Author - Paul S

Spotify Fans Weigh in on “Google’s sorry music widget”

Logo_400_90 Spotify is big in the UK — where, I guess, you can actually get it. So it’s not surprising that a British source would make unflattering comments about not only the pending new “Google Music” service, but Lala.com as well:

Hyped overnight as a Google ‘Music Service’, what we see instead is set to be the most underwhelming launch in a long history of label-backed music flops. It’s barely a ‘service’ – merely a sorry widget that yokes a DRM-crippled version of LaLa’s already unpopular streaming offering with unsold Adwords inventory.

Instead of a text ad, a search for a music related keyword will show a widget. This allows you to listen to the song, according to Business Week – but only once. After that you pay to hear the stream at 10c a play. (You can also buy the song.)

Don’t all rush at once.

Ah, apparently they haven’t done their research there. You don’t pay “10c a play” to hear the song again. With lala.com you pay 10c for the track and then you can listen to it as much as you want, forever and for always.

Now granted, that’s not quite as encompassing a model as a flat monthly fee for all your ears can eat, but it certainly makes a buck go farther than shelling out 99c to download the track when the fact is all we really want to do is LISTEN to it.

Delusions Persist: Nashville ‘s Music Row Chimes in on Google Music

Google-music This morning Nashville’s Tennessean assesses the impact that the new Google music service — revealed yesterday but not to be  officially announced until next week — will have on the crumbling ruins of Music City’s most visible industry:

The news comes as music CD sales have tumbled dramatically over the past decade. Sales of digital downloads have not made up for the revenue loss.

But Nashville area record label executives, along with those in the creative side of the industry, said Google’s initiative could help them reach more listeners — and sell more music

It’s hard to explain to people who’ve built their livelihoods on the concept of “selling music” that their business model is going away completely. It’s hard to drill into their heads the idea that the shift from “ownership” to “access” virtually obsolesces the whole idea of “selling” music.

So Music Row types who are reading the Tennessean this morning are probably reaching for their pitchforks when they read a quote from a certain blogger re: the ultimate future of digital music delivery, in which the Google move is just more step in the inexorable direction:

“I’m worried that we are on the threshold of a time when the
remunerative value of music is zero,” said Nashville writer and
entrepreneur Paul Schatzkin, whose Celestial Jukebox blog focuses on digital music.

“Your browser is becoming your iPod,” Schatzkin said. “There is a behavioral
shift afoot where consumers are getting accustomed to the concept of
access to an infinite universe of music versus ownership of a limited
personal library.”

Elsewhere, the tech blog Ars Technica weighs in, confirming yesterday’s report that the service on Google is only going to offer “snippets,” not the full “first time for free” stream that Lala.com users get:

According to insiders speaking to the Wall Street Journal, the music will come in the form of free, embedded streams from either Lala.com or iLike.com.
Those who are interested in buying the music will be able to do so from
either of those two sites—iLike allows users to buy unprotected MP3s
directly but also provides a link to iTunes, while Lala only sells the
unprotected MP3 with no other direct links….

Some leaked screenshots allegedly of the new service are available at TechCrunch,
showing that users won’t be able to listen to an entire song from
Google’s search results, but rather just a snippet. Realistically, this
makes sense—most searchers want to confirm that they found what they
were searching for, and then click through to buy or browse through
similar music.

Agreed, that is the only reason a 30-second snippet of music ever makes sense — when I’ve already heard something somewhere else, and want to confirm that that’s the track I’m looking for.

Ars Technica tries to make the case that Google Music (or Audio, or whatever its called) is not a “game changer” for music delivery, but I wonder if they’re missing the point.  Maybe “incremental game changer” is an oxymoron, but that’s what this is — another step in the arrival of the Celestial Jukebox.

Granted, I’m not an objective observer on this subject, but I can’t help but think that the big winner in this is not Google — and certainly not the calcified Luddites on Music Row — but Lala.com, and, by extension, the music audience.

The link through Google search will bring more people to Lala.com, where many will discover for the first time the marvel of unrestricted access to an virtually infinite library of music (if it’s more than you can listen to in a lifetime, that might qualify as “infinite”).  Then they’ll start shelling out that dime-a-track to listen to things they like again; once that happens, they’re hooked on the “access” model, and Music Row will never again be able to sell (at least those people) encoded plastic wafers for $15 a pop.

