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22 mai 2008

Gabriel, pals trumpet new high-quality download club

Mp3s are the Hot Pockets of the digital age; consumers are devouring them by the gigabyte.

But thanks to a deal struck between rock star Peter Gabriel and digital pioneer Bowers & Wilkins, Britain’s leading manufacturer of high-end loudspeakers, digital-music downloaders are about to experience a gourmet alternative.

Launching this week, the online Bowers & Wilkins Music Club will offer an exclusive, full-length, digital-only new release each month featuring artists cherry-picked by Gabriel and recorded at his Real World Studios complex in Bath, England.

What’s more, they will be so-called DRM-free (digital rights management) files that carry no copy protection and can be moved freely between devices and easily burned to CD. They’ll come complete with artwork and, best of all, in an audiophile-quality lossless format for a sound experience beyond that of even top-shelf mp3s.

Music Club subscriptions (available at cost $59.95 annually and trial offers are available.

“People don’t realize that when you encode sound files, you’ve got choices,” Bowers & Wilkins’ Danny Haikin said by phone from the United Kingdom. “Up until this point there’s been an emphasis on width rather than depth. In other words, mp3s take up very little (hard drive) room, but in the process of compressing a file down to such a tiny size, the music’s finer nuances are lost. The beauty of a lossless file format is that the compression system doesn’t depreciate the music in any way.”

But a promise of much-improved sound quality may not be enough to bend the public ear away from the standard mp3 format. To do that, the Club plans to offer not merely exclusive recordings, but accessible ones.

Mike Large, director of operations at Real World Studios, dreamed up the venture with Haikin over drinks one night. He says Music Club will offer a wider scope of styles than the world music for which Gabriel’s studio and its Real World label are known.

“Our only criteria is that the music be good,” said Large.“Sure, you can see Peter’s taste coming through. But we’ve also had to go about this in a way that makes commercial sense.”

The club’s introductory offering is “Bought for a Dollar, Sold for a Dime,” an urban-blues affair by Little Axe, also known as Skip McDonald, an original member of the Sugar Hill house band who played on “The Message,” “White Lines” and other classics. Plans call for future releases by indie-rockers Grindhouse (featuring Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood’s son Jesse), big-voiced Brit singer/songwriter Gwyneth Herbert and guitar virtuoso Tom Kerstens. Large and Haikin also would like to release live sessions and remastered classic recordings.

Large says the Music Club has had a positive side effect on Gabriel, whose fans have been waiting since 2002 for him to release a recording of non-film-related new material.

“The fire has been lit,” said Large. “Peter is working on a new record. The working title is ‘Input/Output’ and the CD will likely see a 2009 release date.”

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