On the Merits and Caveats of Audio Formats and the Misconstrued Myths of Inferiority

 

SliderSliders on TL Audio VTC (1), Metway Studios by Jeremy Keith is licensed under CC BY 2.0

As audio formats have risen and fallen from favor, there have always been a segment of audiophiles there to fly the flag of their favorite format and to shun the supposed failures of those they oppose.

Truly, each format has its respective merits and caveats. The choice of one format over another is mostly preferential based upon one’s circumstances. The favor for portable digital formats is most often made for convenience, and those listening from their mobile devices while commuting are seldom concerned about the quality of the device’s internal DAC or of the lossy compression which leads other audiophiles to write their congresspersons in fits of anger and audio activism. Pragmatically speaking, (respectable fringe circumstances aside), portable listening environments, given the significant white noise and distraction of passersby, reduce the need for performative excellence in audio signal reproduction as much of the nuanced perfections of a given recording are lost in the chaotic shuffle of human transport.

CDs are a sufficient marriage of quality and convenience for many listeners. They lend an optimum sound quality for properly-mastered and mixed recordings, are a widely-supported format, and can readily be converted to lossless EAC or lossy MP3 for added portability.  They suffer the usual limitations of physical media – entropic decay, limited capacity forcing albums to restrict runtime, and jewel case hinges which are frustratingly breakable. Title availability is often limited to commercially-viable recordings, which may or may not be an issue depending on your genres of interest.

There appears to be a curious consensus that the many of the earliest discs (roughly 1981-1989) are inferior in their sound quality. Listeners often complain that these discs sound “tinny”, “bright”, or “thin”. However, a quick search reveals intriguing opposing views, suggesting that the supposed poor sound quality of early discs may be a myth after all. It is important not to mistake earlier, quietly-mastered CDs as inferior. Podunk from the quartertothree forum offers the following:

“…mastering techniques have changed a lot since the 80’s and early 90’s. The most significant change is the tendency of mastering engineers to apply a lot of compression or hard limiting to final mix, which greatly decreases the dynamic range of a recording but makes it sound really loud and punchy. Recordings from even the early 90’s sound much quieter than modern recordings because of this practice. The advantage to that kind of aggressive compression is that our ears initially percieve loud recordings as sounding generally better, bassier, punchier, etc. Also, a loud recording will reveal fewer of the weaknesses of a cheap cd player/receiver/etc, because you don’t have to turn it up until you start to hear the background noise from your system. The disadvantage to that sort of mastering is that listening to a recording with very little dynamic range is fatiguing, but at first blush, that is probably the #1 reason that a new CD would sound better than an old one: at the same volume level, a new one will sound much louder and punchier.”

Ethan Winer of Music Player Network agrees, stating that some early CDs were poor due to improper mastering, but that these are the exception rather than the norm. During the early days of CDs some engineers directly used …”master tapes meant for vinyl records, with treble added to counter the known high-frequency loss of LPs.” Alan Cross published an article on 10 of the Worst-Sounding CDs of All Time, which includes the terribly hissy My Aim is True by Elvis Costello. But you’ll find that each of the early albums on his list is an example of shoddy production work at the hands of the studio and not limitations of the format or its technology.

Another factor to consider is that early 80s music itself is characteristically bright and tinny, further contributing to the perceived poor sound quality in comparison to post-loudness-war era recordings. Personally, I delight in the sound of early synth-pop albums and their characteristic brightness, and if I elect I can simply adjust the equalization to taste – far better than having to deal with the over-compressed dialed-up-to-eleven victims of the loudness war!

Cassettes rival other formats in two primary regards – their portability, and more importantly, the participatory factor of the mixtape – a cultural phenomenon which permitted the listener to contextualize and identify with their music and to share it with others. Music became far more socially interactive with the birth of the cassette. This also created an environment for DIY home recorded genres like punk and were critical to the development of independent music.  This, of course, continued with the democratization of CD burning technologies some years later.

