Pieces: Where’s the CD version?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in And All Is As It Should Be, Distant Activity, General, Icarus, Lightfields, Music, Pieces, Site

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?

A fond memory
A fond memory

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.

Pieces: The audiophile master

Posted 6 CommentsPosted in Geekery, General, Pieces

Hello, and welcome to a series of articles I’m going to be writing about the creation & release of my compilation album Pieces!

Pieces Audiophile Master artwork
The audiophile master: is it right for you?
Today I’m going to talk about one of the bonus features for those who pay for the release via my Bandcamp page, and why I decided to release it in the first place. This feature is something I’ve wanted to experiment with for a little while now, and it’s called the “audiophile master”. To explain what that is, we have a bit of ground to cover first. This will serve as more of a primer for the overall concept – if you’re looking for an in-depth look at mastering and the processes involved, I would strongly suggest looking elsewhere.

So: What does the mastering process entail? Generally speaking, the mastering process is the final creative step between an otherwise completed project and the listener. As songs are recorded, produced, and mixed individually, this can result in a collection of tracks which may have some quite wild sonic variations throughout. Naturally, this would not be particularly useful for the average listener – an album should flow naturally with each track sitting comfortably alongside the next. Listeners should not have to ride the volume control while listening to an album to compensate for wild amplitude fluctuations between tracks. It is the job of the mastering engineer to take the final project mix-down, and make sure it all sounds correct as one complete work. It is also the job of the mastering engineer to get the project ready for distribution, which can involve adding ISRC codes and other meta-data to the release.

Why are there two masters in this case, then? Well, this actually goes back to the point I made above about the listener not having to ride the volume control while listening to an album. It has become common practice over the past two decades or so to raise the overall level of a project during the mastering stage, so that the final album will sound satisfyingly loud next to other commercial releases. While this sounds like a reasonable thing to do on paper, this practice involves the use of heavy compression and limiting, which will result in reduced dynamic range and, in some instances, distortion in the form of digital clipping. There is only so far you can push digital audio before this happens and, naturally, this is not a good thing. It is up to the mastering engineer to strike a fine balance between perceived loudness while preserving a project’s natural dynamic range. While a listener should not have to ride the volume control while listening to an album, there should be room for an album to ebb and flow in a satisfying manner if necessary. While listening to an individual song that is AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE might be satisfying at first, this may fatigue the listener over the length of an entire album or with repeated listens. Again, this is not a good thing. An often cited example of an overly compressed record is Metallica’s Death Magnetic. It is compressed to the point of repeated clipping, and – even to the average listener – sounds distorted throughout.

Bad master example
How not to do it.

Soooo… why are there two masters in this case, then?! See, I came across this idea last year with the release of Nine Inch Nails’ rather fantabulous album “Hesitation Marks”. They made a big deal of the fact that copies of the album purchased through the website would feature the regular version of the album, which would be compressed & limited to a commercially viable level, and an “audiophile” version of the album, which would be specifically designed for those wishing to listen in a dedicated listening environment with the dynamics preserved to a much higher standard. This sounded like a fantastic idea to me – a commercially loud master for regular listening, and a dedicated master that eased up on the compression for those who want to kick back and listen to the album in a quality listening environment.

What you’re saying is that, basically, you stole the idea then? Well… yes and no (buuuut… mostly yes!). To be honest, I wasn’t particularly satisfied with the NIN audiophile master. It sounded different, and there was definitely a bit more going on in the low-end which was a bonus, but it didn’t preserve the dynamics of the original album mix as well as I’d hoped – especially when compared to the vinyl release. There is no reason for this in my opinion. Vinyl is not a superior format in terms of potential dynamic range, but vinyl masters are often far more dynamic than their digital counterparts. This is a huge issue in my opinion, and is not something that can be solved by releasing albums at a ridiculous sample rate and high bit-depth. This is one reason why I was a bit miffed at the marketing for the Pono player, which seemed to completely skirt the real issue entirely. It is for this reason that I decided to go with a sample rate of 48khz at 24-bit for the audiophile master – the difference in dynamic range comes from the master itself, not from the distribution format.

