Monday, 5 October 2009

MP3s - what do you want from me?

5 years after moving out, and countless requests from my parents, I finally got around to going through the boxes and boxes of my old stuff in their garage yesterday. In amongst the thousands of empty jewel cases, hundreds of video tapes, random clutter and a mouldy tennis racket were loads of copies of old(ish) BSM releases. Things I thought I'd seen the back of were there to haunt me. With the spare room, hallway and part of the living room in my flat already filled with box after box of CDs, space has never felt so precious. This leads me to two points:

1) We're definitely having a sale. Look out for that later this week. And...

2) Thank God for MP3s

Don't get me wrong, I love CDs and am a strong believer that the format is far from dead, but when running a record label with close-to 100 releases from a small, city centre flat, there's only so many coffee tables, mattresses and bookends you can make from plastic discs. The digital age, for all it's pirate-happy downsides, certainly has a friend when it comes to space-saving. There's no need for dusty shelves and heaving wardrobes when MP3s come to town.

This weekend marked the end of our first month selling MP3s directly via It's something I'd been meaning to do for a while - initially holding off until our new website was completed - and has been an interesting few weeks of learning. Unfortunately, until said new site is finished, our sales are still very much a manual process, meaning I'm emailing download links and passwords out in response to order receipts. This is fine 16 hours a day when I have a ready and willing internet connection, but shy of adopting 24/7 shifts, there's little to be done whilst sleeping. The system, however, seems to be working ok and will shortly be automated, providing the perfect service for one and all.

However, as a music consuming fan I still opt to purchase physical products and have, to date, only ever bought one MP3; and that was a song I released anyway! So this is a question I really need to turn over to you...

What do you want from me?

When you buy MP3s, what's important? Do you want them in the highest quality possible? Would you like a choice of file formats? What about artwork; should that come in the package and if so, in what format? What else would you like with the music? Links to websites, videos and other added content? How about discount vouchers to be used against the corresponding physical release?

Our digital store is going to be an ongoing project with consistent, small improvements made right through until the end of the year. It's going to take a while to reach perfection but I would love to know what will help us get their faster for you.

As ever, comments on the blog are much appreciated (you don't need to have a Blogger account, by the way), as are messages via email, Twitter or Facebook. I read everything and always do my best to respond.

I'm off to play Tetris with a few hundred CDs. Wish me luck!


Chris said...

Now, this is an interesting query. I rarely *buy* stuff digitally (although I download a lot of free MP3s), as, I agree I figure, I'll either like something enough to want to own the physical copy, or, I fancy a listen, but I'm not sure, so I'll check it out on Spotify.

Add to this when it's something from an indie label, or, direct from the local artist I feel they deserve my cash in exchange for their work much more than a big label.

When I do buy something digitally I want a decent quality MP3. Artwork is a nice addition (again at a high quality), and makes your iTunes library look nice (as an aside I never buy music from iTunes - too expensive).

The times I'll buy digitally are usually because a) it's something that's only available digitally (i.e. digital-only compilations), or, when I need a specific track to play on my radio show. In these instances, instant delivery is crucial, and I don't mind the occasional 79p to fill a slot.

I like the idea of a digital to physical "upgrade", such as if you can get the digital in advance, then use that purchase to get a few quid off the physical release when it actually comes out if you want all the trimmings.

ShaunCG said...

I'm not a huge audiophile but top quality MP3s are no bad thing, particularly given that bandwidth and storage are not major obstacles these days.

Properly tagged files are essential, especially track numbers, the year, and as Chris said artwork. I really hate poorly tagged MP3s as they just end up lost inside a big collection. I recently bought Meat Balloon via your store and I think there were one or two tags I had to adjust, but I might be mis-remembering. I also got the free Holy Monsters 20-track sampler and all the tracks in it were still tagged for their source records or not tagged at all, which was annoying.

