Friday, April 27, 2007

Can Music Survive Inside the Big Box?

Not only is the music industry doing itself in, the retailers are also contributing to the downfall by carrying only selected new releases and very little back catalog discs.

I think I'll head over to BB to get the new Porcupine Tree "Fear of a Blank Planet" CD (which BB doesn't carry anyway) and while I'm there, I'll decide I need a new brushed steel front refrigerator. (yeah - right!)

Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy
Tighten Their Grip on CDs
As Sales, Choices, Decrease
April 27, 2007;
Page B1

When Wal-Mart Stores Inc. informed record labels it was looking for CDs to include in a promotion of Jewish music last year, executives at Naxos of America Inc. leapt at the chance to get some of their ethnic recordings onto the shelves of the big-box retailer.
Adam Lucas, 11, looks through CDs in the Rock/Pop/R&B music section at Wal-Mart in Canton, Mich.

But within months of shipping thousands of CDs to Wal-Mart, the classical music distributor's loading docks were swamped with unsold copies of "Klezmer Concertos & Encores" and "Great Songs of the Yiddish Stage." Since they hadn't sold quickly enough to meet the retailing giant's standards, 80% of the CDs Naxos shipped to Wal-Mart were returned. Record stores typically return only 20%.

"In hindsight, if we'd thought about this a little more, we wouldn't have done it," says Naxos Chief Operating Officer Jim Selby. "Jewish classical music, going into a Wal-Mart store, it's pretty farfetched that we'd have 60% or 70% sell through." He adds, "It's niche-y music."

Music executives -- and not just those who traffic in obscure genres -- are in an increasing bind when it comes to selling their wares on CD. As dedicated music stores, including Tower Records, have closed up shop by the thousands, big, generalist chains like Wal-Mart, Target Corp. and Best Buy Co. have tightened their already firm grip on the sale of physical CDs. The chains order huge quantities of some titles, while other releases find it hard to get a foothold.

In past decades, deejays and music critics helped shape musical trends. Today, many music industry executives agree, the big boxes have become the new tastemakers. Even as compact disc sales fall, their choices dictate which CDs are widely available on store shelves across the U.S. Big boxes are the industry's biggest distribution channel -- and the rock, hip-hop, jazz and classical music titles they choose not to carry face drastically reduced chances of reaching mass audiences.

Thanks largely to aggressive pricing and advertising, big-box chains are now responsible in the U.S. for at least 65% of music sales (including online and physical recordings), according to estimates by distribution executives, up from 20% a decade ago. Where a store that depends on CDs for the bulk of its sales needs a profit margin of around 30%, big chains get by making just 14% on music, say label executives who handle distribution. One of these executives describes the shift as "a tidal wave." Despite the growth in online digital music sales, physical CDs still are the core of the recording industry, accounting for about 85% of music sales.

Big-box chains say they're trying to give customers what they want. "We also are making changes to the CD selections in our stores to reflect customer preferences in each market," says a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.

But some labels worry that the big boxes are becoming even more restrictive in what they carry. That's partly because, with CD sales falling steeply, the discs aren't as hot as other products the stores sell. Also in the wake of the Don Imus controversy, the debate over the lyrical content of rap, rock and pop has flared up again. Oprah Winfrey recently has focused on rap lyrics on her talk show.

Wal-Mart, for example, has long refused to carry any album bearing a "parental advisory" label warning of lyrics that are potentially inappropriate for minors. As a result, major record labels typically create sanitized versions of albums for sale there and at other sensitive retailers. People in the music industry, however, say some hip hop and rock albums can be difficult to sell to the big chain -- even if the releases lack controversial content. "Even Target's getting more difficult," says Jeff Rabhan, a talent manager who has pop and hip hop clients. "Especially with everything that's going on right now with Imus and Oprah, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get hip hop records prominently displayed and even in some cases stocked," Mr. Rabhan adds.

Wal-Mart's stores don't sell a number of prominent, popular releases, including the punk band Green Day's best-selling album "American Idiot," the critically acclaimed alternative rock band The Strokes' "First Impressions of Earth," and rapper Mos Def's "Black on Both Sides." A Wal-Mart spokeswoman says these releases aren't carried because edited versions aren't available.

The chains tend to emphasize fast-selling hits that move tens of thousands of units a week. A typical Best Buy stocks 8,000 to 20,000 different music CDs titles, according to Gary Arnold, the chain's senior vice president for entertainment. Some chains carry even fewer titles. By contrast, the biggest of the defunct Tower's 89 locations carried more than 100,000 titles. (Tower still has some online operations.)

