May 2011 Archives

Global Music Industry Turnover

The music industry has spent the last 25 years trashing the quality of its own product, mesmerised by the allure of convenience whilst watering down the quality of the music. It may not have been apparent to the music industry in 1985, when CD started to appear in the mass-market, but it was the beginning of a gradual decline in quality that led to the commoditisation of its core product - and to today's crisis.

The solution: the adoption of the Studio Master download as an industry standard is the only way out of this mess...

Pure, Perfect Sound Forever


Whilst vinyl lovers with decent turntables argued that CD sounded worse back then, for most people a cheap CD player gave a better, or at least a more predictable and consistent result than a cheap turntable. And even if the discs couldn't really withstand having jam spread on them, or being crushed by giant trucks, we were neverthess all stunned by the convenience of being able to select and skip tracks by remote control.

The trend continued with MiniDisc and MP3. More convenience, less quality. Less effort in the physical packaging of the media, and in some cases a deliberate effort to compress recordings for loudness. But whilst production costs and values during this time decreased, music industry profits increased as we re-bought our vinyl collections on CD. A clearer example of an unsustainable business model must be hard to find.

Must Do Better

Linn Records Studio Masters

At Linn, we've been recording music in the studio and concert halls at higher-than-CD quality for many years, and our decision in 2007 to make this original Studio Master available as a download was easy - we always assume people want to own and listen to music at the highest possible quality. And so, facilitated by advances in web technology, we launched the world's first Studio Master music download site.

With it, we challenged three prevailing assumptions head-on:

1) Without copy protection mechanisms (such as DRM), downloading was bad for the artists

We asked our artists, and with their unanimous support launched without copy protection, allowing our customers to own and use their music free from interference in perpetuity. 

2) Downloading is only for young people

The Linn Records customer base, generally 35 and upwards, is the opposite demographic. Today, our customers are spending more with us on downloads than on physical media. The whole world is engaging with the Internet; download speeds are increasing, 50 Meg broadband is within reach for many, 4G phone networks are coming, hard drive space is in practical terms limitless.

3) Downloading is about convenience, not quality i.e. the MP3 makes downloads available at MP3 but also at CD quality and at the original Studio Master quality. In 2007, we were predicted a sales split of 60% MP3, 35% CD and 5% Studio Master. From Day One, the Studio Master download was selected by over 60% of people. Today, that figure is heading towards 90%. Maybe some people don't fully understand that a high quality digital file has all the convenience and flexibility of an MP3 but with none of the compromise in performance.

Streaming Studio Masters

The finest digital music player in the world

Perhaps more interesting in those early days was that Linn didn't make a Linn DS player, or in fact any product that could play a Studio Master download! So why were people buying them? Well, we asked, and discovered that some early adopters were using a computer and 24-bit DAC, yet others were buying them just to own the highest quality and were burning a lower quality MP3 version to disc. That gave us confidence to accelerate our digital strategy, bring to market our Linn DS range, and say goodbye to CD players for good.

Linn has proven that a market exists for Studio Master downloads, and that there are people who want to listen to digital music at the highest possible quality.

A bright future

Global Music Industry Turnover

In the 1970s, when Ivor introduced the Linn Sondek LP12, people understood that a better record on a better turntable would yield a better result. There is more information in the groove of a record than can be extracted.

In recent years, there's been a recurring lament, even a despair in the audiophile community that young people have simply stopped caring about quality, and that those of us who do care are powerless to influence this without the backing of the Majors.

Our cries have finally been heard. In 2012, when the music industry puts its marketing clout behind high quality digital Studio Masters, and artists such as Neil Young back them, young people will once again have the opportunity, and understand the potential to engage with music on the deeper and more emotional level that Studio Master provides.