Tag - music

Y’All Are Gonna Wanna Get Hip
to Bonnie Bishop

About 5 years ago, I was fortunate to be invited to attend the annual American Music Conference here in Nashville (little known fact: I was actually on the Founding Council that started the AMA back in like 2000).

After the conference, I sat down with the program guide from all the showcase and went on line (at the time it was LaLa.com) to stream/listen to some of the artists whose showcases I’d missed.  One track stopped me in… well, my tracks.  It was an artist I’d never heard of named Bonnie Bishop and the track was called “Lucky Ones.” Here, listen to it for yourself:

Bonnie has released a couple of records since then; visit her Spotify page to hear more.  What you’re going to hear is one of the gut-wrenching-est voices this side of… well, Janis Joplin comes to mind…

I tracked her down later that year, and she let me photograph a showcase that she performed at one of Nashville’s clubs.  She was still doing her level best to land a fucking record deal…

Over the past decade+, Bonnie Bishop’s career has seen all the vagaries  typical of today’s itinerant, independent singer/songwriters – they who that travel and toil under the radar of the mainstream commercial music industry.  They for whom the life of an “artist” is “mostly driving.”

Two years ago, she was on the threshold of throwing it all in.

That’s all going change with the release of  her new CD, “Ain’t Who I Was” next month.  The title track was released today:

And here’s what you need to know about the pedigree of this new record, which will be officially released on May 27:

  1. It was produced by Nashville’s hottest producer, the Chet Atkins/Owen Bradley of the twenty-teens, Dave Cobb.  Talk about being on a roll: Dave Cobb is responsible for the breakthrough solo releases by Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and  2016 multi- CMA, Grammy and ACM winner Chris Stapleton (all Spotify links).  You just don’t get any hotter a hand than the one Dave Cobb has been playing over the past few years.  And the Atkins/Bradley reference is not an overstatement – he recently took over the keys to Nashville’s fabled Studio A (sometimes referred to as Nashville’s Abbey Road), which was built by Chet and Owen in the 1960s and narrowly escaped  a condo-developer’s wrecking ball in 2014.
  2. The release and distribution of “Ain’t Who I Was” is being handled by Thirty Tigers, a new-paradigm label services and distribution company that is one of the few companies  that has cracked the code on the new digital business – and not coincidentally the same firm that handled the break out releases for Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, among others.

RollingStone.com has got a great account of the kismet that went into the song selection and production of this new record:

The recording sessions were coming to an end when Cobb’s cousin, singer/songwriter Brent Cobb, walked into the studio with a track he’d co-written earlier that afternoon.

“Dave opens a brand new bottle of his favorite tequila,” Bishop remembers, “and we all take shots. Then Adam [Hood] and Brent play us the song they wrote. I have chills. I look over at Dave, who is nodding his head and grinning at me. Then I sing the words back to them while Brent plays the guitar and they sound so natural coming out of my mouth. It’s like I’ve been singing this song all my life.”

The song was “Ain’t Who I Was,” which became the title track to the new CD. When you hear it, you can’t help but think that the spiral has come back around, only at a much higher level, and that Bonnie Bishop is about to become, truly, one of “the lucky ones.”

Bonnie Bishop promo photo by Jason Lee Denton

Bonnie Bishop promo photo by Jason Lee Denton

More “Joy of Making Music” – Ron “KrashOBang” Krasinski

Too bad he’s not Irish, then he could be “Krash O’Bang”

krashobang

Back in April, I had the good fortune to spend an afternoon at Azalea Studios in Brentwood photographing singer/songwriter Joy Zimmerman and a terrific group of session players as they laid down the tracks for Joy’s new CD.

Among the players was drummer Ron Krasinski. I got a good chuckle when Ron and I exchanged emails and I discovered that his email address starts with “KrashOBang@….”

I”m pretty sure “Krasinski” is not an Irish name..

