Friday, August 26, 2016

5 Ways To Get Paid For Your Production Work

Written by Bobby Owsinsky — If you're a producer, engineer or musician, chances are that you've been asked to work on someone's recording. That's all well and good, but how do you get compensated for your efforts? This excerpt from the just released 2nd edition of my Music Producer's Handbook gives you 5 ways that you can get paid for your production work.

"What if the members of a local band ask you to produce them?" What do you charge if they’re not attached to a label? There are a number of approaches you can take, although none will have you retiring to the Bahamas anytime soon. You can do the following:

1. Charge a flat project fee
How much should that be? So much depends on the type of project, how many overdubs you’ll need, the artist’s or band’s competency, the artist’s or band’s income level, and the number of songs they want to record. A jazz or blues band that has 20 songs will usually take a lot less time to produce than a pop band of eight will, because of the layering that’s normally required with pop music. And if the band has a marginal player or two, that can almost double the time spent just in trying to get their parts to match the skill level of other players (unless you can persuade the rest of the band to use a session player, instead).

A flat fee is the least desirable way to get paid, because projects have a tendency to go a lot longer than anticipated and will drag on and on when the artist realizes that you get paid the same, regardless of the time spent. If the flat fee is the easiest or only way to get the gig, then that’s what you’ll have to do. Otherwise, avoid it if you can, unless you’re very well compensated.

2. Charge a per-song fee
This approach is better than the flat project fee, but not by much. The per-song rate has all the same problem areas as the flat-fee approach, with the exception that it can sometimes cause the artist to scale back from recording 15 songs to 10 (even though it’s a hit in your pocketbook). You won’t have to worry about the artist wanting to record an extra song at the last minute or suddenly wanting to complete a track originally deemed too weak after basic tracking. With a per-song rate, if any additional songs are recorded, then you have to get paid.

3. Get paid on spec
This approach is the one that most fledgling producers use when starting their careers. The deal is that if the artist or band “makes it” (meaning they get signed by a major label and get an advance), then you’ll get paid your project fee, points on the project (a percentage of the royalties), or both. The chances of that happening are always long no matter how much you believe in the act, so be prepared to spend your time working for free. The one good thing here is that you’ll be gaining experience.

4. Charge an hourly rate
As long as you know you’ll get paid, this arrangement is the safest way to go. When, for example, you inevitably spend that extra week on overdubs or mixing, you’ll get paid for the time you put in. The hourly rate keeps people focused and stops them from adding those extra five overdubs “just to see what they sound like,” or from trying ten more takes when you all agreed that the third take was great.

5. A combination of the above
Many times payment can consist of a little bit of money or a little bit of spec, some items at a flat rate and some at hourly, or some combination. Try not to get too complicated. A simple deal works best for everyone, especially when it comes to getting paid. Just realize that there are a lot of options available.

There are a lot of good books on the subject of how to structure a deal for yourself that are more comprehensive then what was just laid out above. Even if you decide not to read them, get an attorney if you will be earning any money more than what the attorney will cost. At the very least, always get it in writing."

We're all pretty good at lending a hand when asked, but most of us aren't that good at getting paid for it. At least one of the above ways will make sure that you're compensated for your production work in some fashion.

Click here to read from this article's source.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Frank Ocean's release of Blonde marks the start of a major fight in the music industry

Written by Micah Singleton — The independently released Blonde may be the beginning of the end for exclusive album deals.

It was only a matter of time.

The release of Blonde marked much more than Frank Ocean’s musical return after four years away. After satisfying his Def Jam deal with the release of Endless, Ocean released Blonde independently in a move that marks the first shot in an inevitable fight between music labels and streaming services.

The relationship between an artist and a music label has been a notoriously fraught one, but until recently, there was nowhere an artist could run to when they tired of their label besides the next label down the street. Now, in a race to get more subscribers for their streaming services, the biggest company in the world and one run by an artist have positioned themselves as a friendly alternative for musicians. Meanwhile the labels, in a bid to avoid a future they may not be able to survive, may ultimately end up on the side of some fans who want music available through every viable medium.


This is the nightmare scenario for music labels. For years, labels have feared that as streaming services grew in power and scope, there could come a time when some artists could choose to forego working with the labels and engage directly with a streaming service to reach their fans.

Up until now this hasn’t been the case with an artist of consequence, for a few reasons. Younger artists need the structure and nurturing that a music label can provide, and established superstars have usually built up a rapport and are loyal to the group of people — most of whom work for the label — that have helped them become stars and simply choose to stay, after getting a big payday.

BeyoncĂ© is a great example of this. She doesn't actually need to stay with Columbia Records, but her and her team have been on an exemplary run over the last decade, and there’s little reason to switch it up. Lemonade may have been released exclusively through Tidal, but you’ll still find Columbia Records in the credits.

