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Lossless streaming music content: who's in charge? (1 Viewer)

Guardyan

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After it was announced that Apple Music would be adding lossless streaming to entire catalog, I started to wonder: who's in charge of providing such content to the streaming platforms? Record labels?

After much that has been said, asked, and explained about ripping CDs (and other formats) to lossless on this forum, I wonder if the quality of the lossless files that are up on those streaming services are identical. I'm sure that record labels don't rip files from CDs - lol, just the thought of it is ridiculous if not really amusing - but I'd bet my money that not all record labels have the same standards when it comes to digitizing their content. A few years ago I remember there was a special release of a pop album that included some never before released tracks - pls, don't ask me about the album or artist in question 'cause I won't remember - and some fans were livid about the quality of some songs, because they didn't come from a master, but from tracks had been uploaded to YouTube (apparently someone in the crew of said artist had a copy and put it there, as a way to be accessible to hardcore fans). So if even a record label would be prone to do something like that, I'd not trust that the standard for proper digitization is always met or even good. When it comes to buying albums I just buy them online if a physical copy is not available for purchase, so I'm not one that can attest to streaming or digital music quality because I don't generally have the means to compare them, or the ear of a audiophile (unfortunately!). But when it comes to album covers, that I can attest that some of the covers we can download from stores like iTunes - especially from releases before the era of digital music advent - are really bad quality when compared to the originals. I know that some of those covers were uploaded to DBs by fans and some were uploaded by the record labels, and boy... some people really don't know how to work a scanner! I was also told by a preservation specialist that some companies do a lot of their digitization in house and not necessarily by people that have the proper training -- lots of crews relying only on software instead of properly trained professionals. I can only imagine how bad it must be to subscribe to a service wanting to enjoy their lossless catalog and eventually finding out that the lossless files weren't properly ripped.
 

jcroy

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At minimum, who has physical possession of the original master tape(s) of a particular album ?

If a "remaster" is being made whether for a cd, dvd-audio, sacd, bluray-audio, etc .... re-release and/or lossless files, then this would require physical access to the original master tape(s).

So unless the original artist/musician owns their original master tapes outright, then most likely the record companies will be providing the lossless files.
 

Mark-P

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You do understand that the music companies don’t provide the lossy encodes that Apple provides to its customers, right? Apple creates those encodes off of the studio masters. So for the new lossless service, Apple will simply be re-encoding the studio masters that they already have access to.
 

Guardyan

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You do understand that the music companies don’t provide the lossy encodes that Apple provides to its customers, right? Apple creates those encodes off of the studio masters. So for the new lossless service, Apple will simply be re-encoding the studio masters that they already have access to.
Hmm no, I "don't understand" because if I weren't in doubt, I'd not have asked the question. From what I read, having access to master tapes is not a simple task and reading about all those protected vaults make me wonder if any streaming service can just request and be granted access to those so easily. Unless we're talking copies of masters... then I'd believe it'd be a different story.

Basically what you said is in contradiction with what our colleague jcroy said just right above.
 

jcroy

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For clarity, I should define "master tape" a bit more precisely.

Back in the analog days, the 24 tracks are mixed down to a 2-channel stereo master tape.

If an artist/producer is hardcore enough and wants to do a remix, they would have to go back to the original 24-track tape and do a new mix to an entirely different new master tape.
 

jcroy

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Technically there is also an additional "mastering" stage, where the 2-channel stereo tape is massaged, eq'd, compressed/limited, etc ... so that is actually "sounds" like a typical album on vinyl/cd.

If you want to know the difference between something that has no "mastering" done to a 2-channel stereo tape, listen to the various unofficial mixes of Metallica's "Death Magnetic" which were culled from the guitar hero video game. (Several are on youtube).
 

jcroy

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For a lot of stuff that was released over the past 20-25 years, the mastering stage is possibly where a lot of the atrocities were committed in the form of "brickwalling".