More at TheJoyofMakingMusic.com

 

We Can Gather, and We Can Sing

The "6 Chair Pickin' Party"

The “6 Chair Pickin’ Party”

Three things happened yesterday which, if I can adequately weave the path through them, attest to the current state of music, address the current debate on the subject and,  ultimately, gently, point a way into the future…

FIRST:  I had a moment on that antiquated old medium called “radio.”

As I was getting out of the shower yesterday morning and making the bed, I turned on WPLN (Nashville’s NPR affiliate) and heard a promo bumper for “On Point,” the program out of Boston that follows “Morning Edition.” I heard the show’s host, Tom Ashbrook, announce that he would be discussing the streaming music royalties debate that has taken on new strength in the past week since some guy in a band called “Radiohead” (irony abounds) announced  that he was pulling his music from Spotify and other streaming services, on the pretext that “it doesn’t pay new artists enough…”  or some such nonsense.

As soon as the show came on the air and they announced the call-in number, I dialed in.  Wonder of wonders, I was quick enough to get a ring instead of a busy signal (this might have been the second or third time I tried to call that program, parts of which I hear almost every morning).  A producer picked up the line a few moments later.  I told him what I had in mind to say and he said, “OK, if Tom takes the call, say ‘Hi Tom…’. Don’t say “good morning” because the show is rebroadcast at different times during the day…”

Commence heart pounding.

Then I went about making breakfast, and sat down to eat it, while listening to the discussion on my telephone headset.  And then in between a bite of eggs and grapes I hear, “Paul from Nashville, you’re on the air…”

Gulp.

I then proceeded to verbally fall off my breakfast barstool.  You can hear the whole embarrassing episode here, but since this is digital retrospect, I will repeat it more precisely as I would have said it if my heart had been pumping at something closer to a normal rate:

1) When this guy Tom Yorke says that he’s pulling his stuff off of Spotify because it doesn’t pay new artists enough, that is an “altruistic red herring.”  He’s really not concerned about new artists so much as he is about the apparent decline of revenue inherent in the shift from unit sales (i.e. 99c per download regardless of how many times you listen to a track) to fractions-of-a-penny payments per stream per listener (where you only get paid by how much a song is listened to – and then, not very much).

This professed concern for “new artists” strikes me as  a smokescreen, and actually contrary to what new artists need.  As I did manage to point out on the air, I’m much more likely to become interested in a new artist if I can actually hear their music, which is a lot harder to do if their music is not on a service like Spotify.

Actually, I really don’t know Radiohead all that well… maybe I should go listen to some of their music on Spoti….oh, wait…

2) Behind the smokescreen of his concern for “new artists,” I think that what Mr. Yorke and his ilk are really professing is that the industrial-age model of selling music in discrete units – that bear a high price because of their relative scarcity – should some how be preserved in the digital era – when the quantity of ‘content’ that is now available approaches infinity.  Well, get a clue buddy.  Buy a vowel.  You cannot drag the old model into the new reality.  Let go of the nuts, silly monkey, and you can at least keep your hand…

Anyway, that’s what I meant to say; Instead I made some clunky allusion to buggy whips.  I’m pretty sure the cliche police will be knocking on my door any minute now…

3) If these jokers really want to make an issue of something that is unfair in the music biz, they should join the crusade to get terrestrial radio (i.e. “broadcast” radio – which is actually radio; “internet radio” is just an oxymoron, and destructive one at that, because its use compels us to think that the medium is something that clearly it is not…) to pay royalties for the recordings that they broadcast.

As it stands, broadcast radio pays royalties only for the compositions – the songs – that are broadcast on the public air.  The United States is one of the very few countries in the world that pays nothing to the artists or labels who produce the actual recordings.

if you want parity between analog and digital, if you want more money from the use of your music… start there. Of course that’s assuming you can actually get your music on radio.  Good luck with that…

Anyway, that’s more precisely what I was trying to say in my 15 seconds of fame on the radio yesterday.  Thanks to whoever heard that and is now reading this for the opportunity to indulge in perfect 20/20 verbal hindsight.

