Archive for March, 2009

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Music and tech news roundup

March 31, 2009

djhero

First off, the zed equals zee happy hour was a rousing success, with lots of terrific conversation. It was fantastic to meet so many Boston musicians and bloggers face to face, including some of the people behind Boston Band Crush, The Limits of Science, Electric Laser People, and Paul Lamere of Music Machinery and his colleagues at The Echo Nest. It’s a measure of how friendly the crowd was that there was waaaaaaay too much money on the table at the end of the night; if you came out last night, join us for the next zed equals zee happy hour in a few months and the first round is on us.

More news:

Activision and Red Octane have announced that DJ Shadow is signed up to help develop and test the hardware for DJ Hero, set for release later this year. The turntablist may also appear as a playable character. There are not-terribly-substantiated rumours (which I’ll happily spread) that Daft Punk may also be involved in the new game. [via Resident Advisor]

On a related note, MTV reports that Rock Band has sold over 40 million songs, for nearly a billion dollars in revenue.

According to a recent report, live music has now overtaken recorded music in revenue in the UK (£904 million vs £896 million). Although that includes neither sponsorship revenues nor digital licensing, which makes me wonder a bit about the author’s job title of Chief Economist. No word on whether the numbers include Rock Band downloads. [NME] [EDIT: removal of unwarranted snark; see comments for details]

Mission of Burma is blogging the recording of their new album! [via @clickyclicky]

DIY donk. Remix any track into the Northern England sound of bouncy techno. Music Machinery’s donkified version of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” made me laugh out loud, although I still had to turn it off after about 15 seconds.

DIY…keybass? bass keytar? Whatever, it’s pretty awesome.

MP3: Amanda Palmer – Such Great Heights* [more Amanda Palmer]

*the anti-donk version

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Great Lake Swimmers and Mother Mother

March 31, 2009

great_lake_swimmers02

Two bands I love are both playing tonight (Tuesday, March 31st) in Seattle – somewhat to my dismay, since I’m in Boston.

If you happen to be in Seattle, this is the plan: Head to the High Dive in Fremont around nine, to catch Mother Mother, the opening act for Sam Roberts. Then quietly sidle out (you can see Mr. Roberts next time) and head two miles up NW Leary Way to the Tractor Tavern in Ballard to catch Great Lake Swimmers (above). They’re supporting their spanking-new album, Lost Channels, out today. Go see both bands if you can.

MP3: Mother Mother – Body of Years [buy]

MP3: Great Lake Swimmers – Pulling on a Line [buy]

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zed equals zee happy hour!

March 27, 2009

miracleofscience

Live in the Boston area and interested in indie music and how the music industry is evolving as a result of technology? Come to the zed equals zee Happy Hour this Monday, March 30th, from 6 to 8 pm, at the Miracle of Science in Cambridge. Join me and a slew of Boston-based musicians and bloggers, including some of the people behind Boston Band Crush and our special guest, Paul Lamere of Music Machinery, as we discuss the future of music over snacks and beverages. We’ll even be taking over the Miracle’s soundsystem with a playlist of z=z faves for the duration. Please join us!

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Wintersleep and An Horse at Vera Project

March 27, 2009

an-horse

A Commonwealth double-bill tonight (Friday) in Seattle, as Australia’s An Horse (pictured)  share the Vera Project stage with Halifax, NS’s Wintersleep. An Horse are touring to support the US release of their first full-length, Rearrange Beds, which came out last week, and this concert is some US exposure for Wintersleep and their fantastic album, Welcome to the Night Sky. Should be a great show.

MP3: Wintersleep – Oblivion [buy]

MP3: An Horse – Postcards [buy]

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Neophile: The Craft Economy

March 26, 2009

craft-econ-s_on_your_side

I first came across The Craft Economy last year, through a post at Boing Boing. They attracted attention by stapling their CDs to telephone poles in Kensington Market in Toronto, their hometown (and mine). The CDs, released under a Creative Commons license, were part of a protest against Bill C-61, the Canadian analog to the justly-maligned Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Somewhat more to the point, however, I really enjoy their music – it kind of reminds me of a poppier, female-fronted Alkaline Trio. Their new EP, Is On Your Side,  came out in the fall, and it’s terrific (and did very well on Canadian college radio). I especially enjoyed the little CanCon lyrical joke embedded into the driving rhythms of “The Tonic” – the lines “Bye-bye mon cowboy/bye-bye mon rodeo,” which sounded really familiar. A few seconds of Googling reminded me that they were from Quebec pop star Mitsou’s first hit in 1988.

