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Mastering for iTunes

How do artists get their albums on the front page of iTunes? How do you get a "Mastered for iTunes" badge? Have you heard that iTunes music quality sucks compared to CD/Vinyl quality?

The first concept to grasp about iTunes music is that it is delivered in a digitally compressed format. What does this mean? Basically they chop out a lot of what is considered “useless” audio information—usually the extreme low and high ends—and encode the information in a digital format that isn’t nearly as large as a CD quality recording format, or WAV file. If you’re old enough to remember when mp3 files were just starting to be used you probably started burning “Mp3 Discs”, you could stuff hundreds of mp3 songs on a single CD whereas you could only fit about 12-20 songs or about 74 minutes total of CD quality WAV files. And if you looked at the file sizes you probably also noticed that mp3’s are significantly smaller than WAV files.

So why doesn’t iTunes deliver CD quality music? For the very reason that the files are too large in comparison to mp3’s (they currently use m4a format but they’re very similar to mp3). Keep in mind that smart and effective business models are largely driven by consumer behavior. Most people don’t want to deal with large file formats (meaning less room available on portable devices or physical media such as CD’s) and long download times. Really, most people can’t hear the difference. In my opinion most music that is fairly & consistently loud such as pop, rock, EDM, metal, etc. doesn’t suffer significantly enough through mp3 format to dismiss them entirely.

To be fair since Apple has introduced iTunes they have consistently implemented improvements to the quality of the content and the Mastered for iTunes standard is one of those huge steps forward. If you’re a “Loudness Wars” junkie you’ll be happy to know that Mastered for iTunes standards was made with this in mind, in fact they believe that this will help counter music being made too loud.

Why does this even matter? It’s all about the dollar, according to RIAA reports for music sales last year digital downloads exceeded physical copy sales with both digital and streaming sales outselling physical sales by 200%. I know, I know, talking about money and music seems wrong to some people for reasons both understandable and unfounded but I always did like what Walt Disney had to say about his business, “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.” Apply this thinking to music; I don’t know about you but I want to make as much music as I can before I die and it takes some amount of money whether to pay recording engineers or simply pay the rent on your house.
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