BIG WIN for Lala.com – Teams with Google for Streaming Audio Service

None of the companies involved will confirm the new Google Music service – we have “no comments” or absolute silence from Google, LaLa, MySpace and iLike. But the new service is all but confirmed. And we have the screenshots showing how the service, which will be announced on October 28, will look to prove it.

Matt Ghering, a product marketing manager at Google, has been one of the people talking to the big four music labels about the new service, we’ve heard from one of our sources. And he has supposedly sent these screenshots of the look and feel of Google Music search to various rights holders and potential partners.

The first screenshot shows how a search result might look on Google for a search for “U2.” A picture of the band is to the left of four streaming options for various songs, and the user has the option of listening via either iLike or LaLa. Click on one of the results, and a player pops up from the services that streams the song, along with an option to purchase the song for download.

We don’t know if this is the final look of the service, but it’s definitely something Google has been sending to people to show them what it might look like.

More thoughts on this later as we digest all the information coming in. But one thing is clear – this is a huge win for LaLa and iLike. Both will get massive flow from this deal. And as much as we criticize MySpace, their acquisition of iLike is starting to look sort of brilliant.

via www.techcrunch.com

Another Player on the Celestial Jukebox? “Google Audio” Lurks.

TechGoogle-audio Crunch is reporting:

Google will soon launch a music service, we’ve heard from multiple sources, and the company has spent the last several weeks securing content for the launch of the service from the major music labels. One source has referred to the new service as Google Audio.

We’re still gathering details, but our understanding is the service will be very different to the Google China music download service that they launched in 2008. That service, which is only available in China, allows users to search for music and download it for free.

via www.techcrunch.com

There’s a surprise. How about a “Google Reader” for Internet Music?

It’s A Start: 500k New Users Download Rhapsody for iPhone

Rhapsody Rhapsody’s iPhone app has been downloaded 500,000 time according to the company.  “Over 500K shrewd users have decided that unlimited access to practically any song, practically anywhere ain’t such a bad idea,” wrote Rhapsody’s Garrett Kamps on the company’s blog. Exactly how many are also paying $12.99 a month for a Rhapsody Unlimited subscription was not disclosed

via www.hypebot.com

I pulled an ad for the Rhapsody iPhone app out of the new issue of Rolling Stone over the weekend, and I plan to try it out. Rhapsody has struggled to find a viable business model, but it’s entirely possible that mobile availability could be the ingredient that pushes it to prosperity. People are slowly getting used to the idea that they don’t need to “own” what they want to listen to. They don’t “own” what they hear on the radio, this is like “radio on demand.”

Poor iPod, Your 15 Minutes of Fame Are Almost Over

The Browser is the iPod/Phone, UK Version:

While we're on the subject of bandwidth hogs, here's a new one, just launched in the UK.  Billed in some circles as stiff competition for Spotify, UK-based tech blog "Electric Pig" compares the two, beginning with:

1. Sky Songs is web-based
Spotify is a fantastic service, but it has one fatal flaw: you need to use the Spotify application to access its musical treasure trove. That means, for most people, they’re unable to use it at work. PCs and Macs that’re locked-down by corporate IT departments can’t tap into Spotify’s streaming sounds, but because Sky Songs works through any web browser, it’s always available… unless your miserly IT team block its URL.

Of course, if you work from home, that's not gonna be problem.  In any event, the SkySongs approach restates something that I've been stressing for a while now: that in the new paradigm, "the browser is the iPod."

No_ipod In fact, since I started using Lala.com and my "Celestial Jukeox" configuration in my office at home, I have almost abandoned my old iPod.  I used to use to listen to instrumental music while I'm writing (I don't know about you, but I find it hard to listen to somebody else's lyrics while I'm trying to compose my own sentences…) But now I'm sending music from my browswer to the Aiport Express and the WiFi signal via Airfoil to my stereo, I've just about abandoned my iPod.

I still use the iPod function of my iPhone, but only in the car, and then I'm usually listening to podcasts.  When I want music, lately I'm using the mobile apps on the iPhone. 

Poor iPod, your fifteen minutes of fame are almost over.

Is the Celestial Jukebox the “Killer App” That Kills the Internet?

Gizmos Surely, by now, you've heard the expression "killer app."

Ordinarily it's used with a
positive connotation, referring to an application or function that drives a larger market. Like
spreadsheets and word processors were the 'killer apps' that drove the sale of PCs in the
80s; like desktop publishing and Photoshop were the 'killer apps' that
drove sales of the Mac in the 90s and 00s. Like… well, "apps" in general are the 'killer apps' that drive iPhone sales. 

