A few months ago we ran a poll here at Sea of Tranquility, asking our readers to chime in on their buying patterns after reading CD reviews here on SoT. The choices for the poll we gave centered on whether our readers purchased actual CD's or digital downloads, and how often. Surprisingly, in this 'digital' age, the majority of the responses we got showed that our readers still regularly buy CD's as opposed to going to iTunes or some other site and downloading music, and they do so on a pretty regular basis. Perhaps our audience, those dedicated prog, metal, and fusion fans, still have a loyalty to the trusty CD, despite mainstream trends that seem to point the other way, that music fans in general are abandoning the compact disc format in favor of digital files that they can download to their computer and listen to on their iPods or other portable mp3 player. We've heard that there is still an audience that likes to hold and touch a brand new CD, look at the photographs in the booklet, read along to the lyrics, or browse the plethora of information that is usually given regarding band line-ups, instruments played, guest musicians, production credits, and more. Do the majority of music fans not care about these things anymore? Will the CD die a slow death much like LPs, cassettes, and 8-tracks?
On a related topic, we at SoT are now faced with a dilemma that might directly impact our readers. Many of the major heavy metal labels that we have worked with and supported for many years, have recently gone the route of only supplying magazines (what few are left) and webzines like Sea of Tranquility, with digital download only promos of their new releases. That means that our dedicated staff of writers (of which there are about 20 now, from all over the world, some of whom have been with SoT since its inception a decade ago as a print magazine) will now be sent less and less actual CD copies of new releases, and instead, our email inboxes will now be flooded with links to this site and that site, with multiple usernames & passwords and other bits of information to be remembered. In many cases, we will have a time limit to download and review such releases, before access is taken away, and in addition, it will be quite cumbersome to assign multiple writers to cover such material due to username & password restrictions.
And as most of you iPod users are aware, these digital files take up space on our computer and media player. For writers who perhaps don't own or use an iPod, they will be forced to sit at their computer to listen to and digest these downloaded promos, no longer able to take the CD with them and listen to in the car, while cooking dinner, at the gym on a Walkman, or anywhere other than at their desk in front of the computer. This new trend has made a relatively easy job of managing what CDs have come in and what writer they were sent to, to something that is cumbersome, time consuming, space taking, and in some cases quite simply not an option.
The labels think that this is the best move for them, as it not only keeps up with the times as everything seems to be going digital, but it saves them money as they no longer have to mail promos out to the media. In addition, their worries about the illegal posting of their music on the internet or selling of it will go away. There is also the assumption that this process will be easier for us media scribes, as it gets the music in our hands faster, allowing us to report on this new music quicker, and thus informing the reader of what new music is available for you to consider purchasing. Well, we don't really feel that way.
Not only do we find this process hard to manage and rather 'cold', it also takes away any enjoyment that we have had for years in covering these releases. In the past, we've been able to digest the music, write about it, describe the whole 'package' to our readers so to speak (cover art, lyrics, etc), and that is slowly being taken away from us. Now, in addition to having to go through what we need to go through to get access to the music, we then need to seek out on either the labels site or the band site, information regarding the packing of the actual CD, because we no longer will see it. All this takes time, and for most of us, reviewing CDs for our dedicated readers is not our full time jobs-we don't make any money doing this, we do it because we believe in the music and the bands & artists that create it, and passing that information on to our readers is ultimately what drives us. We've always seen our 'payment' so to speak, as that CD copy that we get to keep and add to our collection. Well, that is slowly going away.
Ultimately, the one who loses out is our loyal reader, who comes to SoT daily expecting to read reviews of the latest and greatest prog, metal, and fusion reviews of all the new releases, which we have a long history of providing. Not many sites post 'daily' content and quality content like we do, and we have been damn proud of that accomplishment. Unfortunately, the majority of our staff feel that this new trend that the record labels are taking will make things rather difficult for us to do our jobs the way we are accustomed to doing it, and deliver this regular content that way our readers are used to from us.
We see this process as taking a while before it is adopted universally, but the recent trends are that it is happening quickly. Most of us here at Sea of Tranquility are still regular buyers of CDs, much like our readers are, so there's no doubt that we shall always have product to review, even if all the labels and bands out there refuse to send out physical copies of their new releases. Many of us also have extensive music collections, much of which has yet to be reviewed in our already massive reviews archive, so SoT will continue to carry on regardless of how this 'digital download promo' trend works out in the end.
We'd love to know how our readers feel about this-please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
"I think your recent article on Download Promos is spot on."
"The labels that produce progessive artists should know that a vast majority of it's fans are from the era of LPs."
"We value "albums" as a whole and want to read them reviewed that way, cover art, production notes and all."
"As someone mentioned on Progressive Ears, a well written review takes hours and any extra expense the media company incurs from sending out promo discs, should be considered payment for the reviwers time. "
"I'm a big fan of your web site and still also am a cd buyer. Maybe my age(64) has something to do with sticking with cds. I can't tell you how much great music your reviews have "turned me on to"! An example of that would be a recent stop at Amazon.com that said based on my searches I may be interested in a band called "Warhorse". I went to 'SOT.org" and read your reviews. Their two cds arrived in the mail this week and I enjoy them very much! Thanks for all you and the SOT staff do! "
"I think that even if it's a "hassle" or an expense for labels or artists to send out CDs, let's not forget that even if ONE CD/download is sold via the exposure given from a review, they will have made their money back on the CD and the postage. "
"Personally, my band 3RDegree will continue to send out CDs to SOT and others as we feel that the CD (with its artwork and info) is far superior to conveying an album/collection of songs than 10 separate mp3 files on a computer with a possible tiny album cover photo seen on the bottom left of an iTunes program. Not to mention that getting the files into iTunes and onto an iPod (or similar device) involves more work than throwing a CD into the car or home player for the reviewer."
"I just read your article and couldn't agree more. I am not in the music business per say, but I am a huge collector of music, CD's not downloads. Of course, I am from the LP age. Isn't it funny that every time there is an "improvement" in the way music is marked the sound quality goes down? The LP sounded better in most cases than a CD does. MP3 and other forms of digital media sound awful to anyone that really listens to music. Most people these days never listen to music on a good sound system in their home. But I do. I want the best sound I can get. Right now, that is a CD. So I continue to buy that format. I have never downloaded any music. Why would I want to pay $9 for an album that doesn't sound as good as if I pay $15 for the CD, which not only sounds better, it lasts longer. Most people don't back up their computers like they should. Hard drives don't last forever. So, someday they lose all of their music when their computer crashes. Plus a CD still has art, band info, lyrics, etc. For the life of me I just don't get the digital thing. Do I have an iPod? Yes. I only listen to it while I'm running or working out. Where do I get the music for it? My CD collection, ripped at a very high rate to preserve as much of the sound quality as I can."
"Until CD's no longer exist, I will not be downloading digital music files. "