Even as a devout record collector, it is important to state that the format’s allure is largely fetishist and a placebo effect. Young listeners born in the era of digital music enjoy discovering the retro format as it provides a tactile and real-time listening experience and it gives a (literally) substantial value to music they would otherwise perceive as common, elemental, and as plentiful as air and water. Gatefold artwork is often breathtaking and elegant. Sound quality is dependent on a combination of the source audio, the mastering process, the condition of the disc, and the playback equipment utilized. To various degrees of impact, the selection of tables, tonearms, cartridges, interconnects, preamps, power amps, and speakers each play a role in the resulting sound. However, the nostalgic “warmth” described by many vinyl lovers is simply a distortive property of the medium – a characteristic of playback altering the true audio signal of the artist, producer, and engineer, just as the crackles and pops of a well-worn and well-loved LP add a vitality and character to the music representing its history as a badge of honor, like the scratches and scars on the face of a dedicated soldier.

One important additional characteristic of the vinyl format is that there are tens of thousands of titles issued on LP which will never be made commercially available in a digital format. Thankfully, listeners have risen to this challenge and through online music journals and sites like Archive.org, have come together to digitize worlds of music which would never see the light of day without their efforts. In fact, the very same has been happening in the cassette community, both in the audio and video realms.

MP3 offers the convenience of compression and shareability and was the first widely successful non-physical format. They offered the same flexibility as mix tapes with the added bonus of storage tens of thousands of tracks on a small drive, plus the post-scarcity economic quality of being infinitely replicable at no cost to the user. There was a brief “dark age” of digital music in the early days of Napster with no bitrate standard and file exchange systems based on tracks instead of albums or discographic archives of artists or record labels, but this quickly passed as technology progressed to appease more discerning listeners who demanded standardization of formatting and v0 compression.

Still, some listeners prefer archival quality audio and have no use for single-track exchange networks. This is where archival lossless digital audio factors in. Private FLAC-based trackers offer an incredible value to users with meticulously-structured and uniformly-extracted FLAC+.CUE + .log packages for all available libraries. Complete discographic archives are instantly accessible whether showcasing a single artist or composer or an entire record label or musical theme. Finally, a format had arrived which offered a truly contextual listening experience, complete with catalog numbers and uniform metadata for well-organized archival libraries and with enhanced accessibility.

Best of all, these communities offer vastly larger libraries of content than commercial channels which focus only on licensed recordings. FLAC communities offer artist demos, developmental works in progress, live performances (whether sourced from soundboard or field), and an array of other non-commercial recordings not available to the public at any price.

Streaming services have grown incredibly popular of late, given their convenience and accessibility, though more discerning listeners collectively deride the technology as being painfully inadequate for their own listening needs. The disdain is three-fold.  Firstly, the services are limited to commercial recordings for which they can secure licensing, which instantly reduces the available catalog to a tiny fraction of the world of recorded music. Secondly, inferior lossy compression rates have turned many off from using these services.  Finally and perhaps most importantly, there is the principle behind the service’s greatest flaw – namely that listeners never own any of the music they hear on these services. There have already been instances of titles being remotely deleted from user libraries, hinting at the dangerous potential for media censorship at the hands of the content distributor. The EFF and other open culture organizations caution consumers that collectively relinquishing ownership of creative works is incredibly dangerous for a society.  Fortunately, a percentage of listeners still hold fast to the concept of personal libraries and elect to retain the public’s control of our art.

What is to come of these formats in the years ahead?  Vinyl will retain an audience of collectors who desire a tangible connection to their music and a lust for magnificent artwork. CDs will experience a nostalgic retro-renaissance as all things do approximately 20 years after their era. Cassette culture is already on the rise, albeit a niche, (though the same was said about vinyl just a few years ago). Each format excels in areas which appeal to their respective fan base. It will be interesting to see what transpires with non-physical digital audio. As storage cost continues to plummet, we’ve reached a threshold where compression and storage are non-issues. And as accessibility (in both legal and non-legal forms) continues to become refined and democratized, we may approach a day where every user can possess a personal copy of the Library of Congress, readily accessible for their perusal, research, and literacy. As open culture explains, this has the potential to usher in a new age of artistic enlightenment.

