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Friday 12 October 2007

Misled on In Rainbows - the Radiohead MP3 rip off? [Am]

Well for the first time ever, I'm pretty damned dillusioned with Radiohead. As we covered extensively in the previous blog, there is plenty odd with the sound on In Rainbows. However I make no apology for starting a fresh blog here (the other got a bit techy) because this morning it has become quite clear that the band and their management knew that the sound was distinctly average. And we all know that they did not bring this to purchasers' attentions before we parted with our money.....

Anyone with an ounce of experience of mp3s and digital sound (lets make that several hundreds of millions of us shall we) is going to at least raise an eyebrow or at best get really fucking pissed off at some telling comments by the band's management in music industry publication Music Week. How do these hit you;

"Hufford emphasises that a record deal remains an absolutely essential element of the release strategy. With the music set to appear all over P2P networks as soon as it is made available in any case, the download is purely a promotion vehicle for a CD release in January"

"In November we have to start with the mass-market plans and get them under way,” he says. “If we didn’t believe that when people hear the music they will want to buy the CD, then we wouldn’t do what we are doing"

"Far from being enthusiastic about digital downloads, both managers strongly favour the compact disc as a format of superior quality. “CDs are a fantastic bit of kit,” insists Edge. “You can’t listen to a Radiohead record on MP3 and hear the detail; it’s impossible. The attention to detail on this record is remarkable. We can’t understand why record companies don’t go on the offensive and say what a great piece of kit CDs are. CDs are undervalued and sold in too cheaply.”

So I paid 8 quid for In Rainbows because I thought it was the full release and I wanted to pay fair whack to a band I like. Turns out the management were only doing as a promo to get me to buy the CD. From their own mouths. Nowhere did it say this was a promo and the specious bullshit, let's make that BULLSHIT about not being able to achieve CD quality on mp3 (or FLAC) is, as a few hundred million of us know is just not true. And I don't believe a band as sophisticated as this don't know that either.

The band's management are at pains to reassure Music Week that they are looking for a record contract and that "we want our partners {that's music industry / record companies} to earn money," Hufford adds. "We don't want to rip them off"". So what are their partner's interests? Selling product - The In Rainbows CD. So how do you protect those CD's..... well one way would be, wouldn't it, ensuring you release something that isn't going to be of a fidelity to 'threaten' those sales.

So clearly we have no clue what actually happened. But lets posit two fictional scenarios;

i) did a band as sophisticated as Radiohead sit around and go 'oh don't worry about queering the pitch for CD sales because everyone knows you can't get anywhere near CD quality on an mp3 so it's all fine' and that's the line we hear their management still trotting out (and Jonny Greenwood).

Or did they ii) go 'well of course we know you can do 320 or FLAC but...*look*.....we can't do that without queering the pitch for the CD and that's not our promotional approach - we want people to buy the CD.....' and then after a bit of headscratching did they go.....'I know, lets make it better than iTunes so we can reference that (and look 'good' relatively) but go for the worst sound quality above that low bar, which is ok on mp3 players, but won't be compromising the CD sales'.

With a band as sophisticated about gear and sound as Radiohead (and they are truly) what do you think the conversation was really like? Fucking really like......

Now MTV are running an article with some decent commentary on Fans feeling duped

Lastly, having dismissed my own 'deliberately fouling the pitch' theory as ludicrous conspiracy theory in the previous blog, I note the following from the management again;

"You can’t listen to a Radiohead record on MP3 and hear the detail; it’s impossible. The attention to detail on this record is remarkable." (emphasis added) .... then this....

"With recording for In Rainbows completed in June, prior to the album being mastered and then remastered to meet the band and producer Nigel Godrich’s exacting standards in September

So the mp3 160 rip you can listen to...... does that have the sound the managers are talking about with 'remarkable attention to detail' which was not only mastered but then remastered to meet 'exacting standards' of some incredibly talented musicians and their great producer? Does it fuck. And us hundreds of millions know that it didn't come about simply by ripping it down to 160.

So where exactly DOES all that distortion and the rest of it come from? If you like your conspiracy theories, have a mull over exactly what was possibly done at those two mastering sessions. Was it a fantastic 2nd mastering session that produced a fantastic sound you can't hear on your 160 rip...... or it did it go for a little special treatment in September and thereafter lots of people's special interests were feeling much more comfortably protected? OK it's pure grassy knoll but where exactly is this fantastic quality????

The good news is, this will out one way or the other. When In Rainbows is released, I will buy it (I have to - I love the music) and I will listen to how it sounds in this mystically pure unreproduceable CD 16 bit format. (Don't worry I won't get started on that). And then....well then I will have a beer and rip it at 160 with the same converter. And if I my original 160 and the new 160 are somehow strangely dissimilar with one showing remarkable attendtion to detail and one not, well then I think there will be a little class(y) action to follow.....

I trust this will never come to pass. I just can't believe the nutty conspiracy theory could be true. But reading those managers' comments in Music Week, frankly I am not comfortable....yet... and I do know that I have paid, what I considered full price for a promo that was not declared as one and one which is, out of their own mouths, an inferior product. And that is wank.


  1. Well, previous blog I was prepared to give them the benefit of a doubt and make it a case of naive self belief at worst the way this stuff is playing out... it's like they've basically taken the important step, and made the big point that needed to be made then firmly run after the ball, caught it and ran with it back to header into their own net. Baffling, absolutely baffling.

  2. I'm calling a combination of the fact that this was almost a garage production (see 'studio' shots below) combined with some utter peonity in how to make mp3's. Not only is this a low bitrate cbr, but it's also made with an old copy of lame. This really makes me believe it's simple cluelessness, that the band have done this almost whimsically and fairly amaturely.The result? I have the album a good three months before it's due on disk, it's quality isn't superb, but it's a shitload better than a bootleg, and they asked me how much I thought it was worth, which I paid. Sure, they could have been more communicative about it, but they did give me the choice of preordering the download or the special edition disk for £40. I don't feel duped, I'm happy to be part of the experiment that clearly needs a few wrinkles ironed out.


  3. As if it wasn't enough to see these photos in the previous blog, he's posted the exact same photos here. Genius!


  4. That studio might look basic and comfy to you but I could show you lots of similar pics from U2, Sting, Blur, PJ Harvey and a bunch else which all sound good and Radiohead themselves recorded OK Computer at Jane Seymour's country pile St Catherine's Court which isn't a studio either - just a house. And no-one's ever accused that of being a bad sounding record. In other words Radiohead have over 10 years of recording 'on location'. No, put it all together with their own management saying you have to hear this on cd because "the attention to detail on this record is remarkable" and double professional mastering..... no chance. So it's anywhere from incredible ineptitude on the mp3 to something much worse. We now wait until January or February to A/B the cd and a 160 rip from it.