It's not just classical music and jazz that have trouble making it into the big boxes. Up-and-coming pop, rock or hip hop acts are unlikely to be welcome until they are proven sellers. And back catalog titles are also feeling the squeeze; even the Beatles are frequently represented in big chain outlets by just one or two albums. That means there are fewer places than ever to buy any CDs but the newest, most heavily promoted titles.

What's more, as CD sales have slipped -- sales have plunged 20% so far this year -- big chains are starting to de-emphasize them. Best Buy's Mr. Arnold says his chain has reduced the square footage allotted to CDs across the chain over the past year, though the size of the reduction varies by store. "Certain businesses are starting to flourish at the expense of others," says Mr. Arnold. "Right now the hottest categories in entertainment are gaming and the movie business."
Recently, Wal-Mart has quietly circulated word to major-label distribution executives that it will reduce the space devoted to music, perhaps by as much 20%, in hundreds of its stores. Some record label executives say they have heard similar warnings in the past that have not materialized.

Managers and lawyers who work with record labels say that partly as a result of the big-box squeeze, labels have become more conservative in the kinds of artists they are willing to sign.

For his part, Best Buy's Mr. Arnold says the blame for waning consumer interest in CDs lies with the record labels, not with stores like his. "Music has become a commoditized item," he says. "The CD is perceived by the consumer to be a $10 item, and the manufacturers continue to release new titles at $15 to $18.98." To remedy that situation, he says he has urged labels to move to a "paperback-book model," with no-frills packages priced cheaply for most customers, and more deluxe presentations for die-hard fans.

Chain retailers are unlikely to eliminate music altogether. Big-box chains often set CD prices so low the retailer loses a dollar or two on the most aggressively priced titles. If nothing else, Mr. Arnold readily acknowledges, music remains cheap bait to lure customers who may end up purchasing, say, a brushed-steel refrigerator. "I couldn't imagine Best Buy without music," he says.

As always, comments are welcome.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

WKRP In Cincinnati - Requiem For A Masterpiece

WKRP In Cincinnati - Requiem For A Masterpiece

There is widespread agreement that "WKRP in Cincinnati" was one of the greatest television sitcoms ever produced. The original episodes are rightly considered to be a national treasure and cultural landmark. Copyright law madness has destroyed it forever - plain and simple.

Two years ago, I predicted that the original cut of the show would never be released on DVD due to the overly restrictive costs of re-licensing the popular music that was integral to the program.

I was in a position to know. One of my first jobs out of college was as a post-production coordinator for MTM Enterprises - the original distributor of WKRP. During my years with MTM, I was asked to perform the most painful duty I have ever had to do in entertainment business. I was given the task of excising much of the original music from the episodes and replace it with Muzak-style songs that could be licensed in perpetuity for a small flat fee. This was deemed necessary in order to keep the program in syndication.

The new music that was inserted into the show sucked ***. It was wrong for the feel and attitude of the show. Some scenes relied on specific songs at particular junctures (i.e., Les Nessman trying on a toupee to the soundtrack of Foreigner's "Hot Blooded") . Those scenes were ruined. In many instances, we couldn't even finesse the proper audio levels in order to cut the costs of replacing the music.

WKRP was created at a time when mass consumer home video was unheard of. As a result, the much of the music was only licensed for a limited number of years for use on broadcast television. You would think that by licensing the music, a derivative work such as a television show would have a fair use right to continue to use the music in order to preserve the artistic integrity that was vital for show to continue to exist. You would think that - but you'd be wrong. Within the maddening culture of entertainment legal affairs, the music licenses did not entitle the episodes to continue to use the music in other mediums in the future. The only way the show could be seen in the future was to destroy its original artistic vision and substitute other music tracks, which in some cases completely alter the feel of the scenes.

Most copies of the original show were destroyed - out of fear that if a tape were mislabeled and still contained the original music, then even a single accidental airing of the episode containing the original (unlicensed) music could subject the company to massive liability.

For each episode, we attempted to save at least one master copy of the original cut on 1" video. All of these were sent into long term storage. If these elements were ever lost or damaged - then the original WKRP in Cincinnati would be in danger of being lost forever. The only alternative would be to find an original copy on 2" video (a largely defunct format), or to re-cut the episode from scratch using the original individual production elements (a hugely expensive process).