If the audiophile version is better then, why not just release that? That is an excellent question, and there’s one big thing I want to point out here. The “regular” Pieces master is in no way compromised or inferior to the audiophile version. They are meant for different purposes. Strictly speaking, I wrote the album with the regular master in mind, and it was the first master that I heard in its entirety and was completely happy with. I would never put out a release that I felt was compromised in any way. For everyday listening, the regular master is the way to go, and I imagine it will be the version of choice for the vast majority of listeners. However, for those with a dedicated listening environment with high quality equipment, the audiophile master provides a nice alternative. When I use the word “audiophile”, I am referring to the kind of person who loves listening to albums from start-to-finish in a dedicated listening environment, and not to the kind of person who would spend hundreds of pounds on hi-fi cables because they sound “cleaner”.

Let’s get down to it then: what are the main differences between the two masters? Here goes…

  • The audiophile master is less heavily compressed & limited than the regular master. For those who like to listen out for this kind of thing, this means the audiophile master likely have a bit more of a dynamic feel to it though, having said that, the regular master was designed to have a satisfying ebb and flow to it as well.
  • The equalisation is different throughout. In the regular master, there is slightly more of an emphasis on the high-end. In the audiophile master, the extra headroom means that there is a bit of extra room for the lows and mids, and so the audiophile master capitalises on this. Which one you prefer will purely be a taste thing.
  • The audiophile master is released at a higher sample rate & bit-depth. As I mentioned above though, the difference in sound will come much more from the actual master than the distribution format. That said, I felt it made sense to release the audiophile master in a slightly higher quality format for those that want it. The regular master is released as a CD-quality master at 44khz/16-bit. The audiophile master is released at 48khz/24-bit. If you want me to release it at a higher sample rate then allow me to re-iterate what I’ve said previously – you’re going to be in for a bloody long wait!

In short: The main reason behind the existence of the Pieces audiophile master is to provide some additional choice for those who want it. When I say that “most people will prefer the regular master”, this is not a condescending or disparaging statement. Which version you prefer will likely come down to taste as much as anything, and I would much rather offer the choice to those that want it than offer a one-size-fits-all release with no alternative.

Regardless of which version you prefer, I hope you enjoy Pieces when it’s released on the 8th August!

“Pieces” – a free compilation of unreleased music to be released on 8th August

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Music, Pieces

“Pieces” is a compilation of previously unreleased works by UK-based musician & producer Adam Fielding, written & recorded during 2012-2014, and released in August 2014.

The free release of “Pieces” is available to all to download in the format of their choice.

Following directly on from both “Icarus” and his work for TV, film, and commercial use, “Pieces” is an exploration of Fielding’s eclectic range of influences and inspirations. While maintaining a consistent aesthetic throughout, “Pieces” retains an incredibly earnest and varied impression of Fielding’s writing & production styles, resulting in a collection of music that is as honest as it is diverse.

From the euphoric, post-rock tinged opening of “A Call To Action” through to the moody, introspective electronic workings of “Sleepless”, organic instrumentation combines with precise electronics to offer listeners a memorable melodic experience combined with lush atmospheric production on a truly epic scale.

Yes, on the 8th August I will be releasing a completely free collection of instrumental songs over on my Bandcamp page. The main compilation itself will be available as a Pay-What-You-Want release, and while the compilation is completely free, you will receive a couple of excellent bonuses if you decide to purchase or pre-order Pieces for £1 or more via Bandcamp. These bonuses are…

  • An extended version of Pieces containing additional ambient re-worked versions of select songs from the main release. These re-workings are similar in style to the music found on And All Is As It Should Be, and provide an interesting alternative look at some of the songs found on Pieces.
  • An “audiophile” master of Pieces. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, then it’s a similar idea to Nine Inch Nails’ Hesitation Marks audiophile release. For most people, the regular master of Pieces will be the preferred listening experience. For those with high-end equipment and a dedicated listening space, the audiophile master of Pieces may offer a preferable listen. Although the regular master is compressed to what I feel is a tasteful level, the audiophile master eases up on the compression (resulting in a less “loud” master) quite considerably, features slightly altered mixes, and has a wider perceived dynamic range across the board for those who are into that kind of thing.

I would like to re-iterate that, while these bonuses are (I hope!) kind of a cool way of saying “thank you” to anyone who chooses to support me, the main free release of Pieces was written, produced, and mastered exactly how I intended it to be heard. As such, the free version is not a compromise and is not intentionally cut-back in any way.