But what Frank Ocean has done is different. This isn’t going independent while still using a major label for distribution, like Jay Z has done in the past. This is a complete avoidance of the traditional musical hierarchy. Ocean has a young, rabid fanbase that primarily interacts with him online; he doesn’t need to distribute physical copies of albums to thousands of stores like Adele or Taylor Swift. He is part of a small club of superstars who don’t need the label system, and who have the leverage to do deals with streaming services instead of re-signing their contracts. And that’s scary for music labels.


According to a newsletter from music industry insider and critic Bob Lefsetz, Universal Music Group, Ocean’s former label, has banned exclusives on the heels of the release of Blonde. If true, the ramifications of that change could be huge on the labels’ stable of artists — most notably with Drake, who has an exclusive deal with Apple Music, having released his last three projects through the service.

Why the dramatic move from UMG? A-list artists bring in a large chunk of revenue for the labels, and allow them to lock up younger artists who probably won’t move records on their first release with advances that they otherwise couldn’t afford. If those superstar artists leave the label system altogether for streaming services, it could throw a wrench into the already delicate financials of the music industry and cause a power shift that the industry hasn’t experienced since iTunes hit the scene in 2003.

For streaming services, nothing changes. This is no different for them than doing a standard exclusive when the label is involved, although it’s probably easier to negotiate with a single artist compared to an entire company. The modern exclusive deal for an album release has allowed the artist to get paid an upfront sum from the streaming service — money from Apple, an ownership cut from Tidal — while the label gets no direct financial benefit from the deal.


That relationship has worked until now — sales for exclusive albums have done well for everyone, due to the extra promotion and general hype surrounding the project. Just three months ago labels were singing the praises of exclusives on the heels of Drake selling 1 million copies of Views in a week on a single platform while setting a worldwide streaming record. But it seems like the pendulum has swung.

Is this the end of exclusives? Probably not. Though it's the biggest in the industry, UMG is the only label group to reportedly have banned exclusives so far, and there’s no guarantee Sony Music or Warner will do the same. But this is the beginning of a fight that may determine the future power structure of the music industry. Telling an artist they can’t release an album exclusively through Apple Music or Tidal when they’re offering them millions won’t be easily forgotten, especially when the artists look at the numbers and realize an exclusive blockade isn’t in their best interest.

Frank Ocean is only one artist, but it only takes one to inspire others. Does Drake need to sign another deal with Cash Money Records — who ironically just signed an exclusive deal with Apple Music for a documentary — or could he just release all of his content through Apple? Chance The Rapper, who is seemingly a superstar in the making has already said he won’t sign to a label and released his last project exclusively through Apple Music. When labels have become synonymous with drawn-out court cases and absurd contracts, does anyone need labels, other than labels? These are the questions that keep label executives up at night. The battle for the future of the music industry has begun, and it won’t be pretty.

Click here to read from this article's source.

De La Soul Have Hope Their Classics Will Finally Be Available Online

Written by Bonita — De La Soul’s music can be found in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, alongside such historic works as John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Prince’s Purple Rain, and Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet. The Long Island, New York trio’s 3 Feet High and Rising is registered as Pop – not Hip-Hop – by the Registry, one of the quirky indiosyncrasies that make De La Soul so unique. So while the group’s debut LP is forever vaulted in the Library of Congress, it is nearly impossible to purchase digitally or stream online.

However, there are signs pointing to the possibility that De La Soul’s digital catalog could be expanding. In an August 9 New York Times report titled “De La Soul’s Legacy Is Trapped in Digital Limbo,” writer Finn Cohen examines the Plugs’ tricky relationship with selling music in the modern era and the consternation fans and group members themselves have felt along the way. “Hip-hop has become a top-performing genre on streaming music sites, and the internet has helped coronate a new crop of blockbuster rappers,” Cohen writes, before remarking on the fact that save for the group’s 2004 (and most recent) full-length album The Grind Date, “De La Soul has not been able to earn anything off its catalog from digital services.”

“We’re in the Library of Congress, but we’re not on iTunes,” Posdnuos tells Cohen, a statement which sums up the limbo referenced in the article’s title. As Cohen explains, much of De La Soul’s early catalog “may be fraught with problems, according to people familiar with the group’s recording and publishing history.” For example, “In 1989 (the year the group released 3 Feet), obtaining the permission of musical copyright holders for the use of their intellectual property was often an afterthought. There was little precedent for young artists’ mining their parents’ record collections for source material and little regulation or guidelines for that process.” The development of Hip-Hop would directly challenge old methods of music licensing and publishing, but much of the legal back-and-forth has left much of De La Soul’s early stuff in a perennial state of in-betweenness.

