Pilot Butte – Bend, Oregon

We forged our way thru a ferocious blizzard (OK, it snowed a little) in order to reach the summit (all of 480 feet) of this dormant cinder cone on the outskirts of Bend, Oregon. We’re here for a few days before returning to Portland for Thanksgiving with “The Boys.”

Pilot Butte - Bend, Oregon

A Celestial Jukebox in a Box: Sonos S5 System – And Still No Beatles

It's not exactly "Beatles… Abbey Road… Loud," but a new system offers some intriguing features, and excellent sound quality, even if it's a rather complicated system. David Pogue tries to figure out the Sonos S5: 

Sonos

The music sounds fantastic. Obviously, there’s not much sense of stereo-channel separation unless you have a very skinny head. But holy cow, the bass, the distinct instruments, the clarity — it’s all there. And with serious power. The higher volume settings are literally ear-splitting indoors. One S5 could fill a very large backyard with sound, and probably a school gym, without distortion or skipping.

This all sounds great, and it is great. But you hecklers in back are no doubt thinking: “Well, duh! Why not just buy a $95 AirPort Express pocket Wi-Fi base station, connect speakers to it and then control playback using Apple’s free Remote app on your iPhone/iPod Touch?”

This is true. That’s a wireless music system for a lot less money. There is, however, a caveat or five: the price doesn’t include speakers. That system doesn’t work when the computer is off or iTunes isn’t running. It doesn’t let you control the volume of each room. It doesn’t let you pipe different music to each room. It’s not nearly as easy to grab by the back-panel handle and carry out to the patio for a party. And the music sometimes drops out because it’s using Wi-Fi instead of Sonos’s much more reliable, stutter-free music signal.

via www.nytimes.com

The Sonos system has all kinds of digital sources, like your iTunes library, Rhapsody, Pandora, and Napster.  What's missing is (for me, anyway) is Lala.com.  

And while we're on the subject of the Beatles (we weren't really, but who's counting?) we'll take a minute to note that regardless of what system or technology you're using at home or on the road, you still can't deliver the Fab Four digitally by any means other than ripping your own CDs.  There are still not Beatles in iTunes, no Beatles on Pandora or (I assume) Rhapsody or Napster — there are no digital Beatles (something they have oddly in common with Garth Brooks).  

So we note with interest — and curiosity — that a website that thought it sell Beatles tunes online for 25-cents apiece has been shut down by a court in Los Angeles.  Apparently the purveyor believed he could alter the original recordings with "artistic touches based on a technique he pioneered called "psycho-acoustic simulation."

You really have to wonder what this guy was thinking.  The court wondered, too, and agreed with the attorneys who dismissed the whole ruse as "technobabble and doublespeak."  

Now Playing on the Celestial Jukebox: Diamond’s and Rust – A Forgotten Springsteen Gem?

More preparation for tonight’s big show… 

In a discography that reaches back now more than 30 years, it’s easy for any one album to slip between the cracks of recollection.  Diamonds and Rust is an interesting “in between” record.  It doesn’t have the “wall of sound” of Born to Run, the topical timeliness of The Rising, nor the barren starkness of Nebraska or The River. But it has it’s unique, mostly acoustic quality that makes it as fulfilling as any of The Boss’s higher-profile releases.  It’s worth listening to again: 

 

Today’s Question: Will Google Acquire Lala.com?

Pacman One wonders what curious machinations lurk behind the partnership that Google has formed with Lala.com in order to create its new "Google Music Search" service that embeds music players into any Google search that involves music.  

It seems reasonable to speculate that Google might have Lala in its crosshairs as a future acquisition target.  

For starters, Lala founder and CEO Bill Nguyen has a history of some half-dozen high-profile startups that have all cashed out at some point in their growth curve.  There's no reason to believe from his past history that he's got any interest in taking Lala public. 

And then there is Google's own history of acquisitiveness, not the least of which is their $1-billion acquisition of YouTube.  That put Google squarely in the web-video business.  Music on the web is even bigger than video, why would Google not want to be a player in that space?

