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.

Sonos S5 – The Celestial Jukebox As It Sould Be: In A Box

Sonos, a company that has pioneered easy access to digital audio around the house, has announced a new system that makes it even easier to deliver streaming audio from "the cloud" (or your hard drive, if you insist) to any room in your house.  And you can run the whole thing from an app on your iPhone.

The feature sets look pretty rich and well thought out.  The content comes from a nearly infinite number of Internet radio stations, including Pandora and Last.fm.  It also provides access to on-demand subscription services like Napster and Rhapsody (no Lala.com yet, but I'm on it…).  Or if you must, you can listen to the stuff you've got stored in your own iTunes collection. 

And as the narrator in this video says, this device further eliminates the need to "own" the music you want to hear: "Even if I don't own the music I want to listen to, I can just click and play."

This gizmo looks to me like an important development in the evolution of our celestialjukebox.  And given that it's controlled by an iPhone, how long will it be before it's voice activated? 

When that happens, then you really will be able to walk into the room and say (as I've been saying or ten-plus years now), "Beatles.  Abbey Road.  Loud."

Except for one minor detail:  the Beatles still don't offer ANY of their catalog through ANY digital delivery channel.  Not iTunes, Rhapsody, Lala, or Pandora.  

What did Klosterman say?  "The Beatles – a band so obscure that their music doesn't even appear on iTunes.

Them I've got in my iTunes library. 

Open Letter to Bob Lefsetz: Enough About Spotify Already; Lala.com is Here NOW.

Lefsetz Bob, it took me a few days to give your "Spotify Guys" post the attention it deserves.  I hope the reply is still pertinent.

I don't disagree with anything you say about Spotify.  If you can get it, I guess, the service is great; it sounds like the founders have their hearts and minds in all the right places, and they are riding the tip of the spear that will ultimately bring down the "product" based music "industry" that was in place in the century-plus between "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and Napster. 

But they are not alone on that quest.  

Spotify may be great, but in the United States — the country that produces most of the music that the world wants to hear– Spotify is not generally available.  As you say, "…other than a handful of the connected, no one in America has Spotify, few even know what it is!"

So where is the love for Lala.com?  There's a service that is also riding the tip of the spear, altering behavior patterns and expanding the universe for creators and listeners alike.  But nobody ever talks about Lala.com, it's Spotify-this and Spotify-that even though you can't get it in this country and Lala is shifting the paradigm RIGHT FUCKING NOW.

To wit:

On Oct 8, 2009, at 11:12 PM, Bob Lefsetz wrote:

Daniel was focused on the rental issue. Needing to make purchase available too. I think that's bullshit. You can't listen to the hoi polloi. In America we rented movies on videotape, bought them on DVD and are now renting them again via Netflix and Redbox. Who says America is anti-rental? It's all about the user experience. And the Spotify user experience is so good, that you don't need to own once you've got it.

As you well know, Bob, that's the crux of the issue.  This "I want to own my music" mentality is doomed. 

What most people who "consume" recorded music don't get is that they never really "own" the music.  All you ever own is a limited license to listen to the music — in whatever format it has been delivered.  Until about 12 or 13 years ago the music was always delivered as a product — cylinder, vinyl disk, plastic wafer — which carried with it the presumption of "ownership" that the possession of products implies.  All that started to change when MP3s started flying around the Internet, and Napster drove the stake home.

When you purchased LPs or CDs, all you've ever really "owned" is the right to listen on demand.  And now the ability to listen on demand is shifting from your turntable, your CD player, your hard drive… to the cloud and browser. You don't need your own library or collection.  It is all being stored for you.  And the emphasis in that sentence is on the word 'all.'  It is ALL being stored for you. 

But you don't have to wait until maybe the end of this year or maybe the beginning of next year or whenever the stars align to get Spotify.  Lala.com is already delivering what Spotify promises.

Lala's catalog is about as deep as iTunes.  There are some holes in it, for sure.  And their existing business model is going to need some tweaking, no doubt.  But the way it works now, you can listen to anything in their 6- or 7- million track catalog in its entirety the first time for FREE.  Only when you want to hear it AGAIN do you have to pay for anything.  And then it's only a DIME a TRACK!  A whole CD for the cost of single iTunes download! 

Yes, what you are buying for that dime — or a buck for the whole CD — is the "web album" — access through your browser (and yes, you can "buy" 89c MP3 downloads if you insist in constraining your budget that way…).

I would ultimately prefer a nominal, flat-rate subscription service (I'll take the lifetime subscription, thank you very much, even though I'm almost 60…).  But one thing at a time.  What Lala offers now is a demonstration of the value of infinite "access" over  "ownership" that is necessarily limited to shelf space, hard-drive space, or budget.

Think of it this way:  next time you're in a Starbucks, and you see one of those little "free download" cards at the counter… take it home with you.  And log on to Lala.com.  And then, instead of downloading a single track for free, you can listen to the entire album for free.  Then you can really decide if this is somebody who's music you want to add to the soundtrack of your life.

You've also referenced Spotify's intention to incorporate "social networking" into its service.  Lala.com is already doing that, too.  You can find listeners with similar taste and easily post your finds to Facebook or Twitter.  I've been doing it for a few months now.  And I cannot tell you how much new music I'm finding as a consequence.