Warner Music Group has owned the rights to De La’s first six albums since 2002, and the label’s apparent refusal to release them in digital form has earned them plenty of criticism. However, WMG has what could be justified concerns, namely the uncleared samples beautifully littering much of De La Soul’s game-changing discography. “My understanding is that due to allegedly uncleared samples, Warner has been uncomfortable or unwilling to license a lot of the De La Soul stuff,” sample-clearance agent Deborah Mannis-Gardner tells Cohen. Additionally, as Cohen argues, the language present in many of De La Soul’s sample agreements is confusing and outdated, at best. “If those agreements, written nearly three decades ago, do not account for formats other than CDs, vinyl LPs and cassettes, Warner Music would have to renegotiate terms for every sample on the group’s first four records with their respective copyright holders to make those available digitally.” That’s not such an easy undertaking, considering there are 60 samples on 3 Feet alone.

But what makes De La Soul unique? After all, they are by no means the only Hip-Hop act to sample the works of other artists. Well, it could all boil down to one simple legal phrase – or the lack thereof – in the group’s samples contracts. “‘[N]ow known or hereafter discovered’ may determine De La Soul’s digital future,” Cohen writes. “It ensures that samples cleared in the past are legal for use on streaming services and for digital music retailers.” However, that string of words seems to be missing from early negotiation paperwork, and that opens the door for a wide variety of potential complications. One of De La Soul’s publishing administrators, Michelle Bayer, tells the Times that due to the phrase’s absence, “[i]t’s tricky because someone could deny the sample use now, or negotiate high upfront advances, maybe even higher percentage or royalty than was originally negotiated, which lessens what the label can earn.” That, of course, would discourage Warner from pursuing the digital release of De La Soul’s earlier works.

Even in 2016, more than 25 years after it’s release, 3 Feet High and Rising continues to inspire copyright claims, according to Bayer. “Two songs from the first album just came up that had never come up before,” she says, adding her suspicion that once Warner became the legal proprietor of De La Soul’s first six projects, people had a financial impetus to pursue copyright claims. “I think when Warner got the catalog, I think people started making claims, people were kind of coming out of the woodwork going, ‘Oh, well now it’s a major label involved, and we can possibly get more from them than we might have gotten from an independent label like Tommy Boy,'” she says.

According to Tommy Boy’s discussion with the Times, it seems the label feels that “making the group’s catalog available digitally would not be difficult, considering that Warner Music should know the copyright holders who have been receiving royalties for the physical sales of the records.” The label’s founder Tom Silverman shared the sentiment that “[c]utting a deal, you would think, to give them more money, shouldn’t be that hard, especially if you’re fair and logical and say, ‘Let me pay you the same percentage that we’ve always paid you on physical on digital, too, so you can make that much money.’ So it doesn’t really make a lot of sense that they’ve haven’t even tried.”

Questlove also contributed his feelings about the debacle, saying “[u]nless Warner’s illustrious history is so disposable that they can let one or two classics just fall by the wayside, and live in this sort of storied folklore — I mean, 3 Feet High and Rising is very much in danger of being the classic tree that fell in the forest that was once given high praise and now is just a stump.” According to the group, though, there have been attempts made at opening up the conversation about carving a digital path for De La Soul, and it appears Warner was not open to the idea. “The group says it volunteered to bear the administrative burden of making the catalog available but that Warner Music was not interested,” Cohen reports.

“[W]e don’t believe it is possible to clear all of the samples for digital use, and we wouldn’t want to release the albums other than in their complete, original forms,” a spokesperson for WMG’s Rhino imprint tells the Times. In Maseo’s words, what Warner Music is doing (or not doing, as the case may be) is affecting him on a personal level. “I’d appreciate you don’t wait until one of us die to do this. Can I enjoy some of the fruits of my own labor, while I’m alive? Obviously, we’re in the music industry — more people are more valuable dead than alive, you know? Can we change that landscape?,” he shares.

In the past, Prince Paul says, indie labels have approached him about releasing the material, but “interest fizzles when he directs them to Warner Music.” However, there may be some solutions to what is proving to be a litigious quandary. “If Warners won’t license it, perhaps they could sell it back to the band members,” Mannis-Gardner suggests. Silverman, Cohen reports, “hopes to obtain his label’s entire back catalog from Warner Music, and making De La Soul’s disputed albums available digitally is the first thing he said he would do.”

Dave is clearly eager to untangle the group from its digital limbo, too. As he tells the Times, “[t]his music has to be addressed and released. It has to. When? We’ll see. But somewhere it’s going to happen.”

In the meantime, Heads have August 26 to look forward to. That’s the day De La Soul’s and the Anonymous Nobody arrives.

Click here to read from this article's source.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mixcloud Attracts 1 Million Music Curators With Royalties Paid, No Venture Funding

Written by Bruce Houghton — Self-funded startup Mixcloud has quietly reached the million curator milestone. This achievement stands in sharp contrast to headlines touting millions in new funding alongside high profile failures by music tech startups like Crowdmix, Guvera and CUR.

Online radio platform Mixcloud announced that more than 1 million uploaders have contributed radio shows, DJ mixes and Podcasts to the service. Collectively they've made more than 10 million shows available for streaming. On average, listeners stream more than 2 million unique shows monthly.