But there's a "killer app" lurking in our mobile devices that could bring down the platform it's supposed to live on — the symbiont service that threatens to kill its host. And it's precisely what this site is dedicated to, the arrival of "the Celestial Jukebox."

To whit: The spreading popularity of "cloud-based" music  storage and delivery services like Pandora, Slacker, Last.fm, Spotify, Rhapsody, etc. threatens to bring the essential delivery system those services and devices rely on — wireless broadband — to its knees in the foreseeable future.

Are you one of the rapidly expanding legions of people that use Pandora ?

If so, then consider this article in the Sunday NYTimes Magazines.  It's a great inside look at how Pandora really works, how it manages to deliver songs that are consistent with the song or artist you have chosen to launch a "channel."  Called "the music genome project," it's a fascinating — if costly,  labor intensive, and time consuming — effort.

Westergren But you might hear alarm bells ringing when you read this:

…thanks in part to the popularity of the Pandora iPhone app, its fortunes have lately improved. It has attracted 35 million listeners and claims about 65,000 new sign-ups a day (more than half from mobile-device users). About 75 companies are working Pandora into a variety of gizmos and gadgets and Web platforms.

That statement demonstrates the rapidly expanding potential for music delivered from "the cloud." But "65,000 new sign-ups a day" accounts for a LOT of wireless bandwidth.  And those 75 companies, they are all creating services and devices that will offer Pandora to still more customers, all them demanding still more bandwidth.

Which brings us to the dark lining in the silver cloud, the hard rain that could one day fall.  If these services keep expanding — if people become comfortable with "access" to over "ownership" of their digital libraries — we are going to need a LOT more bandwidth.  And probably a lot more after that. Indeed, the potential for utilizing broadband channels for music delivery grows exponentially now that mobile devices like iPhone are being used for just that purpose.

The potential severity of the issue — and the concurrent potential for all kinds of conflicts of interest — was highlighted in a recent blog post in the Wall Street Journal online that predicts "The Coming Mobile Meltdown," by Holman W. Jenkins Jr.:

Renocol_HolmanJenkins Consider: A single YouTube viewing consumes nearly 100 times as much
cellular bandwidth as a voice call. In Asia, some 200 million people
already watch video on their smartphones. No wonder Google (whose
YouTube unit serves up one billion videos a day) is an investor in a
new undersea fiber line connecting North America to the Far East.

More omens: Data collector AdMob reports that mobile Web page
requests grew 9% from July to August—a 180% annual growth rate. And
Motorola recently went public with worries that a handful of mobile
Slingbox users (a video streaming device) could wipe out cell service
in a whole neighborhood.

This is a mobile meltdown in the making. (italics added)

Of course, this being the Wall Street journal, the article then goes on
to use the prospect of restricted bandwidth as a justification for the big corporations that provide that bandwidth being liberated from the shackles
of the "net neutrality" controversy.   That's the sort of "socialist" canard with which the WSJ
(which, you'll recall, is now a sister company of Fox News, aka "Fixed
Noise") loves to take issue.  But that may be beside the point.

Jenkins identifies an even larger issue lurking behind the "net neutrality" issue:

…we persist in suspecting that the biggest political scrum
in the near future won't be over classic net neutrality at all—it will
be a battle over usage-based pricing, which is one of the few ways to
keep excessive demand in check (though key help will also come from
technologies that opportunistically dump wireless traffic back into the
fixed Net).

Boy, there's a super-sized can of worms.

Right now, I enjoy more or less 'net neutral' unlimited bandwidth use on both my laptop and mobile devices.  I can suck as much data off the Internet as I want on either platform.  I can listen to music all day provided by any one of a number of services.

Jenkins foresees the time when all this bandwidth demand will run up against limits; when that happens, the 'net neutrality' debate will be forced aside, and the ISPs will argue that they need to start charging heavy users (like me) for my torrential bit-flow in order to pay for the infrastructure that needs to be put in place to keep all those gigabits flowing.

Well, that's fine, I guess.  I don't really have a position one way or the other on Net neutrality and the revenue is going to have to come from somewhere to pay for all those cell towers. 

But it occurs to me that there is another issue that just got lost in that shifting debate: the fact that, by charging for "usage," the ISPs will, in effect, be charging for content.  If I listen to a lot of music over my "Celestial Jukebox" rig, and I am charged for that usage,  am I not in effect being indirectly charged for the use of that content?

In that scenario, shouldn't some of the revenue also go to the content providers who are the reason for the bandwidth use that would justify higher charges?

