google play

Releasing a Soundtrack Album

This is a small frustration, and quite possibly it’s specific to me, but why are record labels so tardy in releasing soundtrack albums.

Everyone knows that for most films, the opening weekend is key. The largest number of people tend to see a film on its opening weekend, and in many instances, the film gets its widest distribution that weekend too. If you’re lucky the film grows, and perhaps opens on more screens subsequently, but you at least plan for the opening and take it from there.

So you’ve been to see a film, and you want to buy some merchandise. How are companies set up? Well if the film you saw was a Marvel film, a James Bond film or a Disney film, then you can bet your bottom dollar that product is sitting on the shelves already. You couldn’t move without seeing Minions this summer.

But what about if you’ve seen an indie film and liked the soundtrack. Well you know from the start that this might be trickier. Are they actually releasing a soundtrack album at all? There are costs, and they include licencing music for “sync” in the first place. There’s extra to place it on the soundtrack.

In a vinyl/CD world, this sort of made sense. You had to speculate to accumulate. You put the album out there and hoped it would sell. That’s why it’s only much later that many films got their soundtrack album. There was a measurable demand and now was the time to meet it.

But we live in a world of instant gratification.

I remember years ago having come out of a cinema and headed straight for the late-opening record shop nearby to pick up a copy of the film’s soundtrack on CD. I got the shop’s only copy. As I reached the counter to pay, the man ahead was in conversation with an assistant. She was busily tapping away on the keyboard: “Well it definitely says we have one copy in stock. Perhaps it’s not been shelved in the right place.” She headed off with him to look. I guiltily bought said single copy from another assistant and left the shop.

Today, I can whip out my phone as I leave the cinema, check online music stores, buy the album (or listen as part of a subscription if you must), and have it playing in my headphones as I head home.

Except, it doesn’t always work like that.

Case in point: the Mistress America soundtrack.

I loved the film, and wanted to hear more. Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips composed the music, and they have a fanbase. On top of that, the film also features a few licenced songs, notably Souvenir by OMD.

Here’s what I did about getting the soundtrack.

  • First of all establish whether there is a soundtrack album in existence? There is.It’s out, and available at least on US download sites.
  • OK – try Google Play. It’s the easiest option on an Android phone. No dice. OK, I’m not necessarily surprised because Google Play does seem to be a bit slow with some major albums.
  • Let’s try Amazon. They had one copy on an import CD priced at £15.17. But it wasn’t an AutoRip CD. So even if I paid that money, I wouldn’t get the instant gratification. That single copy sold pretty quickly incidentally. At time of writing they’re out of stock.
  • Go home and try iTunes. At the end of the day, if you’re releasing your album digitally, you have to have it on iTunes. It’s not easily searchable on an Android phone, so I used a PC at home with iTunes. No luck. The album’s not there.
  • I wonder if I can buy the album from Amazon.com where it’s $9.49? While my account works, it doesn’t let me buy a download with a UK credit card.
  • Clutching at straws now. I wonder if I can buy myself an Amazon.com gift card for $9.50? I can. And now can I use that voucher to download the album? I cannot. I now have $9.50 on my US account. How useful.

And that’s your lot. It’s a North America only release, seemingly, despite the film being released simultaneously in the US and UK. I can’t think of another outlet that will sell me a download version without having either regional difficulties or a worse selection of music than the big players. I could visit an actual record shop, but they are few and far between, and the range isn’t what it once was. Will they carry an import only CD? So it’s probably an import CD from Amazon when they have stock, or maybe the label might want to release the soundtrack in the UK. The digital-only cost is surely negligible?

And if you make it really hard, there are always the not-so-legal routes to get an album.

[Update] I note that the album is on Spotify. But… I can only stream three tracks from it – notably previously released tracks that are on other albums including the aforementioned Souvenir. My quest continues.

Note: All prices and availabilities (or lack there of) based on the time of writing, which is right after the film’s opening weekend.

19,013 Songs

19000

That is what it says on my Google Play Music account. 19,013 songs.

