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.
>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.
What a bizarre thing to tell a client: the CODEC neither “knows” nor “cares” what genre the music is.
Sampling is sampling, and as long as the Nyquist requirement is met for frequency response purposes, who cares what the genre is?
BTW … the upper bound for lossless music on Apple Music is 24-bit at 192 kHz .
 c.f., https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2021/05/apple-music-announces-spatial-audio-and-lossless-audio/
Like I wrote, I think the first person had a script and didn’t really know anything. That’s why the second person’s response was so different. They actually knew what was going on.
I am of two minds regarding the new high quality streaming/downloading from Apple Music, and other platforms. On one hand I am enjoying the quality for my own listening to music. But, on the other hand, it’s not like they are paying us more for these higher quality files. So basically the streaming services will kill the vendors that sell hi res music files. Suddenly these vendors, like HDtracks.com for example, have nothing better to offer than the streaming services. And these vendors have been the ones who have established a high def market for music.
See, it’s very complicated. It’s why like the idea of making my music exclusive. It becomes special. It’s not available everywhere and anywhere. You won’t hear it in the supermarket and at the gas station, or on hold with your airline.
Well, I can’t argue. The fact that music is now “just another file” on someone’s computing device (in my opinion) has greatly contributed to it being devalued and overlooked as art. I’m guilty of it myself. I have 16000+ songs on a 512GiB iPhone XS. I have the perception that having the 180g vinyl versions of “HeadHunters” and “Thrust” by Herbie Hancock is/was more valuable to me than having high-def digital versions sitting on my XS (along with the all the other recordings he made in the 1960s and 1970s). It’s just SSD space.
(Full disclosure … I really don’t know enough about the current state of the music business as a business to really do much more than engage in spitballin’ here … I stopped playing as a touring musician in 1982, and haven’t played any gigs (is that word still used?) apart from the town(s) I live in for the past four decades)
Scarcity *does* create economic value though, and maybe if your music weren’t available anywhere else, it would be … virtually by definition … extremely special. I kind of feel like you should try it and if you don’t like how it turns out, you can revert. At least, that’s my (naïve) opinion. Has anyone else done this? Conceptually it seems pretty dang cool. But then, you might inadvertently be creating a bootleg market.
I do seem to recall back in the 90’s, Pearl Jam was releasing exclusive recordings of performances for those who attended and requested a copy by paying for it at a “merch table” located in the venue. These recordings weren’t available anywhere else at the time. I don’t know if they still do that or how it worked out logistically/economically. (By now, I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if those recordings didn’t end up being traded on etree.org)
But Ottmar, something hits me the wrong way about making your music exclusive. Your wonderful, unique sound should be available everywhere. It is always very special. Don’t you want to keep expanding your fan base?
I have more than thirty album out in the world. One of them is the best selling acoustic guitar album of all time. I care about depth, not width. I want my music to mean something and if that means a much smaller base, then I am fine with that. I am getting to the point in my life, and this speaks to Anne’s point about promoting myself, where I won’t jump through hoops. I am not going to run around promoting myself or aim for fan base expansion or fame. I am too old to care about that. I have something I want to share. The ones who care about that can find me.
I’m not surprised by your reply, Ottmar. Actually, I know there is little value in fame, and I’m ashamed to suggest you should go for it. You are famous, and more than famous. I love that you want to share your talent, and I’m so glad I found you. I never saw a promotion about you. In 1991, I was shopping at a record store in San Francisco and saw the “Nouveau Flamenco” CD. Never having heard of you, I was attracted to the album name and to your name “Ottmar Liebert,” as I flipped through the stacks of CD’s. The song “Barcelona Nights” completely charmed my heart and soul. I listened to that CD constantly and fell deeper and deeper in love with all the songs. “Santa Fe” was another magical piece, especially since I have loved that town all my life. When I finally found your Diary a few years ago, I saw that you are a wonderful man of many dimensions.
I thought I had discovered my niche in New York, working for Columbia Artists Management. I was valued there for my in-depth knowledge of classical music and musicians. The musical artists and conductors gave me a lot of positive feedback, but it was a tough existence to work with the agents. Even with a career in store for me there, I did not want to live among that type of superficial folk. I probably should have stuck with it, but I was too tender. So I’m glad you know yourself and stay where you really want to be.
Beautiful photo…. looks like a painting
Whatever you decide to do,… need to market/promote yourself.
imo- You are more than a musician/artist.
Ask yourself some tough questions . Have you ever considered other options. Are you willing to consider other options?
You have decades of industry knowledge – that is worth something!
Look closely at your current networks – and then consider their networks .Is there anyone you would consider aligning yourself with?
Thank you Anne. Glad you like the image. I thought it fit the title perfectly.
Thanks for your tips, but I frankly don’t care about that. I just want to pursue music and photography and writing. Let the results speak for themselves. There is plenty of advertising and promoting and chest pounding out there. I don’t want to add to it.
It is – just perfect.
Doing it your own way is the only way.