Digital Distribution

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:
Screen 2022 07 29 at 05 44 07
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.

This Happened

The post “Glorious Bench” was there and then it wasn’t. I received an email with the subject field “Mitigating a serious website hack”, but I didn’t get worried because Canton knows what he is doing. Things were done, most of which sound like magical incantations to me, the clock was turned back and I reposted the blog post. Everything should be fine, thanks to Canton.

I added some Luna Negra shows to the calendar. East Coast from 27 October to 6 November. Some favorites and a few new venues. If you are in New York, consider coming the show in Newark.

Read news about two rivers dear to me, the Rhine and the Rio Grande. Neither news was very good.

Less than a foot of water currently stands between European business as usual and a German supply chain crisis. Amid a record-breaking, continent-wide heat wave, the Rhine river has dropped to levels so low, that shipping on the waterway may soon become economically untenable or even impossible.


A stretch of the Rio Grande near Albuquerque that supplies farmers with water and a habitat for an array of aquatic life is drying — an unsettling sighting of climate change’s effects in a populous U.S. city.

Washington Post

And last, but not least… I had an idea that I am really excited about. But perhaps you will feel meh about my fabulous idea–one can never know about these things in advance. While streaming services are amazing, and I subscribe to one myself, there is no doubt that they dilute the perceived value of music. Did you know that the amount of money a streaming service has to pay for each play is set by a judge in Washington? I mean, on one hand it is pretty cool that a song by the Rolling Stones or Marvin Gaye fetches the same amount of money as a song a completely unknown person recorded on his computer, and which no one has ever bought. On the other hand this is a capitalist country and how is it possible that a judge gets to fix the price? Can you IMAGINE the judge’s inbox? They would get lobbied so hard by every streaming service and the record labels and performing rights associations. Nightmare.

Get to the point Ottmar! Yes, yes, almost there. So I was thinking about doing something radically different. So different that I don’t know of anyone who has done this. Drum roll!

What if I said that once I reach 999 subscribers to the membership club, I am currently leaning towards calling it “Backstage”, I will no longer distribute my music outside of it? No streaming services, no sales on Bandcamp, nothing! The music would only be available from Backstage. Members would be able to download high def files of the music. They would be able to burn a CD for themselves and print a PDF cover that they can also download. The music would be exclusive to Backstage and wouldn’t be available anywhere else. I know, crazy, right!?

Sugai Ken

Be Sure to Listen to This at Japanese Teatime by Sugai Ken, on Bandcamp.
Interesting music based on field recordings.
Check out the pricing!!! $12 for the CD, which includes the digital album… or $722 if you want to buy only the digital files. He writes:

The concept of this work and digital sales do not go well together. Please buy it on CD. This is the sincere wish of the label.

I checked – this album is not on Apple Music either.
I applaud him for going his own way.


Ai Weiwei unveils cage-like Arch installation in Stockholm:

Appearing to break through the steel bars that surround them, these characters represent the “free passage of all populations, and appealing for a world without borders,” said creative foundation Brilliant Minds, which organized the installation.

This is a beautiful sculpture by Ai Weiwei. The foundation Brilliant Minds was created by the man who became unfathomably rich by founding first Pirate Bay and later Spotify. Someone should put a sticker on the Arch that says paid for by musicians everywhere.

I am reading Ai’s book “1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows”. For me the book became really interesting after he arrived in New York, in February of 1981.

There were tens of thousands of artists in New York, but only a few dozen who were making money. For a certain subset, art had become a
target of speculation and just part of the race to find the next new thing.
Art had long been a consumption commodity, a decoration catering to the
tastes of the rich, and under commercial pressures it was bound
degenerate. As artworks rise in monetary value, their spiritual dimension
declines, and art is reduced to little more than an investment asset, a
financial product.


Around this same time, a couple of pictures of mine were part of a group exhibition in the East Village. When the show closed, rather than take the pictures home with me, I just chucked them into a dumpster. Dumpsters are everywhere in the streets of New York City, and you could probably find a number of masterpieces in them. I must have moved about ten times during my years in New York, and artworks were the first things I threw away. I had pride in these works, of course, but once I’d finished them, my friendship with them had ended. I didn’t owe them and they didn’t owe me, and I would have been more embarrassed to see them again than I would have been to run into an old lover. If they were not going to behanging on someone else’s wall, they didn’t count as anything at all.

I highly recommend the book.