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Why Audiophile Music Doesn't Sell To The Masses

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WhyAudiophileMusicDoesntSell.gifOne of the blessings I have been given in my career was being taught how to do a truly great audiophile demo. It started in the early days of my retail career when I was a teenager working at Bryn Mawr Stereo and Sassafras Audio in the Philadelphia area. Every day that I came to work after high school, I was armed with the best classic rock, classical and jazz Compact Discs (mostly coated with green paint on the edges purportedly to reduce laser refraction) ready to play everything from And Justice For All in the car audio room to A Love Supreme or The Firebird Suite in the audiophile room. I was prepared.

Most audio stores use audiophile records to demo the potential of an AV system. These discs and today's downloads are recorded fantastically and they clearly highlight what a system is capable of doing. From the days of Jazz at the Pawnshop to Fourplay to Reference Recordings to any number of surround sound recordings from DTS Entertainment to Chesky Records - they all sound great, complete with airy highs, taut powerful bass and punchy midrange. Speakers never sounded better. Surround sound has never been explained to consumers more clearly. And ... regular people never buy these records.

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Traditionally, Audiophile records, be they on vinyl, Compact Disc, SACD, Blu-ray or by download, do well if they sell between 3,000 and 4,000 albums total - not per media. More mainstream surround sound remixes like Queen's A Night at The Opera have sold in the neighborhood of 30,000 records total on DVD-Audio complete with a stereo and 5.1 mix. The fact is audiophile music doesn't really sell that well to mainstream consumers.

Five Reasons Why Audiophile Music Doesn't Sell

1. Songwriting: Audiophile music sounds fantastic. Nobody argues with that; however the songwriting can be either too personal, too noodly (self indulgent) or just out of date with the current musical trends. Mainstream consumers need music that they can sink their teeth into. Cover songs were good enough for Jimi Hendrix and Van Halen as they were coming up in the world of popular music so they should be good enough for audiophile-based artists too.

2. Technology: Audiophile music is often sold using the most cutting edge recording techniques on the most high resolution audio format of the day, ranging from gold CDs (from the old days) to SACD to DVD-Audio to Blu-ray and even 24/192 downloadable files. The problem is: how do large audiences of people buy into many of these formats and get their full potential? Everyone today knows how to download a song from iTunes but they tend to sound no better than a 25 year old Compact Disc at best. Getting 24/192 audio into your system is a much trickier maneuver and most consumers will take convenience over performance.

3. Little To No Star Power: Audiophile recordings rarely include star performers, like when Sting appears on "Money For Nothing." Simply put - the budget isn't there for such showmanship, but it sure helps sales. While Hip Hop isn't an audiophile genre, the rap and R&B world is all about the all-star drop by. I wonder out loud if John Mayer or Lenny Kravitz or Winton Marsalis were hired to sit in on a track, whether new audiences would get hip to cutting edge audiophile music in volumes of people larger than the readership of The Absolute Sound, Stereophile or even our own HomeTheaterReview.com.

See the other reasons and more on Page 2.

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