posted: 24 July 2010 in Music

Raise The Price Of Digital Downloads

Raise The Price Of Digital Downloads

What? Am I crazy? Well, maybe, but that has nothing to do with this post. Why should stores charge more for digital downloads? Easy, to make up for the fact that they would no longer be selling as many tunes.

Why would they be selling less tunes? Well, this is the crux of my post: There's too many under produced, unoriginal tracks being sold online. If, like me, you're a DJ or electronic dance music enthusiast, then you have no doubt had the displeasure of spending hours on Beatport trying to weed through endless amounts of poor quality tunes.

With the switch to selling tunes digitally rather than on vinyl or CD several years back, something big happened. The cost of physical production was removed. No longer did record labels have to pay to have their music printed, nor did the online stores have to pay a stocking fee. Suddenly selling music became all about profit, with the major expenses no longer an issue. It's the long-term overall affect it has had on the quality of the music that is the issue.

So what effect has going digital had on the music? One needs to understand the gradual process involved. Let's look at it from a major label's perspective. They no longer need to pay to have vinyl printed. All they do is upload their mp3 or wav files to their distributor or directly to the online stores, and voila, it's ready to be sold. Sadly, the selling price of digital downloads is so low that the profit margin is somewhat less than with vinyl. So, in order for the label to remain equally as profitable as it was before, it needs to sell more copies of its tracks. Sure, moving to digital meant that more people could be exposed to, and have access to the music. But this isn't enough. Labels need to sell more music to stay profitable. And the way labels went about it, was to sign more music to sell. This means current artists would be producing more music more frequently, or that new, undiscovered artists would be signed up to sell their productions.

It's all too common these days to see an artist do really well with one tune. It sells like hot-cakes, so, not even a couple of months later, that artist releases another, very similar sounding track. This process repeats itself until eventually people grow tired of the sound. In the mean time, that artist has been busting out a swag of similar sounding tracks. Look at the likes of Activa and Sean Tyas. Their sound grew very popular and so they were unleashing tracks at an inconceivable rate. Sadly aside from the first couple of releases, the rest were fairly unimaginative. What mattered was that they sold.

Had there been less pressure to release so many tunes to keep the income stream flowing, then perhaps more time could be spent on upping the creativity and producing something truly unique and memorable.

What follows next is the so-called halo-effect. A certain 'sound' becomes well-known and popular. What manifests next is a series of 'copy-cat' artists and tunes that borrow very heavily, if not totally from the original, high selling release. What we get are numerous tracks that sound very similar, all of them released in quick succession so that they hit stores while that 'sound' is still popular. Again, due to the need to get the tracks out quickly and consistently, the quality and originality of the tunes suffered.

When vinyl was king, it cost so much to do a run of 2000 records, that the label had to be 100% certain the track was worth putting on to vinyl. Track submissions would be heavily scrutinised before being signed by a label. They needed to know that they would make their money back. Typically, most releases on vinyl were unique, imaginative, and sold really well.

So, what happens next? We get to where we are today. I like to call this the second-halo-effect. Sadly this one really hurts the music the most. Due to the fact that the 'copy cat' tunes have been getting hammered out now for several years, many new, young producers coming into the scene are only being exposed to those lesser quality tunes. Thus, their inspiration is somewhat uninspired music. What follows is even more music that really misses the point. Today Beatport (and other stores) is littered with tracks that, while technically fairly good, lack any real emotion or connection. Most end up an array of weak melodic layers that verge on euro-dance or cheesy progressive house. The 'trance' is gone. And these tracks get signed because labels need to sell more tracks.

It gets even worse though. With the advent of digital-only record labels, young, aspiring producers and DJs have been able to start their own labels for very little or no up-front costs. They then sign budding producers to their labels and release their tracks. The tracks are often poorly mixed, poorly mastered (if at all) and lack a lot of compositional quality. The online stores aren't going to reject them, because more tunes means more sales. I must make one noteworthy exception to the negative aspects of small digital labels. Every budding artist should have the opportunity to have their music heard and to be able to sell it. But I don't think the big, online stores are the right place for it. I think these budding artists should work with bigger labels to refine their sound before adding their tunes to the mix. Anyway, more on my ideas for the situation below.

What we've ended up with is that the big labels have slowly, over time dropped in quality and consistency, while completely new labels have appeared that are also very low in quality. There are still some incredible tracks released, but they're definitely spread very thin amongst a sea of average tunes.

So what can be done? It needs to be attacked from two points. One, record labels (the big guys) need to pull back on the amount of tunes they're releasing and stop signing so many less than adequate tunes. They need to enforce a higher standard of quality and originality. Two, the online stores need to raise their standards, ensuring only high quality material is released. To make up for the fact that labels and stores would be selling less volume, the price needs to go up. Double or triple the current price. If the average quality of tunes goes up to match that of the more rare high quality tunes of today, then the higher price is worth it. We need less copy-cat material, and more well though out, emotively connected compositions.

