7/02/2004

DMB Digital Downloads

After much press and even more waiting, the Dave Matthews Band has finally gotten into the digital download business. Their first offering was actually not a Dave Matthews Band release but a "Dave Matthews & Friends" set from Bonnaroo. I was pretty excited and immediately went to livebonnaroo.com to inquire about downloading the show, however I was quickly disappointed to see the extremely high pricing. While this particular show was mixed by John Alagia, so it should sound better, it is still over priced. LiveBonnaro/MusicToday (read:Coran Capshaw) wants $17.95 for the FLAC version and $12.95 for MP3s. To me this just isn't worth it, considering that I already had a free recording of the show that I had downloaded and burned several days before, which is certainly good enough to relive the Bonnaroo experience. And this recording is just the downloads, no actual media, CDs, etc. Plus you are required to buy the entire concert and you can't just download the highlights of the show (which would be possible if the show were to be offered on iTunes on a per-track basis).

The disappointment does not stop there. The next offering from the DMB is a digital download of the Gorge boxed set, all 3 nights. This set ranges in prince from $37.99 to $49.99, which is pretty damn expensive for a digital download, especially considering that the CD costs the same price as FLAC! What's the point of downloading the thing? There is absolutely no advantage. Pre-ordering the boxed set would get it in your hands long before you would be allowed to download it on the release date and with the digital download version you lose the nice packaging of a boxed set.

But wait, the disappointment continues. The DMB store now has the entire DMB catalog up for digital download. Now, unlike the Gorge and the Bonnaroo show, the rest of the catalog (including True Reflections and Some Devil) seem to be under tighter restrictions from the record label (unless Coran and the band are a bunch of paranoid freaks). All of the albums are available only in Windows Media format (128kbps or lossless), which locks the buyer into the evilness of oppressive DRM, limiting the fair use rights that the Supreme Court gives us. Each album has the very friendly restrictive disclaimer attached to it:

"With this download you have permission for: unlimited transfers to portable devices, download to 1 computer, and 5 CD burns."

This pretty annoying. The Dave Matthews Band, one of the few major artists that allows live concert taping, one of the few major artists to avoid the iTunes Music Store because they want to preserve the album format, is selling their music with a more restrictive license than any of the major online music services. Plus, they are selling music in ONLY Windows Media format, meaning that the songs are only playable on PCs since Microsoft has yet to release a version of Windows Media Player for Mac that can play DRM'd files. This is pretty ironic for several reasons:

1 - We know that the band uses Macs (Stefan has said so in interviews and there is a picture floating around the net of Dave using a PowerBook).

2 - They are selling songs by album only, online, for the same price as CDs. Again there is no advantage to downloading the music since anyone can roll up to Best Buy and get the real CD, complete with nice artwork and rip/mix/burn until their heart's content. Who is going to buy this? The whole point of the digital music revolution is the idea of buying single songs. Right now DMB's record sales are hurting due to the millions of kiddies out there downloading Crash Into Me and The Space Between, because those are the only two songs that they want to hear from the Dave Matthews Band. These people are not going to buy these digital albums! First of all, they won't even know that they exist, and second, downloading them is nowhere near as convenient as iTunes or similar services. Plus, they are required to download the entire album, which will immediately tell Johnny Q that he should go pick up "Crash Into Me" on KaZaA instead of forking out $10 - $14 for a download.

Seriously, Dave and the boys need to get off their high horse and realize that iTunes is the future. It's no secret that the band's record sales have been a disappointment. After the 6-7x platinum success of the band's first two major label releases in 1994 and 1996, the band has yet to come close to that mark with any studio album (Everyday and Before These Crowded Streets each went 3x platinum and Busted Stuff only 2x)*. Everyday's sales would have been close to double if it weren't for the digital download services. The Space Between was a huge hit on MTV as a single, but the album's sales weren't raised by the hit. RCA can make some good money if they start offering DMB tracks on a per-track basis on iTunes.

On that note, imagine if every DMB show was offered by track on iTunes, within days of the concert performance. Imagine the debut of a brand new song, available to the world for just a dollar. Fans can buy their favorites from a show they attended or just pick up the highlights from the tour. DMB is really missing out here.

* Interestingly, DMB DVDs seem to sell well, with the Central Park DVD going quadruple platinum and Listener Supported selling 3 million, and with practically no promotion (DMB live releases seem to be ignored by RCA's marketing department). With this proven success it would seem to be a no brainer for the band to release a full DVD boxed set of the Gorge concerts from 2002 as a companion to the 6 CD boxed audio set of the shows. Instead the genius in charge over in Charlottesville decided to only release one DVD as part of the 2 CD set and no DVDs with the 6 CD set. Plus the DVD only has a handful of music tracks and has more documentary and music video footage. The DVD is truly the gem of the Gorge release, extremely well produced and directed (puts the Folsom Field release to shame, but that shouldn't be hard). Again the DMB miss a huge opportunity.