David Chesky’s name should not be new to any audiophile. He and his younger brother Norman founded Chesky Records in 1978, and more recently opened a second venture HDTracks.com. David is also an accomplished composer and musician. David generously agreed to answer a few questions.
Nels Ferre: David, I would like to thank you for agreeing to an interview with Enjoy the Music.com. Could you tell me how you and your brother started the company?
David Chesky: I started this company 24 years ago when I was a studio musician. I used to conduct and stood in front of the orchestra. It always sounded great to me, but when we heard all the 50 microphones mixed in, it was terrible. So I thought why not make a company from the conductors perspective with one stereo mike-that has been out philosophy ever since.
NF: Were there any challenges that you especially remember today?
DC: I always wanted to have our own company. As a studio musician, I always had to wait for the phone to ring to work. With a record company, one gets out and makes the music and then finds a way to sell it. You have more control over your life.
NF: I have numerous Chesky Records offerings in my collection. One favorite is Rebecca Pidgeon's The Raven. Both the recording, and more importantly the performance, are spellbinding. Were you present for the sessions, and if so, were any interesting anecdotes you recall about the sessions?
DC: It went very smoothly. Bob Katz was the engineer. We had a very interesting back up singer Felicity Huffman- who is now the star of (American television series) Desperate housewives.
NF: Are there any interesting or funny stories you can remember about any sessions you may have been involved in, whether as a musician or a producer?
DC: Not really, most have been kind of stressful.
NF: You are an accomplished Jazz musician. While I am not a big jazz buff as I prefer "traditional" jazz to the offerings usually heard on today's "popular" Jazz stations, I recently downloaded The Body Acoustic and thoroughly enjoyed it. The sound is immediate, yet very natural, nothing sounds "electronic" or forced. Are there any rules you follow while recording?
DC: I play jazz but write classical music. I use the same techniques whether recording a large orchestra or a small jazz group. One mike, keep it very simple. The best mike, cables, tube mike pre amp and A/D converter.
NF: Please tell us about your studio.
DC: We have a nice mastering studio in New York. We use six speakers in our Chesky 6.0 set up. We have many different DACs and recorders as well.
NF: Please tell us about your new off Broadway show.
DC: I have a new opera, The Pig, the Farmer and the Artist running off Broadway in New York. It is a crazy opt about how we per vice couture in America in the present day. It is a comic satire.
NF: Recently, you launched HD Tracks. What percentage of your sales are physical media versus downloads?
DC: HDtracks is a separate company from Chesky Records. HDtracks has hundreds of labels. We are mostly doing 44.1 and 24/96 downloads. Our customers are audiophiles and want the best quality sound. We are not looking to sell music to kids in a school yard. That is not our business model- just the highest quality files with artwork and liner notes.
NF: Are there any special challenged that you discovered regarding delivering downloaded media?
DC: We have done thousands and thousands of downloads without a problem. Our customers seem quite happy. This is going to be the future. Digital has gotten a bad rap, it is not the digital but the execution jitter and error correction on CDs. But, with HDtracks there are no silver discs that have error correction and laser jitter. There is just music file played from Solid State hard drives.
NF: I have noticed that a large number of record companies have jumped on board the HD Tracks bandwagon. I've purchased a number of albums myself through HD Tracks, and have to commend you for not only the vast selection of titles, but also the ease of use. As a consumer, the site is excellent. What has the reaction been from the other record companies you are affiliated with?
DC: The labels are very excited. With record stores vanishing the web is the only pace to buy music. Also with smaller audiophile labels that have limited distribution suddenly you can find 24 hours a day. Also with HDtracks you can listen to the music before you buy it Something you cannot do in a traditional record store.
NF: Not only does HD Tracks offer real CD Quality downloads but you offer high resolution (24 bit 96kHz) downloads as well. In the "MP3" age how are the high resolution downloads doing? I have one so far, and am thrilled with the quality.
DC: Most of our customers want the best files they can get. HDtracks files are meant to be played back on the best systems you can hear them on
NF: In a related question, there was recent announcement that there would be an upcoming price increase on the high resolution downloads, from $15.99 to $17.99. With the CD quality downloads priced at $11.99 with no price increase, what is the reasoning behind the price increase on high resolution downloads.
DC: Yes this is because we are starting to get major labels and major artists. We are just the store. The labels set the prices ad margins they want. But with that said it is still cheaper than buying a high resolution silver discs. And most of this material cannot be found anyway. so it is still a great deal. When we sell a album the big expense is the songwriters royalties and the performers royalties. These artists have been ripped off for so long on the web with free download it is about time they can recoup some money. They have kids and house to pay for as well.
NF: Do you own an analog rig at home? Do you use it?
DC: I have a great rig at home. But it has been hijacked by my kids. So they now can hear their favorite kids songs on a great stereo. I love it when I get a chance to use it.
NF: Many say that high end audio is a dying business, which younger people today don't care about sound quality. I think it is an ignorance issue - if the big box stores are all you know, then audio quality becomes nothing more than differing amounts of mediocrity. Is the success of lossy downloads due to ignorance, or it because a lot of younger people listen on portables (iPods) or computers?
DC: Kids like portable devices, but maybe these will get better and better, who knows? I hope so. It seems like we now have a race to the bottom in everything: music, television and art. Maybe we have said everything and there is nothing left. It is a sign of the times, but it will turn around if we can all hang in there.
NF: Is there any breaking news at Chesky Records or HD Tracks that you would like to share?
DC: We now have our 24/192 studio master one to one recordings. They are one to one copies of our master tapes on a WAV discs, if you have a computer and a good DAC this is the best format out there now.