The lean 15 member team at the 8 year old London and New York based startup has never taken a dime of funding while at the same time paying music licenses from the it launched. Income is generated from brand partnerships with the likes of Red Bull, Adidas and Coca Cola.

“Mixcloud already boasts the world’s largest community of music curators, and reaching this milestone only solidifies our hold on that claim,” says Mixcloud co-founder Nico Perez. “Having reached this point with a team of less than 15 people makes me incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished, as well as motivated to continue our momentum."

Updated Website, Apps And A New Advisor

To celebrate the million curator milestone, Mixcloud has launched a new website with a cleaner more responsive design. Trending and featured shows are more easily accessible, containing more information and options. New iOS and Android apps are now also more responsive and include the ability to create playlists of favorite shows

Simon Watt, former CTO of Universal Music, has joined the startup's advisory board.

The top curators on Mixcloud include a range of professional Curators, superstar DJs and hobbyists:
  1. Above & Beyond
  2. LDBK radio
  3. John Digweed
  4. Carl Cox
  5. DJ Dimsa
  6. NTS Radio
  7. Jazzcat
  8. Brooklyn Radio
  9. LeFtO
  10. Adam Beyer
The most popular genres in terms of share of total minutes streamed include a broad range of styles, genres, and sounds:
  1. House (Deep House, Electro House, Tech House): 36%
  2. Urban (Hip Hop, R&B, Reggae): 16%
  3. Funk, Soul and Jazz: 12%
  4. Trance = 8%
  5. Techno = 5%
Click here to read from this article's source.

Are music and happiness linked?

Written by AJ Willingham — A new study out of Australia confirms what we probably already knew: People who dance and go to concerts regularly are pretty happy. While it may seem obvious, comparing happiness and the enjoyment of music can actually tell us a lot about how music affects us psychologically.

Researchers at Deakin University in Victoria analyzed 1,000 interviews with randomly chosen Australian citizens to see if there was a connection between their self-reported music consumption and happiness levels.

Sure enough, they found that people who actively engaged with music through dancing and attending events like concerts and musicals reported a higher level of subjective wellbeing (a more scientific way of saying "happiness").

Different modes of music, different results

The study used data from the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, an annual survey that attempts to measure the happiness of Australian citizens. In 2014, the Index paid special attention to music consumption habits through six different activities: Listening to music, singing, playing an instrument, dancing, composing music, and attending music-oriented events.

Deakin University's Melissa Weinberg, who co-authored the study, told CNN there were specific activities that seemed to correlate with higher happiness levels.

"We found there were differences in those who danced or attended music events," she said.

Why would dancing and concert-going correlate more with our wellbeing than, say, simply listening to Spotify? Weinberg says there's no hard and fast answer, but psychology seems to suggest it's about emotional and social connections.

"It's that active engagement that seems to be critical," she says. "People who intentionally interact with music, they're using an outlet to express their emotions."

It's an outlet that's even more powerful when shared.

"Music seems to be a way that can facilitate social connections," Weinberg says. "And we know social relationships are absolutely critical to subjective wellbeing. Anything that has people coming together through mutual interest or commonality will contribute to this, including music."

Sorry, concerts don't necessarily make you happier

Is this yet another reason to justify buying tickets to Coachella next year? Not exactly. First of all, participants weren't asked about their preferred forms of music entertainment, so it probably wasn't all about the sweaty bacchanalia of outdoor festivals and EDM shows.

The average age of survey participants was 56, so more subdued forms of music entertainment like classical concerts, blues shows or musical theater were probably represented.

Weinberg says it's also important to remember that just because there's a relationship doesn't mean there's causation: Dancing at a rock show doesn't necessarily make you a happier person.

"It's just as plausible that the people who are happier have a reason to dance, or the people who have more resources go to concerts," she says. "I think [the study] is more reflective of the way we think about music."

Consider this, for instance: Listening to music alone doesn't seem to have the same happiness correlation, yet that is how most people experience music on a daily basis.

"I think it's interesting that, in today's day and age everybody's sort of walking around with headphones in their ears and not engaging with others," Weinberg says. "Yet there's a clear difference between listening to music in isolation, versus listening to music with others or engaging with music."

Click here to read from this article's source.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Live Streaming DJ Sets On Facebook Live: Copyright Issues?

Written by Dan White — 2016 has brought a mass popularity to live streaming video on the web. In the DJ world, this has meant even more opportunities to play in front of a digital audience. However, many DJs have encountered resistance due to copyright issues. In this article, we take a closer look at how copyright law plays (or doesn’t play) a role in live streaming DJ sets on Facebook Live.

