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Musicians: only iTunes makes you money

February 14, 2012 by Norman Lebrecht

15 comments.


Streaming services deliver no bread.

That’s the finding of a cutting-edge survey published yesterday in San Francisco.

It may explain why Macca is leading a long retreat from Spotify and Resonance.

Depressing, isn’t it, when iTunes sound is just so poor.


Comments (15)

  1. Steve says:

    Are you claiming iTunes sound (256kbps AAC format) is poor compared to lower quality streaming services???

    1. No… but if iTunes is the only option, it’s a pretty poor one. I listened to dude Brahms 4: cellphone sound

      1. Petros Linardos says:

        Norman, what did you think of the performance?

      2. Steve de Mena says:

        Norman, I’m listening to the Brahms 4 now (Mac Pro feeding a Yamaha receiver via S/PDIF, Sennheiser HD 595 headphones). The recording does sound dreadful. UGH.

        I don’t blame iTunes – I blame either a poor source or poor encoding. This is not typical AAC 256 kbps quality. The DG Concerts of the Prokofiev R&J Suite with Salonen & the LAPO sound better.

  2. Valerio Tura says:

    The solution is: just stop downloading music or buying music online! Go back to buy cds or – even better – vinyl records, instead! And go to attend live music performances in theatres and concert halls! Is it too far from home…? too expensive…? too snobbish…? too dificult for transportation, parking, and so fort…? they are planned at uncomfortable timings…? I’m sorry, these are almost all false problems… most of the times it’s just about finding excuses for lazyness… Am I going too far…?

    1. Steve de Mena says:

      “…or – even better – vinyl records”. Why are vinyl records “even better” than CDs. Ridiculous.

      1. Lindsay Murray says:

        Perhaps because my record was cut from the 96K master at Half-Speed 🙂

  3. Anon says:

    The survey results seem rather suspect.
    If 11% “don’t know” then the survey is asking the wrong people to ensure the information received is accurate.

    The survey doesn’t compare income from other streaming services which we all accept – I mean radio in particular, and also Music TV. The vast majority of artists see a big fat $0 from radio play; and I would be willing to bet that more artists will receive some form of income from online streaming than do from radio play.
    The survey also doesn’t compare with the sales of physical product.

    Without more data the results are fairly meaningless.

  4. Eric says:

    Curious, what type of speakers/headphones did you use to test the Dudamel recording?

      1. I’m certainly no fan of iTunes, but they did greatly improve the bit rate of their downloads a while back. I suspect your cheap Koss might be the culprit. Are you listening through your computer’s built-in headphone jack? Most are horrible. I’d recommend a decent digital/audio converter 1st and some decent headphones 2nd. You can get a nice USB powered D/A converter and headphone amp (all in one) for little money. Or maybe you are listening on a cheap iPod??

  5. Joel says:

    It’s inevitable, the online downloading is the future for classical music. It shows the shortest artist-customer distance and then it’s better for both. It’s obvious that I tunes is the big one… (the most important shop) and it’s also true that the sound is so poor. But that happens because most of the costumers (non-classical fans) can’t feel any difference in sound quality between (even) a 128kbps mp3 (for example) and a lossless format. They don’t listen like we do. For them, I tunes are ok.

    I think Lossless downloading (FLAC) should be the main format for music purchasing (classical). It’s heavier but it’s the CD quality. For musicians it’s better to make music and sell it in digital form. Their music can be easily sold in the whole world. But not in Itunes! Look at CHANDOS records’ “The classical shop”, or BIS with the “Eclassical”, they know what the future for classical music must be. They even offer superior formats (FLAC- 24bit). However, we’re still waiting for a little more of development in home storage (for digital archives) and some players (software or gadgets), especially portable players. I think that we, as costumers should always ask for quality; like musicians should ask to be payed for their works. Both have rights.

    1. AVI says:

      … and it will happen.
      Poor quality audio only came about as a result of technology not being sufficiently advanced. The internet was simply too slow for audio in the days of dial-up, then it was fast enough for low quality mp3’s but no more. Now that home connections are much faster than they were, the download of higher-quality (read: larger in data size) files is more and more possible.
      As you state, commercial retailers are starting to get the idea and offering better formats. Home storage / playback is improving too. It can’t change overnight – but the rate of progress is exceptionally quick, and we’ll get there.

      I disagree that a consumer has some sort of inalienable “right” to high quality audio. Consumers are always happy to consider trade-offs between quality, price and convenience. You wouldn’t say that we all have a “right” to drive around in a top-of-the-range Mercedes; though I’m sure that those who design and manufacture state-of-the-art driving machines would feel the same way about buyers of a Tata Nano as purveyors of high-quality audio products feel about low-bit-rate MP3 consumers. You might prefer the best quality files, the next person may prefer convenience of fitting many files into a small iPod, or faster download, which necessitates lower-quality files. To each his own. As the speed of the internet improves, we’re getting over the technological hurdle, and seeing that record companies are quite happy to provide both alternatives.

  6. The very sad thing is that right up to the late 1980s classical music lovers cared about sound quality – you saved up for good hifi components, looked forward to getting better, bigger speakers etc., but now the youth of today only want accessibility and they are regrettably governing things for the rest of us. I have B&W headphones and the string sound on iTunes downloads is poor. Keep buying those CDs and keep the industry going.


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