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ROBERT HILBURN

Good News For The Cd Fanatic

May 30, 1987|ROBERT HILBURN

Pete Howard is a man with a better idea.

Compact discs are causing more consumer excitement in the $4-billion-a-year record business than anything else in more than a decade, but CD fans are still reduced to checking record-store bins to find out about new releases. There's been no national publication that addresses CD software with any genuine zest.

The bimonthly Green Compact Disc Catalog ($3.95) and monthly Schwann Compact Disc Catalog ($3.95) are reference works that list every new CD, but in a sterile, alphabetical fashion and often weeks late. Digital Audio & Compact Disc Review ($2.95) is a more traditional consumer magazine, but it devotes much of its attention to hardware and its roundup of new releases is also weeks behind.

None deals with CD software with the enthusiasm and aggression needed to satisfy the appetite of the CD fanatic--the person who wants to know everything possible about key albums, including when they will be available in CD form, which carry bonus tracks and why some sound so bad.

Pete Howard's idea--the International CD Exchange--is designed to fill that void.

A Santa Monica resident who has worked in radio and the record industry for more than 15 years, Howard, 34, is passionate about music and his monthly newsletter reflects that passion. It concentrates on information rather than writing style, but it's frisky, opinionated and fun.

Howard gets excited when he hears that the coming CD version of Eric Clapton's live "EC Was Here" album will contain the entire 13-minute performance of "Driftin' Blues," not just the 3 1/2-minute version that was on the original 1975 vinyl album and cassette.

And when he gets angry over the sound quality of Clapton's previously released "461 Ocean Boulevard" CD, he finds out why. The reason, he reports in the June issue of the newsletter, is the CD was made from "a tape in Hamburg that probably wasn't even a third generation master," according to a PolyGram executive who says a new CD of the album--taken from the true master--is on the way.

Howard digs up scoops (his May issue revealed that a new edition of Elvis Presley's classic "Sun Sessions" album in July will include several never-before-released Presley tracks) and he raises issues (why do the CDs of Presley's early "greatest hits" albums run only 22 minutes when CDs can accommodate 74 minutes of music?).

The newsletter is an outgrowth of Howard's enthusiasm for CDs.

"I was really bitten by the CD bug," Howard said this week. "I remember when record companies were puzzled at the start (of the CD craze) over why someone would pay $14 for a CD of, say, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's 'Deja Vu' album when they already had the album on vinyl. The reason is the sound was so good on the CD that I would pay $14 just to hear it once on CD at home, forget about owning the CD and being able to listen to it anytime. . . . "

An avid record collector whose collection once totaled 10,000 albums, Howard was so caught up with CDs that he began looking for a way to get involved in what he saw was going to be a booming business. As part of that search, he checked newsstands and record stores for publications that would tell him about the CD world. He was surprised that no magazine had begun to serve the hard-core collector.

"I wanted to know why a song (that appeared on the album and cassette) of Prince's '1999' was left off the CDs or why companies released some catalogue albums by artists on CDs and not others," Howard said. "I finally realized that what was needed was some sort of consumer tip sheet."

Howard launched the International CD Exchange in April, taking ads in various record publications. The initial printing was a modest 500. The order was doubled for the May issue and Howard believes 5,000 copies is a reasonable short-term goal. The eight-page newsletter, which costs $2 per issue, is sold at most CD-only shops in Los Angeles and is available by mail through ICE, Box 3043, Santa Monica, CA 90403.

Here's Howard's reaction to key CD issues:

Pricing: "Prices are falling faster than I would have thought this time last year," he said. "Budget-line CDs are being introduced by almost every label. Some companies, like CBS, are even bringing out budget CDs that were once regular-priced CDs. I paid $15 for Janis Joplin's 'Cheap Thrills' and now you can get it for $10. The main reason prices are going down is that more pressing plants are popping up everywhere. That competition forces a drop in manufacturing costs."

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