Guest post by Marci Meth

The prominent French intellectual property attorney looked me straight in the eye and told me it would be impossible. I liked the idea of trying to do the impossible, so when I walked out of her office, I decided I would try to create my own record label and produce its first album.

I did go down quite a few rabbit holes while producing The Wild Song, but the quest for digital distribution proved sheer madness.

In terms of digital distribution for an “indie artist,” the main options are TuneCore and CDBaby. There are actually many others, and if you are interested in a complete list, you can consult Ari Herstand’s comparative digital distribution chart here.

I decided to work with TuneCore because TuneCore is one of the rare distributors that will deliver a digital booklet to iTunes. My friend Patrick Guérin and I spent months translating all of Britten’s songs and Yeats’ poetry on the album into French for the booklet, and Sanni Sorma also spent months designing it. I couldn’t let all of that work go to waste. TuneCore it was.

One of the first things TuneCore asks you to do is put your album in a category. I scanned the categories, but I couldn’t find “classical.” That’s odd, I thought. I did a Google search and found out TuneCore does not distribute classical music. I couldn’t believe it. One of the two biggest digital distributors won’t deliver a classical album to iTunes or any other digital platform. I knew there were very few classical artists who produced and distributed their own work, but I was shocked to learn why. The system doesn’t allow it.

I had to find a solution, so I studied the other album categories. The Wild Song alternates between Britten’s folksong arrangements, poetry by Yeats recited by Simon Russell Beale, and electronic music by the Oscar-winning composer Mychael Danna. It didn’t fit into any of their proposed categories. Since 90% of the album is either spoken or sung, I decided upon “vocal.” That seemed like the best compromise.

I uploaded all of the “metadata” for the album into TuneCore’s system. This includes the music itself, which must be uploaded in a specified compressed format, but also includes information about the music and performers on each track. I spent an entire day doing it. When all of the data was uploaded, TuneCore asks you to select the platforms where the album will be distributed. I clicked on iTunes and after a week of waiting, The Wild Song was approved for distribution to iTunes and was set for pre-order. What a relief, I thought.

I also wanted the album to be distributed to Amazon Digital Download, but I learned that when TuneCore delivers an album to Amazon Music, the album is automatically included in Amazon’s streaming service. I didn’t want the album on any streaming service (more about that here: https://bit.ly/2RIDr3r), so that meant I couldn’t use TuneCore to distribute the album to Amazon. I needed another distributor…

CD Baby, on the other hand, will deliver an album to Amazon Digital Download without sending it to Amazon’s streaming service. They will also distribute a “classical” album. Fabulous, I thought. I will send The Wild Song to Amazon via CD Baby. I uploaded all of the metadata to CD Baby’s site (another two days of work—CD Baby’s system is much slower than TuneCore’s…) and chose Amazon Digital Download as the only platform for delivery. Thus began the conversation with the Cheshire Cat of digital distributors.

“We cannot deliver your album to Amazon in the Classical category,” they told me. “You cannot have a lyricist on a classical album.”

“Why not?” I said. “Mozart had a lyricist.” I persisted: “The physical album is already on Amazon in the classical category. I have a physical distributor.”

“Physical distribution is different,” said CD Baby. “They don’t have the same data restrictions. Change the genre of your album to folk and resubmit it for distribution. That will solve the problem.”

The Wild Song is not a folk album, but I could see I wasn’t going to get anywhere in this land of illusion by arguing for logic. I changed the genre to folk and resubmitted the album to the CD Baby inspection team. It was refused.

“You will have to change the cover art on your album if you want it to be accepted in the folk genre,” they said. Your name must be bigger than Benjamin Britten’s and Mychael Danna’s.”

I laughed. “I’m sorry. That’s impossible,” I said. “That would be like making my name bigger than Mozart’s on an album cover. It shows a lack of respect for the composers.”

After spending a total of about five hours on the phone with CD Baby over the course of several conversations, a very kind man named Colson began to lobby the powers that be at CD Baby on my behalf. Colson convinced the distribution committee to accept The Wild Song in the classical genre and allow me to keep the original cover art. They required that I list WB Yeats as a composer on the tracks with his poetry.