SECOND: I direct your attention to a blog post by the erudite and pithy Kidd Redd, a partner at Nashville’s Flo Thinkery – which figures because he is clearly something of an original thinker in his own right.   In his “Stylerant” post yesterday, Mr. Redd addressed the same issue that “On Point” addressed that morning.  Follow the link to read the whole thing; In the meantime here’s the paragraph I thought was pertinent (scroll down to Starving Musicians):

So listeners download, and they stream. It is only natural for artists like Thom Yorke to suddenly stop dancing weirdly and say, wait a minute, I need to do something to make people understand that this making of music really is hard work, it has enormous value, and you can’t have my album for free. Slow clap, Thom. I’ve always thought that artists who don’t like the deal should simply pull their music. Good for you. Only thing is, no one will care. NO ONE, except music biz peeps and your Mama. People have lives in which music is only a part. Maybe a big part, and a part we would all be sad to live without, but then again, we won’t have to. We can gather, and we can sing.

“We can gather and we can sing.”  As anybody who has followed my musings on these subjects over the years will recall, that premise is central to my thesis, my as-yet unwritten “Grand Nebulous Theory of the Future of Everything, Music in Particular.” Which goes something like this:

At some point in the not-too-distant future, we will look back on the era of industrialized music – wherein music became a product, packaged and shipped and sold like soap – as a brief, anomalous period in the annals of human history.

The ultimate, end result of the disinter-mediation of the digital era is going to be a return to something more akin to music as it was before there were recordings:  less as an expression of popular, mass culture, and more a manifestation of community spirit.  We are going to stop expecting that music is something that somebody else – the Tom Yorkes of the word – does for us, and something that we do for ourselves.   Music not as something that you buy, but something that you make.

THIRD: That point was graphically – and aurally – driven home last night at a home in the hilly and leafy West Meade neighborhood of Nashville where a small congregation of hand-made music and song lovers gathered… and sang.

The event was the the revival of a tradition that was very much at the heart of my Nashville experience for the first 8 years that I lived here – Mike Williams “6 Chair Pickin’ Party” – where Mike and his wife Kathy would invite a half-dozen songwriters into their home – along with typically 40-50 guests – to swap songs and stories around a faux electric camp fire.

kateo6chairs

Another view of last night’s “Pickin’ Party” – photo purloined from Kate O’Neill’s Facebook page…

In the late 90s and early aughts, Mike’s Pickin’ Party was a Nashville institution.  Three Wednesdays of almost every month (the exception being when Mike and Kathy spent a month in Kerrville, TX, doing pretty much the same thing in the open late night/early morning air), some of the best singer/songwriters in the world would climb the steep hill to Mike and Kathy’s house, past the sign that said “Park on street… Sing on key…” to play their hits and their personal favorites for an enthusiastic audience tightly huddled in the living room.

The parties were discontinued in 2003 when  Kathy was chosen to serve as CEO of the whole international Girl Scouts organization, and she and Mike took up residence in a loft in lower Manhattan.  They tried to host similar parties there, but that effort was discontinued when the other residents objected to all the traffic in the one small elevator that served their entire building.

On a personal note (as if this whole blog post is not personal notes?) and as I explained to one of the performers last night, the best thing I’ve done since I’ve been in Nashville started at Mike Williams’ pickin’ parties, when I asked a few people I’d met there, “what would you think if I tried to sell some of your CDs on the Internet…?”  That was in the spring of 1995 (yikes!), so of course I had to explain to most of the people I was talking to just what the Internet was (and once they figured it out I sold the business to them…).

Mike and Kathy are back in Nashville now – they had the foresight to hang on their house here for the decade that they were in NYC – and they’re cranking up the Pickin’ Parties again with a series of events every other week in July and August.  They travel a lot in a big ol’ motorhome that was their retirement gift to themselves, but when they’re in town, Mike says, there will be parties.