DJ Streaming Legalities + Music Rights

Let’s talk real quickly about copyright and DJ sets. It’s easy to assume that because you own a song, you’re allowed to play it in a DJ set of any type. According to US copyright law, this is incorrect. There are several types of rights for music, including:
  • Public Performance (transmitting or performing the work in public)
  • Reproduction (copying/duplicating)
  • Digital Performance (internet streaming)
When you DJ in a venue, it’s up to that venue to make sure they have a license for public performance from major rights organizations. In the United States, the most common ones are ASCAP and BMI. Having that license means that DJs can play recorded music registered with those organizations, bands can cover songs, etc.

This works the same way for radio stations – but their license is for broadcast. This means that they are authorized to play music into public airwaves.

Many streaming services do not have a clear relationship with rights organizations. When you fire up a live stream and start broadcasting the hottest tracks to the internet, this is very similar to a radio station. Theoretically, anyone can tune in and hear you playing copy written music.

This is where copyright law starts to fall behind: DJ sets are not a protected form of free speech, and they generally do not fall under “fair use”. As a result, copyright takedowns do happen on various sites. Read on to learn what we know about the current state of copyright takedowns on various streaming sites:

Facebook Live

Facebook is largely credited with the mass distribution of streaming tools by building in Facebook Live into every account on their site. Mobile support meant that most smart phone users now have a perfectly capable streaming device in their pocket.

Is There Copyright Detection On Facebook?

Unlike other sites like YouTube and Soundcloud, Facebook for a while did not appear to have a system for detecting copy written work inside of a video. YouTube’s prominent “ContentID” allows rights-holders to aggressively look for infringing works and issue automatic takedown notices.

In the last few weeks, a few occasional notices have started popping up for users saying that their stream has been flagged for copyright automatically – which may be a slow implementation of a new copyright detection system. It doesn’t stop the stream, but may impact how the video recording can be used after it is finished.

Is Live Streaming DJ Sets On Facebook Legal?

As far as we know, Facebook Live doesn’t have any streaming audio licenses with rights organizations like BMI or ASCAP. It’s very similar to the early days of YouTube – video is a massively growing part of Facebook, so many people suspect the company is doing everything possible to not have to address the issue and potentially hamper growth.

That being said, just because there isn’t a way to detect infringing works doesn’t make streaming legal. If a label holding the rights to a song somehow saw you using their songs in a stream, and really wanted to take legal action against you, they would have sufficient grounds to start a case.

Remember, DJ Techtools is not a legal advisor – so even though we can say it’s unlikely that DJs will start getting sued for mixing on Facebook Live, it’s not a guarantee.

Have There Been Takedowns of Facebook Live DJ Streams?

Based on our research, not significantly – yet. We’ve heard scattered reports of DJs experiencing copyright-based takedowns, but because of the apparent lack of an automatic engine to detect infringement, they have tended to be few and far between.

As we noted above, some copyright notices have started appearing during streaming – but generally this will still allow you to keep streaming if you hit “OK”, but might limit the length of the stream or the ability to save/rewatch it after the fact. Details on this new system are fairly limited – we’re guessing it is still in the testing phases, and we will update this article as we learn more!

The current consensus is that most takedowns on Facebook Live are a result of someone watching your stream and manually reporting you for copyright infringement. This is good for DJs because the reach of your video (who sees it) will be most likely limited to your friends (or if a page, your followers) and their friends – and anyone who you share it with.

However, many people on Facebook seem to be abusing this “wild west” of copyright. Facebook will allegedly take down content when reported – but many digital creators have reported instances of Facebook not taking down content even when it’s a blatant copy of an original work (this is a bit different from a DJ mix, which is a derivative work).

Click here to read from this article's source.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Dubset Inks Deal With Sony/ATV

Written by Michael Sundius — Dubset Media Holdings has inked a direct deal with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, as confirmed exclusively to Billboard.

"We are extremely excited to be working with Sony/ATV, the largest music publisher in the world", said Stephen White, Dubset CEO. "Sony/ATV understands the tremendous value that Dubset can create for their songwriters and monetization of mix and remix content is a great example of using songwriters' work that they deserve to be paid for."

Dubset is a music licensing and digital distribution company working on innovative solutions for DJs, labels, publishers and streaming services. Their proprietary technology, MixBANK, enables legal distribution of unlicensed remixes and DJ mixes by scanning content for copyrighted material and paying relevant rights holders.

The Sony/ATV news comes on the heels of Dubset’s landmark rights agreement with the National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA), giving hundreds of independent songwriters and publishers access to an emerging new royalty system.

Similar to their deal with the NMPA, Dubset’s new arrangement with Sony/ATV will grant artists under the publishing company the ability to receive royalties when their compositions are used in DJ mixes. Considering Sony/ATV’s prodigious roster of talent -- which includes everyone from Rihanna and Cher, to EDM stars like DJ Snake and ATB -- it’s a significant step forward for the digital distributor. In fact, with its deals with NMPA and now Sony/ATV on their side, Dubset now claims to have “over 70 percent of the active publishing catalog under license.”