“I will do that because you are asking me to do so,” I said. “But please know that WB Yeats was a great Irish poet and not a composer.”

A few days later, thanks to Colson, the album was sent to Amazon as a digital download in the classical category. CD Baby clarified that they would never be able to send The Wild Song to any other digital platform in the future. The exception that was made was uniquely for Amazon.

The current digital distribution system was designed for the needs of indie pop musicians. The metadata for classical music requires more specific formatting and the system we have now cannot accommodate it. There are new streaming sites for classical music which obviously have systems that can accommodate the metadata classical music requires. However, independent classical musicians need a distributor which can deliver our metadata to these platforms. When will we have a digital distributor for independent classical musicians?

Alice is waiting for it.

 


GetAttachmentThumbnailMarci Meth, soprano & creative, producer of The Wild Song

Music by Benjamin Britten & Mychael Danna, poetry by WB Yeats. Marci Meth (soprano), Anna Tilbrook (piano), Simon Russell Beale (reader)

 

The Wild Song is available here: smarturl.it/modern-poetics

For more information about metadata and classical music: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/23/business/media/stream-classical-music-spotify.html

Review of The Wild Song

 

 

A post for John Cage’s birthday (5 September 1912)

A piece in which the performer is directed to remain silent for 4 minutes and 33 seconds made American composer John Cage famous – and infamous. His 4’33” is as much a piece of conceptual art and a profound musing on the nature of silence as it is a piece of music: through it, Cage challenged traditional notions of what constitutes music, performance, a concert and above all, silence….

Read more and listen to my Essential Cage playlist

Finding comfortable earphones, or earbuds, which also offer decent sound quality across a range of music genres can be tricky, especially if you like to listen to your music while on the move or when exercising. Padmate’s new PaMu Scroll wireless earbuds (so-called because they come in a chic cylindrical case-cum-charging unit) offer a comfortable, competitively-priced and stylish alternative to more traditional designs.

Drawing on and upgrading the technology used to develop the X13-PaMu Wireless Earbuds (developed following a highly successful Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign), the PaMu Scroll earbuds are super lightweight and fit snugly,  comfortably and discreetly in the ear. The earbuds are touch-sensitive, with Left and Right both enabled to Play or Pause and respond to, or decline, phone calls; while the Left also allows one to fast forward through tracks and the Right to activate Siri (on iPhone). It takes a little bit of getting used to – tap too hard and your music will turn on and off, and then on again…. But the function saves fiddling around with an additional switch or button, and the volume can of course be controlled from your music app/device. The sound is very direct, immediate and balanced over a range of genres, also spoken word/radio broadcast. Since the majority of my listening is to classical music, I tested the earbuds with piano and other instrumental solo works (including violin, voice and flute), chamber music, contemporary classical and orchestral, and very much liked what I heard. The clarity – coupled with comfort in the ear – is impressive, and they have a good noise cancelling function too, which means you don’t have to compromise on your listening experience when travelling on the train, for example.20180827174808jpg-1535363296126

If you thought Apple had the edge on stylish design, think again. The PaMu earbuds come neatly packaged in a sleek white box and the charging/carrying case is a scroll wrapped in embossed leather (four attractive designs/colours to choose from),with a magnetic clasp, which will fit neatly in a pocket or handbag . Inside the earbuds have their own Left and Right compartments, also magnetised to ensure they fit snugly for charging. Although supplied with a USB charging cable, the PaMu Scroll can also be charged using a wireless charging pad.

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With fast Bluetooth auto-pairing, your earbuds will be ready to use almost as soon as you take them out of the case, and the charge is good for four hours. They are also waterproof, making them excellent when working out.

PaMu Scroll go on sale from 12 September, initially for only $39, which strikes me as a bargain, considering the quality and style of the product.

Further information

 

How we consume and listen to music has been transformed by digital technology. Where once recorded music was available only on the radio and vinyl LPs, reel-to-reel tape (and later tape cassettes) and CDs, it is now possible to access music 24/7 with the same ease with which one turns on a tap.

Today our listening takes many forms – at home on the radio, to a CD or vinyl LP, via a streaming service or YouTube; “on the go” through individually-curated or recommended playlists on an iPod or a smartphone; or to music that is played seemingly ubiquitously in social environments such as shopping centres, bars and restaurants, stations and even banks.