After my initial prediction that WKRP would never see the light of day on DVD, I received a mysterious e-mail from an individual who claimed he was in touch with a studio looking at WKRP for a DVD release and asked me where the elements were stored at. I relayed the information as best as I could recall. I had no idea if the storage company was even still operating - let alone what condition the WKRP elements were in. I wished him the best of luck, thinking that there was no way that the show would ever see the light of day in its original form.

Imagine my surprise when I read the announcement that WKRP would be released on DVD at the end of this month by Fox. [MTM was later purchased by The Family Channel cable company. They in turn were purchased by Fox - creating the Fox Family Channel. So it makes sense that Fox would now be the distributor.]

I thought to my self, "Did a miracle happen?" Did Fox manage to overcome the barriers of music licensing cottage industry which makes the use of music prohibitively expensive?

Alas - no.

Early word is that the release of this WKRP in Cincinnati is an artistic travesty.

Read the reviews on to see what most WKRP fans think. Even those who agree that WKRP is a classic of American culture are only giving this box set 1 out of 4 stars.

Allegedly, the original producer of the show (Hugh Wilson) was involved in replacing the Muzak with some other generic songs that are more palatable. While this is admirable, and Wilson has some great artistic instincts, it still isn't enough to undo the damage.

Jamie Weinman has a detailed look on how an American classic was butchered at the hands of copyright law and the music industry.

[Weinman indicates that even "Fly Me to The Moon" had to be replaced. For those familiar with that episode, only 13 individual notes of "Fly Me To The Moon" were used in the context of Jennifer's doorbell chime. And yet, they were forced to replace even that fleeting reference to the song!]

This is a prime example of how our copyright laws have become completely dysfunctional.

If you are required to license artistic work X in order to create artistic work Y, then Y will never be a truly independent work. Any derivative work Z, created from Y will not only have to license Y, but X as well. Each successive derivative work then creates a longer chain of gatekeepers that you have to buy off in order to create and distribute a work. Couple that with the fact that copyright schemes are increasing in length and restrictions, and you are then left with world where copyright actively suppresses the creation of new works - and blocks the continued distribution of older classic works.

If you maintain that copyright law is still necessary to inspire the creation of works, then there ought to at least be a rethinking of the way licensing works. Licensing should become a compulsory "either/or" proposition as a matter of law. It should not be limited or divided by time, media forms, or physical territories. Either a work should be allowed to be licensed in perpetuity in all media and territories for a reasonable, one-time flat fee, or it shouldn't be licensed at all. But if it is licensed, then there should be a legal presumption that the licensing should never prevent the derivative work from being distributed in its original form as its own separate artistic work.

You often hear of great film directors professing outrage over changes to their films (i.e., edits for televison, colorization, etc.). Why is it that there is not similar outrage here? Is it because we have been conditioned to think that television is inherently more consumerist than film (and thus less worthy of artistic preservation)? WKRP is one of the few sitcoms that ranks up there in quality with the great works of American cinema.

Those of you under 30 probably don't remember the original cuts of WKRP. Trust me when I tell you that you are all culturally poorer for the fact that you will likely never experience them.

The butchering of "WKRP in Cincinnati" is an outrage. How many more outrages will we need for people to realize that we are in desperate need for copyright reform?

As always, comments are welcome.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Preserving Old Vinyl In The Digital Age

Preserving old vinyl in the digital age
Scratching around for the best software to keep your record collection playing
By David Sharos
Special to the Tribune
Published March 26, 2007

Although digital recordings have become today's medium of choice for music, there are legions of fans that still cling to the retro groove of their vinyl record collection. But it is hard to take those 12-inch platters for a spin on your MP3 player.

In the past few years, however, a host of new hardware and software products have unshackled music lovers from their turntables. Digital has met analog, making even the oldest jazz recording an on-the-go experience.

For those raised on phonograph records, the technology allows them to archive their vinyl and protect it from deterioration, and to make their music portable.

"Records can deteriorate over time, and making CD copies means people don't have to play those albums over and over and can preserve their sonic future," said Frank LaRosa, 41, who operates Frank's Vinyl Museum, an Internet-based business that caters to esoteric record fans.

But the allure of software that converts vinyl also seems to be crossing generations. Shane Smith, 24, an electrical engineer who lives in Chicago, said that so-called white-label releases got him hooked on burning vinyl to CD and fixing tracks with Sony's Sound Forge program. White-label records are 12-inch vinyl records that are released in small quantities, mostly to radio disc jockeys, by record labels.

