"Mastered for iTunes" releases: Series, disambiguation or both?

As some of you may be aware, iTunes has this custom release specification known as Mastered for iTunes. As these releases are by nature exclusive, they often times warrant their own entries in MB, especially in cases where there was a previous version that has since been replaced or an alternate version is available on another digital store. The reason I bring this up is edit #39764242: most of KISS’ back catalog was remastered in 2014 and the affected releases were added to iTunes under the “Mastered for iTunes” moniker; however, alternate digital versions exist on other download stores.
These are the questions for this thread:

  1. Should this information be stored as a disambiguation?
  2. Should “Mastered for iTunes” be made into a Series?

As always, I welcome alternate suggestions.

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To offer my opinion, with the current state of MusicBrainz, it would not be considered different than any other digital release, regulat iTunes included. I base this opinion on the fact that a release from Amazon and iTunes, for example, are both the same release in MB, references for both are valid on a digital release. There seems to be no differentiation between that of a MP3 file and a M4A file. With that in mind, there would not be a distinction between different bitrates or different sources for the making of M4A files. Likewise, there is no distinction between MP3 bitrates, or even that of a FLAC release to a MP3 release.

I would love to see a lot of differentiation in digital releases, but currently, it would appear to me that a digital release is a digital release, regardless of compression, format, container, source or store front… unless there is a difference in the release like track listing, cover, etc.

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Did you read the NPR link I embedded? This is more than just a bitrate or file extension difference; the release is a different master. It’s no different from a remastered physical product (which BTW was made around the same time; from what I can tell from this KissFAQ forum post, those same masters were used to produce the 2014 180g vinyl reissues (which came out around the same time).

The statement above, I did include “source” in the list. Easy to overlook though. I am aware of the Mastered for iTunes is. I can also say that the digital files are in fact of a higher quality than a rip from a CD at 320 CBR MP3 (lossy) for example. This is the reason many try and create the iTunes downloads and fail, the 256 “mastered” iTunes files (M4A lossy) will beat any CD rip, generally speaking, and this can be clearly seem in a spectro.

With that, the source for all of that is still the same, the raw recording(s). From there, they start mastering differently for the intended medium or container.

To address the remaster statement, it is not the same. A remaster is taking older raw recordings and doing the mastering process over again, usually to utilize modern technology to get better results than was originally obtained. In this case, it is all part of the release process.

I think you need to read that KissFAQ thread. New masters were created for the 2014 vinyl reissues, and (judging by the release dates gleaned via iTunes lookup) those remasters were released as “Mastered for iTunes” digital downloads. We don’t merge together remastered physical releases, so why do so for digital?

“judging by” does not mean fact, it is assumption. Unless I am wrong, MB lists the releases, not the origins of the release. If the digital release is a remaster and is not labelled as such, MB would not call it a remaster. This means you are not mixing mastered and remastered, the ones labelled remastered are not the same as those that are not.

My opinion… the same master is not used to create a vinyl as to create an M4A file for iTunes. The mastering process is a bit different.

I guess I forgot to state this earlier, but the phonographic copyright dates are different for the iTunes versions versus those on other sites (e.g. Amazon mp3). The phonographic copyright date for the “Mastered for iTunes” releases is 2014, while the Amazon mp3 releases have a 1997 date. For those unaware, in 1997 most of KISS’ back catalog was remastered and reissued on CD, with some releases restoring or fixing some issues (e.g. the hidden track on Destroyer was split off as its own track and the original intended track ordering on Music From “The Elder” was restored). All of this, at least in my mind, led to the logical conclusion that the initial digital releases (i.e. the ones on Amazon) were sourced from the 1997 remasters. Further, the iTunes release of Killers has its release date displayed as June 3, 2014, the date given in the lookup interface for all of the “Mastered for iTunes” releases. (It was not released domestically prior to this date, and it was also released on vinyl as part of the KISSTERIA box set the same year.) This led me to believe that all the “Mastered for iTunes” releases came out around the same time, and combined with the info shown above and given in that KissFAQ thread led to the conclusion the iTunes releases were sourced from the 2014 remasters.
As for what you were getting at earlier about sourcing not mattering: I have seen anyone say that before. Physical releases are separated by master sourcing, so it only makes sense the same would be done for digital releases. While individual digital storefronts may have different specifications that affect the sound quality of the final dispensed product, the source material is either the same or different.

Not in every case, it isn’t. There was an infamous set of remasters released by The Beatles years ago whose mixes were altered. This is why I’m harping on the point about source material: there have been reports of alterations made to the original recordings for certain remaster series. I’m not currently aware of any that were done for the KISS remasters (either set), but I won’t rule out the possibility such did occur. Current MB consensus dictates that separate mixes should be separate recordings, and this extends to releases as well in certain cases.