In our instant gratification-driven culture, streaming services like Spotify or IDAGIO (a specialist classical music streaming platform) in particular offer endless listening possibilities, and their portability (an app on your smartphone) means that music can be enjoyed wherever and whenever you are. Platforms such as these also allow users to create and share playlists (much in the way we used to make and share “mixtapes” when I was a teenager, only far less laborious in their creation today with just a click of the mouse!), and it’s wonderful to be able to access a vast range of performers and performances, including vintage recordings of Ravel and Rachmaninov, for example, playing their own music.

Some argue that the instant availability of music via platforms such as Spotify devalues the experience of listening to music, encouraging “passive listening” over “long” or “deep” listening and flitting between different tracks without listening to an entire album or even an entire song/track. These platforms have undoubtedly changed the way we listen, allowing us to engage with a far greater range of music than ever before, making our listening experience incredibly diverse. This has the potential, if we allow it, to revolutionise our everyday listening by mixing genres (classical, jazz, pop, world etc – and their sub-genres) and offering us “algorithm-curated” listening options based on our regular listening habits: the digital version of a friend saying “if you like that, you might like this”, or the recommendations of the record review section of the Sunday newspaper. Set your music service to “shuffle” and you add surprise and spontaneity to your listening experience (not recommended for those who enjoy hearing a piano sonata or symphony in its entirety, the movements in the right order!). Now one’s listening may not be wholly defined by genre, but by the music itself. Spotify creates a Daily Mix playlist “based on the different styles of music you regularly listen to, each mix is loaded with artists you love, plus a sprinkling of new discoveries that fit the vibe too” (Spotify website) and also a Discover Weekly playlist “made just for you [me]” which changes every Monday. I have enjoyed both playlists and have even made some new discoveries as a result.

In his book Every Song Ever author Ben Ratliff overturns the habit of listening by genre and instead suggests listening based on other, more general parameters such as speed, virtuosity, repetition or volume, thus offering cross-genre listening which may encourage one to make unexpected musical connections.

Meanwhile, over in the classical concert hall, some argue that the instant availability of music today and the erosion of the habit of deep or mindful listening is impacting on the way audiences engage with live music, making them less prepared to sit through a long programme or even works longer than c30 mins at a time, and more interested in programmes comprising a variety of shorter works. My experience and observations as a regular concert-goer don’t really concur with this view, and in general I think audiences are very much still prepared to put in the effort to listen in an engaged and respectful way. This is partly because current classical music audiences tend to be of an age and demographic that is less conversant or interested in the current technology to consume music, and I’m certain that it is also because the experience of hearing music live is so very different from the experience of listening on the radio, disc or via a streaming service. Those of us who go to concerts enjoy the spontaneity, the sense of risk and of music being created in the moment. The excitement of live music is a “total experience” – not only of the music itself but all the special rituals of concert-going which can never be recreated on a disc or MP3 track.

 

There’s a unique intimacy in the piano duet and a special etiquette must be observed when playing. For this reason, you need to be on friendly terms with your duet partner! The players sit very close together at the keyboard, often their hands will touch or cross over (Debussy’s Petite Suite contains much hand-crossing between the players), and each must be alert to the other’s part, sensitive to details of tempo, dynamics and musical expression, while details of pedalling and page-turns need to be agreed in advance. While some works for piano duet are undoubtedly aimed at children or junior players, many are highly complex, technically and musically challenging, such as Poulenc’s Sonata for Piano Four Hands and works by Rachmaninoff and Messiaen. Some of the greatest pianists of the 20th century have enjoyed the very special relationship of the piano duet, including Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim, Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia, and Cyril Smith and Phyllis Sellick, the great British piano duo from an earlier era.

Listen to the playlist

(not available in the US and Canada)

The dance is as old as music itself, and many dances for keyboard or piano have their origin in folk dances such as the Mazurka, Polonaise, Polka, Tarantella and Tango. These folk dances and their characteristic rhythms and metres were taken by composers such as Fryderyk Chopin and elevated into refined salon pieces which are popular with audiences and pianists alike.

Playlist curated by Frances Wilson.

Listen to the playlist