And, like Spotify, Lala has an iPhone app in beta, but that's all I can say about that…

So, Bob, why aren't you telling your readers to get on this service now?  Why are you telling them to wait for Spotify?  It's unbecoming of such an advocate as you to say "I'm connected, you can't have this…" when something so similar is so readily available NOW.

I'm surprised at how much of a shill I'm sounding like here.  I don't work for the company.  Hell, I can't even get them to return my e-mails.  But I'm going on about it here for good reason.  You, Bob Lefsetz, more than anybody I've encountered or read in the past year, grasp the import of the paradigm shift from ownership to access, from downloads to streaming.  But you continue to emphasize a service that is by and large not yet available in this country.

I'm not knocking Spotify, I'm sure it's great, but only if you can get it. But why not direct at least SOME attention to a service that is available now. So that your readers can begin to appreciate the possibilities that access affords over ownership.  So that they can begin — as you have — to disabuse themselves of this antiquated notion that they need to "own" the music that they listen to.

Music doesn't live in the player, whether it's disk hard drive.  It exists in the ear, and ultimately in the heart.  How it gets there is truly irrelevant.
What I hope your readers will learn — and join the vanguard of — is the idea that when they abandon the illusion of "ownership" what they get in exchange is access to the entire universe of recorded music. 

But that is only one side of the issue that now confronts us. Sooner rather than later, we need to  engage the discussion about what all this easy access for the listeners means for the creators.  What does it mean for recording artists  when I can listen to everything I want for some nominal amount?  How will these people support themselves when the value of a $15 CD is effectively reduced to pennies?   I can't go to all
their shows.  We need to start having that conversation now, too.

Whatever the economic consequences, that infinitely valuable trade-off is not available to the readers who wait patiently for Spotify.  It IS available now, they just have to log onto Lala.com and open an account.  If you do, please look for user "driver49" and friend me up. 

Thanks,

–PS

P.S. Is it true you are in Nashville this week at the IBEA.org conference?  Can I buy you lunch?  Or at least sneak me into your panel so I can hear what you've got to say….??

Now Playing on the Celestial Jukebox: From Ten Out of Tenn, Madi Diaz

Madidiaz I finally got to hear the current incarnation of "Ten Out Of Tenn" perform a show in Nashville. The… what exactly do you call this assemblage?  A collective?  A temporary tour? A "band of the moment"?  I dunno what exactly to call it.   I haven't had enough coffee.  Words fail.   Whatever it's called, the current tour ended Wednesday night with a show at the Cannery Ballroom that was part of the kick-off of this year's "Next Big Nashville" music-fest and conference. 

Suffice it to say it's a terrific two hours of music, a very diversified cross section of genres, styles and performers in an unpredictable rotation of various combinations of great talents. 

"Ten Out of Tenn" came together (in 2007, I think) as a deliberate effort by its organizers and promoters to show the world outside the I-440 beltway what a broad spectrum of music is created in the town that bills itself as "Music City USA" — when most of the world outside Tennessee thinks Nashville only about "country" music.  In that quest, the effort succeeds mightily.  

Each of the ten performers on the bill is featured twice in the course of a show that ranges from straight-up country (Ashley Monroe), to this year's "Americana Album of the Year" (Sarah Siskind) to lyric folk (Andrew Belle), all kinds of infectious pop (Joy Williams, Madi Diaz), pantie-melting power ballads (Mikki Ekko),  a bit of power-guitar rock (Jed Hughes), and even a touch of white-boy rap (k.s. rhoads) — the latter in just a sufficient dose that even this old fogie found it entertaining and enjoyable.  

Yes, folks, there is ALL kinds of music being created and performed in Nashville, and this gang proves that the moniker "Music City USA" is entirely appropriate from whatever angle you want to look at it. 

I've left the ReverbNation "Ten Out of Tenn" player widget in the column on the right of this page for a while now.  Click "play" once and you can listen to a selection from each of the artists who has appeared in the past two tours.  

Or, for today, indulge yourself in the player below, and treat yourself to the superior pop stylings of Madi Diaz (also pictured above).  

 

I brought my Canon G-10 to the show and posted a selection showing each of the performers here on Facebook.  And you can find almost all their music on lala_com, including the Ten Out of Tenn – Volume 3 Sampler CD. 

Now Playing on the Celestial Jukebox: Sam & Ruby

First, listen to the profile by Craig Havighurst from Nashville’s NPR station, WPLN:

Duos from Nashville have usually been siblings channeling the close harmonies of the Everly Brothers or the romance of classic George Jones/Tammy Wynette country duets. But in today’s eclectic Music City, one of the most exciting and buzzed about duos is Sam & Ruby, who draw their strength from just how different each is from the other. WPLN’s Craig Havighurst has this profile:

Click here:  (audio speaker audio feature) to listen to Craig’s report.

Then listen to San & Ruby’s album, “The Here And The Now,” in its entirety and for the first time for free, via Lala.com:


Now Playing on the Celestial Jukebox: from “The National Parks” — Al Petteway

AlPetteway You know that rolling, bending, percussive, open-tuned guitar solo that you keep hearing over and over again throughout the Ken Burns PBS series, “The National Parks”?

The track is called “Sligo Creek,” and it’s played by noted finger-style guitarist Al Petteway, who has recorded many of my very favorite acoustic instrumental albums with his wife, Amy White.

Click “play” on the player below to listen to the album “Caledon Wood” in its entirety, for free, via Lala.com.  Sligo Creek is the second track on the album.