iTunes, Your Tunes, Their Tunes and Our Mixes: An Absence Explained
For several years, one of the questions most frequently directed towards our record label is, “Why can’t I get your mixes on iTunes?” Well, as we’re now able to announce that fabric 65: Matthias Tanzmann is to be the first mix in the fabric and FABRICLIVE compilation series to be available internationally through iTunes, it seems the opportune moment to explain the reasons behind our absence to date, and to give you an insight into our future on the store...
Their tunes: their rules
Let’s start with the nuts and bolts of our mixes. They’re compiled by the artists we pick for the series, to represent the music they play at the club. Most of the time, DJs choose tracks from a variety of labels to put on their mix, meaning we must license the tracks from each of those labels – that is, get their permission and agree how much the label should be paid for us to include the track. In a small number of cases, a label may decide not to grant permission – and we’ve got to respect that.
The labels also have the right to determine how and where the track can be sold. A label may tell us that we can only sell their track digitally in the UK & Ireland (because the track may be owned by different labels in different countries, for example). As each mix is a collection of several pieces of music, that means the whole mix is subject to the restrictions imposed by each individual track – so if one track is restricted to the UK & Ireland, this applies to the whole mix. Which is why people outside the UK may be able to see our mixes on the likes of Beatport, and not be able to purchase them – we understand that may be frustrating, but hopefully you now you can start to understand why – it’s a situation imposed upon us rather than a choice we make.
iTunes: their rules
You’ll find more than half of the mixes in our series available on the majority of download stores, which are happy to carry our mixes as exactly that: mixes. Some, like Juno Download and Beatport, prefer to carry the mix as one continuous track, whilst others, like Amazon and Bleep (other download stores are available!) choose to sell the mixes split into their individual tracks, so you can see which track is playing as you listen. Because the tracks start and finish abruptly where the mix is split, and contain parts of the preceding and following tracks overlapping, they are not suitable to sell individually, which is why the mixes are available as ‘Album Only’.
As you will no doubt be aware if you used a computer lately, the iTunes store has sat astride the download market like an immense digital behemoth for almost a decade now. Apple’s business model, which transformed the way the world consumes music, prioritises selling individual tracks over full albums – in fact, it is not possible to sell an album on iTunes without making most tracks available for individual download. This system doesn’t accommodate mixes to be sold just as mixes. In order to qualify for sale on iTunes, a mix album must include every track featured on the mix in its unmixed format (with most tracks available to download individually), in addition to the mix as the DJ intended as a continuous track.
Our mixes: our stance
In previous years, this format requirement has been considered incompatible with our vision for our mix series. Each fabric and FABRICLIVE mix is a celebration of the craft of the artist, stitching together tracks into a continuous whole – where the manner in which the whole story is woven is more important than the individual component parts.
For many years we have tried to persuade iTunes to come round to our way of thinking, and to allow us to sell our mixes as ‘Album Only’ like the other retailers. But convincing such a huge corporation to make an exception against one of its guiding business principles has ultimately proven too great a task for us, as an independent label with a niche target market. So, in response to demand from our customers, we have decided to meet these criteria and make our forthcoming fabric and FABRICLIVE mixes available through the iTunes store whenever possible – despite the format requirements not being exactly compatible with how we would like to present the mixes.
Rocks, hard places and artistic freedom
iTunes’ stipulations also impact on the decisions made by the labels from which we license tracks. Very often, the DJs who contribute to our series are able to include previously unheard tracks long before release date, or even material made exclusively for their mix – which we consider a huge privilege. However, the requirement of iTunes to include full-length unmixed tracks as part of the album download, means that those individual tracks are effectively ‘released’ digitally to the public at the time of our mix’s release. For reasons varying from the impact on their future release schedule, to preferring to entirely withhold their tracks from digital release, some labels will simply not grant us the right to include some or all of their tracks in this way. As in the case of territory restrictions, this decision applying to one track then affects the entire mix.
Being caught between the rock of iTunes’ requirements and the hard place of the labels’ right to determine how their music is available, leaves us with a choice. We can either, like some other mix compilation series, refuse to use tracks on our mixes that we can’t include in this way on iTunes; or we can include such tracks, at the expense of mixes that do so being ineligible for iTunes.
Faced with this dilemma, we have opted for the latter route. We feel that allowing our artists as much creative freedom as possible to present their vision for their mix is of paramount importance. Also, we recognise that the upfront and exclusive material that we are fortunate to be able to access contributes greatly to the strength of our series, and rejecting such material could ultimately lead to mixes that are blander and less ‘special’.
As in the case of Matthias Tanzmann’s fabric 65, from now on we will always endeavour to make our mixes available via iTunes, when the labels have been kind enough to grant us the right to sell their tracks in the necessary format. However, this will not be possible for all mixes in future – so if you can’t find the digital version of the mix you want, please seek it out on our own web store or any of the other major download stores.
fabric 65: Matthias Tanzmann is available to pre-order on iTunes now.