Earlier this year, Dubset entered into partnerships with both Apple Music and Spotify to begin hosting unlicensed remixes and DJ mixes on the streaming platforms. While Apple Music has already begun servicing unlicensed remixes, Dubset hopes to see long-form DJ mixes begin showing up on streaming services in the fall.

As for the final 30 percent of the publishing market? Dubset is adamant they’ll have it soon: “We are actively pursuing the rest and you will hear more from us soon,” White says.

Click here to read from this article's source.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Everything you need to know about MQA – the future of music streaming

Written by Sam Kieldsen — The best format for audiophiles’ audio files? It’s certainly the most convenient.

Convenience versus quality.

It’s a conundrum music lovers wrestle with all the time: would you rather download giant FLAC files that sound identical to the original studio master but need to be physically stored on devices, or simply stream highly compressed music via Spotify, Apple Music or Deezer – a little less pristine but available anywhere with an internet connection?

MQA aims to settle the debate - or rather make it redundant. It’s a recently launched audio codec that offers lossless quality in a streamably compressed size. The idea is that it’s the best of both worlds, pleasing both golden-eared audiophiles and millennials who want great-sounding music but wouldn’t dream of using cables where wireless is available.

Read on and we’ll explain why you should make sure your next hi-fi or portable player is MQA compatible.


It’s a British technology, developed by Cambridgeshire-based hi-fi manufacturer Meridian Audio. MQA stands for “Master Quality Authenticated”, and it’s a codec that offers full lossless audio, but in data sizes small enough to be streamed (or downloaded quickly) through current broadband connections.

Talking to Stuff about the compression process, MQA's Bob Stuart said: “We don’t chop or cut; we fold. There are areas of redundancy we can put information into, so every sample carries two or three times more info than before, but it appears small because it’s efficiently packed.”

The process works as follows: the original master recording is encapsulated by MQA into a new, smaller file. This file (which can be any standard lossless file wrapper such as FLAC, WAV or ALAC) can then be downloaded and played back on any audio device – your home stereo, your car stereo, your smartphone – at better than CD quality. But that’s not all, because if you have hardware with an MQA-compatible decoder (see the section below for some examples), it can play at an even higher quality – that of a true studio master recording, in fact.

“The info for high-resolution file renderings is losslessly buried or hidden in areas 1000 times below silence,” Bob Stuart explains. That means it’ll sound good on an iPad, better on certain Android phones with built-in DACs and its very best through an MQA-compatible decoder able to unlock its 384kHz 'extreme quality'”.


Further confusing the matter is the fact that there appear to be two types of MQA file: MQA and MQA Studio.

In actuality, there’s not much difference between the two; the distinction is there merely to indicate the “provenance” of the file: a regular MQA file (denoted by a green indicator or display text) is guaranteed to match the source material when played back on a device with an MQA decoder; an MQA Studio file (denoted by a blue indicator or display text) is the same – but has also been approved in the studio by the artist or producer, or verified by the copyright owner.

So in that way, MQA Studio could be seen as the “director’s cut” of musical recordings.


As we say, you can listen to MQA files on a wide variety of existing products – basically anything that can handle FLAC, ALAC (Apple Lossless) or WAV will play MQA music at higher than CD quality.

But for the real ear-candy, you’re going to want to play them on hardware specially equipped for full MQA decoding. These products are able to fully “unfold” MQA files and recover all the information from the original studio recording.

On the portable front, there’s the Pioneer XDP-100R (£500) and Onkyo DP-X1 (£700) pocket music players. And at CES in January, HTC demonstrated a proof-of-concept One A9 smartphone able to play MQA at full quality – but no actual mobile product has been launched yet.

For home audio, MQA is now supported in a variety of Meridian products (unsurprisingly, given it’s the company where MQA originated), including the Explorer 2 DAC, the Prime headphone amplifier, the 808v6 CD player and all the company’s 40th Anniversary systems.

While none of the audio giants have adopted MQA decoding in their home gear just yet, it’s popping up in some specialist products such as the Mytek Brooklyn DAC and Bluesound's range of multi-room systems.

Crucially, many of these products have added MQA decoding via firmware updates, meaning you may not have to buy brand new gear to get compatibility.


MQA started out as part of Meridian Audio, but has now broken away as a separate entity. That space leaves some room for companies that see themselves as Meridian rivals to move into MQA partnerships, meaning we’ll hopefully see the list of hardware supporters growing in the near future.


OK, so you’ve got the gear. Time to find something to hear.

And here we encounter the current problem with MQA: there’s not really much content in the format available right now. If you want to purchase and download music in MQA, there are a handful of sites, including Onkyo Music, HighResAudio, 2L and 7digital. But if you like pop, rock, hip-hop or anything besides avant-garde, jazz or classical, you’re not going to find much worth listening to. At the time of writing, only Onkyo Music and HighResAudio appear to have more than one album available in MQA format. The latter has a pretty extensive collection - but again, no pop.

