Tag - digital music

iCloud: Yes, You Can Have Your Horseless Carriage…

And pretty new icons, too.

…but you still have to pull it with a horse.

Other than that, there really is a lot to like about all the announcements that Apple made yesterday, and they announced a lot.

First there is the new operating system,  OSX Lion, which brings some of the touch screen features of the iPhone and the iPad to the desktop.  Then there is iOS 5, the new operating system for all the iGizmos, which at the very least will finally allow you to sync them altogether without a cord.

And then there was the Big New Thing: iCloud, the remote storage service that unifies everything into a whole new, self-organizing, digital ecosystem.

It will take even the most dedicated observers some time to assess all the features in all this new software – much of which will not actually be released until next fall.   So there is plenty of time to sort it all out and start saving sheckels for our nifty new laptops, phones, and tablets.

But in one critical aspect, the new iCloud service is woefully lacking – and missing a grand opportunity to deliver music distribution to its inevitable destination. Read More

Now Playing on the Celestial Jukebox: The Swell Season

Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are the charming duo who starred in the 2006 (!?) romantic musical "Once" and now perform together as "The Swell Season."   Strict Joy is their second album together, and it's a marked improvement over the first, which was mostly the soundtrack from the movie. 

Swellseason The first album was notable for the raw, raging quality of Hansard's vocals, which tended to overpower Irglová's more delicate performances.  That over-the-top quality derived from Hansard's roots as a street singer (as portrayed in the film) who had to rely on extended vocal histrionics to hold the attention of passersby.  In fact, the vocals on that first album can be grating; after you've gotten past the novelty of hearing the songs from the movie again (like Falling Slowly), the album is difficult to listen to. My wife put it on in the car the other day and as soon as I heard the first notes I was, like, "urgh… not that one again…" 

Strictjoy But this album is going to hold up to multiple listenings.   Hansard seems to have matured as a singer; Where he unleashed great fury in the first album, on this one he holds back, content now to let the power of the songs surge from other sources while he plumbs his own vocals for a different kind of depth.  The effect is most notable on The Rain and High Horse, where pulsing, multi-layered instrumentation provides a firm bedding on both Hansard and Irglová weave their intricate, contrasting harmonies. 

This new album was featured a couple of weeks ago on NPR, and offered in its entirety, and it looks like you can still listen to it there.  However, now the album is in release, and you can listen to it the first time for free via Lala.com or drop a buck and listen to it all you want.  I'd say it's a buck well spent. 

There is also a "Deluxe Edition" of Strict Joy that contains more than thirty tracks; it looks from the listing like some of them are live versions of songs from the movie and the first album.  I haven't listened to that one yet, but you can get the "web album" at Lala for a whole $2.79.  

In the meantime, here's the standard version: 

Strict Joy – The Swell Season

“Sword in Hand,” Analog Crusader Garth Brooks Storms Ass-First into the Digital Future

Bonaza-land-mccluhan-scan You really do have to give Garth Brooks some kind of credit — for putting his head so deep in the analog sand that his digital ass is just ripe for a swift kicking.

It’s not ironic enough that — after sitting on the sidelines for most of this millennium — he’s now following in the tracks of trail-blazers like Elvis and Liberace and taking his act to Las Vegas. No, not only that, but now that Garth Van Winkle has awakened, he actually seems to think that the past ten years haven’t happened:

“What I find myself doing with these record label heads is they’re going, ‘Hey, we’re doing great!’ And the truth is, they’re doing great with what they’ve got to work with. But the truth is, they’re making one-twentieth of what they should be making. The people that are running Taylor Swift‘s place? Those people, even though they’re the most successful, I betcha in the ’90s, they would’ve made 10 times more — without piracy and without having to sell everything at 99 cents. If that young lady, if for every single she sold, she sold an album, those people could have money for artist development again and for taking chances.”

Marshal McLuhan knew all about that kind of logic.  He called it “seeing the future through a rear-view mirror.”  Something about moving backward, “rump bumping into the future…”

Garth Brooks has the reputation of being a pretty smart guy, but you do have to wonder if spending the past ten years at home with his children hasn’t somehow possessed him of the delusion that toothpaste can go back into the tube.

And now, here he is, putting his Stetson back on and getting back on his virtual high horse to take on the 99c download — just as that whole model itself stands on the threshold of obsolescence.

I sure wish I could be around to see the expression on Garth’s face when he finds out that what used to be a dollar is now… a dime.

If that.

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.

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."

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…

Now Playing on the Celestial Jukebox: Owl City

Owlcity I’ve heard some of this record before.  Electronica is not ordinarily my thing, but this is pretty infectious. If the first track doesn’t grab you, skip down to “Fireflies” and then come back for more.

This comes with a nod to digital music denizen Bob Lefsetz, who writes of the single “Fireflies:”

Where does the magic start?

Sure, there’s an ethereal intro, but it’s not riveting.

Then there’s that hooky groove, with the big bass beat, without sounding like what’s on Top Forty radio, which is only groove, sans melody. This guy with a thin voice is singing up and down the scale, this is not a Timbaland production.

Then there are the strings! Brian Wilson knew the power of strings, they’re not anathema to pop music, they’re not inherently schmaltzy, they add meaning, and texture.

Then the processed vocals when the song breaks down, kind of like Steve Marriott in “Itchycoo Park”, if Steve Marriott was a wimp.

Then, when the verse begins again, there’s more in the track. The calliope-like sound brings in joy, those strings add counterpoint. The line about the disco ball warms you up, then the whole track comes alive, like a denizen finally awaking from a slumber.

Then, back into that verse groove. You may tire of counting sheep, but now you’re fully enraptured, you’ve left the planet, you’re in music wonderland.

“I’d like to make myself believe”

That this track will be inspirational, that it will cause the business to do a 180, that melody will return, that music will eclipse marketing, that a whole row of infectious tracks will come driving down the pike.

Doubtful.

But this guy did cut this wholly alone, in his basement. He didn’t go on “American Idol”, didn’t need Kara DioGuardi to polish it into oblivion. All he needed was tools, to follow his muse.

I’d like to make myself believe that music this good doesn’t need a major label to break through. That just putting it up online is enough to get you started. That appears to be the Owl City story, then again, who knows where truth lies.

But the truth is “Fireflies” is a fucking great track. The best on the Owl City album, but not the only good one.

Admittedly, some of the music on this album is an acquired taste, especially for an acoustic-oriented fogie like yours truly. But, lLike the music or not, there is no denying that Owl City is a story that could not have happened in any era other than the one we’re now entering, Music 3.0.

A Contrary Opinion

Demand for a subscription music service has been capped, and a mobile app won’t help drive incremental demand even if it is a good product.

via www.businessinsider.com

I never did try Rhapsody (or the Napster subscription service), I guess I’ll have to check then out to see how well they work. I know a couple of people who’ve tried it and speak well of it. But when I read “demand… has been capped” at fewer than a million subscribers, I just have to think… somebody’s missing the boat. Hell, could just as well be me…