I share a mini-business-pan for revitalizing the music business, offering specific details and calculating the (huge) financial payback
Ok, where do I, a music fan, sign up?
There are two major flaws in your argument.
1. You have fallen into “The market is huge” trap. The flaw is the larger the market the more difficult it is to achieve a given market share; so while 10% may seem small it represents a Mt. Everest size “hill to climb”.
2. The “Thinking of a general idea is the hard part of inventing something.” mistake. No, just because you have brought up the idea of “something better” doesn’t mean that something better is practical or even economically feasible. Power generation by fusion anyone?
You also neglected the evidence - since the initial development of the LP there has been virtually no improvement in the intrinsic technology. The primary characteristics of better sounding LPs has been purer vinyl and slower, more restricted pressing runs.
In addition you were apparently sniffing fairy dust in proposing the selling price of your new discs. $15 today is the equivalent of $2.25 back in 1972 when the actual selling price of LPs was about twice that and unit sales volume dwarfed anything even remotely possible now for a physical medium.
A great idea in my opinion but as we can see from some of the comments here, not one many people can begin to grasp. I'm sure someone who would like to step in and make a reality of it could do extremely well for themselves and for a discriminating public.
The environmentally friendly bit seems like a huge sticking point. Benn Jordan has an excellent YouTube video where he talks about why he no longer buys or sells vinyl, due to the amount of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that get released into the air with every spin.
This is not so much a business plan but a blue-sky pipe dream. Nothing wrong with that of course, but I’m hard pressed to see where this could really go. A new physical medium for the distribution of music with all the required technological infrastructure of players and outlets seems to me to be a heavy lift. I’ve said this before in a slightly different way, but we music super fans and obsessives are not typical consumers, who use music as a lifestyle accompaniment in the background. Obviously, some of those will lay out bucks on expensive systems such as Sonos. However, I’m somewhat of the opinion that part of that system’s appeal, and the same could be true of any digital setup, is the streamlined, non-material quality to the whole thing. No need to alphabetize all your albums by genre, just click on the screen to change the order. Can’t find something ‘cos you misfiled it, just type in the search box. These are the things I find most useful with a large collection of mp3s, although guess what? I actually play CDs and the old unimproved vinyl more frequently because I personally like the physical world and am a cranky old DJ and journalist who’s been at the collecting game for over fifty years. But if I were in my twenties again, I suspect I’d be all streaming. Excuse me, I must go now to find an album that got in the wrong place!
I had a hard time getting through the opening premise that constant innovation necessarily results in a better product because of your use of Gillette as the poster child for that argument. In the case of razor technology Gillette's innovations have resulted in a decidedly inferior product. The double-edge safety razor has yet to be improved upon. When used correctly it yields a better shave for a fraction of the cost of plastic, multi-blade cartridge razors, and without the environmental cost of billions of plastic cartridges being disposed of annually. Gillette's innovations are merely an attempt to stay ahead of patent expirations and not to improve its product.
2 problems: shipping and manufacturing costs. Speak to record companies...Three, really. Once people are used to getting music for free (anyone under fifty) they likely will never "come back." Still...I'm rooting for this.
Ted your best ideas for adding value to Vinyl+ don't depend on the vinyl. From my personal perspective as an aged baby boomer, that's just as well, since I’ve never been able to hear the alleged audio advantage of vinyl over a well-made CD. (If you're going to tell me I need an audiophile tube-based analog rig to even have a chance, you're changing the argument.)
I already owned hundreds of LPs, but I was delighted when CDs came along because they eliminated all the annoyances associated with vinyl records. CDs remain my favorite format to this day and no streaming service provides a satisfactory alternative. (To me, they’re like Muzak, suitable only for background music, not serious listening.)
I certainly favor artists making more from their music, but Vinyl+ just strikes me — I'm sorry to say — as a gimmicky way to accomplish that, even assuming it gained sufficient market share to do it.
My gut feeling is that we are thinking medium first, and not listener first. One of the reasons record labels stopped hardware development was that they "unbundled" their business. Software (music) was much more profitable than hardware (as is still the case today, except for Apple). There's no advantage to get into hardware these days - unless you come up with some breakthrough technology like the CD once was.
I can see some development in the physical medium (some other plastic to substitute vinyl, but still playable on current players) and eventually digital reading vinyl (a better version of those laser-based needles), which would raise the bar on players. Still, this is a niche game.
My suggestion would be a new digital format that would be able to bring the best of the analog world to digital. Yes, we all love vinyl but let's be honest: it's just not a format viable in the long run (especially music moving more and more into digital recording, mixing etc). It could be a special dongle, that would give you access to multi-track info, musician data in details, choices of ambience - want a live experience? an intimate one?
This is how I see the music lover of the future going. And in that version, vinyl is the cherry on the top, but not the cake.
• Large record companies are happy to use existing record plants, but to date they've invested nothing in infrastructure. Nothing they've done makes me think they would be interested in developing a new physical media.
• Many people don't care about sound quality. My wife, for example, is perfectly content listening to music off her phone with its tiny speakers when there's a stereo system in the same room that she knows how to use. I don't get it, but it just doesn't matter to her.
• Well mastered & pressed vinyl sounds amazing, I'm honestly not sure how you can make it better. If it's AAA, then it's full resolution. How would you improve on that?
• New LPs increasingly aren't coming with download codes because it turns out that most people don't bother to redeem them. Based on that I doubt that bundling digital things with the vinyl will be very enticing.
• Vinyl+, by definition, would need to be more expensive than vinyl, currently a LP sells for $20-35. Why do you imagine that vinyl+ would cost less?
• Vinyl+ would need to be back compatible with existing turntables or it just wouldn't be viable. That's my gut feeling.