And if you could have been there last night – as you are welcome to be at the next three parties, on July 31, August 14 and 28 (contact me for info) – then, I believe, you would have seen the real future of music.

If you had been there, you would have been part of room filled with talent and heart and whimsy and laughter, great playin’ pickin’ and singin’, an audience that did not hesitate to sing along and oh…did I mention heart? I heard some of the best songs I’ve ever heard last night.  Songs like Whit Hill’s “Stethoscope”, a song that you would likely never hear on the radio but nevertheless fires a harpoon right into your heart.  Or Laurie McClain’s “My Heaven.”  Here, listen for yourself:

 

So yesterday was an intriguing, unpredictable confluence of events and musings that, taken together, somehow demonstrate the trajectory that we’re somewhere in the still-early or maybe middle stages of: The real future of music is not about downloads, streaming, radio or “American Idol,” or who gets paid how much for what.  The real future of music is like its distant past: people… gathered and singing.

 

 

 

The New Music City Center: First Impressions

Music City Center: The Gutar-Shaped Grand Ballroom

Music City Center: The Guitar-Shaped Grand Ballroom

I went to an event at the Nashville’s shining new convention center, aka “Music City Center” yesterday, for a Kelby Training Photoshop seminar.

I have been in the building on several previous occasions, having been afforded an opportunity to photograph the building while it was under construction.  You can see the result of those safaris here. 

Because I got a close, first-hand look at the place while it was still under construction,  I feel like I have some stake in its realization and success.

This was the first opportunity I have had to visit the place since it officially opened last month – to enter not as an interested observer, but as an actual end user.   So here are my initial impressions of Nashville’s newest landmark, and some feedback for the developers and administrators that I hope they will find constructive:

1) Impact: The entire edifice is absolutely impressive from any angle – although it is pretty hard to see the whole thing from any single vantage point.  I say this knowing full well that if I’d been one of the people on the city council responsible voting to fund a monolithic gathering place in the era of virtual meetings, I probably would have voted “nay” and figured the money could have been better spent on, say, music education in our schools.  But now that it’s built and open, I have to just admit that this is one of the things for which the over-used word “awesome” was truly intended.

2)  Seating: As long as we’re over-using the word – and so that I continue on a positive vein before getting down to the “constructive criticism” – let me just say the chairs in the meeting rooms are also “awesome.”  This is no minor point, because most people who use MCC will be there for meetings, which will require considerable amounts of just plain sitting.  So my compliments to whoever selected the chairs.  They are thickly padded and impressively comfortable.  There were truly several times when I shifted my body into some awkward semi-slouch and notice how comfortably the chair responded.  I actually made a mental note: “wow, these chairs are comfortable.”

3) Music:  This point I want to make before I lose everybody with my wordy minutiae. It’s about the music.

“Music City Center” was so named in order to reflect and boost Nashville’s standing as “the” music city, and I’m completely on board with that.  But there was only one place in this entire, gynormous complex where I heard any actual music.



In the mens room.

And it wasn’t just “music.” It was “country” music  – by which I mean the cheesy, saccharine, under-conceived and over-produced mainstream country music which is the reason I never listen to country radio any more (and, yes, I did listen to country radio once upon a time, but that was literally a millennium ago…).



I object because making bubble-gum “country” the only actual music that a visitor to the “Music City Center” is likely to hear reinforces a stereotype that really needs to be crushed.

There is so much more to Nashville now than the crap they play on country radio!  Hell, even country music has more to offer than what’s on the radio today – hello, Willie?  Waylon?  Johnny and Kris?  Marty Stuart?? Dolly or Emmylou???  Where are you all now that Music City needs you? Lost to a an era of ear candy that doesn’t even serve well as Muzak.

Please…   Let our visitors hear the Black Keys or Jack White or Jeff Black.  Let ‘em hear how infinitely diverse is the musical universe that defines “Music City.” Yes, Nashville’s musical roots are more country than corn and dirt, but those roots have grown into a virtual rain-forest canopy, underneath which every imaginable kind of music flourishes.



