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"MASTERED FOR iTUNES" (Is IT The Future For Your Music?)
By Bob Speer

If you're thinking of releasing your music in the new "Mastered For iTunes" format, there are some things you need to know.
First of all, "Mastered for iTunes" means that the music was mastered specifically for the "Mastered For iTunes" format.  In other
words, it's mastered to sound good on iTunes without any thought of how it might sound on other delivery formats.  It's not the
same mastering process that you would use for other delivery formats such as CD.  If you're going to deliver your music on CD
as well as "Mastered For iTunes," you'll need two separate masters.  One for each Format.  Although, if you decided to use the
"Mastered For iTunes" files to produce a CD as well, your CD will probably sound much better than most CDs being produced
today.  For more on that subject, read What Happened to Dynamic Range

In the past, music was submitted to iTunes as 16 bit 44.1 kHz music files.  While you can still submit your music files in that
format, they will not be branded as "Mastered For iTunes."  To be branded as "Mastered For iTunes," your music files need to
adhere to specific guidelines as defined by iTunes.  The files need to be high resolution files.  iTunes recommends 24 bit 96 khz
music files.  However, they will accept any sampling rate (44.1 khz and above) as long as the files are 24 bit files.

There is one misconception people have regarding "Mastered For iTunes."  Some think that since you are submitting high
resolution files to iTunes, that's what iTunes will be making available for download from their library (similar to HDtracks,
Nimbit.com, etc.).  Sorry to say, that's not the case.  iTunes will take your high resolution files and convert them to VBR
(variable bit rate) AAC files.  What consumers will be buying when they download a song with the "Mastered For iTunes"
branding, will be a lossy file, not a true high resolution file.

iTunes explains:  "The final file delivered to the consumer is in our industry-leading 256K AAC iTunes Plus format.  AAC is a
very efficient CODEC for digital music that uses every significant bit to render the audio.  It is modeled specifically on the way
human hearing works.  Over the past eight years, we have steadily improved our software encoders, refined the entire
mastering process and workflow, and identified all the key variables involved in creating a stellar sounding final product for
iTunes."

So, will the "Mastered For iTunes" branded songs sound better?  They sound much better than the 128 kbps mp3 files that
represents much of the original iTunes library.  But in my opinion, only marginally better than the 256 kbps VBR AAC files that
iTunes switched to a few years ago.  While I would prefer to see all download sites provide true High Resolution files, "Mastered
For iTunes" is  probably the best compromise we have between improved sound quality and the small file size necessary to keep
downloads fast.

The question is, will iTunes accept your high resolution files and brand them as "Mastered For iTunes?"  Well, if you're a major
recording artist, the answer is yes.  If you're an independent artist, the answer isn't so clear.  If iTunes won't accept your high
resolution files directly, you may have to use an aggregator.  Aggregators can be found by doing an Internet search, but one
that's well known is CD Baby.  Contact them and they will attempt to get iTunes to brand your files as "Mastered For iTunes."
If iTunes does not brand your files as "Mastered For iTunes," they will accept them and include them as part of their normal
distribution library.   That's not necessarily a bad thing.  They will sound better than most of the other songs available for
download there.

Finally, you'll need to consider the consumer.  Will the average consumer be willing to spend the extra dollars to download a
"Mastered For iTunes" music file?  Will the average consumer be able hear the improved quality of a "Mastered For iTunes"
music file?  More importantly, will they care?  Only time will tell as consumers cast their votes with their wallets.

 
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