And if you’re interested, The Craft Economy makes their tracks available for remix, as part of its CC-license.

MP3: The Craft Economy – The Tonic [buy]

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Upcoming: music and tech conferences

March 25, 2009

sfmt0208

Two upcoming conferences that might be of interest to z=z readers, one on each coast.

This weekend (March 27th, and 28th), Berklee College of Music is hosting the Music and Entertainment Educators Association conference. Unsurprisingly, given its audience, the schedule is a mixture of industry panels—keynotes on “The New Entertainment Economy” and on “Marketing and Distribution in the Digital World,” for example—as well as academic talks (such as “Audio Mashups and Fair Use: The Nature of the Genre, Recontextualization, and the Degree of Transformation”). The speakers include executives from Sonicbids, Topspin and Electronic Arts. You can see a full schedule here [PDF], and you can register at the conference website.

On the other coast, the San Francisco Music Tech Summit is scheduled for May 18th at the Hotel Kabuki in Japantown. Scheduled speakers include Dave Allen (of Pampelmoose and Gang of Four), the founder of Pandora, the director of technology of Sub Pop, and more.  Again, you can register at the conference site, here.

If you can’t make either, never fear – keep an eye out for z=z reports from both conferences.

MP3: Girl Talk – Bounce That [buy]

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Threesome: Women in techno(logy)

March 24, 2009

ellen-allien

In honor of Ada Lovelace Day, which celebrates women in technology, today’s posting is focusing on women in techno. DJ’ing as a whole is incredibly male-dominated, and I thought it would be great to highlight some females who are getting the crowd moving from behind the decks.

Classically-trained pianist Kate Simko came of age in Chicago at the height of the Midwest rave scene. On the one hand, she has formal training in music technology and composition; conversely, she was a key player in the Chicago electronica scene, including hosting the well-known Chicago night, Wake Up! Her own tracks reflect her roots in both Chicago house and Detroit techno.

Techno DJ and producer Ellen Allien (pictured) is based in Berlin. She organized the BPitch parties there and eventually started her own label, BPitch Control. She’s released several solo albums as well as a collaboration with Apparat, and her own compositions are experimentally-oriented techno/electro hybrids.

Finally, Seattle’s own Chloe Harris is best known for her DJing (including touring with John Digweed), for her show on Proton Radio, and for mixing up her genres to make her unique sound. She’s just started creating her own tracks, and here’s one of them.

MP3 link: Kate Simko – Soltera

MP3: Ellen Allien – Sehnsucht

MP3: Chloe Harris – Skooch (original version)

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Coverage: Commissions at Cover Me

March 23, 2009

yoshimiroboto

Guest blogger Scott writes:

Cover Me, a cover song blog, has begun commissioning covers from independent artists. In blogger Ray’s words:

Here’s the gist. Every month we will present to you an artist, one who’s probably showed up on the blog before, one whom I feel has a lot to offer cover-wise. Said artist has signed on to produce a special, never-before-heard cover for Cover Me. A commissioned work minus the money. What song will be covered? Well that depends on the artist, but as often as possible, the song choice is up to you!

The first commission has been completed and posted, a cover of Devo’s “Beautiful World.” I’m not a huge fan of the original, but this definitely an interesting sound. James Eric also submitted a cover of the third place finisher, MGMT’s “Time to Pretend,” which is more to my taste.

The second commission is to be performed by John Anealio. When the poll closed, the final tally of votes on the second commission showed a tie between The Flaming Lips’ “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.” So clearly, whatever Anealio chooses, we win. But here’s hoping he goes with the commenter who suggested “Yoshimi Battles Mr. Roboto.”

MP3: James Eric – Time to Pretend (MGMT cover)

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How $1500 headphones are made

March 20, 2009

hd800

Ever wondered how ultra-high-end headphones are made? CNet UK went on a tour of the Sennheiser factory in Hanover, Germany to watch the fabrication of their HD 800 headphones, and they are sharing a photo tour. It’s pretty cool – while some parts are shipped to the factory from elsewhere, all of the electronics are assembled in-house, by hand, and only fifty pairs are made each day.

If you have (or are thinking of getting) a pair of these babies, you damn well better be able to tell the difference between MP3 bitrates and you’d better prefer higher-fidelity music. Otherwise, me and a crack team of my music-loving friends will have to come to your house and administer a stern talking-to.

Photo tour of the factory here, and a review of the HD 800s here.

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Anonymous: “The X-Factory”

March 20, 2009

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Okay, these guys get full bonus points for intrigue (not to mention snark).