This probably sounds really anal retentive, but eh - music nerds, what can you do. :)

Digital booklets would be cool. It's a shame that there isn't really a common way of integrating these into media libraries at yet (although, thinking about it, I bought Parts & Labor's latest digitally and that included a "digital booklet" via the iTunes store - so it is possible). Conceivably including interviews, photos and media assets for bloggers, old tour diaries or videos, recommendations from the band's members about influences or bands they're friends with (like you used to find in inserts), that sort of thing would be cool - although maybe as a separate (but free to buyers) package as not everyone would want it.

Instant delivery is definitely crucial, so it's good you'll soon have the automated system up and running. And I agree with you & Chris with the idea of a "digital discount", i.e. you like a record enough that you just have to go ahead and own a physical copy too. Whilst I really like the idea of digital distribution and am a big advocate of it, I still love the tangible aspect of record collecting.

Chris Floyd said...

I think quality-wise it's best to have as high as is feasible. That way they can be easily played in pubs and clubs as well as on home systems. As for file-types, mp3, aac, wma and maybe flac ought to cover the majority.

What Shaun says about good tagging is definitely essential, and The Holy Monsters collection was messy on arrival.
His digital booklet suggestion sounds more like a digital press pack, and I don't think that necessary for the vast majority of music-buying customers.

The digital discount idea is definitely a good one. I have never purchased an MP3 album in my life but the option to almost 'try before I buy' at a reduced cost is more attractive.

Can't wait for the sale.

Kev said...

Thanks for the comments guys, all really useful stuff.

Sorry about the problems with the Holy Monsters MP3s, by the way. Thankfully I can stick that one squarely on Alex from Holy Roar! (phew)

Out of interest... In terms of getting money off of a physical release after buying it digitally; would you expect to have the full price of the MP3s discounted? Or just a part of it? For example: If you bought the Colour album MP3s for £5, then decide you want the CD (£8), would you be aggrieved if you only got £2.50 - £3 off?

Just interested to know where people stand as price is often a fairly sensitive issue and it's good to check we're on track with these things

Chris Floyd said...

I don't think people should expect a full reduction, because they won't get from iTunes or anything. There, what you buy has no reflection on a future physical release. I would say £5 for an mp3 album which gives you 3 quid off the real thing is fine. Simply because it saves you having to bother shipping mp3s and physical releases as much. If people want the mp3 album, they'll rip their physical copy onto their computer, and giving them the incentive to do that on their own is best, in my opinion.

JTM said...

I concur with everything thus far but would add:

- Recording Quality: Most 17 year olds must think that grainy compression noise is how music is supposed to sound. Boo to that, I want top rate MP3's!

- Price. I'd be happy to buy a band a pint each, so why when it comes to a single MP3 am I a skinflint? A quid for a good track is well spent IMO but see my final point!

- Artwork is a beautiful bonus, fast becoming essential

- Remixes: This is a big thing for me at the minute, I love hearing stuff played around with. The PABH remix from a little while ago was a case in point. Would have paid gladly for a copy of that to play out!

- Lastly let's not forget the quality of the band themselves. I wouldn't be a BSM fan if I didn't love 'em all but let's not forget that the music is the band's raison d'etre. Suspect album tracks have put me off paying a tenner for a whole album from other bands - two strong EPs are better IMO.

Phew. Anyway, it's all good to date, big man, keep it coming and I look forward to future BSM release!

Dan said...

My parents have also requested i sort out my "music stuff". Perish the thought.

I really thought i would have missed cds and their booklets more than i have. I guess if i was around when the jump from LPs to cds happened i would have been more reluctant as the artwork was more substantial and lovable (maybe).

ShaunCG said...

Just a quick note to say that I agree with Chris re. what is a reasonable discount for a CD/vinyl purchase following an mp3 purchase.

& fair point re. the "press packet" thing, it does sound a bit like one! I tell you what though, I love reading a band's lyrics and find it really frustrating when a CD insert doesn't include them. It's even worse with digital purchases as lyrics are rarely included (whether in a digbooklet or in the ID3v2 field) and finding them online for new or obscure releases is a nightmare.