Sunday, 20 November 2011

Review: Where to buy music in Australia - Take 2

Though it's only been 6 months since my original post there's been quite a few changes on the music buying circuit so I thought I'd update and re-post it.

I've had a lot of people asking me lately where to buy swing music from so I thought I'd put together a post outlining the best places to purchase music from. I'll cover physical stores and buying CDs online as well as digital downloads. This is written from the Australian viewpoint - noting that many of the large online stores (for digital downloads) have geographic restrictions.

Props to Jesse and Spuds for starting this conversation on 'Hey Mr Jesse' and to various Australian listeners for their feedback to the show which pointed me in some good directions. If you're interested in swing music their show is a must listen. For the international readers Spuds put together a brief review of digital download sites that are available in various locations. They also regularly discuss the various streaming services available - which I don't.

Bricks and Mortar
For briefness I'll stick to Sydney, but there are plenty of retailers out there around the traps. If anyone wants to send me info about other cities in Oz I'll include them.

One of the best places to pick up CDs is at gigs. They're often cheaper than you can find in the store and you can be sure that the most amount of money possible is actually finding its way to the artist. And besides, what better way to preview the music than live!

Fish Fine Music - QVB, King St, Newtown and Balmain (which is moving to Leichhardt)
Fish has a good selection and breaks it up into a couple of categories (usually blues, jazz and nostalgia). They also tend to stock decent box sets. They are also more than happy to order stuff in (and it's generally much quicker than trying to buy off amazon). Their bargain bins generally have quite a lot of cheap compilations of jazz stuff. Good if you're looking to start a collection.

Birdland - George Street, Sydney
This is pretty much the only speciality jazz retailer in Sydney (they also run a website and mail order business). They're also only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They have a lot of Australian content and also stock a lot of vinyl and SACDs (for the audiophiles out there).

JB Hi Fi
The big ugly yellow retailer, but the only one with a decent variety of jazz CDs. Many of their stores do have separate jazz and blues sections, but the selection tends towards post 50's material and contemporary jazz. Their bargain bins are not worth going through. They can order stuff in, but if I'm doing that I'd rather go local.

2MBS Book and Record Bazaar - Moves Around
This second hand fair moves around town every couple of months and has books, sheet music, records and CDs. They do have a jazz section, but it pays to check pop music and classical for the occasional gem that goes astray. You can often get good out-of-print stuff here if you're prepared to spend the time leafing through the bins. Make sure you check the CDs though, some of them can be scratched or not in the case at all. It's also well advised to get there when the doors open on the first night as there's a bunch of music nerds that descend on the place looking to snatch up a bargain.

Plastic and Aluminium
I'm listing sellers with large catalogues here, but many artists sell their own and other CDs direct through their own websites. There's also many specialist labels and other niche distributors out there as well which are worth seeking out for stuff that's more off the beaten path.

This is usually my first go-to for old stuff. They have a huge catalogue and also act as a distributor for many other resellers. You may even be able to find out-of-print stuff there through the resellers. However most out-of-print CDs and many emerging and unsigned artists are not available.
Unfortunately Amazon Mp3 is not yet available in Australia.

Though there's only a handful of CDs of old swing music here but this site is very popular with new musicians, particularly independents. If I'm looking for contemporary stuff this is my go-to. They also do digital downloads for many of the releases they carry.

Louisiana Music Factory
This store specialises in New Orleans and Louisiana music. They also carry a lot of trad jazz and all sorts of other stuff (Cajun, Zydeco etc.) If the artist is from New Orleans this store has it. The interface isn't as slick as Amazon or CDBaby but you can find it if you know what you're looking for. I like to make my New Orleans purchases from this store as I know more money is going back to the local community that way.

Mosaic Records
The store for high quality, complete box sets. They also do smaller compilations of particular artists. The audio quality is the best you will get and liner notes thoroughly researched and discographies complete with alternate takes. It's expensive and the releases are limited, but well worth it. Sign up to their mail list to find out what's coming up.

