Neil Young's Americana & the Case Of The Missing Metadata

I recently highlighted the new Neil Young & Crazy Horse record Americana which is available as a FLAC download from Neil Young's website. I also referred to Mr. Young as a hero of sorts and perhaps a better word would be Spokesman seeing as he's spoken out for better sound quality and what I like to think of as the death of the paid MP3. But after downloading Americana, I see we still have a way to go and our spokesman needs to speak to his people.

The issue at hand is there's no metadata included in the Americana FLAC download. None. Zip, zilch. There are some horrendous file names. e.g. "Neil_Young__Crazy_Horse_Americana_01_Oh_Susannah_240", but no artist, album, track info and no cover art. What gives? So I sent an email to 'Customer Support' through Neil Young's website webstore (which turns out to be run by Warner Bros Records Store):

Hi,

I'm not sure if you're aware that the FLAC download for Neil Young's Americana does not contain any metadata including album cover art. So when buyers download this album and play it, there will be no album cover art, and no artist, album, or track information displayed. Of course buyers can manually add this data per track (or extract it from the file names with an app) but I'd expect that this is just an oversight and will be corrected. It appears as if the FLAC files were generated from WAV files which would explain the cause of this problem.

I'm very much a fan of Mr. Young's from way back when and I am also the Editor of AudioStream.com a review site whose focus is computer audio hardware, software and music. I was particularly happy to see Mr. Young speak out against MP3s and speak up for 24/192 downloads.

Which leads me to my question - will there be a 24/196 download for Americana at some point?

And here's their response:
Dear Mr. Lavorgna,

Thank you for your email. You have reached customer service for the online store. We apologize regarding the absence of the metadata. We are aware of this issue, however we have not been made aware of any plans to change this in the immediate future. We also do not have information regarding a 24/196 download at this time.

Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

Warner Bros Records Online Customer Support

Very polite and prompt (this reply came the next day) but let's say lacking in substance. I have to wonder if the store is not responsible, which is what they say in so many words, who is? Unfortunately this illustrates the state of things and Mr. Young, our spokesman, may be surprised to learn he has some housekeeping to do in addition to fighting the bigger fight.

COMMENTS
kavon yarrum's picture

Nice job Michael. At least they responded.

I think the simple truth they don't know any more than we do. I think they run the store front have no idea if these files will eventually be sold with correct metadata or if higher resolution files will be available. In other words, they are in the dark.

How is this for a weirder situation.

I download an album from Honest Jon Records, who are selling a very nice collaborative project with Bonnie Prince Billie and the UK band Trembling bells.

So half the album is at 44.1/16, the other half at 48/24. I email Customer Service and said, I don't really mind, but I am puzzled why half the album is at one sample rate and bit depth, and the other is at another.

The response, was, and I swear to gosh, was:

"As long as you don't mind, let's leave it at that."

I was so befuddled, I did leave it at that.

burnspbesq's picture

Every FLAC download I've ever bought from Nonesuch has been a metadata-free zone. Same for DGG.

deckeda's picture

It's not "in their DNA" to paraphrase the late S. Jobs regarding labels' proclivity towards sweating the details. These are the same people who typically can't be bothered to include artist discography on a site beyond whatever's currently in print and for sale.

I find it astonishing, like you all do. And a little depressing.

The irony is that the metadata could easily be added by them to the flacs regardless of source. And Young has a fricken' 40 minute video---sorta elaborate, too---to promote the project. But no part time college kid employed to tag the files.

And so you email them, as Michael did, flashing the published Editor card, and still it goes into a black hole.

Labels are out of touch, maybe?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

But this, to my mind, is directly related to some of the issues expressed by David Chesky in our Q&A when he points out that he relies on the labels for information and none is forthcoming. To quote David, they just don't get it.

On this note(s), Chris Connaker makes a very good and related point about a recent Acoustic Sounds SACD release on his forum.

kavon yarrum's picture

BTW, Chris is absolutely right. For 30 bucks, there should be technical information on that SACD, or any boutique mastered disc.

I bought that SACD. I happen to know the process used, I did my digging,.

I have met Chad Kassem, and to put it diplomatically, he is quite sure of himself and feels his reputation should put people at ease that he only uses original analog sources, hence his name, Analogue Productions. That is direct quote btw.

Now let me say, I really like Chad. He is sharp and a perfectionist. But again, what applies to HDTracks should apply to him too.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

For info on the Shelby Lynne SACD release - our brother site, Michael Fremer's AnalogPlanet has an interview with Doug Sax (who did the mastering) by Andre Marc where they discuss in some detail the mastering process including the SACD/CD release.