It’s even slimmer pickings if you’re a streamer. Tidal is an official MQA partner and plans to add MQA music to its streaming library, but at the time of writing there’s no firm date. We’ll update this piece when that changes, of course.

Hopefully, MQA’s focus on convenience as well as quality can help it escape the trap that so many audiophile-friendly music formats fall into: dearth of content. SACD, DVD-Audio and FLAC are all wonderful on the ears, but without a wealth of albums available across all genres, none of them have reached household name status.

There are good signs, however. In May 2016, MQA signed a long-term deal with Warner Music Group, paving the way for releases from one of the world’s biggest record labels (artists on WMG include Prince, Coldplay, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Major Lazer… and Jason Derulo) and is also working on securing similar partnerships with Sony and Universal.

Again, there’s no firm date on when the Warner material might materialise, but it’s a fair bet to assume some will be available for purchase by the end of 2016.

If MQA can secure the right partnerships and ensure a steady supply of releases arrive with full support for its master-quality audio, there’s every reason to think it’ll succeed where other high-end formats have withered or stagnated.

Audiophiles have long insisted that the rest of us are missing out by listening to compressed digital music, but have never offered up an alternative that matches the convenience of compressed downloads and streams. If MQA fulfils its potential, it might just be that alternative.

Click here to read from this article's source.

Hi-fi music streaming: People can't tell it when they hear it

Written by Eric Chemi & Nicholas Wells — Music streaming services are the new frontier in an all-out tech industry war.

A big factor in choosing a service is sound quality. In particular, a new batch of high-fidelity streaming services, including Tidal and Deezer, are now competing against companies like Spotify, Google, Apple, and Amazon, which offer standard sound quality in their streaming products.

We wanted to find out: How much better are the higher-quality services?

Our research suggests that most people can't hear any difference. (For a full explanation of how CNBC carried out our test, click here. Our investigation was not a scientific test, but we did try to replicate what most consumers would do when they're choosing a service: turn on the music and listen to decide what's best.)

Let's be up front about this: The quality of the music you hear is based on countless factors. The quality of your speakers (or headphones) matters, and so do the way the music was created, the strength of your internet connection to stream, and so on.

Among the high-fidelity services, you might be most familiar with Tidal, because Jay-Z is the company's big-name owner and co-owners including Kanye West. The Tidal website describes its music like this:

"...delivered in lossless, CD quality (1,411 kbps vs. 320 kbps for standard streaming). HiFi streaming delivers an uncompressed sound file, which means that you can hear every instrument and every note — as the artist intended. This tier costs $19.99 per month."

CNBC conducting audio tests: can people hear high fidelity?

That's exactly what we wanted to investigate: Is the full CD sound quality (and all that 1,411 kbps data you'd be streaming) any better than the typical 320 kbps being offered by services like Spotify, Google and others?

Most people who listened in our test could not tell a difference. Or if they could distinguish a difference between services, they could not actually say which was the hi-fi one.

We conducted our test in the high-fidelity audio "sweetening" room at CNBC headquarters. We had top-notch Genelec speakers, a wired internet connection, and professional audio experts conducting and overseeing the test. We brought in many of our colleagues for a blind test — hearing three songs each with three different services — to find out if they could hear the difference between high-fidelity and regular-quality streaming.

The three services we used were Tidal (to represent hi-fi), Spotify (to represent normal quality at 320 kbps) and Apple Music (which streams at 256 kbps, but with a more efficient compression algorithm). When Spotify or Apple Music had occasional browser or library issues, we substituted Deezer's standard-quality service (at 320 kbps).

The results were dramatic. We played a total of 48 songs, and 16 times the person correctly identified the high-fidelity service. That's exactly 1 of 3 — the same figure one could expect from completely random guessing.

At least four times, people simply offered no guess, saying they couldn't hear any difference. The conclusion from our tests suggests that above a certain level of compression, people cannot distinguish between services.

We reached out to the companies involved to get their thoughts. Most of them declined to comment.

But Alexander Holland, chief content and product officer at Deezer, stressed that the listening experience can be affected by outside factors. "The difference is audio quality can depend on external conditions such as the environment, headset, speakers and devices," he said. "Music-loving audiophiles can definitely detect the difference between the different level of sounds."

Holland also pointed out that basic Deezer, which normally streams at 320 kbps, can be adjusted to 128 kbps for "a more data-friendly option." Deezer Elite is the high-quality stream, at 1,400 kbps.

Jay-Z himself has explained that "if you have a $10 pair of headphones, you should probably buy the $9.99 plan," suggesting the more expensive high-fidelity plan isn't for them.

But does hi-fi reduce stress levels?

But here's the thing: Even when we were in a room with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of audio equipment, people still could not tell the difference. If they can't hear it with such good equipment, they may be unlikely to do so with worse equipment that muddles those differences.

A recent online NPR survey suggested the same results: The general public simply cannot tell the difference in sound quality. Other research has come to the same conclusion.

