So long Masterbeat; now what?
UPDATE: 9/15/2011—Added AmazonMP3
Larik, a reader of this blog, e-mailed me yesterday regarding my thoughts on the closure of the online music store Masterbeat, not too long after I’d written to express my frustration at its Flash-only implementation.
I’ve expressed them in the past myself, and Larik sees the same challenges I do for those of us with a love of dance music: Where does one go to (legally) obtain the latest dance music? And why is it so bloody difficult?
In the US market, with the closure of Masterbeat, we’re basically left with two choices: iTunes, and Beatport. iTunes, obviously, goes for the masses and typically doesn’t have a great selection of dance music (not their fault*), and Beatport has its own share of issues**.
Of course, there’s a smattering of other outlets, predominantly in Europe, which sell to US customers, including Juno Download, Audio Jelly, and DJ Download, to name a few. But with the possible exception of Juno, the selection of product in these stores is spotty at best, and pales in comparison even to iTunes.
Obviously, three issues are at play here that none of us can control:
- Territorial issues. In the retro-facing fantasy world where a lot of record labels, artists and producers still live—one where record label deals are still regarded as important and relevant—it’s typical to release something only in one’s home territory or market, and try and license the release to labels in other territories one by one. While I’m sure that certain artists or releases still have some monetary value for licensing to other territories, it’s gotten to the point where a lot of product is licensed for free. There’s so little money in dance music these days, even if someone does get a territory licensing deal, the likelihood that the licensing label has the resources to promote a release seems slim to me, defeating the entire point of not just releasing globally to start with. And yet, we still see territorial restrictions on retail sale of music. Until people wake-up to reality, this will continue to be the case. But these restrictions and lack of broader thinking accomplish little other than driving people even more toward piracy in markets where customers can’t buy what they want.
- Unreleased. For reasons that escape me, some producers and artists simply choose not to release a track for retail sale. They circulate among and between DJs, go to promotion only, or otherwise are held back from sale. Given the costs (low) and level of effort (low), I find this baffling.
- Lack of know-how. It seems clear in speaking with artists and producers over time that many people simply don’t know how to self-release material, or how to get music on iTunes or other stores. That’s unfortunate. Tunecore, CD Baby, IODA and others exist to help artists release their material. There’s no reason—NO REASON AT ALL—not to have one’s music in, at minimum, the large digital stores. In most cases, it costs less than a dinner out. But many just don’t have a clue how to start.
Now let’s look at a couple more items.
* The selection of dance music at iTunes is not Apple’s fault. It’s the fault of the record labels, producers and/or artists. See the three items above. It’s not up to Apple to decide what material goes-up, it’s up to the people who own the material to put it there. Why iTunes seems to be so low on the radar of many dance music labels and independents is baffling. There was some rumbling early-on about DRM (which is no longer applied to music in iTunes), and there was rumbling about quality levels (which are also pretty much a non-issue today with iTunes). For DJ use, iTunes’ AAC music files work in most digital DJ platforms, and the quality levels are roughly the same as 320 kbps MP3 in my opinion. There’s just not a good self-serving reason to keep music off iTunes.
** Beatport is not a panacea. Things seem to be shifting, but for many years, Beatport has been very selective about what product they sell, and who it comes from. Like Apple, Beatport won’t do direct label deals with just anyone, and their own published parameters leave a lot of wiggle room to do whatever they wish. But beyond that, last I knew, Beatport would reject submissions based on any subjective criteria it chose, when submitted through aggregators like IODA. My evidence to support this comes from personal experience and stories related by others, but the best proof of this is to do your own searches on Beatport for content you prefer, and see what you come-up with. When I do searches for the items on a typical Top 25 chart of my own, I find only a small handful of them on Beatport; your results may vary. But whether active exclusionism, or just coincidence, or a focus on dance sub-genres other than the ones I prefer, Beatport clearly is not a panacea, or a complete replacement for Masterbeat—there’s simply too much content that’s missing (even if perhaps, like iTunes, the real fault today lies with the label or artists involved).
In summary, I don’t have all the answers here. But I think the real problem is rooted in the labels, artists and producers in the dance genre, who don’t have time, don’t make time, or simply don’t know how to—or don’t care to—make their content available where people can legally find it. And in the end, the dance music industry (and what fans there are for dance music) are not well-served by the lack of attention paid.
Furthermore, as a producer/remixer, I’m not well-served by this either. Several of the remixes I’ve completed remain unreleased, and I’ve actually considered just handing them out for free to anyone who asks. Alas, I don’t technically have the legal right to do that, so thus far, I’ve not done so. But it does cross my mind.
In any case, until people awaken to reality, my best advice for shopping for digital dance music would be:
If readers have other ideas, please let me know. If there’s demand for it, I’ll carve-off this list to a static page and endeavor to keep it updated.
Entry filed under: Dance Music Industry. Tags: .