I hope I’m around to see that day.

 

Published in: on July 16, 2016 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

From Subsonic to Ultrasonic – Do More With Your Media!

Friday evening was a night like any other, but as it happened this particular evening inspired a change to better my circumstances and proved to be most rewarding.

I was relaxing, reading a fascinating book on copyright reform, and enjoying my latest musical acquisitions via my Subsonic media server.  But as each track concluded and the next began, I repeatedly found myself irked by a 2-second mark of silence which persistently seized my attention and vanished my cozy, zen-like musical trance.

Subsonic is a brilliant and magnificent application, but gapless playback is not among its features.  And this periodic interruption was just bothersome enough to inspire me to take pause and find a better solution.  Within a few minutes’ time, I discovered that Ultrasonic – an independently developed Subsonic client, offered continuous playback as well as genre browsing and other features not available from the official Subsonic app.

After testing the application that evening I was so delighted with the result that I set myself to the task of creating a video feature to showcase Ultrasonic and hopefully empower other users like myself to do more with their media.  Google Play reports that only ~1000 users have downloaded the app, but as you’ll see from the feature below, it’s perhaps the best under-the-radar media client out there.

Check it out!

Published in: on May 7, 2016 at 7:30 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Beyond Big Cable: Millennial Viewers Ditch Network Packages and opt for Greater Value with Streaming Services

roku tv

For as long as we can remember there has existed a well-established monopoly whereby consumers have little or often no choice between high-priced cable packages offered by a small handful of national providers.  Broadbandnow reports that five major companies provide service to nearly 250 million customers in the US. And Comcast dominates the market with a staggering 113 million customers in 40 states.  The resulting market is one of ever-increasing prices, preposterous service fees, and abysmal customer service, all at the expense of the consumer.

Fortunately, if current media consumer trends are any indication, none of that matters anymore.

“Cord-Cutting Is Accelerating!” proclaimed the Wall Street Journal this month, citing that, by 2018, 21% of U.S. Households won’t pay for traditional TV.  The feature includes a foreboding line graph with a plummeting projection of cable subscription rates in the years ahead.

And honestly – who can blame consumers for jumping the sinking ship of traditional TV when a streaming cruiseliner comes sailing by?

To set the stage for this sea change of service subscriptions, let’s look at the market as it stands today.

A FEW PRICING FACTS FROM BIG CABLE

The National Average for a Cable Package in the US:

Starter packages run $50-$65/mo while premium packages run $68-$127/mo.

Add to that $6-$8 per mo. in fees for your HDTV cable boxes.  An HD DVR receiver will cost you another $10-$16 per month.  Service to additional rooms or outlets range from $7-$10 each.  And if you want the premium channels you’ll have to shell out an additional $10-$15 per channel per month.

That quickly adds up to a whole lot of money for a passive-feed of non-interactive, commercial-loaded content, which is precisely what Thomas Pecoraro of Western NY thought in 2003 when he was shelling out $130 a month for cable and HD premium channels with Dish Network.  “I really wasn’t using 90% of the content,” Tom explained.  In 2006 his growing dissatisfaction would inspire him to explore the then brand-new concept of streaming media from AOL/Time Warner’s In2TV.com.  

In2TV was an ad-supported stream of content from the Warner Brothers archives.  Tom quickly realized that he could patch an S-video cable from his laptop to his CRT television and enjoy this web-sourced content on his television set.  “The early 5-14Mb/s broadband was not a reliable connection,” noted Tom.  “You could play what you want when you wanted it, but there was heavy pixelization and frame drop abound.”

That same year, WB.com began offering similar free retro cartoons and sitcoms.  It was the early days of streaming, and networks were testing the technology with archival content that they couldn’t otherwise capitalize upon at the time.  “What a lot of consumers don’t realize,” Tom  noted, “is that Time Warner’s IN2TV streaming service was the precursor to Netflix.”

In 2007, Netflix added streaming to their DVD rental subscription service, and by 2008, they made a deal with Starz to expand their catalog.  “They had Give Me a Break, Charles in Charge and a variety of other programs,” said Tom.  “It was exciting to revisit my childhood shows on demand.”