An excerpt from the e-mail I received today, from one Quentin Coward (all links are mine):

This year, as for several years, “The X-Factor” and its coven of related “reality” shows such as “American Idol” have been a subject of much debate, controversy and – in many musical circles – derision.

This year in particular, this began to rub a lot of people up the wrong way.

Hundreds of campaigns, backing alternatives from Jeff Buckley (whose version of Hallelujah in fact reached Number 2) to Rick Astley to Peter Kay to Terry Wogan to Chris Difford from Squeeze launched across social networking sites, radio and TV stations and press outlets.
“The X-Factory” is a response, from a group of musicians who are, for the time being, keeping their identity to themselves. They are also refusing to share their sandwiches.

The mission statement was simple and two-fold:
1.) The project budget must at no time exceed £15.
2.) Real instruments and players must be used at all times.

Also, it had to be fun. We had fun. And we hope you do too.

Can you guess who Anonymous are? There will be prizes and possibly hats.
http://www.myspace.com/xfactoryanonymous

Regards,
Team Anonymous

I think it’s highly likely that the artists involved are not quite as famous as the ones they cited, and I appreciate this mostly as a creative and humorous guerrilla marketing campaign.

MP3: Anonymous – The X-Factory

If sarcastic folky Brits are up your alley, you may also appreciate Mitch Benn‘s musical takedown of James Blunt, which I think is rather wittier, both musically and lyrically (“he’s the only man alive who’s his own rhyming slang”).

MP3: Mitch Benn – I May Just Have to Murder James Blunt

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How-to: Digital submissions to music blogs

March 19, 2009

nataliedee.com

Music bloggers are in the game for love, not for money. We love listening to new music and helping out emerging musicians, and most of us welcome submissions from artists. But the whole ‘doing it for love’ thing also means we trying to listen and write about new music in the interstices of our day job and the rest of our life. Here are some tips to help make it easy on us, which means that we’re more likely to listen and write about what you send.

The farther away your e-mail is from a form letter, the more likely I am to listen to your music. In particular, I can practically guarantee I’ll give it a listen if you say nice things about my blog and can relate your band’s music to my love of Britpop/geeks/overeducated musicians/(insert topic here).

Tell me why I should listen to it. Writing about music may be like dancing about architecture, but it’s the tool you have at your disposal to convince me to spend more time on it. No matter what, you should say something about your music, even if it’s the dreaded ‘we sound like x, y, and z.’

Send me links to individual MP3s – don’t just send me the whole album in one chunk. I’m not going to dedicate the hard drive space or listening time to a whole album from an artist that’s new to me without checking out a bite-sized piece first.

Use logical filenames. It’s your baby, so you don’t need this information. But I do. If I want to find it again, it helps if your fantastic new opus has a more mellifluous title than ‘Track 03.’ At the very least, put the song title into the filename. Note that I also have a new appreciation for band names that don’t start with ‘the.’

On a related note…

Give me good metadata. If I download your song to my computer, I’d like to be able to keep track of it. Make sure all the metadata is in place. Artist, song title, and album, please.

If I’ve gotten this far, there’s a good chance I’ll want to say something about your music. Make it easy for me.

Point me to an electronic press kit. It can be a website, a PDF, a SonicBids page. Anything with a bio and photos I can download (SonicBids disallows right-clicking and saving, which is annoying).

Hosting the MP3s yourself is a nicety (but not a necessity). While I host MP3s for my blog, not everyone is happy using their own storage and bandwidth. If you provide an MP3 link to share, it’s a bit nicer for the blog and it also makes it easier for you to track downloads.

Help me decide what song to post. Tell me if you’d like me to post a particular song, or if I can choose a song I like. If you don’t want me posting any songs, I won’t—but it’ll also make me disinclined to write about you, especially if you aren’t well-known.

Finally, please don’t send me DJ mixes. I don’t care what you do in your bedroom; I only want to hear you live, in front of a crowd. Figure out how to get shows in your area.

This list of tips is a work in progress – I’d love to get feedback, especially if you’re an artist who’s been on the other side of the process.

MP3: Clatter Clatter – Downpour [buy]

Edited to add:

Do not add me to your mailing list without first asking for and receiving permission. There’s a name for unsolicited commercial e-mail:  spam. Cluttering up my inbox will not predispose me kindly to you, to put it mildly.