I do think that this would make a lot of people a lot of money, and in the process elevate the audio and visual standards of music recording. My only question has to do with the analog/digital issue. I'm not a complete expert here, but something about audiophile quality vinyl based on a digital master doesn't quite compute for me. I think the "priceless" vinyl records have always been analog recordings of analog musicianship. If you take the original master of Kind of Blue and you press it onto a "super vinyl" disc, I'm confident that to the extent that you have a great analog stereo -- tube amps, etc. -- you are going to get an audio experience worth going to a lot of trouble to achieve. Likewise, I can imagine an uncompressed digital file based on a digital master played back through any computer connected to a strong amplifier and excellent speakers is also going to give you an incredible experience, though obviously not the same.
But what happens when you start mixing the two? If the music was created with computers, or recorded on computers, or mastered on computers, can you then still create an analog experience worth going to a lot of trouble about with the medium and the playback device? I really do not know. But if you can't, and what we're really talking about is vinyl as simply the medium by which digital files are brought to ears, I'm not sure it would be worth going to a ton of trouble, and let's be clear, vinyl (and any physical medium at this point) is a lot of trouble simply by virtue of its physical space requirements.
Physical media for music will not have a huge financial payback (certainly not vinyl). Back when people purchased music on physical media (vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD), how many albums did the median "grown up" (e.g. age 35+) purchase per year? My guess is that the number was very low (setting aside the top X% "music fans"). The typical grown-up would purchase the big Celine Dion or Adele CD once every year or two and that was it. These same grown-ups are now paying $12 per month to their preferred subscription service (Spotify, Apple, etc.) for the REST OF THEIR LIVES. That's roughly $144 per year, per household, in perpetuity. There's no way that any physical music media can compete with that revenue. Not gonna happen.
There are ways to do analog optically. The most primitive form of this I know of was the original LaserDisc frequency modulated analog sound (which predated the PCM digital audio added to the LaserDisc format when CDs came about). This was a laser-read optical analog format pressed onto discs in mass production. I am not proposing doing exactly the same thing (frequency modulating the signal introduces issues of its' own), but having microscopic tracks that vary their width to reflect more or less light (similar to the way optical soundtracks on films used to work) could be done--as well as applying other different and creative approaches besides this one). This would be an entirely ANALOG format that could be pressed onto CD/DVD/Blu-ray sized discs, would be dramatically more resistant to damage than physical groves in vinyl could ever be, theoretically offer higher dynamic range than any vinyl medium, offer a better signal to noise ratio and wouldn't require the RIAA re-equalization (the the most obvious and truly serious flaw in the vinyl medium).
But, the question is: Who would spend the money to bring it about? I can't imagine record company executives ever doing it.
So, who else would undertake this new medium? The only reason I and John Trickett ever got DVD-Audio off the ground at all was that the DVD players chassis were already being made, many models already included the multi-channel analog output jacks needed, receivers back then all included multi-channel audio inputs also needed (for future processor purposes back then, but they were perfectly applicable to our needs as well), the discs manufacturing facilities already existed and all the parts and components needed (including Meridian Lossless Packing) could be purchased "off the shelf" so to speak. Everything was already in place, nothing needed to be developed or created--all the record companies had to do was say "Yes" for it to happen. I recognized that it all the pieces were already in place and it was literally that easy for them to move ahead--and still my entreaties fell on deaf ears. My pitching the idea to John Trickett (who had all the connections in the business needed, and could get to anyone he had to to pitch the idea) was the only reason it actually happened--and the record companies still got cold feet once the format was a reality--they didn't want to mess with their incredibly profitable CD business ripping off the public by radically over charging for albums (which they foolishly thought would last forever).
If you can crack the problem of a lazy and unimaginative record industry who simply doesn't want to do ANYTHING to innovate, you can make this happen. Otherwise, you'll have to find someone else to back it. I simply don't believe that the record companies ever will.
I hope you can find traction for this idea.
Ted, you want what almost all musicians want: fair compensation for our creativity and a fair chance to present ourselves to the public. That said, I don't see the medium as the fundamental problem. The problem is, as another commenter noted, lopsided leverage on the part of the vendors. This is a David vs. Goliath scenario. If musicians could find a way to gain leverage, that could create a more equitable system, much in the way that labor unions can give leverage to unionized workers. I envision the digital world growing, but that is merely an extrapolation of current and emerging trends. Could a vendor be created in which musicians are represented in management decisions, or better yet, could a digital provider be created that is owned by artists, and how could such an entity compete against corporate giants?
This fails to understand why CDs failed. It wasn' t due to a lack of innovation, it was the marketing, mass production and sales chanels. The industry did not sell the music people wanted to buy. It sold the music the industry wanted people to buy. Look at where vinyl is sold and who bought it. Look at where CD's were sold. Notice anything?
I think the main advantage of the old vinyl days was that we owned relatively few records so we got to know them really well. With streaming services the choice is vastly greater so we don’t value individual works to the same extent. Music becomes Muzak. We’d normally listen to a whole side of an LP, probably both sides, whereas the temptation with streaming is to stop after a few minutes and see what else is available.
Technically, CDs are superb and I believe they are better than even the best vinyl. I suspect the return to vinyl is a reaction to the superficiality of streaming not to the (imagined imo) deficiencies of CDs. It’s like watches: streaming is like a cheap digital watch that keeps time better than the best mechanical watch but you don’t bond with it.
I think people who love music rather than gizmos are less bothered about reproduction anyway. (Another of your correspondents here says his wife is happy to listen using her phone’s speaker). I’ve mentioned elsewhere in these pages the British comedy song duo Flanders and Swann whose song “Hi Fidelity” in the 1960s concluded with the words “I never did care for music much, it’s the hi fidelity”.