The Next Step: Roku

“As soon as Roku was launched in 2008 I bought the very first model,” said Tom.  “It made it so much easier to access media content.”  At the time he had both Netflix’s DVD and streaming packages for a total of $16 a month.  With the ease of accessibility Roku offered, Tom quickly cancelled the DVD portion of his subscription and kept the streaming service for $8 a month.

“The beauty of Roku,” Tom explained, “was that it was an affordable, one-time investment.”   That same year Tom purchased a Google TV, but the service faced challenges.  “It had a keyboard interface and a browser to search various networks for streamable content.  Many offered programs at the time, but when the networks realized that Google was accessing and distributing their media for free, they unanimously decided to block Google TVs from receiving their media.”  

“Roku approached access rights differently.  They steered clear of network content.  Roku made deals with providers, podcasts, and with Archive.org to ensure that there were no issues with the content.  That’s a big contributor to why Roku came out on top.”

Hulu Enters the Arena

Hulu was the next step in an experiment of networks streaming their own content on their own terms.  It began as a web-based portal of content where networks could supply old and new content without worry of maintaining multiple websites while simultaneously introducing a new avenue of content distribution, so they let anyone sign up to watch the content for free.  

But as new streaming boxes and “media PCs” premiered on the market, each pointing to online content (such as Google TV and Boxee Box), the networks became frightened at their loss of control of distribution.  They began blocking IPs for Hulu and other non-computer devices.  Hulu created “Hulu Plus” for Roku, smart TVs, DVD/Blu-ray players and game systems (and any other market offering competitor Netflix’s content).  

“Individuals like me who watched the web version of Hulu saw Hulu Plus as a joke and a scam,” noted Tom.  “Why pay for Hulu Plus when you would see ads running on their service?  After years of this nonsense and the fear of SlingTV, HBO and others entering the ring, Hulu Plus rebranded Hulu for both the web version and the streaming boxes introducing a new $12 ad-free tier as well as a premium tier for movies from the usual suspects – much like the market of the early years of cable.”

Dish Network – Too Little Too Late

In early 2015, Dish Network launched their SlingTV service (not to be confused with the SlingBox).  The basic package offers 19 channels for $20.  Marketed as “The Best of Live TV,” SlingTV features general interest content like food, sports, and travel.  And, like its competitors, SlingTV also offers premium tiers for children’s programming, sports, and movies for an additional fee.  But it’s passive live streaming, just like regular TV but distributed over the internet.  The basic $20 package gives you access on only a single device, and it’s riddled with commercials.  There’s really no reason to explore this option unless you’re satisfied with passive content.  “SlingTV exists solely for members of the older generation who wish to break free of their cable contracts but want the familiarity of traditional television,” Tom observed.  

Amazon Prime – Great Value For Its Price Point

To compete with Netflix, Amazon in the early days offered a simple rental plan of $4 a movie.  They later launched Prime with free streaming of older video content.  If you order products with any regularity from Amazon then Prime already pays for itself in the money you save on shipping.  Today’s annual rate of $99 is still a great value for their library of content.

Adding It All Up – Streaming vs Traditional Cable

Tom has tried every major streaming service available in his area since the advent of streaming in the early 2000s.  Today he has subscriptions to several content providers, making his monthly bill an excellent case study for a comparison of old services vs new.

Tom kept Hulu for $8 a month because they offer Japanese and 70s sci-fi content that he would otherwise spend far more to purchase outright.  

He also utilizes the free ad-supported Crackle service on Roku which offers a variety of movies, TV shows, and anime.  “It’s a one-stop shop for great content,” said Tom.

An avid fan of Japanese programming, Tom also pays for 3 premium anime services via Roku – Funamation ($8), CrunchyRoll ($6), and Anime Network (also $6).  Together, these services provide a wealth of content both old and new from Japan.

