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.
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 Nobody argues with that; however the songwriting can be either too personal, too noodly (self indulgent) or just out of date with the current musical trends.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.
Should audiophile labels give up? Hell no. But they need to stay focused on what they do well and stick with that. If an audiophile label has a sultry female vocalist - record her doing half of her next album doing familiar tunes with the tightest studio musicians the label can afford. With the major labels sucking economic wind like never before - the days of $250,000 fees for top records for an audiophile release may be numbered. Find an investor and offer to spend $1,000,000 for 10 top selling records and do a killer, over-the-top job remastering them for Blu-ray and sell them to every person with an AV preamp and a $149 Blu-ray player. Nearly 30 percent of the American audience has the player. The right record could become a hit. It's important to note that there should be options on other catalog titles too. YES fans loved Fragile on DVD-Audio in 5.1 audio but never got Closer To The Edge at the same level of audiophile bliss. Dark Side of the Moon on SACD cost Sony a fortune to release on a hybrid disc but where were Animals, Wish You Were Here? and The Wall? They were never released. Be prepared for your success.
Everyone with a performance-based music or 7.1 home theater system should own a few key audiophile discs. My demo pile includes imported 24/192 audiophile jazz DVD-Audio discs, heavy metal from Audioslave on 20 bit DualDisc, pure DSD SACDs, 5.1 DVD-Audio discs and even HD downloads. Blu-ray is likely the best format for audiophile music, but so little is offered in that format at this point. 2L Records from Norway has some cool tracks but it's pure audiophile material. The likes of AIX and Chesky Records offer titles that you need for your collection. They need your support as they are as much involved in advancing technology as they are in selling musical stories. Could they do better with the way they develop, produce and sell their music? Absolutely, yes. Can you find better examples of music to make your AV system perform it its best? I suggest - no.