A physical remaster would definitely be a separate release. I’d expect a digital remaster to be too, if specified as such (which these do sound like, given the “Mastered for iTunes” thing)


Mastered for iTunes does not mean remastered. What this means is that a higher quality file is kept and the mastering is done with intent on being compressed in the MP4 standards (M4A container). Higher quality meaning that a CD is 16 bit. Digital files are typically 24 bit or higher now. So, the mastered for iTunes, instead of using the “normal” 16 bit mastering, they retain the higher quality instead of using the downsampled one. This is not a remaster in itself, but it can be, if that makes sense.

The master used for CD, digital file, vinyl, etc can and should be all different. The process needs to differ as the intended container is different, responds differently, distorts differently, compresses, etc… In this sense, if we were to group by master, digital releases would be in the same as CDs in some cases. The master is the same, but the release is not. Releases here are not grouped by master, but by the physical release itself, cosmetics included.

On mixing, a remaster is not the same as remixing. They are two separate and distinct operations, many confuse this and use them interchangeably as done here. Additionally… there have been reports… that is not factual, but the point still taken. Let’s say it is fact, the same statement here then applies. Remix and remaster are not the same operation.

Actually it is. In your example, you are dealing with a reissue of not only a remastered set, but also a remixed set. There are also two types of mix/remix here. In the studio, you have a mix, that mix is then mastered and released. Then after the fact, you can have DJ remixes, etc… Not that this is an issue, but it should be clear that the right “mix” is being discussed and not confused.

This is my point, although I think we are crossing over each other a bit. The studio will have one master used to make many different CDs, different releases to MB. So we have 1 studio master for many releases. Do we agree? When the studio does a remaster, any release using the remaster masters are labeled remaster. I assume we would agree on that?

The issue on digital is you can make the argument that “mastered for iTunes” is nothing but a real digital file mastering, and that the older (itunes plus, MP3, etc) are nothing but CD rips. Problem is that (at least me) I am unaware of how to specify and verify the exact master set used to make each set of digitally released files. Does Amazon, iTunes, BeatPort, etc all use the same master set? Different ones? The only reason we knew that Apple was getting 24 bit files from studios is they told us as an advertising charge. Otherwise, we would have never known.

I hope my point is clear enough to be understood, and again, this is just my opinion. I am just hoping to explain what I know about it. I will say that the digital releases are not done in a way I agree with and others as well. There is so much distinction on physical releases and nearly nothing for digital. The physical ones are mostly cosmetic differences, but the differences in digital are actual sound quality differences.

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We do, in a general sense. This particular case is more complicated since we know a new studio master was made around the same time the Mastered for iTunes releases came out.

We don’t have any official confirmation in this case (and likely never will), but we do have a body of other evidence, e.g. the release and copyright/phonographic copyright dates. The phonographic copyright dates for the latest set of remasters is listed as 2014; the phonographic copyright dates for the 1997 remasters are whatever the original release year was but the holder’s name is listed as Mercury Records. (For those unaware, the phonographic copyright holder of all of KISS’ music before 1983 was Casablanca Records). The original CD reissues that came out in the '80s (and used the original masters) retained the original copyright information (date and name) on their covers; the 1997 remasters had updated copyrights (1997 or 1998, depending on the release, and the copyright holder was KISS Catalog, Ltd. for all of them).
Like I stated before, the updated iTunes releases all have listed release dates of June 3, 2014. (To see them, you have to replace the “/album/id” part in the iTunes URL with “lookup?id=”. The actual release date will be listed next to the text string “releaseDate” in the results.) This is close to the release date for the audiophile vinyl releases (April-August 2014) and the KISSTERIA box set (August 17, 2014). In combination with the phonographic copyright dates it can easily be assumed that the masters made for the vinyl reissues were used for the Mastered for iTunes releases.

My only concern with that statement is that a remaster is not a replacement for all other masters. “Mastered for iTunes” is what iTunes calls the master they were provided. The timing of the two does not mean or imply a correlation. For all we know, what iTunes was provided was what they already had, no remastering may have even been done. My point is we do not know, yet we are making assumptions and indexing releases on assumptions?

I would not at all make this assumption. The masters used for vinyl are for vinyl. The masters made for iTunes are made for iTunes, files compressed and packaged in a M4A container specifically, as confirmed by iTunes directly. This fact actually says the opposite, the masters would be different, not the same. It is also a fact that there is a major difference in analog vs digital, so assuming the same master does not make sense.