Stuff older than 20-25 years seems to have less issues with deliberate brickwalling, unless a more recent remaster was deliberately brickwalled at the mastering stage. (The original master tape likely didn't have the brickwalling).

Even worse is when the brickwalling is done deliberately at the mixing stage, where it is completely "baked in" already on the 2-channel stereo master tape before any "mastering" is done at all. For such a botch job, it would require a complete remix to create a new version which doesn't have any "brickwalling". For example, like what was done for Rush's 2002 album Vapor Trails which was remixed in 2013 without the brickwalling.


If I was going to waste any cash on lossless digital music files, I would want to know whether it was from the original master tape before the "mastering" stage is done. It would give a good idea which albums were complete total brickwalled botch jobs all along at the tracking and/or mixing stage, and which ones had the brickwalling done at the "mastering" stage.
 

jcroy

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From what I read, having access to master tapes is not a simple task and reading about all those protected vaults make me wonder if any streaming service can just request and be granted access to those so easily.

Even worse is when the original master tapes and/or 24-track multitrack tapes, are completely destroyed or missing. For example, such as what happened in the 2008 Universal vault fire.




So whatever the lossless providers (whether files or streaming) are using for such albums with missing master tapes, will likely be descended from "backup copies" of the master tapes. (Assuming a backup copy was actually made to begin with).

One documented case of the original master tapes being destroyed and a backup copy being used for a remaster, was Bryan Adams' 2014 remaster of Reckless. Fortunately back in the day, Adams made his own backup copy of the master tape of his classic album, which he kept at home.

 

jcroy

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You do understand that the music companies don’t provide the lossy encodes that Apple provides to its customers, right? Apple creates those encodes off of the studio masters. So for the new lossless service, Apple will simply be re-encoding the studio masters that they already have access to.

(Thinking about this more).

I have to wonder, does Apple and other download/streaming providers run their own "mastering plugins" on top of the master tapes/files (whether previously mastered or not) they have access to? For example as a hypothetical case, a "mastering plugin" which replicates the atrocious "brickwalling" type sound.


The analogy I'm thinking of is what FM radio stations had to do back in the day. IIRC, the frequency range was ran through a bandpass filter which cut off everything below 30 Hz and above 15 kHz. Frequently also with an additional layer of compression/limiting, to raise the volume level of passages which were too soft (which would be drowned out by car engine noise for listeners in an automobile), and peak limiting sudden transient passages (such as cannons in the 1812 overture).
 

jcroy

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In some cases, a rock/pop FM radio station might have also run an additional "aural exciter" on the music.



On a then-rock station I listened to back in the day, I strongly suspected they were using such a device which was "more than" just a simple graphic/parametric equalizer unit.

In those days, I attempted to replicate the "sound" of that station by using graphic equalizers, reverb, etc ... Unfortunately I was unable to replicate the "sound" of the station, even by performing A-B comparisons with music I recorded off-the-air and comparing it to the corresponding "eq'd massaged" versions I made from my vinyl/cd copy.
 
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Guardyan

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Even worse is when the original master tapes and/or 24-track multitrack tapes, are completely destroyed or missing. For example, such as what happened in the 2008 Universal vault fire.

[...]
It's exactly because of the 2008 Universal vault fire that I'm aware of how hard it is to get access to masters and how protecting them is a very complicated operation.

I'd like to thank you, jr, for your contribution to this thread. While my original question remains unanswered, I appreciate your interest in reflecting about the issue.
 

Thomas Newton

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It's exactly because of the 2008 Universal vault fire that I'm aware of how hard it is to get access to masters and how protecting them is a very complicated operation.
Original physical masters may indeed be in delicate condition and require special care.

However, once you create high-resolution digital copies of them, you can put those copies on several secure servers, and prepare 50 sets of hard disk backups, and store one set of those backups in a secure bank safety deposit box in every state.

Having 50+ high-resolution "intermediate masters" scattered in secure locations across the entire country would allow providing access to "intermediate masters" to trusted services, and would make it very hard to lose everything even in the event of another catastrophic vault fire.
 

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