The Digital Future?

Will 2009 go down as the year in which film music finally rounded the corner and turned its back on the once almighty CD? For new film music, the signs certainly point in that direction.

Disney released scores from two major films—Michael Giacchino’s sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated (and possibly win) UP and Alan Silvestri’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL—as download-only releases. Yet Randy Newman’s THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG was released on CD. If rumors are to be believed, purely orchestral scores for the studio, such as Giacchino’s and Silvestri’s, will no longer be released on CD. The fact that UP is already making the rounds on a “For Your Consideration” disc for Oscar voters (with more music than was offered digitally) only makes the situation more irritating.

Carter Burwell’s score for WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE was only released digitally while Karen O’s songs for the film were released on CD. Marvin Hamlisch returned to film scoring with his critically acclaimed score for Steven Soderbergh’s THE INFORMANT!, available in the U.S. only digitally or as part of Amazon’s “CD On Demand” service. But a commercial CD is available in the U.K. through Silva Screen.

And this just skims the surface…

Milan Records has been releasing new scores digitally and now plans on re-releasing over 100 classic soundtracks only in the digital format. Lakeshore Records is converting purely to digital. Even Varese Sarabande began releasing certain new scores such as Brian Tyler’s THE KILLING ROOM as limited edition CDs or as iTunes exclusives (like Javier Navarrete’s CRANKS).

For those of us who prefer the CD format, whether for sonic reasons, for the tactile sensation and physical “permanence” (like me), or some other reason, I believe the handwriting is on the wall. A year ago I would have argued differently. But, like the publishing world, the music industry is facing some major changes, and film music probably doesn’t sell enough copies to justify weathering out that storm, if it can be weathered in the first place.

Will film music totally convert to digital? I don’t think so, at least not with older scores from FSM, Intrada, the Varese Sarabande CD Club, and others. If the only option to hear the music at all is to have a digital release, then I’ll bite the bullet and download it. But I don’t like it and the situation depresses me.

This is a conversation that has been raging for quite a while and will continue as we start the next decade. I wish it weren’t the case. But the cynic in me says otherwise.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree/disagree? Does it even matter?

  1. Everything is fine, the film music execs aren’t dumb, the score goes digital-only release only when it’s no so great and they clearly realize it won’t be a hit on a CD. Honestly, what we get in the digital-only is not a music to die for. Can you imagine a digital-only LOTR or Dark Knight score? This is stupid to release some 5000 CDs when they hardly sell to 500 people. Of course some day it happen nevertheless, but the channels almost ready for lossless distribution. We’ll miss good ol’ physical media, but nowadays a bookshelf place in a mortgaged flat is of a much more value then a CD.

    1. Hi George, thanks for commenting! I’m not sure if I agree about only the scores that are “not so great” get digital only releases. Take Disney for instance: I’d argue that Giacchino’s UP is a great score (IMO obviously). And considering Disney’s knack of marketing, you’d think they’d want every available channel for physical memories of a film.

      I think you’re right that film scores don’t sell very well most of the time. Lossless distribution would be better than what we have now. But obviously iTunes, the biggest digital distribution channel, would need to go along. Or else a lot of us would be left out in the cold. I can’t play a flac track on my iPod, so lossless in that sense is useless to me.

      Also, sometimes I prefer hearing my CD’s on my big ol’ Bose speakers as opposed to the speakers attached to my laptop.

      Oddly enough, I’ve only listened to my LOTR scores on actual CD maybe once or twice. As for Dark Knight, I only have a digital copy of that. I guess I like the option of having or hearing one or the other. But that choice seems to be shrinking.

      No matter what happens, this is a debate that has no black and white outcome. There are too many people involved and too many numerous financial issues to take into consideration. And obviously every music lover has differing opinions as well. I guess that’s why the conversation will continue… :)

  2. So we would all prefer a CD, but I bet most of us only listen to it on an iPod or similar now anyway (my iPod sounds great through the my Rotel amplifier if the track are 192kbs VBR or better) and the quality of the audio compression has come a long way (but the option of loss-less downloads would be great). For me the digital download has meant I have been able to get my hands on some great scores that I would have otherwise had to pay silly money to someone on eBay for, such as Goldsmith’s LIONHEART and HOOSIERS. In Australia we get a sorry release of film scores at inflated prices on CD. I bought Giacchino’s STAR TREK at the iTunes store because it was available there months before it was in the shops and at less than half the price, and they make us pay $15 AUD (almost $15 USD these days) for the privilege.

    1. Hi Simon. I understand about the option that digital offers when no CD is available (or prohibitively expensive). If it weren’t for iTunes and Amazon, I wouldn’t have been able to get Hamlisch’s INFORMANT this year and I would have missed out bigtime.

      Ugh, I wish I had the answers to all of this. It makes my head hurt. LOL

  3. it’s not at problem at all to convert lossless flac to ANY format – ipod, CD, DVD-A…Remember my words – if CD distribution is dead, no one will stop itunes to increase the prices, reinvent DRM etc, and I’m pretty sure this IS the digital future we get, cause film studios are also interested in Apple’s cash flow. Anyone outside itunes marketing regions will be left with underground torrents and cracked files – actually this is what we already have now. If this makes everyone happy – so be it.

    1. I agree that it’s only a matter of time before iTunes increases the prices and reinvents DRM. I think if it does go to lossless, that one item alone will be their justification for jacking up the prices. We’ll see how this plays out.

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