Writings about Macs, music and more by Kirk McElhearn



CD Notes: The Transcendentalist, Music by Scriabin, Cage, and Feldman


Listened to this recording a few times yesterday and today to review for MusicWeb. Great stuff. A nice selection of calm music, including a good performance of Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari. Includes a work by a young composer, Scott Mollschleger, in the Feldmanesque vein.

(Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Dear Music PR Person, You’re Doing It Wrong

If you send out digital music files or CDs, do it right, or reviewers will simply ignore what you send them.

I get a lot of music to listen to and review. I review classical CDs for MusicWeb International, and I review lots of CDs and downloads here on Kirkville. When I get CDs, I rip them so I can listen to them more easily on my Mac, or on my stereo that connects to my iTunes library. And when I get digital downloads, I add them to my iTunes library immediately.

I got two lots of music in the past few days, one was a single album, and the other was about a dozen albums. And when I added them to my iTunes library, I saw that they were poorly tagged. One had no tags at all: the tracks were just “track 1,” “track 2,” etc. The other had track names, but nothing else.


So, in the interest of helping music PR people get music listened to, let me make some suggestions for how you should provide digital music.

  • All tracks should be tagged. All tracks should have tags at least in the following fields: Name, Artist, Album, and Year. You can add a Genre tag, but I might change that. If you can’t bother with tagging files, why should I bother listening to them?
  • The music should be provided at a decent bit rate. The best option is to provide lossless files: either Apple Lossless or FLAC. You can provide WAV or AIFF files, but they take longer to download, so I recommend you avoid them. If you provide files in any other format, make them at least 256 kbps. (And please, don’t send Ogg Vorbis files.)
  • All tracks should be the same bit rate. The single album I got this week had 24 tracks at 160 kbps, and 1 track at 80 kbps. Do you seriously expect me to judge the sound quality of a recording at 80 kbps? If so, then you need a primer on digital music.
  • The downloads should include album art. This can either be embedded in the files (best option) or separate. If it’s embedded in the files, you should make sure the embedded file is at least 600 x 600 pixels, and you should include a high-resolution copy of the cover as a separate file. If you only send me a 200 x 200 pixel file for cover art, I’ll throw it away.
  • Include liner notes. All downloads should include liner notes. These should be in PDF format, so they reproduce the layout of what one gets when buying a CD (or a download with a digital booklet). Don’t send me Word files.

Feel free to include other items. You might want to include an EPK (electronic press kit; generally just a video with an interview of an artist). If so, make it clear whether I can use this video on my website. As for photos, make it very clear what conditions must be met to use them. For example, if credit of any kind must be given, make it easy for me to find out what I need to say.

I understand that some music PR people just send the files they get from labels. If the labels can’t get it right, don’t waste your time sending me crappy files. You may have an excellent recording to promote, but I’ll just delete the files and ignore the album. I’m not wasting my time with poor quality files, and I’m not wasting my time trying to find tags for untagged files.

If you can’t be bothered sending me quality material to judge your music, why should I bother reviewing it?

P.S.: If you’re sending out CDs for review, make sure to:

  • Upload track information to Gracenote. This is the service that iTunes and other media players use to provide track information when you play or rip a CD. So, if I want to play a CD you’ve sent me in iTunes, I want to see the track names. If I rip that CD – which I do for most CDs I receive, as it’s easier to play them, move around in them, etc. – then I want to know what tracks I’m listening to.  I got a CD the other day that, when I went to rip it in iTunes, no track information was displayed. That CD went on The Pile, and I’ll probably not think about it for a very long time.

The Reviewer’s Conundrum: What to Do with a Very Bad Recording?


I review CDs and DVDs for MusicWeb International, the site with the largest number of classical CD reviews freely available on the internet. I’ve been writing reviews for the site for nearly 15 years, and have reviewed some 600 CDs and DVDs.

MusicWeb reviewers receive a list of CDs every month or so, and choose the ones they want. (I also get some CDs directly from record labels.) So I go over the list, and check out what interests me, what new releases fit with my musical tastes and knowledge. In this month’s lot, I got a recording of a work I love and know very well – I’ll leave it nameless – that I tried to listen to this morning, but that was so bad, I had to give up. It’s a solo instrumental recording, and the performer plods through the piece, which, by the way, is played at a tempo which makes it about 50% longer than other versions of the same work.

So I’m faced with a conundrum. In general, I don’t like writing bad reviews; I think it helps no one, and harms the performers and record labels. But there is also a responsibility to write such a review, to alert other music fans about such a poor recording. It’s not like they can’t judge from themselves; the release is available by download, so anyone can listen to excerpts and hear what I heard, and see if they agree with me.

So what do you think? Is it better to write honest reviews of bad recordings, or just toss them aside, and spend time writing reviews of the good ones? Because, since the time of all reviewers is limited, every bad recording that gets reviewed means one less potentially good recording will go unreviewed.