In-house music expert Steve Liesman suggested that the high-fidelity music makes an impact not on listeners' ears, but on their minds and hearts. He said that "lossless" music reduces stress levels, while heavily compressed audio requires listeners' brains to fill in the gaps. Sure, you might hear it the same in your ears, but over time it raises your stress to keep mentally interpolating the missing sound data.

Liesman also pointed out that you don't know how the music was mastered in the first place. The sound could have been designed for excellent speakers, or it could have been designed for low-quality earphones. A lot of modern music is mastered differently than in the past, increasing the emphasis on certain sounds rather than others, to keep up with how most people in today's world will actually listen to the music.

Click here to read from this article's source.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Internet’s Safe Harbor Just Got a Little Less Safe

Written by Klint Finley — One of the most important laws protecting online speech is also one of the worst. You’ve probably heard of it. In 1998, President Bill Clinton passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA. It’s the law that, for example, makes it all too easy for companies to have embarrassing content removed from sites like YouTube by issuing bogus takedown requests, claiming that the content violates their copyright—no presumption of innocence required. But the DMCA also contains one incredibly important section: the so-called safe harbor provision. Thanks to safe harbor, companies can’t be held liable for copyright violations committed by their users, so long as the companies take reasonable steps to ensure that repeat offenders are banned from their services. Post a pirated copy of Ghostbusters to YouTube via your Comcast Internet connection? That’s on you, the DMCA says, not on YouTube or Comcast.

Companies fearing they’ll lose their safe harbor might start policing the content posted by their users.

But after a recent court decision, that safe harbor doesn’t look so safe anymore.

Last week a federal judge ruled that cable Internet provider Cox Communications must pay $25 million in damages to BMG Rights Management, which controls the rights to the music of some of the world’s most popular artists. The court found that Cox was liable for the alleged copyright infringement carried out by its customers, safe harbor or not. The decision might not rattle the giants of the Internet business, like Comcast, Verizon, Google and Facebook–at least not yet. But it could be bad news for smaller companies that can’t afford such costly legal battles. And if companies start fearing they’ll lose their safe harbor, they might have to start more carefully policing the content posted by their users.

Turning Off Notifications

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the DMCA’s safe harbor provision to the growth of the early Internet. Had providers and platforms faced liability for what users published, far fewer social networks and web hosts would have existed because of the legal risk. Those that did exist would have had to carefully screen what users posted to ensure no copyright violations were taking place. In short, the DMCA, for all its problems, enabled the explosion of online speech over the past two decades.

But that explosion has not been kind to some businesses, such as the music industry, which has seen its margins erode since the 1990s due to peer-to-peer file sharing. To fight back, BMG in 2011 hired a company called Rightscorp to monitor file sharing networks and catch people illegally sharing music that belonged to BMG. Whenever Rightscorp believed it had detected a copyright violation, it would forward notifications to the offending user’s Internet provider. The twist was that Rightscorp added a bit of language to its letters offering to settle the copyright dispute if the user was willing to pay a fee of around $20 to $30 per infraction. Cox refused to forward these letters on to its users because it believed the settlement offers were misleading, arguing the notifications of infringement were not in and of themselves proof that a user had actually broken the law.

Rightscorp refused to alter the language of the letters, so Cox refused to process any further notifications from the company. In 2014, BMG sued Cox.

Last year, US District Court Judge Liam O’Grady judge found that by refusing to process Rightscorp’s requests, Cox had failed to live up to its responsibilities under the safe harbor provision, and therefore was not eligible for its protections. A jury found Cox liable for $25 million in damages. Cox filed for a new trial but O’Grady denied the request last week, allowing the previous decision to stand.

Just a Pipe

While the decision does not set a binding precedent, some open Internet advocates worry the decision could embolden copyright holders to sue smaller companies. A company like Google can afford expensive lawyers. It can invest in multi-million-dollar digital rights management software to keep offending content off its sites. But smaller ISPs or web sites can’t. “If safe harbor is for anyone, it’s for Internet service providers that do nothing but carry information from sites to specific homes,” says Charles Duan, staff attorney at Public Knowledge.

Safe harbor issues aside, BMG’s argument also depends on the idea that users should be denied Internet access because of the mere accusation of copyright infringement, even if the accuser has never proven in court that those users had actually broken the law.

“It doesn’t take into account all the things people use the Internet for,” says Mitch Stolz, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “People use it for their jobs, to interact with government. The circumstances in which it’s reasonable to cut someone off are narrower now than 20 years ago.”

However flawed it is, the DMCA enables online speech to flourish. But if the BMG case does become a precedent, online service providers of all types will have to crack down on their users—even if no one has proven in court that those users committed a crime. If you don’t like what someone has to say, you could accuse them of copyright violations and not only have a video banned from YouTube, but have that person kicked off the Internet entirely. That’s not a future in which the Internet flourishes.

Click here to read from this article's source.