"I'm a guy with an iPod who wants to listen to unreleased songs I get on vinyl, things that are usually only released to radio stations," Smith said. "I have an engineering background and I like to tweak things after I copy them to remove some of the ticks and pops."

Products that convert vinyl to digital range from simple to use to technologically sophisticated. Aimed squarely at Baby Boomers who did not grow up with computer technology, drop-and-record turntables that convert vinyl into MP3 files and burn CDs are availx able through manufacturers such as Teac and the Crosley Radio Corp.

Teac's GF-350 ($400) includes a three-speed turntable and a slide-out CD drawer with manual recording-level controls, much like those found on cassette decks years ago.

Ken Hirata, marketing communication director for TEAC, said if you can play a record, you can make a CD.

"We introduced this product as something that would be as easy to use as possible," he said. "A lot of people that have bought this represent the demographic of people that played records when they were kids, people that bought and owned those classic jazz records from the '40s and '50s. These are people who might not be comfortable using a PC."

The GF-35, introduced in 2005, is poised for an upgrade. Prototypes of new models were shown recently at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronic Show and feature improved tone arms and swappable rather than fixed phono cartridges and styluses.

The Teac and Crosley units perform pretty much the same, but there are cheaper alternatives that may archive better.

DART [Digital Audio Restoration Technology], Roxio Labs and MHC are among the growing number of software manufacturers making programs that allow computer users to convert their LPs to CDs.

Some, like Sound Forge, are powerful programs that require more technical skill and are capable of tweaking music files and removing sonic imperfections. Roxio's RecordNow 9 Music Lab package converts LPs and cassette tapes into a digital format for PC and Mac computers.

One of the cheapest and easiest-to-use software options comes from California-based Acoustica Inc., makers of Spin It Again. Dan Goldstein, senior vice president of development, believes the desire to archive vinyl treasures not available on CD is the major reason behind the popularity of the company's software.

"We conducted customer surveys a few years ago of over 2,000 people, and the No. 1 thing they wanted was a program that would convert vinyl into CDs," Goldstein said. "The Spin It Again product is our best-selling by far, and we think we've geared it to the demographic that will primarily use it."

That demographic is the same as the TEAC buyers--older Baby Boomers. Goldstein said the software, which is completely automated, takes all the guesswork out of making digital copies.

"We realize there are people out there who don't know a lot about the digital audio business, and we've removed a lot of the technical and trivial aspects," he said.

Smith said he first bought the Spin It Again software for his father, a carpenter who lacked a lot of computer knowledge but wanted to copy his old LPs.

"My dad was one of these guys that took six months to learn how to use e-mail, but he found the software very easy to use," Smith said. "I burn tracks using it and then clean them up with the Sound Forge."

Al Cheeks, 73, is the president of the Chicago Computer Society, a group founded 24 years ago to help members solve hardware and software problems. He said vinyl conversions can solve storage problems.

"I personally think vinyl is making a comeback, and I think these software programs make the conversion easy for people wanting to make CDs," Cheeks said. "Regardless of what software you buy, I think one of the advantages of burning CDs made from vinyl is the storage issue. Storing records takes up a lot of space."

Some may fear that converting vinyl to CDs may distort the warmth of those classic LPs. Experts, however, say the digital format doesn't have to compromise a thing.

"You can achieve a good result by burning your vinyl to CD-R using a great turntable, cartridge and phono stage," said Steve Hoffman, a renowned sound engineer. "I've done it myself, and it serves two purposes. First, you can safely play the heck out of your rare records this way. And second, you can actually hear the vinyl `breath of life' on this version over the actual commercial CD of the same item."

Archiving the musical past is important, said Bob Scranton, who imports and distributes high-end audio equipment for Audiophile Systems of Indianapolis.

"Music is deeply wired into the human condition," Scranton said. "Music is more complex and revealing than paintings or sculptures, and less prone to misinterpretation due to changes in language than the written word. We should archive our musical past because it is us and it made us."