Tom also enjoys content from numerous other providers catering to niche interests.  Services such as:

  • TwitCh – for Gaming
  • <>.TV diamondclub.TV – a community of fan-based content and a video podcast channel
  • Frogpants – similar to diamondclub
  • TuneIn – free radio
  • Livestream – for live broadcasts
  • IHeartRadio – free radio and music stations
  • Archive.org (an unofficial third-party channel) for their unparalleled library of public domain content
  • Presto – the best of HBO and Showtime for a low monthly rate
  • the Google Play Store
  • and PBS

The one-time purchase of the Roku and annual $99 Amazon Prime fees aside, Tom’s total monthly cost for all this content is $35.  All of the media is on-demand and much of it commercial-free.  Compared to his $130 Dish Network cable contract, cutting the cord was a no-brainer.

image(1).jpg
Thomas Pecoraro – Cable-free since 2013

A Nationwide Trend

In Oct 2013 Statista.com reported that 43% of users age 18-36 opted for Netflix while 46% utilized traditional cable packages.  I asked Tom whether he believed there will still be a market for cable in 10 years’ time.

“It’s not a black or white Netflix question,” he answered. “It depends on whose stats you read.  But in 1979 networks were frightened about the new concept of cable television.  It’s the same scare now.  They’ve always been slow to change and the technology shows no sign of slowing down for them.”

I’m curious, as I know my readers span a variety of ages and demographics.  Have you cut the cord as well?  To my younger readers – did you grow up with an entirely post-cable experience?

And what is your media center interface of choice?  Do you prefer XBMC?  Plex.tv?  Or Roku?

Whatever you use, it is wonderful to see consumers empowered by a new era of media technology.

Apple Music – A Failure At the Outset

 “APPLE BETS BIG THAT YOU’LL
START PAYING TO STREAM MUSIC”

So proclaimed last night’s headline on NPR Music.  But most music consumers know full-well that this is a losing wager on the part of Apple.
Apple Music will be the latest in a line of failures from the media giant.  They’re coming into the streaming service market far too late in the game. The world has had 100% free music for over a decade and Apple’s branded service is too little, too late to matter.
 
Certainly, it will appeal to a specific niche audience – Apple fans with no active interest in music, who will use the service on their iPhones much in the way transistor radios were used in past… but with an even smaller base of popular song.
 
A hundred years of great music – works by the world’s greatest conductors and orchestras, big band, classical, and opera, legends of jazz, funk, rare groove, and 20th century avant-garde… works which defied and defined the musical philosophies of their era – none of these will have a place in Apple’s expensive, shiny box.
 
This will be Beats Music all over again. (And we all saw how well that worked out.) Poster-boy flavor-of-the-week artists can have their contracts of exclusivity with Apple Music. The rest of the world will barely notice when the service closes in the year ahead.
 

And for the millions in the middle – the casual music consumers of the world – Colin Barrett (interviewed in the NPR article) has already spoken for them. 55 million listeners have free accounts with Spotify, and the rest are happy with the similarly free services offered by YouTube or any of the dozen other available services.

All of this while the world’s more discerning listeners will continue on as they always have, whether crate digging or file sharing to uncover rare and elusive sounds not available from any of the commercial markets.

Apple, you had a good run. It’s time to hang it up.
Published in: on June 30, 2015 at 8:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

How Music Got Free – Cover to Cover

pTIS74v

Thrilled to have received my copy of Stephen Witt’s How Music Got Free in the post on its date of official publication, I made myself comfortable, put on a full pot of coffee, and eagerly dove into what I anticipated would be a fast-favorite addition to my library.

The book quickly settles into an exciting rhythm – its chapters circling around the activities of key figures in the story of the music industry and of music piracy in the last thirty years. It begins with the struggle of Karlheinz Brandenburg to develop his MP3 audio compression format over twelve years of fine-tuning and a constant battle for acknowledgment by a fiercely competitive industry.

The action then jumps to a few seemingly inconsequential men working at the PolyGram compact disc manufacturing plant in North Carolina – an unsuspecting locale for the most pivotal characters in the end of an industry.

