collecting society able to provide a blanket licence covering the mechanical rights of the entire music publishing sector. Or, in the digital space, where some publishers now license Anglo-American repertoire though direct deals, a mop-up licence covering any songs not otherwise covered by a licensing agreement between a streaming service and a music rights owner.
There is a compulsory licence covering the mechanical rights in songs in the US, and there are agencies that help labels and digital services utilise that compulsory licence. But the lack of a society empowered to offer a blanket and/or mop-up licence has resulted in songwriters and publishers not getting paid, and streaming services getting sued.
Last year's Music Modernization Act sought to overcome this problem by setting up a new collecting society covering the mechanical rights in songs in the US.
Because this will simplify the licensing process for digital services and stop them from getting sued (in theory!), they will pay for the new society. The music industry will then run it and take responsibility for ensuring royalties get to the right publishers and songwriters. Which is no small task given how fucked music rights data can be.
In July, the US Copyright Office appointed an organisation that goes by the name Mechanical Licensing Collective to set all this up. That group has since been doing the maths and has now set out how much cash it thinks it needs to get things up and running. The budget has now been submitted to America's Copyright Royalty Board, which will ultimately decide if the MLC's financial demands are reasonable. The digital services that have to pick up the tab have the right to respond first.
The MLC said in a statement yesterday that its proposed budget "is the result of months of research on the most efficient and effective way to run this unprecedented new collective that will serve the needs of both the songwriters and their music publishers as well as the digital music services from day one. The proposed start-up assessment is $37.25 million, with an annual assessment starting at $29 million in 2021, when the MLC commences its blanket licensing operations".
"The proposed assessment is the right one under the law", the statement then insisted, "and the budget is very reasonable for digital companies to pay to receive the benefits the blanket licence will provide them. The MLC's operating budget and staff must be capable of comprehensively meeting and executing the extensive requirements and responsibilities of the collective under the law in less than fifteen months from now".
Commenting on the proposals, Alisa Coleman, who chairs the MLC board, added: "We have a mandate to not just administer the mechanical licensing process, but to improve it, make it more transparent, and to better serve songwriters and publishers of all sizes and around the world. We have outlined for the [CRB] what is necessary to achieve these goals and significantly advance the industry, and to fulfil Congress's mandate to end the status quo where undisclosed millions of dollars owed to music creators are not paid".
The music community and the streaming services very much collaborated on the MMA that initiated the MLC, often speaking as one on the need for a new licensing system.
But the two sides have since fallen out spectacularly over the CRB's recent ruling on what rates the digital platforms should pay every time a song is streamed. It remains to be seen if the debate over how much the digital services should pay to get the MLC up and running proves to be similarly tetchy.
Universal expands label and label services operations in South East Asia
These expansions were all confirmed in a keynote speech by Adam Granite, the music firm's EVP Of Market Development, at the All That Matters conference in Singapore.
On the new labels, he said: "To help lead the explosion of hip hop in the region, we are announcing the launch of Def Jam South East Asia - a new label dedicated to taking the best Asian rap talent and giving them a global platform to reach new audiences around the world with their music".
Noting Def Jam's legacy in the US and elsewhere, he added, "As the iconic label celebrates its 35th year, we are excited to extend its reach into South East Asia and start a new chapter in its illustrious history. Hopefully one that will be integral to the growth of hip hop and rap culture across the region".
As for the new Astralwerks label, Granite added that the major was excited "to explore the many commercial opportunities to build this trusted electronic [music] brand locally including the potential to build out live events, merchandising and other unique fan experiences in the region alongside the recorded music strategy".
Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood launches classical record label
"I've been documenting the musicians I've worked with and encountered in the contemporary classical world", says Greenwood. "Since doing my first soundtrack, I've become friends with lots of these remarkable musicians, as well as familiar with the music they play. It's a whole world out there".
Releases on the new label will come from soloists or small groups of musicians, he explains. "My intention is to capture these musicians playing the pieces they love, both contemporary and ancient, and release the recordings on vinyl and streaming services, as regularly as I can".
"The sessions I've already had with some of these friends have been glorious", he goes on. "Any excuse to hear them play is a pleasure. But, more importantly, I want to produce a great, intimate recording, that captures the music in a way that does justice to the musician's talent, and the composers they choose to interpret".
His motives go beyond these specific recordings, however. He adds: "I hope these recordings encourage more people to see live classical music, and to take an interest in the featured artists. And, whilst a recording can only ever be an approximation of the real thing, I'm going to work hard to produce recordings that encourage you to see this music as something vital and passionate".
The first two releases on the label, titled 'Vol 1' and Vol 2', are set for release digitally on 24 Sep. Vinyl will follow on 4 Oct. 'Vol 1' will feature Oliver Coates performing Michael Gordon's 'Industry' and Greenwood performing his own composition 'Water' with Daniel Pioro and Katherine Tinker. Meanwhile, 'Vol 2' will feature Pioro on his own, performing Bach's 'Partita No.2 In D Minor For Violin'.