Software for portable conversion

If you're looking to convert your vinyl albums into portable music files, there are a host of downloadable software programs that are just a click away. Most offer fairly detailed descriptions of their features, which should help in selecting based on your level of computer expertise. For the neophyte, look for programs that offer a trial version and walk you through the recording process.!spinitagain ($34.95): Offers complete hook-up instructions of your turntable to the computer. Includes 24-bit audiophile recording, real-time noise removal and includes effects such as tube amplifier simulators or the Sony noise-reduction-effect package. ($59): A 2.0 version of MHC's Vinyl Ripper was released in the past two years. A trial download is available. Click on the "example" button from the menu page to see how two wave files can be recorded and split into separate tracks.!products/r...overview.html: Roxio Labs makes a number of CD burning products, including this RecordNow program ($50), which is Vista compatible. It's also available as part of the suite of a larger package, the Toast with Jam 6. Check out the Dart CD-Recorder 4.1($30). Features a free trial download and has digital audio restoration technology. You can buy other professional-level products as well.

For the professional: ID=961: Sony's Sound Forge ($69.95-$299.96) is a digital audio-editing program, with no provision for automating the recording of vinyl LPs. It is popular among audiophiles wishing for total control over every aspect of a recording.

As always, comments are welcome.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


by Tim Riley, NPR critic and Beatle author

In November of 2006, over 30 engineers gathered for a reunion at Abbey Road studios in London, where many of them had worked on Beatles sessions. The occasion was the release of RECORDING THE BEATLES, by Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan, a major new entry in Beatle scholarship emphasizing recording techniques, analog equipment, and how EMI's rigorous training paradoxically helped break many standard audio conventions and practices. The creative solutions these techies achieved helped the Beatles create some of rock's most innovative and enduring sounds, and RECORDING THE BEATLES draws the curtain on many of their most ingenious achievements. The podcast includes interviews with Kehew, engineers Ken Townshend, Richard Lush, Chris Thomas, and Ken Scott, as well as American producers Steve Albini (Nirvana, Stooges) and Steve Hoffman (DCC). With Beatle stories peppering the narrative, this report gives a backstage glimpse at the kind of wizardry routinely practiced at EMI studios, and the people who helped translate Lennon and McCartney songs onto tape.

Tim Riley is the author of TELL ME WHY: A BEATLES COMMENTARY and other books on rock, and an NPR critic who files for WBUR's HERE AND NOW in Boston. He recently launched a new music resources,

As always, comments are welcome.

Digital music portends death of hi-fi

By RON HARRIS, Associated Press Writer SAN FRANCISCO -

Music lovers remember a familiar advertising image from the past: a man reclined in a chair, head back, blown away by music from his high-fidelity sound system.

Like the Marlboro Man before him, Maxell's pitchman is now a relic.

With their ability to store vast libraries of music in your pocket, sleek digital music players have replaced bulky home stereo systems as the music gear of choice. But the sound quality of digital audio files is noticeably inferior to that of compact discs and even vinyl.

Are these the final days of hi-fi sound? Judging by the 2 billion songs downloaded from Apple Inc.'s iTunes service, the ubiquity of white iPod "ear buds," and the hundreds of thousands of folks file-sharing for free, the answer is yes.

"In many ways, good enough (sound quality) is fine," said Paul Connolly, an art installation specialist and longtime audiophile from Sugar Land, Texas, who's now in the process of digitizing his 2,400 CD collection in Apple's lossless digital audio format.

"The warmth and the nice distortion that the album had was beautiful," he said. "But do I long for the days of albums? No. Do I long for the days of CDs now that we've gone digital? No. It's a medium."

Justin Schoenmoser, of San Francisco, also traded in his rack system for an iPod. Currently working abroad and toting along his iPod, the convenience of carrying thousands of songs in a gadget smaller than a pack of cigarettes outweighs the sacrifice of quality.

"The last time I had a full-blown home stereo system was in the mid-90s, and it was a gift from my parents," Schoenmoser said. "As I converted most of my stuff to digital over the last 5 years, I finally got rid of all my old equipment."

A song ripped from a CD at 128 kilobits per second — the default setting for most software — retains only a fraction of the audio data contained on the originally mastered disc. Whether you downloaded the track from iTunes or copped it off LimeWire, the song remains the same. The small digital music file is a highly compressed shadow of the originally mastered recording.

And regardless of how advanced your home audio setup is, if you're pumping a low-rate MP3 or iTunes file into it, you're getting a low-rate rendition of the original song out of it. It's listenable, but still lacking the luster of a CD played on the same system.

Some experts say the sound quality lost in the process is undetectable to most untrained ears. But Michael Silver can hear the difference.

Audio High, his high-end stereo shop in Mountain View, sells things like a $5,000 needle for your turntable and stereo cable at $2,700 a meter.