And of course there is Google's own competitiveness.  There has been much in the news lately about the conflict of interests between Google and another big partner, Apple:  Google provides search and map functions for the iPhone, but Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently resigned from Apple's board of directors due to those apparent conflicts. 

Apples iTunes currently dominates the market for digital delivery, but iTunes has stubbornly stuck with a pay-per-download model, adhering to Apple's CEO's admonition that "people want to own their music" — which is an oddly antiquated notion for so vaunted "thought leader" as Steve Jobs.  

As a friend recently said, "iTunes is going to ride the download model all the way to the bottom."  If that's the case, then Google could take Lala out, add a subscription service, and eat iTunes' for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as music delivery moves from the hard drive to the web. 

Discuss. 

I’m NOT The Only One: Passman Thinks Sub Services Are The Future, Too

I don't know if I've ever read Donald Passman's book, All You Need to Know About the Music Business.  I think I might have glanced through it when I first arrived in Nashville in 1994.  The whole business is in such a state of flux right now that trying to compile it all into a book strikes me as aiming a Howitzer at a moving target, but Passman has been re-issuing this book for almost 20 years now and I guess old habits die hard. 

In any event, I'm pleased to see that Mr. Passman thinks well of the future of subscriptions services as the ultimate form of digital music delivery, despite the speed bumps such services have encountered along the way: 

Q: Why do you think subscription-based services (such as Rhapsody) haven't really taken off? 

A: Passman: They're not convenient enough, they're not truly cross-platform. For me, the ultimate would be anytime-anywhere access to any music for one subscription. On my computer, in my car, on a connected device, whether it's an
iPod or something else, on an airplane when I don't have an Internet connection. Not just tied to one or two devices. I'm personally a believer in subscription services. People don't think twice about paying for cable, and when you stop paying it goes away. But with music, there's a kneejerk reaction because we're used to owning it.

via news.cnet.com

Which nicely echoes the point that I've been making all along: Besides the clunky interfaces, the biggest obstacle to more widespread acceptance for music subscriptions services is the persistence of the illusion of "ownership."   

Which, again, is why I'm one of the few who thinks the Google partnership with Lala such a potential game changer.  Yes, I know, Lala is not a flat-fee subscription service (yet?).  But the user interface works exceptionally well — is far superior to Rhapsody or the latest incarnation of Napster (from what I hear).  

So users will find Lala from its new links in Google music searches, discover its ease of use, and become enraptured with the virtually infinite quantities of music they can absorb when they don't have to "own" it to listen to it.  From there it's a short leap from Lala's current "nickel and dime" approach to "just let me pay a flat monthly fee and open the flood gates."

Add an iPhone app (presently in beta) to that scenario and it's pretty much "game over." 

How To Make Lala Your Music Player of Choice

Here's another blogger's take on how to set up your computer as a "celestial jukebox"

Lalaplayer_1

Lala has become my music player of choice, simply because it is, as far as I know, the most affordable way to purchase music on the Internet. I’ve reviewed the Lala music player for another site, and an how-to article has been published here on MUO.

Lala has become my main jukebox and is used ten times more than I use iTunes. With my setup, it doesn’t take much effort to access my Lala account. This article explains the method I use as a Mac user. I’m sure there are similar applications for PC users.

via www.makeuseof.com

I agree with most of the concepts offered here.  I've only discovered the "Fluid" application for creating "Site Specific Browsers" in the past couple of weeks myself, but haven't quite adapted to some of the applications idiosyncrasies.  It keeps wanting to throw links into my default browser (rather than opening a tab in the SSB) and is also not compatible with 1Password, without which I would probably not be able to login to anything.  I do recommend Airfoil, though, as an indispensable component of any such system.  

Google Partnership Is Good News for Lala.com – and Music Fans

This should really come as a surprise to no one: 

Traffic has jumped dramatically at Lala.com since Google's October 28th partner announcement for its new enhanced music search results according to Alexa. iLike has also seen some gains

The linked article from Hypebot includes this chart from web-traffic monitor Alexa: 

…which shows that Lala's ranking has jumped from #10-15,000 to something closer to the top 1,000 or 2,000 websites (it's not exactly an easy chart to decipher).  

