Amazon Video Ads

A Reflection on Media Advertising

2012-06-18 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2013-07-17 — New standard layout applied
2014-11-02 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-06-26 — Brushed up for better readability

Table of Contents

Aspects of Music Advertising

Over the past year I made two controversial experiences with Amazon “ads”. I wanted to write this off my mind …

For some CD or MP3 offerings, Amazon will post little video ads. These ads are typically placed on the product page, but which can (often? always?) be also be viewed on YouTube. I’m not sure what the policy behind these videos is, i.e., whether they are done

  • “as they see fit” (e.g., where the recording session “leads itself” to the production of such video promotions),
  • to expose a “sexy” (with and without double quotes) artist that might get customers “hooked” on the recording or the artist, and will lead to additional, “collateral” purchases,
  • in order to promote recordings that they feel have the potential for selling well, but might otherwise go unnoticed,
  • to help pushing an artist that they want to promote / push, or
  • upon the request of an artist, etc.?

Sometimes, such video ads are excerpts from interviews and other collaterals that are co-packaged with the music media — e.g., a music CD or CD set might be accompanied by a video DVD.

A Rather Doubtful Experience with Video Ads

The first experience that I want to talk about here is about a recording of the Beethoven piano concertos with unnamed artists (well, those who have seen the video will recognize him anyway … ). I had certainly heard about all the artists, but I did not have any recordings with that pianist at all so far. So, when I ran into this recording on Amazon, I thought I’d have a peek at it by watching the video. As many such ads, the 7-minute video contained short excerpts from the concertos. That’s certainly not enough (or not broad enough a selection) to make an assessment about the qualities of that recording. The musical tidbits were interspersed with (fragments of) several interviews:

The Producer

The producer utters statements along the lines of “we recorded the […] concertos at […] Abbey Road Studios in London — wonderful studio …
Hold it: what’s “wonderful” about a studio? What does that have to do with the quality of the interpretation? To an unprepared visitor, a recording studio must be about the most uninspiring environment imaginable, with all the wiring, microphones, sound walls, open lighting, etc.!

… together with […] and Sir […], a marvelous conductor, and a wonderful gentleman …
This is a bit too blunt to be the ultimate truth. Is he the person to give such qualifications? I accept the second qualification, but that again has limited influence on the outcome! And about the pianist:

… I have worked with him for — I guess — half of his life, and it has been astonishing to work with him, to listen to the way he plays, to see the level of perfection that he tries for, and achieves …
Well, to me, perfection is not an essential musical quality. Some degree of perfection is typically assumed as a basis for making competitive recordings. Of course, in studios there’s always the possibility to re-record many times, to replace mistakes by bits from good or better takes, etc.

… he is an extraordinary artist; I have never worked with a pianist, or an instrumentalist for that matter, who has such incredible musicianship and beauty of conception, and technical perfection, it’s an astonishing combination, he really is extraordinary; there’s none like him that I have ever worked with in my 35 years in this market …
Well, he wants to sell his product! If the pianist was such a miracle, why then would he need such promotion?

Senior Pianist / Colleague

Next, a senior pianist and conductor with the same nationality as the young pianist in the current recording states: “what is special about … is that he is one of those totally devoted musicians, totally devoted as pianist to his art and to the music he is playing — fanatically devoted, and without this, I think you are not going to achieve very much. I’m not even talking about how unbelievable gift, which is absolutely extraordinary …” and he goes on about the pianist’s dedication, etc.
Again: dedication and devotion are likely mandatory ingredients for an artists who really wants to compete in today’s recording market. It’s nothing that makes the results stand out from recordings with fellow artists …

The Conductor

Finally, the conductor: “He is technically — — — supreme — I think everybody knows — and he lives for playing his piano, and he is so — — — faultless …
And once more: technical supremacy, “faultlessness” are almost mandatory in today’s market (unfortunately, I should say). But really, nothing in this tells me why I should be buying this recording, what differentiates it from all the other recordings on the market, what is special about it (other than its perfection), what the artists want to express with their interpretation, etc. …

The Pianist Himself??

Interestingly, there wasn’t a single word by the pianist. It turns out that he isn’t very fluent in English (though he has done a nice little video recently, portraying him as a really nice person!), but they could still have added an interview with captions in English?