"It doesn't compare," Silver said of the sound quality offered by today's portable digital music players and their compressed audio files.

If his high-end gear is like a Ferrari for sound, and run-of-the-mill stereo equipment is a Honda, "a moped is an iPod," Silver said.

That difference in sound quality, perceptible or not, hasn't saved some of the bigger traditional stereo and music sellers.

Tweeter Home Entertainment Group Inc., a Canton, Mass.-based retailer of mid-to-high end audio equipment, is closing 49 of its 153 stores nationwide. Slumping sales at Sacramento, Calif.-based Tower Records led that former industry juggernaut to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in August.

And Circuit City, the nation's No. 2 electronics retailer, is laying off 3,400 of its most experienced clerks.

Year-to-date data from a recent Nielsen SoundScan report shows sales of prerecorded CDs in the United States down 20 percent from last year.

"Everybody has a certain amount of money to spend. It's not that they're choosing not to spend it on the old-style audio. It's that something new came along," said James McQuivey, principle analyst for media technology at Forrester Research Inc.

"The MP3 player integrated the collection of the music with the playback of the music," he said. "Now all of it's seamlessley hidden away on a hard drive somewhere."

With the networked household ready to fill the void left by the demise of rack stereo systems, McQuivey sees a steady stream of new devices on the horizon that will erase any lingering drawbacks to going all-MP3.

Santa Barbara-based Sonos, Inc., for example, sells a system that allows you to use a handheld device to navigate streamed music from your PC to an existing amp and speaker or home theater setup, sort of a hybrid between the old guard and the new. "

A CD is not relevant to me anymore," said John MacFarlane, founder and chief executive of Sonos. "The iPod and that type of portable music player has even accelerated that trend."

Even when consumers do buy CDs these days, "the first thing you do is rip your CDs and put them on your iPods," MacFarlane said.

MacFarlane isn't even convinced that casual listeners can hear the difference between CD-quality sounds and the dumbed-down MP3 files, which he calls "good quality, not perfect."

"When Philips and Sony first made the CD, they didn't cut any corners because they were careful to preserve everything that was there, even if you couldn't hear it," MacFarlane said. "That 128 is pretty darn good. A lot of Ph.D.s went in to making that 128 kbps work well and sound well.

Schoenmoser, the globetrotting Californian, agrees.

"I honestly can't really tell the difference between CD, tape and digital," he said. "I'd even accept a lower quality as long as it's digital and portable."

As always, comments are welcome.

US-Based CD Sales Plunge 13 Percent During 2006

US-based sales of CD albums plunged 12.9 percent last year, according to figures released by the RIAA this week. The decrease is the largest ever for the format, and complements information recently released by Nielsen Soundscan. Overall physical sales were worse, dipping a pronounced 13.8 percent. Broader music sales, which include digital and mobile formats, landed at $11.5 billion for the period, down from a year-ago total of $12.3 billion. The RIAA figures are based on unit volume and suggested list price calculations, an estimate that could cloud various pricing discounts. Meanwhile, digital and mobile sales climbed significantly, though the severe physical drop left little room for an offset. The digital category contributed $1.6 billion in sales last year, up from $1.3 billion in 2005. Of that, mobile transactions accounted for $774.5 million, powered largely by master ringtone sales.

The information could signal the beginning of a tailspin for major record labels, whose revenues are heavily drawn from CD-based albums. And recent, first quarter data suggests that the downward spiral is accelerating. During the period, CD sales dropped 20.5 percent, according to information released by Nielsen Soundscan. Those declines could accelerate a number of initiatives, including a potential shift away from DRM protections on digital product. Of the majors, EMI has already taken that plunge, though it remains unclear how the others will proceed. The CD sales drops may also inject more anxiety into licensing negotiations between the majors and iTunes, set to conclude at the end of this month. Meanwhile, non-traditional labels and concepts continue to emerge, including those tied to the CD. Just recently, Starbucks unveiled its Hear Music record label and announced its first artist, Paul McCartney. Others, including Time Life and Toronto-based Somerset Entertainment, are also pushing non-traditional, CD-based models.

As always, comments are welcome.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Paul McCartney's new album, titled Memory Almost Full, will be released on June 5th. The album, which is being produced by David Kahne, who helmed McCartney's 2001 Driving Rain set, follows the framework of most of McCartney's work over the past 25 years, including full band tracks mixed with songs featuring McCartney on all instruments.

