By Julie Hill
David Chesky, a three-time Grammy nominee, who currently holds the position of Composer in Residence for the National Symphony of Taiwan, is without doubt a modern-day Renaissance man. He is the co-founder of Grammy Award-winning audiophile record label Chesky Records, which has recorded hundreds of records with such legends as McCoy Tyner, Chuck Mangione, David Johansen, Ron Carter, and the late Peggy Lee. He is also the co-founder of leading independent music library, Manhattan Production Music. His newest venture is HDtracks.com, a high-resolution digital music store featuring content from such heralded record labels as ECM, the Beggars Group, Favored Nations, Rounder Records and Universal Music.
Julie Hill: Tell us about HD Tracks.
David Chesky: HD Tracks is the world’s only site that gives you high-resolution downloads. It’s CD quality and DVD audio with full PDF liner notes. So what’s cool about it is that a regular download is 128 kilobits per second. Our basic rate is CD quality. That’s 1411 kilobits per second. And our super DVD audio quality is 4608 kilobits per second. And what does that mean? Look…. A jazz musician—let’s say a sax player—spends his whole life to get a great tone, so why destroy that tone at 128 kilobits per second? If a drummer goes out and buys these amazing Zildjian symbols that have this amazing sparkle, why just go out and destroy the sound? The poetry of music is sound. So the beauty of HD tracks is that you really get to hear all the nuances and the tone, the poetry in a download now. And the other really cool thing about this is that you get the liner notes. I mean—what if you buy a really great jazz record online and you wanna know ‘Who’s the bass player? Who recorded this?’ That’s really important. I mean, if you go to the concert hall, how can you listen to a concert with out any program notes? In jazz, the liner notes are the program notes. To have that disappear in a second is really dumb. We need to recognize the great people on the record. By downloading HD Tracks now, you can get the full liner notes and an amazing audio experience.
JH: How did you guys get started with HD Tracks? A lot of people try to get music downloading servers up and running.
DC: This came about because my brother and I own Chesky Records. For the past 25 years, we’ve been developing music recording technology to get a really great sound. I mean, our motto is ‘Great Artists. Great Sound.’ We’re just taking this one step further, putting this idea online. It’s about quality.
JH: Who are you really trying to appeal to here? What do you hope for in the future for HD Tracks?
DC: HD Tracks was designed for people who really listen to music. You know the problem is today that people listen to music while doing anything else but listening to music. They listen while they’re vacuuming, walking their dog, eating dinner, jogging. How many people do you know who actually listen to
music? Our tracks are meant to be listened to. That’s why they’re high-definition. The market is people who really care about quality. And it’s not for everybody. I mean, if you wanna have 9 million tracks walking around with you, we’re not the site for you. But if you wanna have a great listening experience that you can download, that’s what HD Tracks is about.
JH: Absolutely. I think that a lot of Berklee students would like to get into some business that can make quality m
ore accessible. And I think what a lot of people are afraid of right now is that the masses don’t fully realize what they’re missing out on, so they go for quantity. I’m wondering how you guys create a client base that understands quality over quantity in this day and age. You guys have been so successful, and I think Berklee kids would be interested as to how you publicize great things like HD Tracks.
DC: Every musician you know—let’s say a rock band—just spent months in the studio sweating over EQs, mixes, what kind of echo. Do you think that the arena they want their music to be heard in involves 2 plastic speakers while someone is surfing the web? No. The album was intended to be played on big speakers. Sit down on the couch and rock out. So the artists are our biggest supporters. They wanna be on HD Tracks. We’re just trying to do justice to the artist. This is for any artist. I know its true for classical, jazz, rock n’ roll. People work hard to make records. They spend enormous time doing this and they want their work to be shown in the best light that it can. So the artists are our best source of PR, because they tell people about it. And I guess that people at Berklee who are into music will be into it, because they care about music.
JH: Can you tell us about some of the great artists who are on HD Tracks?
DC: Well, first of all, we’re the first people to release the new Keith Jarrett album, Paris. London. We just came out with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. We have all the standard great jazz from Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis. We have ECM. We have Sunnyside. We just signed Verve. We have tons of great jazz labels on the site. So basically we’re focusing on great Jazz, great Classical, great World artists.
JH: What kind of suggestions do you have for Berklee students who are getting into the jazz realm, either as performers or in the music business sector?
DC: My advice is not to rely on other people. Go out, get a band, make your own recording, put it online, and sell it. Get out there and work it. It’s a different world. You have to learn about business. The days of the record company, of managers signing bands and taking care of everything are over. Artists have to be very web-savvy and very business-savvy. That’s the world. The future is going to be a world of independence. You’re going to see lots and lots of artists owning small labels. That’s the way it’s gonna go.
JH: Is there anything else you want to tell us about HD Tracks or about yourself?
DC: You know—I’m a composer. The whole reason for this is that I’m a composer. It’s all about the music. I live, breathe, eat music. Jazz. Classical. I love it. My philosophy is that if you’re going to do it, you might as well make it sound as great as you can, because you’re going to be in the studio anyway. When you make the record, spend the extra 20%. Make it sound good. Especially jazz musicians. I write classical music now, so it’s all written down. But the only real way to document jazz is recording. So you might as well make it sound great for the next generation. Not only are you making a piece of entertainment, you’re making a documentary of a time. That’s why Keith Jarrett puts the same passion and detail into recording and capturing his music as he does playing. Because he gets the whole picture. If you’re lucky enough to be at a Keith Jarrett concert, that’s great. But if you’re in Tahiti, and you can’t be there, then that’s where we come in, trying to bring you as close to the artist as possible.