Category - celestial jukebox

Whatever you want to hear, whenever you want to hear, wherever you are. If the bastards ever let us…

“Net Neutrality” for Dummies (which would be most of us)

If there was a competition for “Confusing Buzz Words of 2010,” “Net Neutrality” would probably be at the top of the list. It’s a complex and convoluted issue on numerous levels. Like the FCC getting ready to “regulate” the industry when there is considerable doubt whether the agency actual has sufficient authority. Like the fact that they’re going to propose rules for “wireline” Internet (cable, DSL, dialup) in a trade off that will leave hands-off wireless. Which is sorta like regulating horse and buggies about the time everybody’s switching to the horseless carriage.

Last night “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” on MSNBC (with Chris Hayes substituting) did a pretty decent round up of the issues.  Start your primer on the “Net Neutrality” issue here:

It’s pretty clear that — whatever the issues – “Net Neutrality” is an important concept.  It just doesn’t look like anybody’s really got a handle on the issues.  Nor is is easy to have much confidence that emerging enterprise can prevail over monolithic corporate interests in the unfolding debate.  This one is going to take a while to shake out.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The Beatles on iTunes – Yawn Yawn Yawn

Oh yeah, those guys.

About the best thing that can be said of the news that The Beatles are finally available on iTunes is that it kills a great joke.  I now have to stop saying that The Beatles are “a band so obscure that you cannot even find their music on iTunes.”

The irony — well, the first irony, really, of several — is that I have had The Beatles on my iPods (and thus in iTunes on my computers) for… oh, I dunno, how long has the iPod/iTunes complex been around?  Ten years now?

I’m not shy about confessing how those tunes got there:  back in 2001, in the last days of the original Napster, I snagged MP3 copies of the entire Beatles catalog and reassembed it, album by album and song by song, on a hard drive.  At the time I suspect I rationalized my acquisition with the knowledge that I already owned the entire collection in its original format: on vinyl LPs that I had purchased when they were first released — like 40+ years ago.   I guess I figured that having the collection in a now-obsolete format was just the penalty I had to endure for having been an early adopter, and that there was no harm in “format shifting” by means of new technology.

The other irony is that just a week ago, I actually PURCHASED — and  for  many actual dollars — the same catalog that I already owned both analog and digital.  I finally broke down and purchased “The Beatles Remastered” 16-disc box set, which has been available for over a year now. Read More

From the Islands of Greece to the Spirit of “Utah”…

…Paul & Eleanore draw inspiration “From the Fire.”

Paul Kamm and Eleanore MacDonald

I remember well a cold afternoon in the winter of 1996… Frigid drafts blew through my small, poorly insulated apartment on the outskirts of Nashville where I was building something called a “website” for musicians and listening to various CDs as I cobbled together HTML code.

As one CD ended I put on another that somebody had sent me.  And suddenly, the drafty chill was dissipated by an unexpected harmonic warmth.  And I literally looked at my stereo and asked myself…”who are those people…?”

Those people were Paul Kamm and Eleanore MacDonald, a duo from the Sierra foothills of central California who have been writing, recording and performing together for more than two decades.  And the harmonic magic that enchanted me those many years ago has awakened again with a new CD. From the Fire (iTunes / CDBaby) is Paul and Eleanore’s eighth release in a discography that remains eminently listenable from the first.

"Utah" Phillips


Music writers will sometimes write of the powerful, natural blend of “sibling harmonies.”  That sort of organic vocal blend that first caught my ear remains the prominent feature here. Paul and Eleanore are not siblings, they are a married couple approaching their silver anniversary. But it is hard to imagine any two voices that were ever more destined to sing together.

Listen to tracks from the new CD here:

Read More

“If The Bastards Ever Let Us”

That was the punch line to the log-line back at CelestialJukebox.org:

“Whatever you want to hear, whenever you want to hear it, wherever you are — if the bastards ever let us.”

The old site banner, in case you missed it...

Now, take a close look at this flow chart from Digital Music News,  and you can get a pretty good idea why it will be hard for the bastards to let us, even if they ever really want to:

Follow the Money? Yeah... right (click to enlarge)

The State of the Arts – In the Cloud and At Home

Since I started these blogs about a year ago, it has occurred to me on multiple occasions that if I was going to write about the Celestial Jukebox, then maybe I should undertake a serious survey of all the various services that lend themselves one way or another to that appellation.  Little did I know just how big the job that would have been – had I actually pursued it.  Now I know.