“Take Control of Beta Testing Yosemite” Says It All


Members of Apple’s Mac Developer Program were given early access to a preview version of the new operating system, and Apple began accepting signups from the general public. That public beta (a slightly later version than Developer Preview 4, released earlier this week) is now available — and so is a new Take Control book about beta testing Yosemite!

I love it that Joe Kissell has written a book about beta software. If you’re messing with the beta, it would be a good idea to read this book.

via TidBITS: “Take Control of Beta Testing Yosemite” Says It All.

iTunes 12 and the Case of the Missing Sidebar


I can’t say much about iTunes 12, a beta of which is only available to the million-plus people who have access to betas of OS X 10.10 Yosemite. I can’t publish screenshots, since I’m under NDA, having a developer account. But I can comment about what I’ve seen on many other websites about iTunes 12.

Apparently – and I can neither confirm nor deny this – iTunes 12 eliminates the sidebar. If you’re a long-time iTunes user, you may have a weak spot for this sidebar, which gives you access to your different media libraries, connected devices, shared libraries and playlists, all at once.


I like using the sidebar, and even the column browser, as you can see above; that’s the default way I display iTunes. With iTunes 11, if the sidebar is not visible, you can display it by choosing View > Show Sidebar. And if the column browser doesn’t show, you can turn that on by choosing View > Column Browser > Show Column Browser.

I’ll miss the sidebar, and I wonder why Apple is removing it. For those who use it, it’s a convenient way to access much of your iTunes library. According to screenshots published on a variety of websites, there is no longer even a drop-down menu at the top-left of the iTunes window when the sidebar is hidden; you access the various libraries and devices by clicking icons in the navigation bar.

This may be more efficient, and the lack of the sidebar offers more screen space to display content, but I still think the sidebar is a useful tool. Maybe Apple will add it back by the time iTunes 12 is released. If not, I’ll miss it.

The iTunes Guy Discusses Re-Ripping CDs, Non-Syncing Album Art and More


itunesguy-thum-100004188-gallery.jpgSometimes, what seems like a good idea turns out to have unexpected consequences. One reader wrote in about album art that wasn’t syncing to his iOS devices, and had a surprise when he found out the reason. Another wonders whether it’s worth re-ripping songs ripped from CDs more than ten years ago. And another reader is looking for a way to save Internet radio stations in iTunes. In this week’s column, I have answers to all those questions.

Read this week’s Ask the iTunes Guy at Macworld.

No, Your App Isn’t Compatible with Yosemite


app-icon.pngI got a press release in my inbox just now, telling me about an app that is compatible with OS X 10.10 Yosemite.

“This latest version of APPNAME adds support for Yosemite, OS X 10.10.”

Sorry, you’re wrong. Your app may be compatible with the latest beta of Yosemite, but claiming that it’s compatible with Yosemite is misleading. Until the GM – the golden master, the final release version – is released, no one can be sure that their apps are compatible with an operating system.

Naturally, this is just a marketing ploy from someone who wants to garner a bit of attention, but it’s bullshit.

On the other hand, I have seen developers tweeting about apps that are compatible with the Yosemite public beta; that’s fair. But don’t suggest that your app is compatible with an operating system that’s not been released yet.

Doug Adams says it very well:

I make no guarantees as to the reliablity of any software authored by me when operated under a pre-official-release beta version of the operating system.

Yosemite-compatible software will be clearly labeled as such. Otherwise, don’t presume any script or app has Yosemite compatibility at all until the official release date in the Fall.


Music Review: November, by Dennis Johnson



Buy from: Amazon.com | Amazon UK | iTunes

The musical avant-garde has created a number of very long pieces of music. Morton Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2, for example, runs for around six hours; other works by the same composer last from one to four hours. La Monte Young’s Well-Tuned Piano runs around five to six hours. John Cage’s As SLow aS Possible runs from 20 to 70 minutes, but a performance underway in St. Burchardi church in Halberstadt, Germany, began in 2001 and should take about 639 years. Other long works include Erik Satie’s Vexations, which runs somewhere around 28 hours. But the latter two works are more gimmicks than anything else; Satie’s piece is merely one minute-and-a-half piece played 840 times.

Length does not equal quality, but in the area of minimalist music – this is the minimalism of sparseness, not that of repetition, such as the music of Steve Reich or Philip Glass – the listener enters a sound world that moves at a different pace from the world around them. Listening to such works – Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet is an excellent example of this – forces the listener to rethink what music is and how it is heard and experienced. I like music of this type which slows me down and makes me listen differently. In many ways, November, as with many of Morton Feldman’s works, is as much like looking at a painting as it is like listening to a work for piano. It’s beautiful music that moves in slow motion.
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