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Weekly AUDIO NEWS for May 28, 2003

Apple Becomes World’s Biggest Online Music Firm - At the end of its very first week of operation the new Apple iTunes Music Store sold over one million selections. Over half were purchased as complete albums, which alleviated concerns that selling music on a 99-cent-per-track basis would kill album sales. The iTunes Music Store opened with 200,000 separate songs and over half of them were purchased at least once during the week. Apple’s new free iTunes 4 software has been downloaded over a million times and over 110 thousand orders have already been received for the latest version of their iPod portable storage device. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said they have “...the first complete solution for the digital music age - you can purchase your favorite music online at the iTunes Music Store, mix your favorite tracks into playlists with iTunes, and take your entire collection with you everywhere with ... iPods.” Shoppers at the online store get 30-second previews of tracks that might interest them, and they are allowed to burn an unlimited number of CD-Rs for personal use from any tracks they purchase. The compression algorithim is not MP3 but the much better-sounding AAC format. Users can also play the music on up to three computers, there are no monthly subscription fees, and the entire process has been approved by the Record Industry of America! This is an amazing coup that promises to solve all the music rights/digital downloading/litigation hassles that have occurred since Napster and its ilk first came into the public spotlight. And so far it’s only for us 7% Mac users - ha, ha. (Apple hopes to extend the service to Windows users by the end of the year.)

Major Record Labels Ax Famous Artists - The Christian Science Monitor just published an article titled “Who Killed Classical CDs?” which continues the warnings of writers such as Norman Lebrecht - the author of the book Who Killed Classical Music? Recently things have gotten even worse, with major labels giving up on classical music, dropping their longtime contracts with some of the top names in the business. Philips Records abandoned conductor Bernard Haitink who had recorded for them for 40 years and was almost finished with a new cycle of the Mahler symphonies. Philips also dropped both Andre Previn and early-music maven Frans Bruggen. Deutsche Grammophon had publicized a new series of all the Bach cantatas on 59 CDs with John Eliot Gardiner but now announced they will only release 12. EMI Classics said they will no longer record in the U.S. because expenses are too great. In response some orchestras have started their own labels.

Conductor Charles Mackerras points out that in previous years it was understood that the big sales of classical discs such as Pavarotti’s or even pop artists would cover the costs of recording and issuing worthwhile classical titles that sold less well. But now the bean counters are in control due to present economic straits, and they have decreed that every single disc must be profitable or forget it. Major label big studio recordings need to sell around 50,000 copies to break even and some classical titles sell only a few hundred. Perhaps Apple’s iTunes Music Store could help!

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