Thanks to a very comprehensive survey that has been conducted by the good digital folks at The Guardian, we can compare more than a dozen different streaming audio services, aka “music in the cloud:”

Click The Image to See the Whole Chart

It is interesting to note that this survey doesn’t even include the “internet radio” (an oxymoron if there ever was one) sites like Pandora, Slacker, last.fm, etc.  that offer “push” modeled delivery — i.e. you make one choice, and then the service decides what you hear after that. I’m actually rather surprised to discover that there are so many “pull”-modeled services, where everything is delivered entirely “on demand.”

Whatever you want to hear, whenever you want to hear it… and now — thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices and streaming service apps — pretty much, wherever you are.

Which brings me to a couple more items under this general heading…. Read More

You Don’t Have To Be A Medici

This one’s been flying around the ‘tubes this weekend, has come up in a couple of conversations, now I want to make sure everybody in my Vast Readership sees it.

When I started the “Celestial Jukebox” blog last year, I started it with an essay that postulated that we’re on the threshold of “Music 3.0” – the third epoch of music as a cultural force in human evolution.  I defined “Music 1.0” as everything prior to the advent of recorded music:  if you wanted to hear music, there had to be somebody in the room to make it for you, or you made it yourself.  “Music 2.0” is the era that began with Edison’s first recording (“Mary Had a Little Lamb”); by the end of the 20th Century, music was marketed and distributed as a product, like soap.  “Music 3.0” began when Shawn Fanning unleashed Napster, which marks the separation of music (and most forms of IP content) from the products on which it was distributed.

On some level, I’ve believed since I wrote that first essay that “Music 3.o” would herald a return to the “oral traditions” of the first era; that music would become again much more of a “conversation” than a “performance,” that it would something to be shared rather than something to be consumed.  Much of the experience of the past few years has underscored that idea, as artists have had to more actively engage their audience and the value of their recorded “products” has diminished.

There is another important aspect of that “return to an earlier model.”  That’s the concept of patronage, which is so beautifully articulated in this video of Amanda Palmer (aka “Amanda Fucking Palmer“) from a talk she gave at Harvard recently.  Watch the whole thing.  It’s only like seven minutes:

The concept of patronage is as old as art itself.  In the Renaissance, support for artists of all kinds – painters, sculptors, musicians – was a source of pride for the noble aristocracies.

But nowadays, you don’t have to be a Mozart to have a patron, and you don’t have to be a Medici to be one.  As Amanda points out in this talk, anybody whose life is enriched by art can learn that their relationship with that art – and the artist who produces it – takes on a new meaning when the expression of that support is direct, and not through corporate intermediaries.

The patronage model is just now finding its wings in the new era.  When an “indie” recording artist — and traveling troubadour — like Ellis Paul can raise $100,000 for a project by appealing directly to his fans, they all become patrons in the new model, at whatever level they can afford.

In her talk, Amanda talks about the medium of exchange between artist and patron, which is of course… money.  But buried between the lines of the exchange that she describes there might be  another cultural shift emerging.  Through patronage, we experience a subtle change in our perception of money itself.

In the old paradigm, “money” is the way that we acquire and consume things.  In a new paradigm, perhaps, money becomes the way we express our appreciation of things and volunteer our support of those things that enrich our lives.  It’s not “here is your money, now I will take this….”  It’s “hear is some money, now share this with the next person…”

I just started to think about that as I watched Amada’s presentation, so I guess I’ll have to ruminate on it some more, but for now at least, that seems like an even bigger idea than “patronage.”

Oh, Good. I’m NOT The Only One.

What's That I Hear?