Look, I realise that all the cool kids are renting their music on Spotify. It might not actually make any money, but it’s so much more convenient paying £10 a month and having access to all your music. Except when the album you want isn’t on it yet. Or the album you listened to yesterday isn’t on there today.

I may be old fashioned, but owning your own music gets around such issues. Plus there are high-tech solutions to give a Spotify-type experience and access to my music.

Which brings me to Google Play Music.

I think it’s a great service. I signed up before you could even get it in the UK (which led to issues over what I could buy for a while later, but they’ve all been sorted). You upload your music – or Google matches your local music to save uploading times. And then it’s safely stored and can later be downloaded. Plus, you listen on your IP connected devices including laptops, tablets and phones.

Pretty much all my music listening comes via Google Play Music now. The mobile app has an offline mode for all those times when you either don’t want to be streaming on your mobile data plan, or are simply out of service (e.g. the underground).

Certainly, its “Instant Mixes” could be better. And it’s not as good as Apple’s iTunes at finding album art, although iTunes is pretty ropey itself unless you’ve given it precisely the right wording in its various fields. Google is working at trying to improve this. They bought Songza and have apparently rolled out mood and activity playlists (except if they have, I’m either being very stupid in not finding it, or it’s more for those who rent their music via Google’s subscription service a la Spotify).

But it’s pretty good. With one big proviso.

There’s a 20,000 song limit.

Now I’m not sure if that’s an agreement that Google came to with the music companies (who really seem to object to people safely storing the music that they themselves bought); or whether that’s a Google imposed limit based on average usage etc. But I’m getting close to the 20,000 limit.

If there are an average of 12 tracks an album (I’ve no idea if that’s true), then I am 82 albums away from filling up my allocation. What then?

I think I’m probably going to hit that mark in the next couple of years!

You will also note that it says I have 70 days’ worth of music among those 19,013 songs. Why on earth do I want more? I can’t possibly listen to everything I’ve already got.

Well that’s true. But one way or another, I’ve accumulated a lot of music – legally – over time.

How?

– I bought magazines, like The Word, that came with monthly cover mounts (and then I’d sometimes buy the albums of artists featured on those cover mounts);
– I’ve bought BBC Music Magazine for many years and that keeps coming with CDs;
– I once subscribed to one of those part-works on jazz, leading to me owning many many CDs of jazz;
– I worked at a commercial radio station that in the late nineties was positively awash with CDs (it tends to be more about downloads now, and I was never really on the list for them);

What you also need to know is that 19,013 songs doesn’t represent my complete CD collection. There are many more CDs still sitting in boxes that have yet to be ripped. These include many of the CDs listed above. Notwithstanding the time-spent-ripping issues, I’d obviously fill my Google Music allocation instantly.

Songs bought on Google Play don’t count towards the total. But I would never want to limit my buying options to one store or vendor.

Now despite loathing iTunes as much as I do (hideous new look in the latest version incidentally, making it ever harder to navigate your music), I do keep all my music locally in an iTunes library stored on a NAS drive. And iTunes has no upper limit. So there is that.

This is all a long way around of asking: if Google is unwilling or unable to up its 20,000 song limit, and I want to Google Play Music functionality, where can I go?

Is there a paid for service that allows me something like this?

Amazon allows you to store 250,000 songs for £21.99 a year. That might be worth experimenting with. Songs bought on Amazon don’t count towards the total either. I’m unsure what Amazon’s player’s functionality is like. But the massively increased size makes it something to seriously consider if Google doesn’t up its limits. And it might get me into a better regime of digitising my life (Currently: photos, CDs, video and magazine articles).

Incidentally, this is all why I was also terribly sad to see the end of the iPod Classic – aka the iPod. I still have a 140GB model. I may not use it very often today, and I was already having to make hard choices over how I filled the device (there are podcasts to consider too!). But roll on somebody making affordable devices that can use dual SD or microSD cards that I can load up with 128GB or 256GB cards with.

The future is always just around the corner…

[Update – February 2015: Well Google must have listened to me! Yes – I’m sure that was it. They’ve just upped the limit on music from 20,000 to 50,000 songs! I reckon that I’m safe for at least another ten years or so. And no need to switch to anyone else just yet.]