Again, I express concern in that the logic you have outlined appears to be used to make guidelines here. I do not mean to point a finger to you, just referencing the logic you typed here as what MB uses / thinks. Problem is that logic is not correct (maybe flawed is a better word) yet it is used to classify releases.

What else can we do? We’re never going to get an official answer.
It seems inappropriate to lump all digital releases together when we have evidence one version (the iTunes version) was specially created for that platform. It’s more than just a custom compression/encoding.

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I took some time to think about your question proposed here. There may be a logic that satisfied both points of concern…
If we stick to the same logic as lets say CD releases, we rely on the branding, or what we are told a release is. Meaning, that 2 CDs with a different barcode on the artwork counts as 2 different releases, even though the CD inside may be identical. We do this by not assuming anything and looking at what we are presented to make a determination.

What if we do the same for digital? In your example, the KISS thing, we do not consider it a remaster, because it is not called a remaster. But, we do consider it “mastered for iTunes” because it was labeled as such (like a barcode or a packaging label). There is further support for this as often the artwork will also include mastered for iTunes in some form on it, and that is packaging. In this method, we look at the facts presented to us, but do not make assumptions. What are your thoughts?

All of the KISS specific details outlined would be irrelevant to the decision, the decision is based solely on the fact that iTunes tells us the release is different by the packaging. Leaving out all other arguments, like MP3 release vs M4A release, mastered for iTunes would be considered a different release on its own merit, regardless of anything else. It still leaves the digital releases a mess, but it does address the specific proposal here on how to address the mastered for iTunes version.

To specifically share on your #1 or #2 question, I would think it is better off being a type of medium. Meaning, on the list we only have “Digital Media” as an option. But under vinyl, cd, etc we have a good list of types. Digital media also has types, just like CD vs enhanced CD. We have “Mastered for iTunes” which means the master was not a downsampled to 16 bit for CD production. Further (different discussion though), we would have the 16 bits of M4A, MP3, FLAC, etc. Those file types are containers, kind of like a cassette to CD, it is delivered on/in a different medium.


If you have the time, and the data’s valuable to you, and you add it correctly and make the differences clear, make a new release.

I think a lot of people here are a bit OCD and want consistency or death :skull_crossbones:
But just because we usually don’t add multiple digital releases certainly shouldn’t mean we never do.


@aerozol - You are suggesting that it be up to the editor to make separate or to incorporate? I can see that making sense, but I can also see the need and want for some sort of consistency. I do think that the options should be in the medium selection. In digital, a MP3 vs a M4A is kind of the same as a cassette vs a CD (not intending a quality comparison but a medium / container). Thoughts?

@HibiscusKazeneko - One fact here is the the “mastered for itunes” does, in most all cases, provide a better copy than anything you can rip off of the CD release of the same. I cannot speak to your example with KISS though. I do not think it correct to assume the same master was used for the iTunes and the vinyl here. WIth all my reasons aside, the iTunes is not labeled “remaster”, but I assume the vinyl is based on your statements. So in this case, would we not go with the packaging, where the vinyl states remaster and the digital does not?

I would personally love to see more digital options. To me, a release of a different format is a new release. Not saying one is better than the other, but the physical media is divided by packaging, labels, barcodes, etc. With digital, the product itself is different from a MP3 file to an M4A file, just on the standard bitrates. Are they from the same master, I have no idea nor would I even want to try and assume. That is why I suggested that following the actual master is not the way to go, but to follow the release and what it says it is.

IMHO, CD vs. cassette would be like SSD vs. magnetic HDD. How the audio is actually encoded to/on the medium is a different story.

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I am unsure what you are saying exactly… I am suggesting that the file containers are similar to the differences in physical containers, whatever the medium is to be compared to. Your comparison would be correct. YOu could also say cassette vs 8track. The recordings are the same on each, the difference is on the delivery of the recordings. Just like a CD is a different delivery than a cassette, a MP3 is a different delivery than a M4A, etc. Are you disagreeing with the comparison or agreeing to it?

[quote=“thwaller, post:17, topic:94938”]
In digital, a MP3 vs a M4A is kind of the same as a cassette vs a CD (not intending a quality comparison but a medium / container). Thoughts?
[/quote]I don’t think it’s necessary to separate the two by default personally. I don’t have a good argument, I just don’t see the point.
But again, there might be some cases where a band makes a fuss about reissuing something in FLAC, and maybe only on one store front, and perhaps for more money. I can see the value in having that release. But in every and all cases… not really.

However I will upvote those additions/ separations if they’re done properly and someone thinks it’s interesting information/important.
In twenty years MB may be almost purely dealing with digital, and I don’t want to let my short-sightedness today influence the database quality later. Merging later is easy anyway.

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