“Music City Center” is going to be a lot of visitors central experience of Nashville. Please, don’t let them think that country-pop is all that “Music City” has to offer.  

(On the other hand, maybe a bathroom is an appropriate outlet for mainstream country…..)



Now that that’s off my chest….

4) Access: There needs to be a painted – maybe stop-lighted? – pedestrian cross walk between the egress from the underground parking garage to the entrance to the building – which is across a street.

Parking for MCC is found in some abundance (1,800 spaces) in an underground garage that is entered from 6th Avenue South, which is now a four-lane thoroughfare that runs right under the building.  After you have parked your car, you have to cross that busy street to get to the entrance that leads to the ballrooms and meeting rooms.

It does not appear that the designers and architects who did such an otherwise outstanding job took this detail into consideration (I can hear them now: “Oh, you mean, people actually drive cars to the building and then want to get in, too??).  So you have to take your life into your hands and cross an unguarded boulevard to get from the parking to the entrance.  A crosswalk is definitely in order there.

5) WiFi:  Anybody who has ever been to a tech-oriented event with me knows that I’m the wise guy who always wants to know the password for the WiFi – and squawks when there is none.



The good news about Music City Center is that it does appear to be equipped with a strong WiFi signal throughout the building.  

The bad news is the access is blocked by a login process that takes a virtual crowbar to crack.



It’s not a truly “open” WiFi service.  My own experience – with THREE different devices – was that it was impossible to get the “login / create an account” page to come up on any of them (This is actually a recurring problem with WiFi in a lot of places;  The local system hijacks your device, and then doesn’t present the door to which you can speak the password to actually get in).  

I only managed to get the login page when I saw the IP address for the page on somebody else’s device; I entered those numbers and got the page to come up on mine.

But that was not the end of the issue:  once I’d logged in, if I let my device go idle for any amount of time – 5, 10 minutes – the login was lost and I had to log in again.  And again.  And again.  All day long.  In the 8 hours that I was at the MCC I must have logged into the MCC-Guest WiFI close to two dozen times.

Let me be clear about my attitude here, so you can all appreciate what a spoiled digital brat I really am: I think WiFi should be like air.  You don’t have to register or login to breathe.  It should be the same way with WiFi.   Just open the damn gates and let me inhale the digits, OK?

And lest this seem like the overwrought whinings of a strung-out digit junkie, I hasten to add: this is NOT a minor detail.  We live in a connected – maybe overly connected – world, and everybody who enters the Music City Center is going to be looking for a signal.  WiFi is an issue in part because the availability of a conventional mobile wireless signal (i.e. 3G, 4G, LTE or even voice) is – not surprisingly – very weak in some places within the building.


If the authorities that operate the center truly want this to be a “state of the art” facility, then internal communications need to be as artful as the rest of the complex.  Wireless services should be a first thought – not a second or third thought.

6) Website? I was surprised to discover the night before my visit that there is no current website for the Music City Center. Nearly a billion dollars for the building but… no website?

I wanted to confirm the access point for the parking, so I searched the web, only to discover that the website for the joint is still the “Under Construction” site that has been in place since construction began (was it three years ago?).  You can watch a time lapse movie of the construction, but good luck finding out where to park.



I have it on good authority that the website will be relaunched before the end of this month, and that will be a welcome to development.  I only mention it here to suggest that the effort go even further:  

Music City Center? There needs to be “an app for that.”

Again, it’s a matter of how mobile and connected the world is now – and how “state of the art” does Music City Center really want to be?

When I enter a complex like the Center, it’s tough to get my bearings.  These days my first instinct is to reach for my mobile device and find that little blue dot that tells me where I am an orients me to where I’m going (like I wish there was an app that could tell me where to find electrical plugs at the damn Home Depot…)  

I don’t know if internal GPS is even possible, but Music Center is just so damn big.  It would be cool to have an app that aids internal navigation.  And while I’m at it…

7: The artwork hanging throughout the Music City Center is phenomenal.  I dare say there is more artwork to admire there than there is at the Frist or Cheekwood.  *

8: Restrooms (again): Can we please do something about those infernal infra-red activated paper towel dispensers?

