"Digital music downloads benefit niche markets"

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review recognizes Play MPE™ as a leader in digital music downloading in an article about how digital downloading is allowing smaller artists a chance to reach new fans. original link

Digital music downloads benefit niche markets
(Pittsburgh Tribune Review) - September 30, 2007 -- Bob Karlovits -- Music downloading is giving musicians another batch of skills to master.
The digital music evolution is changing seemingly by the day. It is creating a world where music fans get the sounds they want immediately. There's no need to go to a store or place an order in the mail.

It's a world with companies such as Atlanta's Blue Canoe, which distributes all of its releases online, but will provide a CD if it's really necessary. Or there is the service provided by Play MPE, a Canada-based company that provides new releases online to reviewers, radio stations and other media outlets.
It's a changing world.

That is particularly so in the world of jazz and serious concert music, which have been languishing with tiny record sales to their niche audiences.

Sean Jones, the trumpeter who is cutting a swath through the jazz world while teaching at Duquesne University, sees "nothing but benefits."

He sees information spreading quickly on the Internet and the ease of downloads providing interest and sales.

Newsweek recently reported classical music sales grew by 22 percent in 2006 because of digital downloads. Of course, it must be remembered that growth is of a market share that is less than 5 percent of the total.

Denis Colwell, music director of the River City Brass Band, calls the old recording system based on CD manufacture and sales "obsolete."

He is trying to find a way to offer recordings of the band's concerts online. Also offered would be more adventurous works that wouldn't be greatly marketable on a CD.

The selectivity of downloads would let a brass-band junkie get the works the less-dedicated fan would pass up.

It is, however, not without its drawbacks. Information about downloaded material often is scant, making music more of a consumer commodity than it already tends to be is in this society. A listener doesn't know about performers other than the headliner or about composers or arrangers. And that information is the kind of materia music addicts crave.
Trumpeter Jones admits that is a problem. For instance, if you don't know Carolyn Perteete is singing on his latest album, "Kaleidoscope," you have missed a big bit of information.

He is hopeful though.

"The folk at Apple are pretty hip," he says of the provider of iTunes. "And if they are as hip as I think they are, they will find out a way to give us that."

There are other problems.

Bob Mintzer, the hard-working saxophone-bass clarinet star from New York City, has some great albums from the '90s on an audiophile label that will not allow them to be downloaded.

Hence, some wonderful material is unavailable online.

He also sees a harm in the selectivity that is a big part of downloading. It creates a short attention span that crushes album sales, he says. Fewer and fewer listeners are interested in a whole album when they can buy a single for 99 cents from iTunes.

In the first quarter of this year, Nielsen Soundscan reported album downloads down from 112 million to 99 million while singles rose to 288 million from 242 million.

Trumpeter Jones is not bothered by that. He admits downloading hurts "concept albums," where the selections and their order of play are important. In those cases. he says, the artist has to insist the album be bought in its entirety.

That is a strategy that is not uncommon.

Mintzer agrees, but sounds worn and harried when he discusses the issue. It is just something else with which an artist must be familiar, he says with a sigh.

Someday in the future, all of this is going to seem like an everyday part of musical life. Right now, though, it sometimes seems as odd as learning a new instrument.

Keith Loh