Charity White Label Auction to take place ahead of National Album Day
The term 'white label', of course, is traditionally used to describe the small number of vinyl records often pressed prior to release, either for testing purposes or to provide to DJs for early promo. As the artwork that will accompany said release isn't usually ready at this point, the vinyl has a simple white label stuck in the middle of it, hence the term.
Because these pre-release pressings are always limited in number, the resulting white label records can become very collectable if said record is subsequently a hit and/or critically acclaimed. Hence why you might want to bid for one in an auction.
Organisers of the White Label Auction, which will take place on 5 Oct, a week before National Album Day on 12 Oct, explain: "The explosion in sales of vinyl in recent years has created a wealth of white label test pressings - produced to ensure the sound quality is as the artist intended and so called because there is no sleeve/label artwork at this stage".
"With as few as five or ten of each being produced", they go on, "these first-off-the-press copies are typically checked by artists and their representatives and are much sought after by fans and collectors".
A number of major and indie labels have teamed up with their artists to donate some white label vinyl to the auction, with old and new music featuring across the list of records up for sale. Artists whose white label records will be auctioned off include: David Bowie, The Who, Eric Clapton, Dusty Springfield, Ed Sheeran, Liam Gallagher, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Kylie Minogue, Foals and Anna Calvi.
Universal's Catalogue A&R Director Johnny Chandler, who had the idea of staging such an auction ahead of National Album Day, says: "It'll be wonderful if, by auctioning these rarities, we can raise funds to support the amazing work of the BRIT Trust, whilst celebrating the 'art of the album' through National Album Day. If all goes to plan I hope, as long as interest in vinyl continues, the industry can make this auction a regular event".
The big white label sale will be run by Omega Auctions at its Merseyside base with bids being taken online from across the world. The full catalogue of what is up for grabs will be published soon on the auction house's website.
Former Spotify UK editorial boss Austin Daboh has confirmed he is now at Apple Music where he will be Head Of Editorial for UK and Ireland. It means he will be working once again with his former BBC boss George Ergatoudis, who also had a Spotify stop off on his Radio 1 to Apple Music journey.
CD Baby has hired Geoff Halliday as Global Head Of Promotions. He was previously Director Of Digital Marketing at Red Light Management. "I am truly delighted", he says.
Kobalt has hired Sebastien Cayla as Director Of Sync And Brand Partnerships for France & Belgium. He joins from Warner Chappell and is "THRILLED to go further with this amazing company that is definitely the future of music".
The programme for this year's Doc N Roll music documentary festival, taking place in London this November, has been announced. Check it all out here. Among the screenings are the London premiere of 'A Dog Called Money' - Seamus Murphy's film about the making of PJ Harvey's 'Hope Six Demolition Project' album - and the UK premiere of 'The Chills: The Triumph And Tragedy Of Martin Phillips' - about the cult New Zealand musician.
Mystery Jets have announced that they are postponing the release of their new album, 'A Billion Heartbeats', and the tour dates they'd booked in to promote it. Frontman Blaine Harrison revealed in a statement that he underwent emergency surgery at the weekend. The album and live dates will now arrive early next year.
Danny Brown has released new Q-Tip produced track 'Best Life'. His new album, 'uknowhatimsayin¿', is out on 4 Oct.
Little Simz has released the video for 'Flowers', featuring Michael Kiwanuka.
Caroline Polachek has released new single 'So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings'. She is set to play Hoxton Hall in London on 30 Oct.
GIGS & TOURS
Having annoyed fans by announcing a single reunion show earlier this month - claiming that they wouldn't tour because they didn't want to annoy their wives and girlfriends - McFly have now announced a full UK tour in 2020. They'll be trawling around many of the UK's arenas in April and May. Divorces are presumably scheduled for June.
Noisia have announced that they will head out on a 20th anniversary tour next year, after which the project will be brought to an end. "For almost 20 years, all three of us wanted pretty much the same, but we've developed, and realised that nowadays we want different things", they say. "If we all wanted the same different things, it would make sense to do that as a different Noisia, but we want different different things".
Mahalia has announced that she will play Brixton Academy in London on 1 May next year. Tickets go on general sale on Friday.
Gabriella Cilmi has announced that she will play a show at Oslo in Hackney on 27 May next year. Tickets go on general sale on Thursday. Here's recent single 'The Water'.
Joy Crookes has announced that she will play a run of UK shows in October and November, finishing up at EartH in London on 5 Nov. She's also just released a new track, covering 'Yah' and 'Element' from Kendrick Lamarr's 'Damn' album.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Ja Rule planning to record new videos for every song he's ever recorded
"I will be re-releasing ALL of my albums as visual albums", he tweeted. "I will be making a video for every song I've ever made".
"What songs do y'all wanna see videos for?" he then asked, somewhat redundantly, having just told everyone he's going to make videos for them all anyway. Unless he's planning to make videos for other people's songs too. Maybe he's going to make a video for every song ever recorded by anyone. In which case, the question is still redundant.
He's given no timeframe for the project, although did tweet last night that his "visual album concept now has a name", so that's something. He's not said what it is yet, but perhaps he'll go with the title of 2011 single 'Real Life Fantasy'.