God, how I hate all those infra-red gizmos – they never work for me.  Maybe my body doesn’t generate enough heat?  It’s bad enough just trying to get water to pour from a faucet or soap to squirt from a dispenser what with all hand waving to trigger the devices.  If you do manage to get your hands washed, then you’re standing there with wet hands trying to get a paper towel…



So you look at the infra-red paper towel dispenser.  There is a slot where the towels come out… and underneath the slot, a label that reads “place hands below to activate.”  So you follow the instructions and put your hand below the dispenser and wave them around and… of course… nothing happens.  

Because as it turns out, you’re not supposed to put your hand below the dispenser.  You’re supposed to put your hand in the slot.

How am I supposed to know that I’m supposed to put my hand ABOVE the label that says “place hands below”??? Hello… anybody??

1,800 parking spaces - ONE pay machine!

1,800 parking spaces – ONE pay machine!

9.  Parking (again):  Now it is 5:00 and time for everybody to leave.  You’re not in any particular hurry to go home are you?   Because we’ve got 1,800 brand spanking clean new parking spaces – and exactly ONE machine to pay for all that parking.

Yesterday when approximately 200 people were leaving the seminar at the same, everybody wound up standing in front of the pay-for-your-parking machine, reading the instructions, trying to figure out how it works, while the line is forming behind them.  At one point there must have been 50 people waiting to pay for their parking.

Only at that point did somebody who was arriving for another event inform the people in the line that they could pay for their parking at a machine as they drove out lot.  A sign with that information might have been really helpful.  Or a pay machine on every level.  

With a sign…

And, especially in these early days of operation, there really needs to be some kind of human being around to explain all this to people.  As I was walking to my car, I noticed that there was somebody riding around in the parking lot on a Seqway. When I got to the head of the line to leave, the guy in front of me had trouble with the machine and couldn’t get his parking paid for or get the gate to open.  He just threw his hands up, and we all sat there behind him while he tried to figure it out.  The guy on the Seqway woulda come in handy about that time…

OK, that’s my list.  I realize that some of this is pretty minor shit – the sort of bugs bugs that need to be worked out in the first iteration of any new program.

But I do hope they do something about that cross-walk on 6th Avenue.

And the music.  I hope they do something about the music – like hire a human to program the feed.  Because it’s supposed to be the MUSIC City Center, not the cheesy country music center.

–Paul Schatzkin
paul@cohesionarts.com
June 13, 2013

*Correction posted 130613 2:30PM: the first version of this post included a suggestion that QR codes be posted alongside the artwork displayed throughout the Center.  I have since been advised that, indeed, there are QR codes in the labels.  So, two things: 1) I should take a closer look before suggesting the obvious and 2) the builders are more forward-thinking than I was giving them credit for.

Is the iTunes+Lala.com Merger Destined for the iPad?

Last week CNET.com offered some thoughts about how the iPad will work as a music player.  I think they're on the right track with this item: 

IPad_music_small_270x190 

Cloud-based music service. Even if the iPad had wireless sync, the most affordable model has only 16GB of storage. This isn't enough for most music lovers' digital collections, especially if they're going to use the iPad for other functions like electronic books and photos. So how about taking that Lala acquisition and using it? Instead of having to load music onto the iPad itself, I could sync it from my computer to Lala's online music locker service, then stream it over the Web directly to my device. Bye-bye, storage limits. Best of all, every time I update my music collection, it's updated everywhere simultaneously. This is such a no-brainer I'd be stunned if Apple doesn't make it available shortly after the iPad launches.

via news.cnet.com

This seems pretty obvious to me. I wonder what sort of a fast-track the Lala team is on to incorporate its functions into the iPad version of iTunes.

