Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Race to the lossy MP3 Bottom - Let us remember good old HMV Mid City and the treasured CD Single

The submission processes for getting 2PR FM licensed is in full swing, and generally at the moment, I'm feeling good.  It seems finally after all these years; we're getting to the business end of submitting for a license.  Today I went to Office-work's Clarence Street shop to get another few copies printed.  This is for the heads at the Department of Broadband and Communications.  But as I had to wait a few hours for the jobs, I decided to take a walk around what I could say was my favourite haunt of many years ago - Pitt Street Mall.  Perhaps I could describe this more aptly as a walk down memory lane. 

Though the changes have happened already over the years, it finally hit me right in the face today.  The race to the bottom that started around 2000 has now pretty much materialised in its fully ugly way.  Hell, it was just all around me, and I had that awful gut feeling. 

(below: video of hmv store from april 2009)

 (above: view of HMV Mid City from April 2009)

I came to the very front of the "Mid City Centre", the very front where good old "HMV Mid City" used to be, the very shop I lived in during the 1990s.   I stared at the escalators, the ones that went down right into the front of HMV, and lamented the loss of what was an excellent store.  Presently they are a number of clothing retailers, taking the same floor space as the once mighty megastore.

For a moment, I got very sentimental of my trips down there during the 1990s, when I used to live up in Leura in the Blue Mountains.  This was during the period of my volunteer broadcasting work in community radio.  It was the time of "More Great Music" and the "Weekly Top 40 Show", hell, that's a life time ago, and hey, I'm talking nineties here.   I never would of thought that I would get so sentimental about that decade, particularly as I'm an 80s music lover.

What really hit home was an over-blistering urge to go down that escalator and have a quick talk to Shareen, the lovely lady that used to work behind the CD Singles counter.  She was always so friendly, so much to the point that I sent a letter of congrats to HMV's head office at the time, BUT IT WASN"T JUST THAT....

It was the entire way I enjoyed music back then.   I would religiously watch Video Hits every week, because it was the only show that aired all the new music releases.  I would then list down all the new tracks that I liked.  When HMV day came, which was about every ten odd days or so, I would give my list to Shareen, and like magic, she would get most of the CD Singles out.  Yes, the magic words, CD SINGLES.  Oh how I miss the CD single.  There is nothing like buying that piece of plastic that has a recording on it, direct from the master tape.

And, there you have it, the magic four musical pillars of the industry,

1. VIDEO HITS, the joy of previewing new music.
2. HMV MID CITY, the thrill of walking into a huge music store.
3. THE CD SINGLE, the vary medium carrying the master recording.
4. THE STORE PERSON THAT KNEW ME, the reality of being able to talk to a cheerful person, rather then clicking on some stone cold website.  

To many, these things may not mean much, hence the reason why they've all have disappeared in one form or another.  As a huge music lover, and particularly in its hard-copy form, I have found these changes somewhat very difficult to embrace.  With Sanity buying out the Australian arm of HMV, HMV's Mid City store was closed down on Friday 31st August 2007.  I painfully remember it well.  I bought Michael Bolton's 1988 album "The Hunger" on the day, it was marked down from $18.99 to $7.99.  Going up to the counter and paying for it - I felt that my stomach was about to fall out.  I couldn't believe my favourite place was about to close down for good.  Though Shareen was long gone, the lady behind the counter was also friendly (and pretty looking).  It was almost like I had a marriage to this store; it was a fantastic place to shop. 

The next big low came when all the record companies started phasing out CD singles; generally speaking this was about 2008 to 2010.  I noticed buying these things already became demonstrably difficult around the middle part of 2009, but I wouldn't be able to put an exact date on it.  I just know it has been impossible to buy these things from about 2010 onwards.  I think the last CD Single I ever bought was Kid Rock's "All summer long" which was a number 1 hit in October 2008. 

So I've read about it, heard it from my friends, and seen them disappear from the stores, so to make a final confirmation that they were gone for good, I gave Universal Music Australia a call this morning.  The gloomy sounds of the sales lady indeed did confirm my thoughts.  With that, the hard reality had materialised that new music singles are only available now as lossy MP3's.  Yes, I felt giddy.

And for knocking the final nail into the good old way new music used to be enjoyed, was the restructure of Channel 10.  Immediately this was followed by the axing of Video Hits.  From this point, the last impartial refuge for new music was obliterated; the last episode of Video Hits went to air in early August 2011.  Though I would have to say to a degree, much of the music of today is rubbish, it was thanks to this program I was able to choose the good stuff from the bad.  Again, this was the end to another long and happy marriage.  Though today they are hundreds of new music radio channels on the internet, none would have the same resources, and unbiased track selecting as Video Hits.  The program was able to present new music from all genres, such as dance, pop, rock, country, trance, ballads, R&B, Chill-Out, and etc, without being boring - Video Hits, you had the perfect new music mix. 