Sometimes, when I write about storing music “in the cloud” and disavow any need for “physical” products, like album covers, liner notes (all of which can be found on the web) or any imperative to show off bookshelves lined with a “record collection,” (I still have all my LPs. They’re in the basement if you want to come over and see them…), I wonder if I’m like a total outlier on the topic.  I wonder if I’m the only one who is mostly concerned with listening to music, as opposed to all the ancillary accoutrement that others say they need in order to enjoy audio entertainment.  You know, the ones who insist “I have to have something I can touch,” when the real essence of the art is in fact what you hear.   Oh, never mind…

Relief from that solitary preoccupation  comes today in the form of a report from the market research consortium NPD Group that says that a substantial portion – at least 25% – of iTunes users would shell out some sheckels for a cloud-based subscription service.  The report is another one of those pricey research reports, but you can get the gist of it from this press release:

Between seven million and eight million iTunes users in the U.S. would have strong interest in one of the paid subscription options, according to the report. These consumers indicated a willingness to pay a minimum monthly fee of $10 — either for streaming music or access to their personal music libraries on multiple devices. NPD estimates that there are 50 million iTunes users in the U.S. According to NPD’s music industry research, a model that offers iTunes users free access to their own music libraries would attract in the range of 13 to 15 million subscribers.

Gee, only “13 to 15 million subscribers”?  The proprietors of Rhapsody (and Napster, and eMusic, etc.) must be looking at those numbers and wondering “WTF do we have to do attract that business?”  Answer?  You have to be Apple.

Let me whip out the calculator on my iPhone now and do the numbers:  15-million X $10/mo X 12/mo = $1,800,000,000.  That’s One Billion, Eight-Hundred Million.  Like my friend Mike Rayburn says, “you can’t make a living on that, but it’s a start…”

But my hunch is that once a company like Apple – a company that seems to have a knack for looking at a proposition from multiple angles, figuring out how to solve multiple problems, and assemble it all into a package that creates a new market – delivers their solution, that “13-to-15 million” is going to get MUCH larger.

If Apple (or any company, I don’t care who puts it all together) can come up with a service that offers the “discover” function of Pandora with the “cloud storage” capability of Lala, the “streaming delivery” capability of Rdio, and the collection and “management” functions of iTunes, if all that can be delivered in a package as intuitive and easy to use as iTunes presently is, then a LOT more people are going to look at that proposition and say, “Duh!  $10/mo for all the music I can possibly listen to?  Where do I sign up?”

It wasn’t that long ago that the whole idea of even downloading music and listening to it from a hard-drive was a totally foreign and unimaginable concept.  Now millions of people do it regularly, like it’s as natural a thing to do as switching on a stereo or dropping a needle.

Habits change.  New technologies change them.

Why It’s Taking So Long

Thanks to this post at the Forrester Research website, I think it finally dawns on me why it is taking Apple so long to unveil their “iTunes in the Cloud” digital music service:

The challenge for any music service or music device manufacturer is how to help digital music break free of the chains of the PC and the MP3 player.  Getting music into the living room has  to be a key priority (the iPod docking station is a Band-Aid, and the TV set-top box reinforces the supremacy of TV content over music).

The overriding objective though for cloud-based music services is to join the dots of the digital music experience (see graphic below).  The impact of legacy rights and technology factors have resulted in a fragmented digital music experience in which the consumer has to jump across multiple services and platforms to get the best-of-breed experience.  The true potential of music services that leverage the cloud is not ubiquitous device access but joining the dots of the digital music experience so that discovery, acquisition, management and consumption can all happen within one unified 360-degree music experience environment.

Unfortunately, the post links to a full-fledged Forrester Research report, of which only an excerpt is available online.  The full report will cost you a mere $499.  But the post is sufficient to get the gist of the full report (that’s a curious strategy in its own right…), particularly as it is accompanied by this very clear illustration:

Digital Music Come Full Circle

So there are four stages to music “consumption:” Discover, Acquisition, Consumption (I guess it costs $499 to discern the difference between those two) and Management.  What the report seems to say is that these functions are presently fragmented.  You have to go to different services to get the full experience.

I know what they mean.  I will use a service like Pandora (or XM, or a dozen other possibilities) in order to have the sort of “random” music experience which will, hopefully, deliver me to something new and enticing (OK, XM was a bad example because every other track they play is either Tracy Chapman or Ray LaMontagne…).

When I hear something new that I think I want to hear more of, my next move is to go to the subscription service du jour (until May 31, Lala.com, now Rdio.com) to see if I can find more of what I’ve just heard (Lala seemed to have a more up to date catalog than Rdio).

If I can’t find what I’m looking for on Rdio (or MOG.com, another streaming subscription service), then I’ll start web surfing to see what I can find.  Google Music Search is good for that.  Sometimes I will even visit the abandoned digital amusement park known as “MySpace” to see if I can find what I’m looking for there.