Jazz By Mail
Specialises in Trad Jazz and other early jazz (including the various revivals). It also stocks the catalogues of a number of specialist re-issuers including Arbors Records. They are also gearing up to do some digital downloads.

These guys are based in California and have three huge stores of music new and used. I found a tonne of out-of-print stuff when I was there. Although their online purchasing is fairly limited they do run a service where you can fill out a form on their website and they'll try and track down the CD or LP in store and send it to you.

Ones and Zeros
Now before I start this section I must profess that I buy all my music on CD. I like doing so because I get the liner notes with good pictures, prose and complete details. It's also an additional back-up if my electronic files fail. And even though you need specialised equipment to read them (a record can be played with a paper cone) I like having the physical product in my hand. As such I don't have any personal experience with these services. Many of them have a variety of payment options (credit card or store bought cards) and all offer discounts for buying a whole album.

There's really only 5 large online stores that have a good range of both contemporary and old stuff. I'm going to take my cue from Spuds on Hey Mr Jesse and test each by the availability of three artists: Count Basie, Billy Kyle and Nikki Yanofsky. To that I'm going to add a couple of Australian artists: James Morrison as the popular one and Pugsley Buzzard as the less common. I've also listed a couple of other sites - Bandcamp which focussing on indie artists is not directly comparable and emusic and Google music for completeness.

iTunes comes out on top, as it has by far the largest collection. They're all fairly comparable on price (most tracks being about $1.69 across all services) and naturally the local sites largely fail on the local musicians (ie. buy it from the musician direct).

Apple - biggest collection, but you need to download iTunes to use it.
Total Collection: 14 million songs
General Price: $1.19-$2.19 per track
Count Basie: Lots (100s of albums)
Billy Kyle: Some (about 15 albums)
Nikki Yanofsky: Yes (1 album - only release)
James Morrison: Lots (about 15 albums)
Pugsley Buzzard:Yes (2 out of 3 albums)

This is Nokia's offering and you don't need to own a Nokia phone to buy. There is a however an emusic-like subscription model for owners of a particular Nokia phone. It appears to be web-based and offers a downloadable player and browser.
Total Collection: 11 million
General Price: $1.49 per track
Count Basie: 268 albums
Billy Kyle: 12 albums
Nikki Yanofsky: Yes (1 album - only release)
James Morrison: 10 albums
Pugsley Buzzard: Nil 
Primarily tracks on the Sony label (includes vintage jazz labels Columbia, RCA Victor, RCA, Okeh) and bits and pieces from other labels. It's web-based.
Total Collection: 2 million songs
General Price: $1.69-$2.20 per track
Count Basie: 189 tracks
Billy Kyle: Nil
Nikki Yanofsky: Yes (1 album - only release)
James Morrison: Nil
Pugsley Buzzard: Yes (1 out of 3 albums)

Big Pond Music
You don't need to be a 'bog pond' customer to access this service and it's web-based.
Total Collection: 1 million songs
General Price: $1.10-$2.05 per track
Count Basie: 68 albums
Billy Kyle: 1 album
Nikki Yanofsky: Yes (1 album - only release)
James Morrison: 2 albums
Pugsley Buzzard: Yes (1 out of 3 albums)

Optus Music Store
Likewise you don't need to be an Optus customer to buy. It's also web-based.
Total Collection: Unknown
General Price: $1.69 per track
Count Basie: 279 albums
Billy Kyle: Nil
Nikki Yanofsky: Yes (1 album - only release)
James Morrison: Nil
Pugsley Buzzard: Nil

This falls into a similar camp to CDBaby as it is all about independent artists. In addition to showcasing independent artists this website allows you to listen to the entire album before you download it (no 30 second samples here) and you can download in a range of formats (including a number of lossless formats like FLAC). It has an impressive 2.5 million catalogue.

If you've got it, you'll know about it. If you don't have it you can't get it.

Google Music
Not yet available in Australia (unless you do something fancy with a VPN). No word yet on a launch date.

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