A chapter later, we are privy to private exchanges between the newly-appointed CEO of Warner Music and his fellow overseers of the empire. As the story unfolds, we follow these figures through label acquisitions and purges, through major shifts in industrial policy, through aimless crackdowns on “pirates” including the elderly, the deceased, and a 12-year-old girl who’d downloaded the theme song to Family Matters.

As these individual stories progress, the reader develops an in-depth perspective of the tumultuous end of an era for recorded music. The author offers an astoundingly detailed account of the lives and conversations of core members of the Rabid Neurosis warez group and their suppliers. The storytelling is exciting, calculated, and fast-paced. In elegant Hollywood style, each chapter leaves one scene at a critical cliffhanger to pick up at a similar point of action from another of the sub-plots in the puzzle that was turn-of-the-century music.

I read How Music Got Free eyes wide from cover to cover, captured by every thrilling twist in the tale. What could have been a dry and drab account of compression algorithms and legalities is instead an action-packed saga of a dangerous underground organization where anonymity is critical and risk is always high.

The book also explores the advent of the iPod and the birth and death of numerous filesharing services like Kazaa, Grokster, Limewire, Bearshare, the rise and fall of TPB, and Oink, as well as a few contemporary players I’d never expected to see named in print.

The ending is incredibly satisfying, and even evokes a strong sense of emotion and empathy in the reader – yet another surprise I hadn’t anticipated from a text on piracy. Witt’s book is a fascinating read and adds a much-needed perspective to a story which is still being played out before our eyes. This is easily my favorite title of the year.

Rnslogo

Leaving the Cloud for my own Private Island

I spent the last two years fully-embracing the cloud. And why not? Cloud computing offers many wonderful features. Google’s suite of apps create a seamless user experience from one personal device to another. Sites like Discogs.com empower users to access and share their record catalogs everywhere they go. Goodreads.com networks book-lovers from all around the world and democratized the used book market by facilitating the search and purchase of titles. It created a market where even the tiniest, tucked-away bookshops could compete directly with bookselling giants like Barnes & Noble.

I use Google Docs for drafts of articles I’m writing and really enjoy the flexibility of calling them up on my phone, tablet, or my media workstation throughout my day. And I’ve absolutely lived on Google Calendar for many years now.

Cloud-based archival storage services offer users data redundancy and reliable sync-and-forget-it backup systems with a 99.9% recovery rate – far more reliable that entrusting all your precious data to a single external disk.

But recently, I’ve been rethinking the cloud, particularly about the amount of control and privacy a user relinquishes when their content is no longer stored locally. iTunes was the worst atrocity to come of the cloud, as many users are starting to understand. The DRM fiasco crippled the usability of the software, and as users learned from the U2 incident, their music libraries were really at the mercy of Apple.  Spotify and streaming services are not much better, with drastically-limited media selections and, again, the content is never really yours.

iPod DRM

The entire era of cloud-computing was less about empowering the user and more of an exercise is usury. Let’s face it – storage has become incredibly inexpensive. And the popularity of lossy-compression for casual listening has only made it easier and cheaper for users to have it all. There was no longer a need to up-sell a customer base to a bigger and better device every six months, because the average smartphone suits most users just fine as an all-around media player.

For those with more discerning tastes, a simple and inexpensive home server is sufficient to grant instant-access to terabytes of lossless audio and HD video libraries from our tablets and phones anywhere with 4G service.

The industry had to invent a new way to maintain a steady influx of customer revenue. Enter the streaming service and world of online backups. These subscription-based services keep the customer paying month after month for storage and instant-access. Adobe was perhaps the most curious company to go this route, releasing the latest version of its software suite rebranded as the Creative Cloud. The customer scenario was much the same for Adobe – previous versions were everything their customers needed, so why would they need to upgrade ever again? The solution was clear – monthly subscription fees.

Adobe-survey-CC-pricingCNET Adobe CC Pricing Survey (2012)

The elephant in the room of cloud computing is the compromise of one’s privacy and security. Facebook users know all too well that every minute detail of their publicly-broadcasted lives is being sold and re-sold to advertisers banking on hyper-targeted marketing.