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Neophile: Ten Minute Turns

March 18, 2009

tmt

One of the most intriguing bands on the MPress Records sampler CD is Ten Minute Turns, out of Brooklyn. Following in the long tradition of rock bands birthed at art schools, principals Roger Mason and Alan Foreman met while at RISD. Their sound occupies the middle ground between guitar-driven indie pop and the electro sounds of bands like Cut Copy; evident in, for example, the slightly-vocodered vocals on “Aluminum Shine,” of their sophomore full-length, Leaving Robot City. The driving rhythms are accented by horns and accordion, and the resultant songs range from gently melacholic (“Somethin’ That I Don’t Know”) to out-and-out stompers (“Sad Animals,” from the EP of the same name). Plus, any band gets bonus points from me for referencing circuit-bending in their lyrics.

MP3: Ten Minute Turns – Aluminum Shine [buy]

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Are we starting to prefer MP3s?

March 17, 2009

ipodnano1According to Stanford University music professor Jonathan Berger, the number of people who prefer MP3s to higher fidelity formats is rising every year. Every fall, he asks his incoming students to listen to music in a variety of formats and rate which ones they prefer. Apparently, there is a steadily-increasing fraction of students who actually prefer the overly-compressed sounds of low-bitrate MP3s, at least for rock music. (I say ‘apparently’ because a quick search in Google Scholar failed to turn up published data – if you can find it, let me know.) This reminds me of the debate about what tastes better, tap water or spring water. The Ontario Science Centre had an exhibit that showed that your preference just depended on what you normally drank. It looks like MP3s are the same way – people prefer what they are used to, even if other formats are objectively better.

Predictably, audiophiles are freaking out. However, as the price of storage and bandwidth drops, there’s no reason to think that higher fidelity formats won’t become the norm. I’m sure there were lots of people who preferred the sound of cassette tapes, or AM radio.

Interested in whether you prefer 192 or 320 kbps MP3s? Check out an earlier z=z post here.

[via O'Reilly Radar]

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Early warning: z=z happy hour!

March 16, 2009

miracleofscience

Put it on your calendars, everyone – the first official zed equals zee Happy Hour has a date! Join myself, guest blogger Scott, and intrepid correspondent Tim Smith at the Miracle of Science on Monday, March 30th, from 6 to 8 pm. I’ve talked to the bar about taking over their stereo for a playlist of z=z faves from Boston, Seattle, and beyond.

I’m looking forward to putting some faces behind the usernames, and we’d love if you can join us. RSVPs to me or in the comments are appreciated for planning purposes, but are by no means necessary.

Hope to see you there!

MP3: Logan 5 and the Runners: Subtitles [buy]

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Neophile: MPress Records New Arrivals 3

March 13, 2009

mpress-nav3

There’s been a number of high profile compilation CDs for charity recently, including Dark Was the Night and the new Heroes CD to benefit War Child. Brooklyn’s MPress Records approach is the polar opposite of lining up big names for your charity CD, although its genesis was somewhat accidental. The first of their New Arrivals label samplers was scheduled for release shortly after Hurricane Katrina; rather than giving it away free as a promo item, MPress and the artists decided to sell it and give the proceeds to Gulf Coast Hurricane Relief. They’ve continued to do this with their sampler CDs, designating a new charitable recipient every year. New Arrivals 3 is now out, and it’s worth checking out. The CD includes Toronto indie band Ember Swift, Jay Clifford (as heard on Grey’s Anatomy), a bonus track by Toad the Wet Sprocket lead singer Glen Philips, and more, with proceeds going to the National Eating Disorders Association.

Full details on the CD, including a link to retailers, here.

MP3: Jay Gifford – Know When to Walk Away

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Music artwork for ever-shrinking canvases

March 12, 2009

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The theme for the current issue of Wired Magazine is ‘design under constraints.’ The canvas that designers have to play with for album art has gone from the luscious two-handed expanse of LPs, to CDs, to the literally thumbnail-sized images on iPods. Designer and author Steven Heller argues that designers need to step up to the challenge of designing compelling artwork in this 240-pixel space, and he provides some examples, above. Check out the short essay for a sense of where artwork for music has come from and where it’s going.

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Watch: “One Week”

March 12, 2009

Michael McGowan’s film, “One Week” opened last Friday. It’s a road-trip movie about twenty-something Ben Tyler (played by Joshua Jacobs) who, upon learning that he has aggressive and probably-terminal cancer, buys a motorcycle and rides from his home in Toronto to Vancouver. Canadian independent movies have a reputation for being painfully earnest, and this one looks like it’ll fit that stereotype. But, as you can see from the trailer (above), it’s also a love song to Canada – gorgeous shots of the landscape are interspersed throughout—and to Canadian independent music. The movie features songs by bands like Stars, Great Lake Swimmers, and Wintersleep. You can read more about the music in the movie here.

