Cookie Marenco is anything but a newbie when it comes to the music industry. In fact, she’s a downright veteran, having played a crucial role in the creation and distribution of high-resolution audio recordings using a breakthrough digital format called Direct Stream Digital (DSD).
In 2010, Marenco’s company, Blue Coast Records, became the first company to commercially release DSD (one-bit recording 64 times bigger than the conventional CD) downloads. This Renaissance woman is Founder of Blue Coast Music, the parent company for Blue Coast Records, Downloads NOW!, OTR Studios and DSD-Guide. Blue Coast Music also produces and distributes Hi-Resolution downloads for other companies such as the San Francisco Symphony, IsoMike, and ACT Music among others. She is also a five-time Grammy nominated engineer, and will be featured on the new HiRes Tech Zone panel and with Indiegogo in a press conference titled, “How Indiegogo Will Save an Old Dying Industry”, on January 7, 2014.
A September 2013 NPR interview with Cookie Marenco, “What does a song that costs $5 sound like?”, compelled me to reach out to her personally with some questions about this dying industry, and how to salvage it.
Once the questions started rolling, I began to feel a bit of nostalgia. Some of Marenco’s answers took me back to an early Whirling Girlish interview with San Francisco based artist, Kyle Austin Dunn. The interview with Dunn focused on originality in the arts, and resisting a trend being referred to as “Neo-Mannerism”.
Marenco explains that there are definite pros and cons to this vast pool of new musicians and artists, as well as the place of low-quality audio downloads floating in music scene. The similarities between the interviews are uncanny; true artists, craftspeople, are often drowned out by an influx of low-quality products. The battle between quality versus quantity and, by extension, profit versus outreach, is at an all-time high.
“On one hand, it’s good that more people than ever can create music quickly, but on the other hand, too many of these new found ‘musicians’ believe that if they create something, people will actually care enough to buy their music, and support their career… the catch is the music listener is faced with too much choice. If there is not a lot of interest, then there are not a lot of sales,” Marenco said.
Marenco says the keys to success are, of course, passion and a hardworking mentality, but also about consistently delivering products until you find a niche. We are living in a world in which most emphasis is put on setting oneself apart from the pack. The music industry today isn’t a collection of a few expansive lakes, but rather thousands of smaller puddles.
But Marenco likes to remind people of why the quality of music is important.
“Music and sound tell us how to feel.”
She’s got a point. For many, music is a gateway to unlocking buried emotions, or documenting periods of one’s past. In today’s society, jam packed with high-speed everything, limitless Wi-Fi, and outrageously fast downloads, people expect instant satisfaction. Even more, they demand it. They want to unlock their feelings, and they want to do it now. The tricky part is, that as consumers, we don’t realize that often times, we gyp ourselves. Why? Those $300 headphones you are sporting aren’t going to do their job to their fullest potential by streaming low-grade mp3 files.
Blue Coast Music has set out with a mission to reverse this trend, and prides itself on living on the cutting edge of great sound. Bigger companies such as Sony have just begun to jump on the Hi Resolution Audio bandwagon after years of keeping tabs on Marenco’s progress, to ensure that their money will generate…you guessed it—more money.
Some were skeptical about trekking into this uncharted territory. However, time as proven to the producers at Blue Coast Music that there is a hungry population of music lovers around the world that are craving Hi-Resolution music.
Marenco admits that the transition to high quality music in the mainstream will be gradual.
“I predict it’ll be about another ten years before DSD are at the forefront of the music buying marketplace, but I’m confident Blue Coast will be right there,” Marenco said.
There’s good news to ambitious artists looking to build their ways to the top! Marenco also comments that now is a great time to try and make it, because “you don’t need to be a chart topper anymore to have a successful career.” An artist can make a living without entering the mainstream market to survive and still have fans worldwide thanks to the www.
This is not to say that the music business might not be taxing: it is. Nevertheless, Marenco emphasizes that although the economy of scale is real, there is currently a great opportunity to do something small and truly be successful. Have you been toying with the idea of opening your own niche record label? Well, my friends, it seems now’s the time!
In fact, Marenco knows this first hand. While Blue Coast Music is based out of California, over 75% of its audiences live outside of the United States. It seems that many people in the good ole’ US of A have become victims of the mentality that success comes from accumulating money, rather than perfecting quality and craftsmanship (where have all the craftspeople gone?) In short, build a loyal client base, and you can build yourself a solid stream of business and admirers for years to come. It’s not just about scoring a one-hit-wonder.
I couldn’t escape asking Marenco about DSD’s place in the ever-evolving (and increasingly giant) electronic music genre. It is a rarity, to find artists that do not rely heavily on overdubbing and studio effects to sculpt their performance. Marenco splits music into two categories. One side, being acoustic “live” performance recordings, and the other, studio manipulated recordings.
Her favorite? Live performances. Hands down.
“There is a magic and risk to performing in the studio.”
Many well-known artists are retreating back to this kind of recording. Elton John recently debuted a live studio album after it was recommended to him that he return back to his roots. This recommendation led him right back to the recording studio with his piano set in front of him. He calls it his most organic album in ages.
There are still some challenges to overcome before this style of recording goes mainstream again.
“The challenge is to get the performance in the studio, not from a box,” said Marenco.
Similar to a recent interview with fellow Grammy nominated music producer, Cheryl Pawelski of Omnivore Records, Marenco comments that a career in music is a tough choice for anyone, regardless of gender. It’s just another thing that makes Cookie so awesome.
“Man, or woman, it doesn’t matter—the cost of a successful career in music is often family life. I decided to raise the next generation of studio engineers and producers instead of children,” said Marenco.
Although the current music industry is primarily dominated by men, Marenco says the women are by no means left out of the loop. In fact, “the purchasing power has historically come from women—often times we are the ones holding the money.”
Both producers Marenco and Pawelski agree that it takes a unique person to make it in the business. It requires diligence, creativity, and the ability to look past others ‘criticisms and doubts. You either have it, or you don’t.
Marenco puts it best when describing herself as a professional: “I am the kind of person that when faced with a cement wall in front of me, I’ll run into it a few times until it hurts…then I’ll just walk around it.”
You heard it straight from the expert’s mouth. The music industry is changing and in a positive manner. Thanks to innovators and fine craftspeople, such as Cookie Marenco, we are traveling into a direction of high-quality listening and we are on the brink of a revolution for all artisans alike. Does that business venture you’ve been dreaming about just look like a cement wall right now? Just do what Cookie Marenco does, and walk around it. The rest is up to you.
For more information about Blue Coast Music, visit here.
Featured Image via Andrea Jackson