5 September 02004

Cues for learning about and discovering new music

Imagine someone who's interested in jazz and has heard a little bit about Miles Davis's reputation. A bit of web searching may give you an overview of Miles' extensive career, such as this brief overview or this more extensive review. But if you go to Amazon.co.uk and search on "Miles Davis" you get 872 results. The iTunes Music Store (in UK) has a Miles Davis selection comprising 863 songs from among 62 albums, with a strong emphasis on selections from posthumous collections rather than the original albums.

There's a meticulously researched article by Wayne Bremser that highlights one-by-one the differences between the contextual information that is available about albums on iTunes compared with the original vinyl releases.

This analysis shows, among other things, how old record labels could provide a richer more varied set of information about album contents than the standardised-across-all-genres iTunes approach. Bremser argues that data that might seem almost trivial for some music — such as the date of release of an album — can be extremely important in placing a jazz album in the context of a career or style of playing. The iTunes Music Store shows Bitches Brew as being released in 1999 (which refers to the date of the issue on CD of this particular version) instead of 1969 (when the album was first released). This could confuse our apprentice jazz fan who has read that Miles's 'fusion' period ran from 1969-1975. And this problem is further compounded by iTunes emphasis on posthumous compilation albums, which lack the sleeve notes that fans could browse in a shop before buying.

The iTunes Music Store has a long way to go before it can provide a sophisticated 'user experience' that does justice to the full catalogue if items that it offers. But before they develop that they might want to find a proper solution to pricing for albums that have long tracks. It looks as though they have applied a crude formula to scale up from their normal £0.79 per 4-minute track to arrive at a price of £39.96 for Bitches Brew with its 7 tracks lasting 106 minutes. To buy the same material on CD costs £9-10.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Curatorial, Future of Music, Music and Multimedia on 5 September 02004 | TrackBack
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