But the LAST place I will go these days is iTunes, because that means a) I cannot hear more than 30 seconds of any song and b) hearing the rest of it will cost me a buck-a-pop.  Well, forgive me, but in the age of 99c iPhone apps I’m disinclined to shell out even 99c for a song I don’t know yet that I’m going to listen to more than once.

(Note to music  industry: your biggest problem now is the theory of  “the path of least resistance.”  If I cannot find what I am looking for at the price point I am now prepared to pay (i.e. pennies via subscription service), I will probably go elsewhere.  Sorry, but you have to make it really easy for me and I don’t mind “paying,” but these days I want a LOT for whatever I’m shelling out…).

In my case, the “consumption” part of the pie is pretty well out of the question – if by “consumption” you mean purchasing tracks.  Which brings us to the final pie-slice, “management,” which is what I use iTunes for, and for the 60-gigs or so of music that I have in my digital music library, iTunes certainly serves that purpose.

But the whole idea of “music in the cloud” implies that the definition of “consumption” is changing.  In the era of the Celestial Jukebox we won’t “consume” music in discrete units so much as we’ll just “use” it, and when we’re done with one thing, we’ll “use” something else.  But we will never exhaust the supply, which is infinite, so the  whole idea of “consuming” is pretty much obsolete.

Which brings me to the point of this whole dissertation: that illustration explains why it is taking Apple so long to unveil their “iTunes in the Cloud” service and software:  because when they finally do, my hunch is that the service will offer precisely what the Forrester report suggests: a “360-degree” music service that encompasses all the functions: discovery, acquisition, consumption, and management.

That’s what Apple does.  It doesn’t simply take a piece from column A and a piece from column B and then toss something into the marketplace.  If the advent of the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad teaches us anything, it is that Apple takes a high-altitude perspective, thoroughly surveys the landscape, and then opens the bomb-bay doors and then introduces something that totally alters the landscape.

And I can see where that would take a little more time than simply acquiring Lala and cobbling their service onto iTunes.  But I also think that if that’s their game, Apple can probably take as long as they need to get the first iteration right.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep jumping from Pandora to Rdio to iTunes.

If The Bastards Ever Let Us (Revisited)

The predecessor to this blog was one I operated for about a year, CelestialJukebox.org, where I wrote mostly about the steady drift toward cloud-based music services like Lala.com.  The tag line for that site was “whatever you want to hear, whenever you want to hear it, wherever you are — if the bastards ever let us. The bastards in this case being all the various rights holders who are determined to protect their analog turf for as long as possible in the digital world.

Lately I have been finding a lot to like about the new streaming music subscription service Rdio.com – but frankly, I’m still waiting to see what Apple can come up with after acquiring Lala.com earlier this year — and shutting it down at the end of May. The Inter-webs have been rife with rumors for months that the launch of “iTunes in the Cloud” is imminent, even to the point of expecting some kind of announcement when the new iPhone was announced at the WWDC last month.  That didn’t happen, and I think we’re starting to find out why.

Imagine my consternation when I read this report at AppleInsider.com that dispels any hope that the iTunes cloud service is imminent, because, apparently, the bastards are still being… well, bastards:

….”sources say the company approached the labels earlier this year about a cloud-based ‘locker’ service, where users could streams songs they owned to multiple devices. But that went nowhere quickly — ‘a swing and a miss,’ in the words of an industry insider — because the labels argued that streaming a single purchase to multiple devices constituted multiple uses, which meant they should receive more for the songs they sell through iTunes.”

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight.  I bought the vinyl, I bought the CD, I bought the download, now the fuckers want me to pay to just listen to the download because I would like to store it someplace beside my own hard drive – so that I can listen to it whenever/wherever I want.

Of course, the idiots are too dense to see the contradiction in their own position.  If it is payment for “use” that they want, then, rather than standing in the way of anything that suggests a subscription service, they should be doing all in their power to encourage such a service.  Because that way, they would be entitled to a portion of my revenue each time I listen to one of their tracks, apportioned according to how much I actually listen to over given period.  Granted, we’re going to be talking pennies here – or fractions of pennies – but that’s the business they’re in now.

No, apparently what the “industry” wants is that we all pay a buck every time we obtain access to a track.  Even when that track is just going to sit on a hard drive or a server somewhere, unused 99.99% of the time, they want us to pay a dollar for the privilege of listening to that track that other .01% of the time.