Falling Into the Trap

My instant reaction was that this video was rather disqualifying the conductor and that fellow pianist, in that their statements were “too cheap”, the video overall is pure “marketing blah-blah”. Nevertheless, I thought that I should not make this instant reaction the basis for or against a purchasing decision. I went ahead and bought the CDs anyway, giving the pianist a “chance”, and allowing me to make my own assessment of this recording.

Well, in the aftermath this was a mistake / almost complete failure: yes, the interpretation may be faultless, maybe even perfect (no, it isn’t). But for me it is also pretty feature-less, lacking personality, esprit, all the joking in Beethoven’s final movements. It’s absolutely mediocre, character-wise, and it doesn’t talk to me! OK, it avoids gross mistakes that others make (e.g., Eschenbach / Karajan ignoring the alla breve notation in the Largo of op.15). However, the absence of a negative feature does not make this an outstanding performance! I’m sorry about that young artist: he certainly has his merits in the romantic or newer repertoire, but Beethoven is not his strength.


My personal conclusions from this:

  • Don’t trust statements that others make about an artists, especially if they are participating in the recording or otherwise profit from it.
  • Artists won’t disqualify friends and fellow artists: their statement in such a context is of very little value.
  • If presumably independent third parties issue statements, such as critics for newspapers etc., you should only trust such comments if you know the commentators and their opinions (i.e., that they are on your wavelength, share your taste, etc.)
  • ideally such previews / ads should include a representative set of excerpts from the CD, such that you can make your own assessment about the qualities of a recording
  • if such a preview gives additional insights about the personalities of the musicians in a recording, this can be a nice fringe benefit of such a video preview, but that should normally not be a deciding factor in a CD purchase.

For a large portion of their classical CDs, Amazon also offer audio previews. These are of very limited value, not only because the fragments are minuscule (0.5 – 1 minute per track), but also because they appear to be taken from the beginning or an early part of every track. That is rarely representative for the whole track / movement, and in the case of concertos you can call yourself lucky if you get to hear the soloist at all! I’m not blaming Amazon for this. Having an expert hand-select representative fragments for every CD is simply not doable at this scale.

There are also Better Examples!

But let me also mention a positive example! I think it was through an e-mail campaign that I ran into the video preview for the CD “Duetti” that William Christie recorded with Philippe Jaroussky, Max Emanuel Cenčić, and with his ensemble “Les Arts Florissants”:

A CD: “Duetti”

Duetti — Christie, Jaroussky, Cencic, CD cover

Philippe Jaroussky, Max Emanel Cenčić, William Christie, Les Arts Florissants

Virgin Classics 5 099907 094323 (CD, stereo), ℗ / © 2011

Duetti — Christie, Jaroussky, Cencic, CD, EAN-13 barcode
amazon media link

I had known about Philippe Jaroussky before, from various YouTube videos (meanwhile, the number of those videos has grown to myriads!), and William Christie’s reputation in the baroque and pre-baroque repertoire is excellent (didn’t have any records with, though, sadly enough!). Now, this video caught my attention immediately: the performance by all the artists involved is at the highest possible level. In addition, it’s such a pleasure to see the two singers perform in the studio, moving freely (nothing like the stiff atmosphere of a Liederabend!) — and their performance is impeccable! As a bonus, the preview video also includes interviews with the three main artists, giving some nice insights about their personalities — lovely!

The Outcome

Purchasing this CD was a no-brainer, really. And it did not disappoint me: I love all the music on that CD! Is the preview truly representative? Of course it is not: they did pick highlights. I would expect that. Leaving out the recitativi (less interesting as music a priori) from the preview is certainly OK.

Well, there is some cheating even in the title of the CD! Out of the 24 tracks, only 9 are real duets. 8 are solo-recitativi, one track is instrumental, 6 are solo arias. Overall, just about one-third of the tracks — 39 out of 74 minutes of music — fits the title of the CD. However, given the quality of the performance and the listening pleasure overall (including the recitativi!), this is perfectly acceptable. One would hope for a follow-up CD with more duetti. And I can certainly only recommend this CD (as well as the video preview!).

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