After my last posting about the audiophile master, it might seem a little strange to some that I’m not releasing any kind of physical version of Pieces. Surely, if there’s a version of the complete work that’s catered towards people who want to listen in a dedicated listening environment, it would make sense to put out some kind of physical release?
First up, I know there are plenty of people out there who prefer physical media over digital releases. I totally get that, especially in the case of vinyl – doubly so given that vinyl masters often offer the best way to listen to an album in an environment designed for listening. However, as I pointed out in my last post, this point in particular has nothing to do with the release medium whatsoever. I’m not a vinyl aficionado, but I still buy a lot of CDs. There’s something about the first listen ritual and checking out the artwork and any liner notes (if there are any).
Having said that, if I can’t get my hands on a CD copy of an album I particularly want, I have no qualms with downloading a digital copy… and that’s something I’ve found myself doing more and more recently. Strangely though, more than a few CD releases are comparable in price to their digital download counterparts (especially when you factor in additional costs for lossless versions – a practice I’m not particularly keen on), so for the marginal extra expense in cases like that I’m much more likely to go for a CD if possible. From a completely vain point of view, I also like to keep my music on a shelf so people can see what I’m into. To me, having that kind of thing on display is much more aesthetically pleasing than a bunch of files on my computer.
In short, I’m neither for nor against physical media at this point. Like I said, I’m not a vinyl aficionado, but if everyone were to suddenly stop selling CDs tomorrow and instead offered lossless digital versions of all of their music at a reasonable price instead, I don’t think I’d lose a whole lot of sleep.
None of this really explains why I’m not releasing a physical version of Pieces though and, predictably enough, it all comes down to numbers. Well, two sets of numbers, at least.
Firstly, I only had a pretty small run of CDs of both Distant Activity and Lightfields made in the first place. Icarus and And All Is As It Should Be were completely out of my control as both were distributed exclusively by Distinctive Records & Lost Language Recordings. I still have a few Distant Activity discs kicking about, and I have more than a few Lightfields discs still. The sales of downloads vs. CDs in the case of these two albums is incredibly one-sided in the favour of downloads, outside of pre-orders. I don’t have a huge amount of marketing clout (read: I have no marketing clout), and I have never been under any illusion that my music is going to suddenly become a cross-over best-seller. That’s not why I write music and put out albums, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be in a position where I’m able to write music and make noise for a living without being entirely dependent on album sales. CD sales have declined massively for me over the past three years or so, and now it’s at the point where I feel like getting a CD run put together would be a complete financial waste of my time. Unless there’s a sudden run on physical versions of my existing releases, I don’t see myself putting out another CD release again. Anybody who is able to read this article is probably more than likely to have a sufficient internet connection to be able to download my music. The important thing for me is to put out my music at a comparable standard of quality to a CD release wherever possible, which is why – when possible – I’ll always try to make my music available in lossless formats as well as lossy formats. The financial incentive is gone, and I’m no longer as bothered by the need to have a physical release as I once was. Been there, done that.
Secondly, there are three versions of Pieces. Which version would I even put out? I could put out a physical version of the main album itself, which would be kind of pointless as you can download it for free. I could put out a physical version of the extended edition, but then what about the audiophile version? I could include that as an extra disc, but then it’d be at a lower quality than the actual downloadable release version (the downloadable version is released as 48khz/24-bit files). And even then, why would you want an extra disc with the exact same music on it? I don’t think I’ve ever bought a double-album that featured the exact same music on both discs – I’ve bought a couple of albums with instrumental versions available on a separate disc (which is something I took on board with the digital releases of instrumental versions of Distant Activity & Lightfields, and is a trend I plan on continuing with future vocal works), but never with the exact same material on both discs. I’m sure that such a thing exists, and if anyone has come across a good example of such a release then let me know!
From the point of view of my own vanity, I’d love to keep putting out physical releases. I still remember holding my first Distant Activity CD, and holding something that I’d put so much work into in my own hands. But I’ve got to be realistic, and – especially with Pieces – I don’t think it’s the right call.
That’s my take on things. Maybe in the future I’ll think about putting out a vinyl release of my next album or whatever I do, but honestly I just don’t see it being either financially viable or practically relevant any more. If I started taking my solo music live, I’d think about it (but that’s a topic for another time). As it is, though, I’d much rather put that effort into writing music, and releasing it in a variety of formats and versions to suit the actual listening experience. There are things I can experiment with in the world of digital distribution that would be much more costly to try out with physical media, and that seems like it should take a much higher priority over my own brief personal satisfaction.