But you know all this – you don’t buy in to cloud archive services. You’ve implemented all the standard privacy tools and ad-blocking plugins and your web experience is fairly secure and advert-free. But what about those who don’t have the luxury of their own media server or truly unlimited data plans for their portable devices? How should they freely access their large libraries of media anywhere they go?

There is a solution. Seagate manufactures a device specifically tailored to meet the needs of this particular niche of customers and to resolve their unique problem. The Wireless Plus 2TB portable HDD (STCV2000100) is surprisingly compact and lightweight. It features an internal 10-hour battery and its own personal WiFi network. Pair it with each of your personal devices and you’ve got 2TB of content with you EVERYWHERE – on or off the grid, with no monthly fees.

Seagate Wireless Plus 1

Currently priced at ~$190, the Wireless Plus offers an incredible amount of freedom for its price point. For users like myself with our own media servers, there really isn’t an urgent need, (save perhaps for taking your entire library with you on a camping trip.) But for those tired of shelling out monthly fees for remotely hosted content – this is the device you’ve been waiting for.

Seagate Wireless Plus 2

Results of the Innerspace Labs’ Music Discovery Survey

The results are in for the Innerspace Labs Music Discovery Survey!  A huge thank-you to all who offered their input.

I created the survey out of a personal curiosity.  Sadly, I have very little contact with the general public outside of the few members of my digital publishing team at the office, and I wanted to know what impact the web has had on the ways listeners discover new sounds.

I suspected listeners utilized multiple media resources in their musical explorations and that certainly proved to be the case.  Contributors cited an average of 6.44 sources for new music data.  The majority of the music sources I offered as options for the survey were widely-used, save for rateyourmusic.com, music subreddits, Gnoosic, and Usenet groups which each accounted for fewer than 3% of users’ musical resources.  I found this particularly interesting as I visit RYM frequently as my primary ratings and review aggregator and find its information invaluable when researching artists and genres.

Survey Tablepsd

As expected, Youtube ranked as users’ most-used resource when sampling new sounds.  I was surprised, however, to find that radio, motion pictures, television, or other forms of mass media were the third-highest ranked information resource, right behind user’s own friends.  While I only see ~3 new films annually, and have no exposure to television or radio, it still appears that mass media is still a significant part of most people’s lives.

Spotify and other streaming services were the next-highest ranked source, accounting for 10% of listeners’ discoveries.  While they are not a viable source for non-commercial or analog-only recordings, they still offer an incredible convenience for quick-and-easy personalized radio stations and there is no shortage of articles proclaiming streaming the new standard for mass media.

Crate digging was another significant source, as were vinyl Facebook communities and private music forums.  I’m curious whether this is representative of the public at large or just for Innerspace readers, but it is exciting nonetheless.

I was similarly please by the results for music lit and other periodicals, which accounted for more than 5% of musical discovery.  While 5% doesn’t sound significant on the surface, bear in mind that users cited an average of 6-7 sources for new music, so I’m considering 5% a threshold for this survey.

Other sources of note are independent music blogs and local music performances, both of which were a delight to see still holding their own in the survey.  After attending the latest concert at my local university, I will certainly be visiting their music library for further research into works by their professors.

I’m also curious to see if torrenting will grow in popularity for general music research in the years ahead.  Personally, torrenting is a critical step in my music purchasing process.  I’ve yet to find a better system, whether for surveying the catalog of an artist or to compare various masters before investing my hard-earned cash.

I consider the survey a success as its certainly given me a better understanding of how users find new music.  Thanks once again to everyone who contributed!

How Innerspace Readers Discover New Music

Pirates to the Rescue: Giving the Listening Public What Commercial Services Will Not

Ladies and Gentleman – I’m proud to share my first published article as a music journalist for Queens Free Press in NYC! The article is live on their website and there are plans to feature it when the time comes for their first print edition.

The piece is titled, Pirates to the Rescue: Giving the Listening Public What Commercial Services Will Not.

Visit Queens Free Press and CHECK IT OUT!

By Jon Åslund [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jon Åslund [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Rally in Stockholm, Sweden, in support of file sharing and software piracy.

Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,