791 words on Music
Hm, catchy headline. Now, that the proverbial 800 pound gorilla is weighing in, this might even be true. But the ‘sound business reasons’ are not what I’m interested in. And while I like iTMS’s overall prettiness and medium-usefulness as a reference library, I still prefer buying a proper CD or LP at the end of the day. So I don’t have any big stakes in iTMS anyway and shouldn’t care too much. Still, I’ve found a nit to pick and thus proclaim that iTMS is doomed.
As I have bitched before, the big problem that iTMS seems to be having more and more is that it is poorly edited. Keep in mind that the main reason for doing ‘legal’ downloads was that they’re more convenient than their P2P counterparts and that they offer superior data. In particular we’d have high quality metadata to please our iTunes included with the songs – or so they promised.
And it’s a promise they didn’t keep. We recently talked about Bach’s Cello Suites and I decided to have a look what iTMS offers in that respect. So I searched for bach cello and got quite a few results (note that it would be nice if iTunes filled the search field appropriately after clicking that link). But these results are of wildly varying quality.
At the top end of what iTunes can offer, we have a recording of Cello Sonatas. It actually uses the grouping of several movements to the complete piece which recent versions of iTunes offer (iTMS’s interface here is nice, why don’t they offer the same in iTunes proper?). That makes a lot of sense. The metadata are quite complete, although I find the titles themselves too long. Most notably they’re the same for the first 50 characters or so – meaning you can’t tell the difference between the titles when looking at them. Furthermore this is the German iTunes store, selling music by a German composer, so they have no excuse whatsoever to give English translations of the titles. And there’s a UI glitch in iTunes which claims that the whole group of songs is ‘album only’ rather than giving no price at all. This seems to be the ‘gold standard’ for iTMS. It’s as good as things get. And while it’s certainly not perfect, it’s tolerable.
Next: An album with the Suites 4 to 6. No grouping of tracks is seen here and there are the same localisation deficits. Furthermore two arbitrary (well, not quite arbitrary, I guess, as they are the longest) tracks of the album can’t be purchased on their own. Now that just dosn’t make sense here at all. It’s not like the second dance of a suite is an optional bonus track.
Next up on the inconsistency ladder: A double album containing all six suites. At 36 tracks, paying €20 for the double album is a bargain. What’s nice is that the whole double album is listed as a single album in iTMS rather than two. Again we have the lengthy and redundant names (yet not as long as in the first example as these lack information), the language confusion and the lack of grouping, though. Even worse: The first CD’s contents (correctly) list ‘Yehuda Hanani’ as the artist, which the second CD’s (wrongly) list ‘Johann Sebastian Bach’. What were they smoking?
The following candidate actually does away with the excessive redundancy in file names but also doesn’t do the grouping thing. This leaves you with an album that has three tracks called ‘Courante’, ‘Allemande’ or ‘Sarabande’ which can only be distinguished by their track number. It won’t be possible to find all songs of Suite No. 3 that way.
Finally, the cheap offer. Perhaps in an attempt to match the bargain bin prices at the stores, you’ll get the whole album for €6 here. Not too shabby. Again with excessively redundant track titles and lack of grouping. The Artist/Composer information is correct this time around, but some of the tracks have a – superfluous – ‘Bach’ prefixing their name, while others haven’t. Odd.
I find this attitude towards metadata careless. Particularly when it’s brought to us by the people who made iTunes, the application which is the most picky on metadata. If Apple want iTMS to be good, they should enforce a strict policy on the quality of the songs and meta information submitted to their store.
And as far as editorial policy goes… let me also mention that recently iTMS seems to try to increase their song count by simply adding tons of ‘World Music’ to their offerings. For example this. This looks like a lot. A lot of clutter, mainly. And a lot of stuff nobody’ll want to listen to.
Heh, that page full of Govindarajan is funny, but I’ll never complain as long as they also stock this cut, which features prominently in one of my favorite scenes ever (from Ghost World). :)
On a serious note, it wouldn’t hurt Apple to hire an extra couple of editors to review the metadata of the tracks they add to the store. As I understand it, they rely on the labels themselves to encode and tag the tracks, but an extra pair of human eyes overseeing the process wouldn’t add too much in the way of overhead, I’d think.
Me, I’d just be happy if they’d up their bitrates to 192k, or offer Apple Lossless Encoded tracks as a (possibly higher priced?) option.
Re extra editors: Yup, that would be useful. As we know ‘the labels’ aren’t particularly good at anything. Ant it’s Apple’s reputation that goes down the drain not theirs.
Didn’t people talk about iTMS quality being ‘great’ because songs are encoded directly from ‘master’ data rather than from CDs? I wonder whether that claim would stand any serious investigation. Having in mind that all this may be ‘DIY’ stuff for the labels themselves, I start wondering whether the songs we download are simply generated by an intern and a copy of iTunes – with Apple just whacking some DRM on it at their place.
Re higher quality: If the labels really submit the readymade files, it seems highly unlikely that the quality of songs that are already available will improve in the future. I wonder what’ll happen with lossless. I guess a 20% surcharge for that to cover the increased download cost would be acceptable. But perhaps the labels don’t like the idea of selling CD-quality audio anyway.
Dave, Sven, ditto on the lossless or high quality avenue.
I’ve lost count of the number of folks who have talked about this idea. We came up with bandwidth charges or some sort of Corp. Music backlash as the major drawback -the bandwidth problem was discounted for some reason I will try and fathom at a later date.
In the interim, I think a 192k bitrate would not be remiss, although I still hate the DRM so maybe I wouldn’t go for it anyway.
Hey, I’m working on a project called “My Quarter Life Crisis”, so I decided to type that into google and your site came up! For some reason a lot of the comment links aren’t working?! And why don’t you have any information about yourself :-P Well, hope you’re having a wonderful day! Just thought I’d drop you a line.
Received data seems to be invalid. The wanted file does probably not exist or the guys at last.fm changed something.