One disadvantage of the impending iPad compared to, say, an actual MacBook is the absence of third-party multi-tasking. On the MacBook, that capability is essential for the "browser is my iPod" scenario because it requires Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil software to flip the audio signal from my browser to an Airport Express (or Apple TV) and then to my stereo.

Without multi-tasking, that scenario is not going to work with the iPad. But I can still use iTunes to connect to my Airport Express or Apple TV, since iTunes has audio export to other devices built right in. So what's missing is the ability to access my music collection from the iPad without needing to store the whole 60GB collection on the device itself.

I'm sure Apple knows this, and that's why the company acquired Lala.com. My entire music collection is already in Lala's cloud. I suspect it is only a matter of time before it shows up in my iPad's cloud as well.

iWhatever: It’s the Content, Stupid

Ipad  With 24-some hours remaining before introducing the newest world-transforming, life saving, cancer-curing gizmo, the iWhatever, Apple's recent acquisition of Lala.com looms ever more intriguing.  

The Internets are rife with speculation about what that merger means.  Will iTunes be moving to the cloud?  Will Apple start offering streaming music for a fraction of the cost of downloads?  Will there be an "all your ears can eat" subscription service? Will Michael Robertson's head explode? (Michael came up with a cloud-based music delivery scenario ten years before people started talking about "cloud computing" — and the music industry promptly clubbed him into oblivion. And they're still clubbing him.  Another case of "the second mouse gets the cheese" ?) 

Whatever the plans for Lala, you can bet it figures tightly into Apple's plans for its new gizmo, which conceivably offers the potential to completely alter how people use digital technologies.  That it will a) not have a hard drive and b) have all kinds of wireless capabilities pretty well dictates that whatever content it does deliver will not likely be stored on the device itself.  

Now we're starting to see all kinds of speculation about the "content" deals that Apple has been quietly making as it gets ready for tomorrow's big announcement: 

According to various rumors, Apple has been in contact with a variety of media outlets ranging from magazine publishers like Condé Nast to newspaper vendors like the New York Times to book publishers like McGraw-Hill Education to bring a variety of publications to the tablet. And this I think represents one of the key pillars to Apple's successful business strategy–marrying devices with content.

What's more, Apple appears poised to dramatically expand the capabilities of its already capable iTunes platform. Via its acquisition of Lala.com, Apple will be able to sell music, and perhaps other content, through a streaming scenario–and may be able to charge less for the stream than for the straight download. The company also is rumored to be planned a Web-based version of iTunes, which would make the platform more user friendly and nimble than its current 100-or-so megabytes. Couple these advances with the addition of newspapers, magazines and books to iTunes and the platform becomes a one-stop content shop for iPhones, iTablets and the rest.

via www.fiercemobilecontent.com

As I already mentioned on that other blog post yesterday, my iPhone has already become my content delivery device of choice.  It has pretty much displaced my Kindle because it not only delivers more stuff, but I can do more with that stuff from the iPhone than the Kindle.  The iWhatever promises to put all that iPhone capability into a more Kindle-size package.  I can hardly f'ing wait. 

It's the combination of content and technology that makes the iPhone more valuable to me than the Kindle.  So I think you can pretty well bet that music is going to be a big part of the content that iWhatever delivers. 

Cloud storage?  Streaming delivery?  Lower prices?  Subscription service?   My bet is on all of the above.  And exploding heads to boot. 

Dollars Become Dimes, Dimes Become Pennies, Pennies Become…???

Of course, speculation continues to fly out of every conceivable channel and orifice re: what Apple's acquisition of Lala.com means. Yesterday the Wall Street Journal tried to get a grip on what some of us have been anticipating for more than a decade – that the Celestial Jukebox is coming whether we like or not. And with its acquistion of Lala, now Apple will have a pivotal hand in expediting its arrival:

ITunes-LalaWhere Apple's iTunes requires users to download music onto a specific computer, Lala.com lets users buy and listen to music through a Web browser, meaning its customers can access purchases from anywhere, as long as they are connected to the Internet.