Memory Almost Full features a "15-minute Abbey Road-style musical suite," and will be McCartney's first for the Starbucks/Concord Music Group's offshoot label Hear Music.
The new set is McCartney's 21st mainstream solo studio album, and his followup to 2005's Grammy-nominated Chaos And Creation In The Backyard.

McCartney's Memory Almost Full is available for pre-order through
The collection, McCartney's first album away from longtime record label EMI, will coincidentally be released on the eve of the 45th anniversary of Beatles' audition for the record label. The album also marks the first time in 23 years that he's released a studio set within two years of its predecessor.

June 1st marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles' landmark album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Paul McCartney will turn 65 on June 18th.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete First Season - NOT!!!!

Let me start by ssaying that I don't usually comment on DVDs or TV shows being released on DVD since this is primarily a music blog. But, this one deserves an exception since I suspect many music fans are also fans of this show.

WKRP was one of my favorite shows in the lates 70s. What is purported to be the "complete" first season is finally being released on DVD. This is where the trouble starts. These discs do NOT contain complete shows from the first season. Instead, they contain the syndicated version of the shows shown years later on various cable channels. What this means is that scenes from various episodes have been cut. Another problem is that many of the songs in the original versions of the show have been cut. Fox claims that this is because it was "too expensive" to license the rights to the tracks. In some cases, what is being called "generic" (read elevator music) music has been inserted. In other cases, the entire scene was cut.

Here is a list of the music replacements and a few alterations (review copies of the set have shipped already).

Pilot - "Queen of the Forest" by Ted Nugent replaced with generic music.

Pilot Part 2 - "That Old Time Rock n' Roll" by Bob Seger replaced with generic music.

Les on a Ledge - Song at the beginning replaced.

Hoodlum Rock - The songs are intact, but the episode is a cut 22-minute syndication version.

Hold-Up - All songs replaced.

Bailey's Show - Two songs replaced. Some footage cut from one scene.

Turkeys Away - "Dogs" by Pink Floyd replaced. Much of the scene has been cut out entirely.

Love Returns - Rock songs replaced. Part of a scene has been cut.

Mama's Review - Clip show.

A Date With Jennifer - "Hot Blooded" by Foreigner replaced. 22-minute syndication version.

The Contest Nobody Could Win - All songs replaced.

Tornado - Elvis Costello song replaced.

Goodbye, Johnny - "Surfin' U.S.A." by the Beach Boys replaced.

Johnny Comes Back - All songs replaced with generic music.

Never Leave Me, Lucille - "Everybody Rock n' Roll the Place" by Eddie Money replaced. The episode originally started with Les singing "Heartbreak Hotel" - that footage has been cut.

I Want to Keep My Baby - All songs replaced except one Bob Marley song.

A Commercial Break - All rock songs replaced.

Who is Gordon Sims? - One song replaced.

I Do... I Do... For Now - Jennifer's doorbell, which played "Fly Me to the Moon" is replaced with a public-domain song.

Young Master Carlson - All songs replaced, even the theme from Patton, a Fox film.

Fish Story - All songs replaced.

Preacher - All songs replaced.

So what do we really have here? Well, it is definitely not the "complete" first season. Does all of this sound like false advertising? It sure does to me.

If you want to read more reviews of this dog, check out Amazon.

If you want this show on DVD with complete episodes and the music intact, my advice would be to seek out "grey market" DVDs of the show which contain the complete episodes.

You have been warned.

As always, comments are welcome.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

This is the Holy Grail of all Wishbone Ash recordings!

As most of you know from reading the Wishbone Ash® Newsletter, that over the past few months I have alluded to an announcement that would rock the world of Wishbone Ash®. Well, now is the time to make it official with the pending CD release of “First Light.”

Back in late 1969 or early 1970, a very young Wishbone Ash® (Andy Powell, Ted Turner, Martin Turner and Steve Upton) made an album of songs in hopes of securing a record deal with a major label. This album was recorded in the dead of night at AdVision Studios in the UK. Upon completion it was then sent over to Apple Corps LTD in London for mastering.

For over 35 years, these recordings have remained forgotten in the Apple vaults gathering dust. Recently, however, Christie’s Auctions put this acetate of these recordings up for purchase through their online auction house where it was bid on and won by collector extraordinaire, Dr. John. Dr. John then contacted Andy Powell about the find and offered them back to him to do with as he pleased in hopes that they would be released for all the fans of the band to enjoy.