Read all about it here.

kavon yarrum's picture

I think it is a bit a reach. Chesky knows the provenence of every master he receives.

I asked Bruce Brown this directly. He knows the origin of every file  he receives nd has even "caught" upsampled slop via his sophisticated ananlysis software which can identify characteristics of an upsampled file.

Let's take the Rod Stewart titles, Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells A Story. These are SECOND generation saftey copies that were archived at 192 khz. These maybe ALL that is left in playable condition..but find me on the site where it makes note that it is a 2nd gen tape transfer. This should be information available to the potential downloader. No rationalizing needed.

They just put up on their site Traffic's sublime John Barleycorn Must Die in 192 and 96 khz with ZERO information, I mean ZERO except for a lame, copy and pasted entry from Allmusic Guide. This is truly amatuerish and absurd. 25 bucks and I have to guess where this thing came from? 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

But...this is beginning to feel like a trial. Witness for the prosecution?

I've never spoken to Bruce Brown so I cannot speak to what he says HDtracks knows and does not know. Not that I doubt what he told you and how you're representing that here, but unless Bruce Brown wants to join in here himself, I cannot submit hearsay as evidence. See what I mean?

On a serious note, I'm thinking it may be most productive for us, meaning anyone who is interested in working toward a possible resolution to these issues, to come up with what we think is the minimum 'provenance' information that needs to be included for any SACD or HD download. As in a detailed list.

I'd imagine this has been done before but I'm not aware of any off the top of my head. I'd be happy to take a stab at a first round and make this a post so people can add their own suggestions in the comments.

kavon yarrum's picture

i agree. Hearsay is not productive. But scouts honor I have repeated verbatim what he has said in the past. I will ping him on another forum and see if he is interested in weighing in.

But to your point, we could discuss the "minimum" amount of liner notes that would be helpful in deciding to make a purchase from HDTracks.

Gee, who expected your HDTracks threads to be among the most active posts!

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Perhaps Mr. Brown would like to offer some ideas for our 'provenance check list'.

But to your point, we could discuss the "minimum" amount of liner notes that would be helpful in deciding to make a purchase from HDTracks.

This list is not just for HDtracks since this issue goes beyond them. For example if you look at www.highresaudio.com, you'll see that they do not always include this provenance data either. There's certainly no standard or even a common way to represent this information.

Gee, who expected your HDTracks threads to be among the most active posts!

I think it's great that there's so much interest in HD downloads and if we can turn complaints into something productive, we'd have have done something worth while.

kavon yarrum's picture

I erroneously wrote:

But to your point, we could discuss the "minimum" amount of liner notes that would be helpful in deciding to make a purchase from HDTracks.

I absolutely should have wrote:

...."minimum" amount of liner notes that would be helpful in deciding to make a purchae from HDTracks, or from ANY HiRez music vendor, including purveyors of SACDs and DVD-As.

BTW, here is Mr. Brown's own mini forum.

http://www.whatsbestforum.com/forumdisplay.php?235-The-Pro-Audiophile-By...

dalethorn's picture

I can appreciate the rabid interest in better digital files, as I'm upgrading my own collection as fast as I can. I can also understand the antipathy toward MP3's in the sense that they take up virtual shelf space that would in most cases be better served with higher rez files. But I am against the idea of any actual hostility toward MP3's because those MP3's have a very important place in the history of liberating music and speech from physical constraints, and for people to assume that it's OK to beat up on MP3's now is a very, very shortsighted notion. For reasons that would take up too much space here, dissing MP3's would be like dissing any "old" technology on the basis that newer tech is always better. It may be better within a given set of conditions, but not all conditions.

kavon yarrum's picture

You make an interesting point.  But put your steel vest on..the audiophile daggers will be coming out.

I use mp3/AAC for my iPod Nano and for my car which has a USB slot. It is all I will ever need in an portable environment.

Of course, for serious listening it is only lossless.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

While I did note that I'm against "paid MP3s", what I meant was I'm against paid MP3s today. I did not intend to bash backwards in time.

My feeling is MP3s are a great way to share, and help people discover, music. But we are at a point in time and technology where the notion that people should pay for an MP3 has passed. In my opinion.

For reasons that would take up too much space here, dissing MP3's would be like dissing any "old" technology on the basis that newer tech is always better.