I am increasingly perplexed by the implications that virtually free (a dime-a-track comes pretty damn close, compared to $15 for a CD…) hold for the creators of all this nifty content that's pouring through my MacBook and iPhone these days.  I mean, when it gets to the point that recorded music has zero value — because it's all in the cloud, all the time, and accessible from anywhere — then how in the hell are my musician friends going to make a living?

So Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.  proposes that ISPs be freed to start charging for bandwidth usage.  Great.  But I wonder how Mr. Holman and his bosses at the W$J will feel about ISP revenue being shared with the millions of artists who create the content that creates the demand for new bandwidth — seeing as how so many of them are crunchy-granola eating, left-leaning, right-brained subversives?

Point is, if there is no provision made for the creators, there won't be any content, so there won't be any need for any more bandwidth, at which point we can go back to worrying about "net neutrality."

NPR Strikes Again, Sarah Siskind “Live” on the Celestial Jukebox

SarahToT OK, so if you've been following this blog at all, you know I'm something of a fan of Sarah Siskind, a Nashville based singer/songwriter who is starting now to break out nationally. She was a commanding presence in this falls's "Ten out of Tenn" tour (photo at right with Madi Diaz, Mikky Ekko and Andrew Belle).
Now she is featured on NPR's "World Cafe," talking about her career, her new CD "Say it Louder," and offering up some previously unreleased tracks:

October 13, 2009 from WXPNSarah Siskind began writing music at age 11. Born to a family of bluegrass musicians, she'd been exposed since birth to both contemporary music and the classics. Since releasing her first album at 14, Siskind has won several songwriting competitions, shared a stage with Doc Watson and Maya Angelou, and received a Grammy nomination for writing 2007's Alison Krauss song "Simple Love." In 2008, Siskind toured with the popular indie-rock band Bon Iver, which frequently covers her song "Lovin's for Fools" at shows.


Clickety click
to visit NPR.org, listen to the interview and in-studio performances, and the "bonus" tracks.

Or click the "play" button here to listen to "Say It Louder" in its entirety courtesy Lala.com: 

Say It Louder – Sarah Siskind

Orphan Business Model Attracts More Prospective Parents

For a business model that supposedly has no future, there sure are a lot companies trying to jump on to the "Celestial Jukebox" bandwagon. Earlier this week I read that British TV company BSkyB is planning a subscription service called "SkySongs." Now comes another entrant, from the guys who brought you Kazaa.  The New York Times reports:

The idea of selling monthly subscriptions to a vast catalog of online music has met with only limited success. That isn’t stopping a new batch of entrepreneurs from trying to make it work, The New York Times’s Brad Stone writes.

The latest and perhaps most surprising entrants to the field are the European entrepreneurs Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis. In 2001, they created and financed Kazaa, one of the original peer-to-peer file-sharing services that hurt the music industry. The two have created and financed a secretive start-up called Rdio, with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

I've lost count now, how many subscription services are now climbing on the Celestial Jukebox bandwagon. Let's see… Rhapsody and Napster are now the old kids on the block. There's my personal fave, Lala.com. There's the infinitely over-hyped Spotify, now I read about something called "Mog," there's the BSkyB service that is supposed to launch next week, and now Rdio, from the Kazaa guys.
For a model that so many people scoff at, the landscape is starting to get crowded. Hopefully I can get a decent count of the options before they start shaking each other out…

NPR Gets With The Program – Puts New “Swell Season” Release on the Celestial Jukebox

Swell Now even NPR is getting on the Celestial Jukebox bandwagon.  Their website is offering the newest release by "Once" stars The Swell Season (aka Glenn Hansard and Markita Irglova) available for listening "in its entirety" via streaming audio. 

Go to NPR.org to Listen To The Entire Album

Moody and frequently spare, Strict Joy gives Hansard and
Irglova room to breathe and seethe, particularly in sad, brooding
ballads such as "Low Rising," "Paper Cup" and "Back Broke." But, as on
any Hansard-related project, the gloom is offset by a generous helping
of big-hearted emotionalism. In "Feeling the Pull," he and Irglova pine
for a world beyond the boundaries that surround them; even when he's
feeling paranoid in "The Verb," they couch his worries in rich
harmonies that grow increasingly warm and sweet. As on the Once
soundtrack, Irglova gets a few opportunities to seize the spotlight
("Fantasy Man," "I Have Loved You Wrong"), but she's most often
utilized for her ability to add subtle shading, in the form of her
piano work and gentle backing vocals.