What makes these recordings so special is the energy and enthusiasm displayed on every song played. “First Light” has a rawness and edge that the first official recording on MCA lacks. Plus it contains two songs never released anywhere before.

This special artifact contains the first known recordings of: Lady Whiskey, Roads of Day to Day, Blind Eye, Joshua, Queen of Torture, Alone, Handy, and Errors of My Way. The recording of Handy on this disk is worth the price of admission alone.

Barry Riddington at Talking Elephant has since purchased the rights to these recordings and will be releasing “First Light” on April 2, 2007.

We all owe Dr. John a very special thanks for making this, the Holy Grail of all Wishbone Ash recordings, available for the first time for all to enjoy.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Apple Computers Inc. and EMI Records held a joint press conference yesterday (April 2nd) in London, announcing that the record company would be issuing its entire catalogue free of digital rights management (DRM) restrictions through iTunes.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs and EMI CEO Steve Nicoli also announced that the new DRM-free music will be sold for $1.29 per track, with the songs encoded at a higher bit rate of 256 KB, up from the original $.99-cent versions which topped out at 120 KB.

Consumers can still purchase the original $.99 cent versions, which will remain available.

One of the benefits for fans is that in an effort to lure record buyers, credit will be now be given for single tracks previously purchased from each digital album, when users decide to the rest of the album as a whole.


Following recent reissues of the Alan Parsons Project's I, Robot and Eye In The Sky albums, the band will release a compilation, The Essential Alan Parsons Project, on May 15th. The two-disc set features 34 songs from throughout the group's recording career, ranging from the early fan favorite "The Raven" through hits such as "I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You," "Games People Play," "Eye In The Sky," and "Sirius," which is used as the theme song at Chicago Bulls home games.

Parsons and longtime colleague Eric Woolfson co-produced the set.

The Alan Parsons Project will be touring this summer and fall. The group has an April 28th show in Las Vegas, then hits the road in earnest on June 16th in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A full itinerary should be announced soon.


Foghat will release a new concert album, Live II, on May 22nd. The two-CD set was recorded in 2005 in California and is a follow-up and 30th anniversary tribute to 1977's double platinum Foghat Live. It finds the current version of the band -- frontman Charlie Huhn, guitarist Bryan Bassett, bassist Craig MacGregor, and drummer Roger Earl -- performing favorites such as "Slow Ride," "Fool For The City," "Drivin' Wheel," and "I Just Want To Make Love To You," along with some previously unreleased studio rehearsals included as bonus tracks.

Live II will be Foghat's first release for the Metro City Records label.

Foghat plays tonight and tomorrow (Tuesday and Wednesday, April 3rd and 4th) at Foxwoods in Manshantucket, Connecticut. The group has dates booked through October.

Monday, April 02, 2007


The Doors archives will give up a new live triple-CD this summer. Current plans call for a July 24th release for a three-disc set recorded in Boston, on the 1969-1970 tour that resulted in the Absolutely Live album back in 1970. The album includes all of the music from the two shows, minus some dead air, which allowed the whole early show to be included on one CD.

The tracklisting for the Doors' Boston album includes:
DISC ONE: The Early Show -- "Start," "Alright, Alright, Alright," "Howling & Moaning," "Roadhouse Moan," "Roadhouse Blues," "Ship Of Fools," "Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)," "Back Door Man," "Five To One," "When The Music's Over," "Rock Me," "Medley: People Get Ready > Mystery Train > Away In India > Crossroads," "Prelude To Wake Up!," "Wake Up!," and "Light My Fire."

DISC TWO: The Late Show, Part 1 -- "Start," "Break On Through (To The Other Side)," "I Believe In Democracy," "When The Music's Over," "Roadhouse Blues," "The Spy," "Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)," "Back Door Man," "Five To One," "Astrology Rap," "Build Me A Woman," "You Make Me Real," "Wait A Minute!," and "Medley: People Get Ready > Mystery Train > Away In India > Crossroads."

DISC THREE: The Late Show, Part 2 -- "Band Intros," "Adolf Hitler," "Light My Fire (Medley)," "Summertime," "St. James Infirmary Blues," "Graveyard Poem," "Light My Fire (To End)," "More, More, More!," "Ladies And Gentlemen," "We Can't Instigate," "They Want More," "Been Down So Long," "Roadhouse Blues (Reprise)> Pulling The Plug."