And for Shareen, I did make an enquiry to Sanity music if they could send my details through.  I would have liked to have tracked her down, and have a bit of a lunch, just to catch up on old times.  Predictably they sent me back a single line e-mail noting their confidentiality policy.  I placed HMV Mid City and Shareen through some search engines; I thought maybe they could have been a linked-in profile, but absolutely nothing.  My final attempt will be a call out on face book.  Maybe one day she might read this and drop a line.  

To finish off, the thing I really miss, and truly like a fantastic time, was browsing HMV Mid City's huge walls of CD Singles.  The section they had devoted to CD Singles was about the size of an average size store in a Westfield shopping town.

But back to reality, I know that HMV's huge stores meant a large foot-print, meaning huge rents and overheads.  With the majority of people now preferring horrible sounding MP3's over the good sound quality of CD Singles, it's regretful to say that this was a magic time that will never happen again.  Market forces and changes in technologies have guaranteed this. 

Also on a bit of a sad note, Blacktown Discount Records, a store that truly was vinyl 45s heaven also closed its doors.  This store at an estimate always carried about 500,000 vinyl singles; it was just awesome to walk in there.  As I heard this second hand, I suspect it closed down between June and September 2011.  Though it was a second hand music shop, most of their vinyl 45's were in great condition.  With much 80s stuff that has not been put to CD, or has been mastered poorly, It's often better to buy the original vinyl and do my own mastering.   We are now left to rely on the overzealous condition descriptions, those eBay sellers like to give for their merchandise.  Nothing beats going into the physical store, and checking the condition for ones self - the eyes don't lie. 

The real horror are those who will tell you that MP3 "is" the format, and will condescendingly drill down your throat how big WAV and FLAC files are.  This is what it has come to; the quality of music is now judged on how small the digital file is, we don't want to take up too much bandwidth.  Though it might cost more to host a lossless file, I would honestly have no problem paying more for a clean replication of the master tape.  This would be over the nasty cheap sound of an mp3, and yes, I'm also talking AAC+ and Ogg Vorbis, all lossy formats are rubbish...... END OF ARGUMENT. 

With all this in mind, it's here I say "Ode to the wonderful HMV Mid City" and CD Single format, you were a wonderful part of my DeeJaying and music collecting life.   The race to the bottom has truly been won, with the digital music player, and MP3s being the winners.  Sadly the Music MegaStores and CD Singles in the end were the unfortunate losers.   For me, the digital age is one to commiserate.  Please record companies; bring back the physical CD Single, my far gone long lost friend!

As a final send off, here is an article from the Sunday Telegraph from Sunday 5th August 2007.  It appears on Page 24.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The door opens, and there's an interesting light coming through.

MOOD:  Excited

My submission for 2PR FM is all finished, with final copies coming off the printing press this morning.  After seven years of research and work, it has all come together, and somehow it feels like a lifetime, since I started typing up those first pages back in December 2005, and then loosing them in a hard-drive crash in April 2006.  It was back at it again  in 2007, and particularly so in late 2008 when it seemed after all that fame on rockwiz and my documentary, that I was not going to find paid work.  

Rather then feeling bad about it, I knew what had to be done.  With that in mind, I completely concentrated my efforts on submitting for a new FM broadcast license, perhaps the most difficult thing I've taken on in my life.  

500 pages later, the hot copies came off the press at Office works Clarence Street Sydney this afternoon, and it was a long, long, long walk down Harris Street to the office of ACMA for dropping it off.  I thought I may be lucky and get a meeting with the Chairman, as the staff was giving that impression, but then on the other hand I could have just been past the buck onto another government agency.

What I did get though was a very short, but interesting conversation with the Chairman’s secretary.  I asked her straight out, who is responsible for implementing new types of licenses?  I thought it was a political thing, and had to be done through Senator Conroy, and a change of law through parliament.  Surprisingly I learned that it is a departmental thing they can do, without the need of any politicians.  You can imagine the shear excitement that went through me, doing something without the need of dealing with dead-beat pollies was a welcome thought.  I was on my way back home, walking all the way across Pyrmont Bridge with a smile on my face, now excited that I had some new contacts to deal with.  The important thing is that no one has even hinted that I'm asking for too much, and it looks like they're taking my efforts seriously which is a very good start.    In simple english, the door is open, and there is light coming through of an interesting kind, let's see where it all leads of to.