So I guess it’s just a good thing that the boys at Rdio.com have found a way to make a lot of music available for $10/mo.  It’s not the complete realization of the dream — they’ve yet to sweep up most of the “indie” stuff that I usually listen to —  but it will do for a while while we wait for another generation of these idiots to die off.

Bastards.

It’s In the Cloud Whether We Like It There or Not

It’s been a curious week so far… I’ve been in some unusual places and reading some interesting things…

I spent most of the past two days in downtown Nashville at Billboard’s first annual (umm, how do they know it’s going to be annual if there’s only been one so far?) “Country Music Summit” – an incongruous place for me to be, considering my tolerance for country music these days runs about one-and-a-half songs on the radio, if that.  But I got a deal on the registration through my premium membership in Digital Nashville so figured, what the heck, it was time to see how the other half lives.

As it happened, the conference started at noon on Monday – at precisely the same time that Steve Jobs took the stage on the west coast for his keynote at the World Wide Developers Conference.  So while the panel on stage was discussing such exalted concepts as branding and sponsorship (you know, “we can’t actually sell records any more, so maybe country music can  sell Fords and Doritos…), I was mostly fixated on my iPad and following a live-blog feed of the WWDC event via Ars Technica.

Everybody knew that Steve was going to introduce the new iPhone, but there had also been no shortage of speculation that Monday would be the day that Apple unveiled their plans for “iTunes in the Cloud,” i.e. whatever they’ve got up their sleeve since acquiring Lala.com earlier this year – and shutting it down a week ago. Alas, the keynote was all iPhone.  No CloudTunes (yet?).

Despite the Sorcerer from Cupertino’s silence on the topic, cloud-based streaming continues to gain momentum across the wider digital firmament.  And – no surprise here – the subject was the widely ignored 800 pound gorilla in the room at the Country Music Summit.

On the streaming front, no sooner had Lala.com closed its virtual doors than the guys who created Skype and Kazaa announced the opening of a new service called Rdio, which will offer streaming access to a similarly large library along with various social networking and playlist recommendation tools like Lala had (note to founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis:  may I have an invite to the beta?  Please?).  And the topic has even been covered in The New Yorker, which this week offers a very favorable assessment of the advantages of a variety of streaming services, and does a good job of differentiating between the “push” services like Pandora and Slacker and the “on-demand” services like Spotify and the one that I am now experimenting with, MOG.com:

The broadcast and on-demand models are governed by different rules, but they share one important feature: neither depends on downloading files or finding storage space on a personal computer… An album “collection” is no longer relevant for many listeners. Limited only by the number of songs offered by any service—MOG offers nearly eight million—they can create as many playlists as they like, and access them from almost any device.

And there folks — whether it comes via Apple, Google, or some upstart that can’t spell the word “Radio” — is where it’s going.  But you wouldn’t know that from listening to any of the panel discussions at the Country Music Summit.

It was totally revealing  to witness the final panel discussion, the one titled “Not Your Granddaddy’s Record Label: Will The Last One to Abandon The Old Business Model Please Turn Out the Lights.”  None of the panelists (save possibly one) was in any hurry to reach for the light switch.

Panelists included Scott Borchetta of Big Machine Records (basically the man who brought you Taylor Swift) and Charlie Anderson, a music merchandiser.  Charlie cheer-leaded for the industry try to extend the life of the CD for another three-to-six years by coming up with low-priced alternatives; Scott insisted that his business cannot survive on “$6 dollar CDs…”

Would Somebody Please Listen to This Man?

On the same panel was CMT Music Strategy VP Jay Frank, who could barely get a word in edge-wise.  While the label heads we rearranging the deck chairs, Jay kept trying to point out the iceberg looming in the waters ahead, which point had to be projected on a screen behind the panel via Twitter:

@repojay at #cms2010: We’re a cd biz transferring into the digital biz. But todays new fans are digital fans tranferring to cloud/streaming

So, you label heads keep arguing with each other over what’s the ideal number of tracks to put on a low-priced CD that nobody is going to buy, or how many to release each year to a public that is no longer buying them.  I’m going to float around in the cloud and find out for myself what that crazy guy in the hat really sounds like, and if I can stand to listen to him for more than one-and-a-half songs.