I enjoy and frequently listen to LPs and 78s are responsible for some of my most memorable listening to music on a hi-fi experiences. So while I value "old technology", I also think its important to recognize when a given technology, i.e. MP3s, become worth about as much as a penny.

dalethorn's picture

Agree on MP3 pricing is in need of a review. But there are so many issues. How about a few of those:

Currently a lot of the pop music tracks I buy are older music that aren't great quality, and 256k MP3's from Amazon compared to FLAC (if lossless is even available!) generally makes very little difference compared to the variance in the quality of the music. And the variance isn't just between Artist A and B, you can often select 20 different versions of the same recording (exact same recording) on Amazon, and they may sound very different from each other.

It's really shameful that you can Google nearly any track (in lossless) that isn't available from Chesky et al, and the listings are all or nearly all pirates, because the music co's still aren't providing lossless for most music. When the music co's do get on board with lossless, I presume they won't have any kind of quality control like Chesky, and no doubt they will charge higher prices for lossless, and .... well, I'm not optimistic when it comes to the music co's.

Most of the newer pop music releases from Chesky are "Album only" where I really like a couple of the tracks, and the others are useless to me. It's only one album in 20 on average that I like enough tracks to justify the album price. This mostly "album only" practice, regardless of Chesky's costs of doing business or contract requirements, just reeks of gouging, which is one of the major reasons the first download sites like iTunes and Amazon got so much opposition from the music co's, for selling individual tracks.

So my requirements for buying (re-buying in a lot of cases actually) lossless music from the music co's are basically same per-track purchase selections I get from Amazon now, and prices that aren't orders of magnitude greater than the MP3 prices.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

With services like MOG providing free streaming of over 15 million tracks at 320kbps MP3, I find the paid MP3 model to be broken. I am also an album-only purchaser (and mostly an album listener)  so I did not think of the single-track aspect. I've also never purchased a download from Amazon or iTunes so cannot speak to their quality.

I also do not share your point of view that selling an entire album as opposed to chopping it up into single tracks is "gouging", but this is a matter of perspective and ours just differ.

ArnoldLayne's picture

I'm glad I waited to purchase from HDtracks- I was blissfully ignorant of this issue with some FLAC sources. In fact, 'I've only just begun' to check out the difference with mp3 by listening to 'We've Only Just Begun' ;-) at HDtracks...

I have one bad ear, but my good one could sure tell the difference and as a lifelong partial audiophile, I'm going to be ripping & probably buying some FLAC!

Thanks for your forum Michael.

Pablo's picture

Pirates do a better job than professionals, this is very sad.

John C Freeman's picture

I just received my copy of Neil Young's Americana from Amazon yesterday on a physical CD.  When I ripped it onto my hard drive, there was no Metadata or picture in data window. It said unkown disc.  I used the media player's feature to go and find the data. and It was still imcomplete.   Plus two tracks would not play on my computer (they would not rip also).  I tried the CD on two other computers and an Oppo DVD player and all had the same problem.  So this CD will be going back to Amazon today for a replacement.  A rather bad experience all the way around.

kavon yarrum's picture

Your problem is not unusual, and may not be a reflection on Neil Young.

I buy quite a few CDs and if it is a brand new release, often times it will not be registred in any of the metadata databases. If an album is brand spanking new, and has sold only a few units, that is the reality.

Did you try ripping it into iTunes? If it is sold on the iTunes store, metadata may be available.

As far as not playing correctly, that is a puzzle. My guess is that there are data tracks that are mean to confuse DVD-ROMs. If you try it in a CD-ROM based CD player is it should be ok.

John C Freeman's picture

Hello Kavon,

For playable factor, I am not blaming Neil Young, but the manufacturing of the CD.  If it can not play in my Oppo player (stereo system) it can not stay. It must be returned  As for the MetaData problem, yes I thought that the problem might be that it is to new for the Grace database to pick up on the needed data.  I will assume that if I go back to the database site later it should be there.  As for ripping into Itunes, I do not really do that, I just use the Windows Media Player.  I then file the ablum into my music folder so that my Logitech squeezebox can then send the losseless wav file (music) around the house wirelessly.  It sounds good.  I do not think Itunes gives me the option for saving into a desired loseless file format.

Thanks for offering your suggestions. I am stilll thinkinng about them.

kavon yarrum's picture

Hi John:

The playability factor is certainly a mystery. However I doubt is a manufacturing issue. But when you get your replacement, you will have your answer.

BTW, yes, iTunes DOES rip in lossless...either WAV, AIFF, or Apple Lossless.

(The only "problem" with WAV is that it does work will with metadata, so many prefer AIFF, ALAC, and FLAC. But this is another issue)

X