So even as Bob Lefsetz rails against the Lala model (and Taylor Swift, or whatever other pea has found its way under his mattress this morning), it's clear that the partnership with Google is going to provide a huge lift for Lala.com.

Now I have to agree with Bob, that once you become accustomed to "access to" instead of "ownership of" music over the web, that the "nickel-and-dime" model that Lala presently employs is pretty tedious.  And I still have no idea where my pennies go when when I authorize them.  

But that's pretty much beside the point for now.  The lift in Lala's ratings hints of the sea-change that is afoot in digital music distribution.  That chart means that thousands — hundreds of thousands, maybe millions — of people are beginning to discover the vast wealth of recorded music they can listen to online — if they can simply disabuse themselves of the idea that they need to "own" what they're listening to.  

The trade-off is just so obvious, I can't believe more people aren't rushing into it: instead of spending $10 or $15/mo to "own" one CD with maybe ten or twelve tracks, you spend the same month to have "access" to… fucking EVERYTHING! 

And by "everything" I don't mean just the indie-released, recorded in the bedroom, some-body-please-listen stuff that populates the vast wasteland at MySpace Music.  To the contrary, we're talking here about all the "popular," showing-up-on-the-radar stuff that you think you'd like to hear but maybe don't want to shell out $15 to buy. It's all out there now folks, and finding it is easier than ever thanks to Google's partnerhsip with Lala. 

I agree with Lefsetz that what's missing from Lala is the monthly, flat-fee subscription program, and I don't know if they will ever flip the switch on such a service.  Maybe there is something in their licensing arrangements that precludes that, I dunno. 

What I do know is that while services like Spotify and Mog can't quite get their act together in the U.S., Lala is forging ahead with its service, and demonstrating to vast new legions of potential users that the universe of access is, quite literally, infinitely more vast and rewarding than a private library of recordings.  

Is The “New Model” Just Like The “Old Model”?

BbBiz_logo In a lengthy treatise at Billboard.biz, Glenn Peoples takes a microscope to the various theories of "The Long Tail" and arrives at some rather startling conclusions. 

Drilling down beneath the surface of the big numbers (i.e. the decline in unit music sales, generally, over the past 5-10 years), Peoples finds all kinds of intriguing details that suggest that little has changed in terms of what people are spending money on.  The "hits" still rule, the top 200 albums still dominate by a healthy margin, and the middle-to-end of the "tail" remains a neglected ghetto.  Thus the conclusion:

Indeed, labels have continued to focus on finding hits for a reason: It's almost impossible for them to make real money any other way. (Even if a company or act decides to give away music in order to play live or sell other goods, they still need to reach a significant audience to make that pay off.) Elberse, for one, doesn't think content companies should focus on hits any less than they do now. "I don't think they need to go about their job any differently now than they did 10 years ago," she told Billboard. "They will still bet on a few projects more than other projects in their portfolio and hope they will become the winners that pay for the majority of things that don't make a profit."

It's going to take a study of equally epic proportions to find what weaknesses may lie in Peoples' conclusions, but I'll offer one theory (in the absence of any actual research): Perhaps commercial interpretations of "the long tail" — i.e. what sells -v- what doesn't sell — miss the point.  Perhaps the real point is that what people are "consuming" out there on the end of the tail — is the stuff their listening to for free. 

I know from my own experience that I'm listening to a LOT more music for free these days — via Lala.com, MySpace (yeah, uck), or individual artists websites (all legitimate, not illegal, sources).  Some of those patterns are not going to show up in a study that is focused on what is generating measurable revenue. You can't do a survey of where the sales are and use that data to evaluate what is being consumed elsewhere that is not being paid for.

And then there is the comment a friend made over coffee today.  "We keep searching for the new model.  But things continue to drift and morph and evolve.  Maybe the real problem is that looking for a 'new model' is itself a function of the 'old model.'