It’s only been released in Canada (unsurprisingly), but you can already add it to your Netflix queue. Or, of course, you can go on a north-of-the-border road trip  of your own.

MP3: Wintersleep – Weighty Ghost [buy]

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128 or 320 kbps – can you hear the difference?

March 11, 2009

audacity

Okay, we are going to do a quasi-scientific study here with the z=z community, to see if people can hear the difference between 128 kbps and 320 kbps audio streams. Go to mp3 or not, listen to the two sound samples, decide—or guess—which one is at the higher bitrate, and then post your results in the comments, along with any ancillary information (like whether you used speakers or headphones). I couldn’t tell the two samples apart, at least not on my laptop speakers, but I had a 50-50 shot at getting it right, and I did. Let’s see if we can get enough numbers to exclude (or confirm) randomness.

UPDATE (Friday, 10:23 am PDT): We are up to 6 people who got it right and 5 people who got it wrong. I’d love to get some more datapoints. Please share this link and ask people to comment or to send me an e-mail or a tweet.

UPDATE (Friday, 10:49 am PDT): A poll! This is much easier. If you’ve already responded in the comments, please do not vote in the poll.

[via Music Machinery]

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So does iTunes license or distribute music?

March 11, 2009

eminem

One of the reasons I’m not a huge fan of iTunes is because of the discrepancy between how they treat music for the purpose of the consumer and the artist. Regular iTunes music is ‘licensed,’ not sold, to consumers – that’s why you can’t play it on unauthorized computers (this doesn’t apply to the DRM-free iTunes Plus). However, from the point of view of the royalties they pay to artists and labels, they are considered to be a distributor – iTunes pays the same royalty rate as Wal-Mart (about 12%), and not the higher royalty rate that is normally paid for music that is licensed from the label.

This discrepancy got put to the test last week, albeit in an indirect way. Mark and Jeff Bass, of F.B.T. Productions, worked on some early Eminem albums, including The Real Slim Shady. Last week, they went to court in Los Angeles, suing Interscope (a division of Universal) for unpaid royalties. Their argument was that iTunes and other digital music services were the equivalent of manufacturers, receiving a digital ‘master’ and making copies for distribution.  Rather than the 12% royalty, therefore, the artists should be receiving a royalty of 50% – the basis for the argument that they were underpaid.

Well, the jury didn’t buy it. They sided with Interscope and the argument that digital downloads are the modern equivalent of the 45, and that artists should be compensated at the lower rate.

More details at Ars Technica and the LA Times.

MP3: Eminem – My Name Is [buy]

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Terry McBride on music blogs and more

March 10, 2009

terry_2006

Terry McBride, the CEO of Nettwerk, is just talking to everyone these days. He recently gave an interview to Rollo & Grady, in which he talks about (what else?) the future of music. McBride argues, fairly cogently, that we are rapidly moving to an all-subscription model of music, based around mobile apps:

You’re going to see millions of applications come onto the marketplace. You’re going to see social filtering of the really good ones, and what’s going to be in there are applications that change the behavioral habits of how you consume music. The need to download music will no longer exist. If anything, it will be a hassle. You’ll have smartphones that can probably handle two to three hundred songs. That’s a gradual download; you’re actually not streaming it. It’s actually on your phone but it’s pulled from some sort of server, whether it’s your own server or a cloud server. … You’re going to see applications for maybe five bucks a month where you can access all the music that you want, how you want it, when you want it, imported to any device. So why would you want to download?

Time will tell whether he’s on the right track or not, but he certainly gets some cred for being one of the few music executives who gets technology – he starting orienting Nettwerk towards digital way back in 2002.

But, of course, this is what endears him to us pixel-stained technopeasants:

I love music blogs because they’re music fans. They’re authentic and passionate about music. They’re no different than me. All they’re doing is spreading the word about stuff they like. The authentic will rise to the top, which is why I like aggregators like The Hype Machine. I think it’s brilliant. It’s a great way of seeing what music fans are talking about versus some other filter. I’d rather the filter be a social filter, and then you can go into niches. Maybe it’s a bluegrass filter or a country filter or a hard rock filter or an ambient filter. Whatever. Those people are really passionate about that music. You know what? That’s what it’s about. Songs are not copyright. Songs are emotions.

Read the full interview here.

MP3: Great Lake Swimmers – Changing Colours [buy]

[via Machine Shop]

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