Apple is considering adopting that same model for songs sold on iTunes, a change that would give consumers more ways to access and manage their iTunes purchases—and wouldn't require them to download Apple's software or their purchases.

That is potentially great news for consumers.  And potentially devastating to the remaining vestiges of the recorded music industry. 

So let us (quickly) review the history of digital music distribution over the course of the past decade, and speculate a little further about what this means for the decade that arrives in a couple of weeks:

First (well, we gotta start somewhere…), there was Napster in the summer of 1999, which for the first time demonstrated the ultimate potential of digital music delivery.  The critics and nattering nabobs at the time all screamed Armageddon because Napster was "free" (i.e. stolen).  They missed the point, which was that Napster was the first service that demonstrated the promise of "whatever you want, whenever you want it."  The issue was not cost, it was access. 

In 2003, Apple opened the iTunes store, which "unbundled" all the tunes on a CD and offered them for paid downloads at 99c per track. iTunes took the complexities and unreliability of file-sharing services like Napster and made it all simple and reliable, and that made the downloads worth 99cents to an exploding new market.  

But the real disruption in iTunes was not the price or convenience, it was the unbundling, which brought "whatever you want, whenever you want it" one step closer. 

With iTunes, if there was only one song a consumer wanted from any particular CD, that was all he/she needed to purchase.  And with that, the price point of $15 for a typical CD was reduced to a single dollar.  The price for music was reduced by a factor of (actually, more than) 1/10th:  dollars became dimes – and the recorded music industry started going into the proverbial dumper.

Fast forward to the fall of 2008, and an online CD-swapping service called "Lala.com" launches a streaming music service.  Contrary to the iTunes  model of offering "30 second clips" for sampling, suddenly users can listen to whatever they want to, in its entirety, the first time for free.  If you want to listen again, you shell out a dime per track and have unlimited access to that track via Lala's cloud-based server and your browser (which signal can easily be sent to your stereo).

Now it is late 2009 and Apple —  the company that sent the recorded music industry down the slippery slope of rapidly and steadily declining revenues by changing dollars into dimes — has acquired Lala, the company that reduces those dollars into pennies.  Suddenly the song that cost me $15 a few years ago because I had to purchase it on a CD along with maybe nine or ten other songs I might not have wanted, the song that I could get from iTunes for a buck… I can now get for a mere 10cents. 

And so, again, the question: this all sounds great for consumers, but what's it going to mean for the producers? 

In days of old, when knights were bold, and the toilet that the recorded music industry is now swirling into had yet to be invented, one pillar of the business model was something called a "mechanical royalty."  That means that every time a song was reproduced in some mechanical medium (cylinder, disk, CD, download), the composers and their publishers are paid, by law, something like 9cents.  Careers and publishing empires have been built on those pennies.  

But in the business model that Apple now seems ready to embrace, those pennies disappear altogether because there are no copies.  There is only the one original copy that is accessed by through the cloud by whoever wants to hear it.  

I mention the mechanical royalty here because it represents the most endangered species in this impending paradigm shift.  The 9cent mechanical royalty is in a sense a proxy for all the revenue that recordings generate (which perhaps suggests why its rate is mandated by statute).  

But in a world where there are no copies, the mechanical royalty becomes irrelevant.  The Harry Fox Agency (the National Music Publishers Assn, named for a former president, which collects mechanicals on behalf of its members) is, in a word, doomed.  

In lieu of the mechanicals, it is presumed that some kind of "performance" royalty will be collected by the performing rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, Sound Exchange, etc.)  

And with that, we can all breathe a sigh of relief,  considering the recent news that European streaming service Spotify recently paid Lady Gaga a whopping $167 for over a million streamed "spins" of one of her songs.  

How many ways are there to say the word "doomed" ? 

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."  

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." 

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.