But what of the young, aspiring guys who will no longer have online stores as an outlet to showcase their early productions? I feel a new platform needs to be created. I have had good chats with fellow DJ Rossco, who's idea was to create a new store-like platform for releasing and showcasing new talent for free. To be honest, this idea is worthy of several separate posts. So I'll finish with this: Up the price of music. Stop signing and releasing so many sub-par releases. Keep the stores for high quality music. Create a new platform for showcasing new talent.


Mick at 10:51 PM on July 24, 2010 wrote:

The 'halo effect' was still a factor with vinyl, it gained pace with CD singles but the process has become exponentially faster with mp3's. It certainly made DJ's scrutinize their purchases when tracks were $25.00 a unit. Furthermore it made us treasure what we played and program new purchases for best effect. Instead of todays reality of some DJ's being prepared to experiment more freely than is best for all, with both purchases and set composition.

The first place I look whenever browsing download sites is always the top 10's of bigger names I identify with, which if I'm right also homogenizes the playlists of the aspiring globally. But at least it cuts the headache of listening to the same thing over as you have described. And has lead me to discover some of the better quality labels (no pun intended) exercising quality control.

In some ways having to wade through endless copycat tunes is an antidote to the counter elitism that cheap download stores and modern DJ'ing media have created. So that the truly gifted still have to work at it on some level to stay ahead of the ever multiplying pack that consider themselves DJ's.

Scott Richardson at 08:31 AM on July 25, 2010 wrote:

Mick, that's so true. In a sense, the effort you put into wading through the mass amount of tunes worth it in the end - and usually those more experienced manage to make it through unscathed!

Marc at 06:29 PM on July 29, 2010 wrote:

From a consumer point of view this wouldn't be good - there's no way the average consumer is going to pay x2/x3 the current price. For me this would mean for the price of a CD in a local retail store I could get 5 full tracks. Immediately it's not worth it. I'm afraid iTunes has set the bar and people aren't prepared to pay more than $1-2 for a track. To be honest, I’m not sure I am.

The nice thing about a low price is it encourages people to buy the music rather than pirate it. But I understand that it doesn’t reward the artist as much. It’s a tricky thing to balance.

I do agree with you about the quality side of things. On top of the droves of unimaginative and similar-sounding original productions, I've grown rather tired of seeing each track remixed several times - many remixes sound similar to the original or one another, or are just uninspired (often someone just slaps on “their sound” and that’s it). For instance, some releases include several remixes and then a dub version of each remix; is this really necessary?

Something I definitely disagree with is the idea of the stores deciding what to release. What makes them suitable for deciding on quality? I wouldn’t want a business deciding what everyone should hear. Perhaps what should happen is that they only deal with established labels. Minor and new labels could operate through another store which is geared towards new artists. But at the end of the day, it’s the labels that need to implement better quality control.

Personally, I’ve developed a system where the DJs filter for me. I listen to certain shows and if I hear something I like, I note it and later (perhaps) buy it. Yes, if I don’t hear a particular track in one of these shows I might miss it, but the alternative of sifting through all the new releases in the stores just isn’t feasible for me. Obviously DJs can’t do this, so I can understand that you’d like the number of tracks to be cut down.

Scott Richardson at 07:04 PM on July 29, 2010 wrote:

Marc, good points mate. I tend to agree that the notion of stores selecting the releases, or putting the price up aren't ideal. Clearly the best solution is to sort it out at the label end. But if they're releasing less music, earning less money - what can be done? Should they all down size for the betterment of the music scene? I highly doubt that will happen. It's a really tough scenario isn't it!? They need to make the money to pay their employees. One of the other things that really bugs me is the relentless re-releases and 'monthly compilations' of tunes. While good 'value', it only waters down the selection of music even more :(

Marc at 11:27 PM on July 29, 2010 wrote:

It is unfortunately one of those situations where the ideal is impractical. Let's be honest: nothing will change, as much as one would like it to. I'd love to see a breakdown of sales for one of the stores. I've read posts by artists saying that they're not making much money. So my big question is: are sales low or are the artists just getting too small a chunk? Who's getting all the money then? I agree that the monthly compilations are rubbish. They're actually just for those who can't be bothered to "shop" and find what they like. It's easier just to download what a particular artist, DJ or label says you should. Most compilations are rubbish - they're usually just a seemingly random selection of tracks; doesn't look like any real care is given to their make-up. I immediately ignore any compilation with a big number at the end of it.

(DJ) Matty StyLes at 06:17 PM on November 24, 2010 wrote:

Here's a valid question that maybe wasnt brought up. The view on mashups and how the effects of producing stuff that has already been produced. is there no end to the commercialized industry trying to dominate all genres into pop? The main reason why i turned to trance and harder genres was to get away from all of that. Is the scene that desperate that we need to keep relying on such an sad/weak act on our beloved trance and harder dance genres?
As for the new ideas to help the new dj/producers get known i think its a revolation on wat needs to have happen. I'm very gun-ho about that idea. I have many mates that have amazing sounds, that never get heard. I agree also with the full on demand that people have to want new tunes and the artist replicating similar sounds. I always search for stuff that alot of people dont hear much of. Its wat makes me a more indepth dj. I did that with vinyl and i do that online shopping too. This situation has to be finalised b4 we start to destroy urselves as artists and performers.

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