Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The changing shape of recorded music

This is going to be a bit of an ongoing post, as my thoughts clarify. But I am giving a lot of thought as to how recorded music is going to get through to people over the next few years. Changes are definitely afoot, as we move to a world where you can not just get "physical" product but also via download.
For the CD it's what they get in addition to the small silver disc. For the download it's still what quality they get and how the tracks link together that remain a major problem. As well as how people pay for them.
On the way that they look. For the past 20 years, we have had CDs try to emulate in small size the look of vinyl. There was a wonderful period of around 30 years - when LPs first arrived to their replacement by CDs - when artists could have a field day, designing covers which were around 13 inches by 13 inches, in order to make an impact. The cool covers of Blue Note, the pop artists, and everyone could have a great time. Not all were successful. (Selwyn has a great time with his monthly art failures for Jazzwise.) But they were a great opportunity.
CDs were developed as a data transmission format with digitised sound. First, people thought that they could shrink the artwork. But we don't have magnifying glasses and put brochures in the jewel case (developed as a means of protecting the silver disc). Then we have had all sorts of other digipaks and so on.
Shops loved them, as they could put in more CDs per square metre. We record companies loved them, as they are much cheaper to ship than vinyl.
The public put up with them, but up to a point, because the moment that digital download began, they went for it. Even if the sound quality was rubbish, they were of course free, courtesy of Napster.
More soon.....

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Babel download site now active

The Babel Label now has its own download site! Music is available as high quality (320Kbps) mp3. A larger proportion of the money comes to us than via Itunes and so it means that we can keep the prices down, distribute more to the musicians per track and reinvest.
Of course, given the efforts that musicians make to produce top quality recordings and packaging, it's a bit of an approximation of the "real thing", as Billy Jenkins has described. "Music has become impotent". Nevertheless, it is essential at least to get such music out in this form.
There are a few intriguing benefits still. First, you can hear samples of all tracks lasting a minute, giving a better flavour of what's to come. Also, we can be really flexible about the timing of what tracks go up, for how long and getting up less widely available music. (A few albums such as those by Steve Arguelles and some of Billy's where I am short of physical stock are up there.) For example, the new Portico Quartet arrived yesterday afternoon and I have already put it on the site!
The full catalogue should be up within the two weeks. Already about half is there. The constraint is time. (It takes around 2 hours to get a complete album up.)
More thoughts about it as time goes on.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Punk jazz 2

I forgot to mention that I have actually got involved with proper punk and jazz! Penny Rimbaud from Crass, has recorded his version of Howl for Babel, How?. I know from talking to Penny, Bron (Eve Libertine) and Gee Vaucher (who has designed a lot of Babel sleeves by now), that they feel that jazz musicians are those who indeed continue the spirit of punk. They are avid attenders of the likes of Partisans and Christine Tobin. So, while it may not be necessarily right to think that "punk jazz" per se is actually new, to highlight the approach is spot on. And certainly with venues like Ronnie Scotts and major labels such as Universal (in the UK) making "jazz" into something quite historic and retro, to have to pick a name to remind people of the music's freshness is absolutely right.