This is a true tale about music distribution, help desks, upload limits, and file quality, with a happy ending.
Last week, in Lisbon, I wanted to upload the next single for digital distribution. The upload was ended by the warning File size limit 100MB. This was odd, I thought, because just last month I had uploaded Saudade, which was a little over 100MB in size. I sent a note to the help desk asking whether the 100MB was a newly imposed limit and wouldn’t 150 or even 200MB be a more reasonable limit in order to encourage high quality files. A couple of days later I received this reply:
We strongly recommend uploading 16-bit, 44.1kHz stereo .wav files, as this is the distribution standard across streaming and download platforms. Please note that if you upload .flac, .mp3, or .m4a files, we will convert them to 16-bit stereo .wav files to meet requirements, which may have an impact on sound quality.
Strange, I was pretty sure Apple Music claimed that “Saudade” was Hi Res… I checked and found this:
I had uploaded a 24/88.2 FLAC file which Apple Music converted to their proprietary ALAC format. That was to be expected and it was still 24/88.2!!Good.
It occurred to me that United Masters might have, with one fell swoop, not only limited uploads to 100MB but also limited distribution to only 16/44.1. This didn’t sit well with me because Tidal subscribers want to get hi res files… that’s why they pay a higher subscription rate. I would want them to get the highest possible quality.
When I thought about this some more, I decided maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if streaming was limited to 16/44.1 because it meant that in order to play higher quality files one would have to buy the album on Bandcamp. Modern music distribution is complicated, which is why I came up with the crazy idea to make music valuable and somewhat exclusive again by ONLY delivering it to members of my Backstage subscription. (Link to that post)
Meanwhile I received another email in response to my request for clarity:
Please note that we are not delivering your files as described above. Apple Music is working through the content that is available on their platform and converting them to ‘Lossless’.
Our product team is always making updates to better suit the files/content we receive, however, at this time, we advise uploading 16-bit, 44.1kHz stereo .wav files, since it’s the distribution standard. That said if you upload .flac, .mp3, or .m4a files, we will convert them to 16-bit stereo .wav files to meet requirements
Our platform is mostly geared towards Rap/Hip-Hop artists rather then Jazz musicians, therefore, these are the guidelines we are asking artists to follow at this time. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.
Wow, this was getting even stranger. It sounded as if they had never accepted hi-res files, never distributed them, and that Apple Music hadn’t used them. We are geared towards Rap and Hip Hop rather than Jazz musicians. Well, Hip Hop is a lot more popular than Jazz… but Jazz, or World, or Classical music can have a longer shelf life…
I asked whether these were new requirements that were put in place within the last few weeks. And then I received a reply from another person, who clearly know more:
I checked our delivery platform and, as you say, the audio file that was delivered to music services for your most recent release, “Saudade (Bare Version)”, was 24 bit/88.2 kHz (and it looks like it was a little more than 100 MB in size).
That is correct.
My understanding from our engineering team is that they did impose a 100 MB limit on audio file uploads, but this doesn’t mean that anything was automatically downscaled, just that users who tried to upload a file greater than 100 MB in size got an error message (as you did).
And we asked the engineering team to bump that limit up to 150 MB, so you should no longer be having an issue uploading a file up to that size
Nice. 150MB will work for nearly all individual song files.
Re: the standard recommendation to upload 16 bit/44.1kHz files – that is actually meant for users who are trying to upload files with quality that is too low (which is much, much more common than users uploading files with quality that is too high), so apologies for any confusion there.
Ah, the first help desk person was probably following a script and didn’t actually know much about the workings. That happens.
Today I uploaded the next single and had no problems. Release date is 26 August.