In which case, Peoples' conclusion — that we are not yet liberated from the tyranny of a hits-and-blockbuster driven culture — might be right. For now, anyway.  Nobody ever said old models die easily — or fast.

Radio Still “Works” — According to, umm…. Radio People

Billboard Magazine runs an interesting article in this week's digital edition that attempt to challenge numerous myths about consumers' use of various digital media — and the consequent continued reign of various "old" media like broadcast radio.

Study2 The report, from some outfit that calls itself "The Council for Research Excellence" tracks "752 days of audio media usage in five markets… in the spring and fall of 2008" and concludes that "many myths about how people today listen to music" are false.

For example, the report challenges the myth that "People don't listen to the radio any more," by stating taht "Broadcast radio has of 79.1% "reach" and gets an average of 122 minutes per day from listeners." 

Similarly, the myth that "Nobody listens to CDs any more" with the news that "CDs…are second in reach (to broadcast radio) and get an average of 72 minutes per day from users.

Other "myths" that get challenged are "Young people are over CDs," "The iPod has killed of the radio and CDs" and my own personal favorite (given the thrust of this whole blog), "The computer is the new stereo."

Now, admittedly, I'm no expert in statistics, but… what's the old saying?  "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."  In other words, given the right questions, and the right sample, you can get statistics to say damn near anything you want them to.

For example, take that first "myth" this report supposedly shatters, the one that says "People don't listen to the radio any more."  I would be the first to admit that, despite my inclination toward listening to digital media on my computer or iPhone, I still listen to plenty of radio.  But I almost NEVER listen to music on the radio. When my radio is on, I'm listening to something called "NPR." 

I don't know if I'm typical, atypical, or leading the way the way between the two, but you can bet that when I'm listening to music, it's either my computer, my iPhone, or satellite radio (which according to this study accounts for only 7% of listening, -v- 51 percent for "broadcast radio." I listen to CDs only occasionally, and typically only when it's something that somebody has given me that is not available in any other format. 

There are two things that intrigue me about this study, which I willingly share without any "statistical" evidence whatsoever to back them up.

The first is that the report is a snapshot — and given that the stats are over a year old, a rather faded snapshot at that.  But what's really missing is any sense of the trends involved. 

For example, to dispel the "myth" that "The computer is the new stereo" the report tells us that a mere "10.4% of sample use their computers to listen to a digital file while only 9.3% streamed audio…"

From my perspective, I think that's an encouraging number — particularly the notation that almost as many people are listening to streaming audio as are listening to downloaded files. 

But what I want to know is: how many people listened to streaming audio 2, 3, or 4 years ago?  I don't want to know that static statistic, I want to know the trend.  That the number is rising or falling tells me more than what it is right this minute.

But what for me is most intriguing about this report is where it comes from. According to their website, the so-called Council for Research Excellence "consists
of 35+ senior research professionals who are all Nielsen media clients.
As such, we represent advertisers, agencies, networks, cable companies
etc.

In other words, the CRE is a research front for the mainstream, mostly analog, mostly broadcast media industry.  Broadcasters and cable networks and their patrons and brethren.  I don't see any digital companies in the mix.  So why am I not surprised that the results would suggest that broadcasting reigns supreme and nobody is listening to anything digital (except CDs) ?

Hey, I've got an idea.  I think I'll conduct my own scientific survey of the people in the coffee shop where I'm writing this post to see what they are all listening to through the buds in their ears. 

Frothy The results are conclusive: Of the two people here who are  sporting earbuds, both of them inform me that they are listening to… iTunes. That's 100% of our scientific sample listening to digital music — and using their computer as their stereo.  And exactly 0% listening to broadcast or radio of any kind.

While I'm at it, I asked the barista what's playing on the sound system in the coffee shop.  He had to think it over a minute.  "I'm not sure, he said, "it's either iTunes or Pandora."  And then his co-worker chimed in "iTunes is the ONLY thing I EVER listen to…"

So much for scientific sampling.