Archive for May, 2009


Off-topic: Pacific Northwest road trip!

May 29, 2009


I’m going to be on the road for the next few days, exploring the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island. One of my favourite driving songs seems strangely relevant, since the forecast looks perfect.

MP3: Beta Band – Dry The Rain (live) [buy]

(if you’re interested, you can follow me on Twitter or keep an eye on my Flickr page)


The future is what it used to be

May 28, 2009


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Imagine Elvis never happened. Imagine Elvis Presley recording all his music for a dollar in the little booth where he cut that first 78 for his mother’s birthday. And imagine a music industry which, instead of investing in a single massive star called Elvis, distributed ten thousand stars, all recording for a dollar, in totally different styles, all appealing to small, highly self-conscious cults in a fragmented society. A society in a state of fabulous confusion, exploding into fragments. Our society, now.

Sound familiar? That text is from an essay, titled “Pop Stars? Nein Danke!” by famously eccentric Scottish musician Momus (pictured). And it was written almost two decades ago (in 1991). As that quote demonstrates, it’s an astonishingly prescient essay; in fact, I stumbled on it while I was trying to find the earliest use of the phrase, “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen people.”

A bit more to whet your appetite:

The feeling I get when I walk into a record shop is not that there is a battle of titans ‘clashing for the number one spot’. That is the model of the old monopoly capitalism. Entering a record shop now, a good one like Tower or the Virgin Megastore, is like standing in C.S. Lewis’s Wood Between the Worlds, where you can pick a pond and enter one of an infinite number of worlds at different stages of their evolution….

…To stay sane, to stay plausible, pop artists must drop their claims to universal stardom. Let’s abandon the nostalgia, let’s drop the rhetoric, let’s restructure the music industry. We now have a democratic technology, a technology which can help us all to produce and consume the new, ‘unpopular’ pop musics, each perfectly customised to our elective cults.

Now go and read the whole essay. And by the way, music industry? Don’t tell us that nobody saw it coming.

MP3: The 6ths – As You Turn To Go (feat. Momus) [buy]


MP3 search engine: Sad Steve

May 27, 2009


My favourite recommendations embody unsolicited enthusiasm, so I thought I’d share this one:

Back in the day, I used to really like this website called Sad Steve, which basically searched SeeqPod, but gave you their sources as downloadable links. When SeeqPod died a couple of months ago, I was therefore quite sad, since became non-functional. However, somehow Sad Steve managed to get their search running again and I am convinced (based on the little I have used it today), that it is better than SeeqPod was. I don’t know how they did this, but I have gotten a lot more results than I used to when they just used SeeqPod. I even managed to find a 16-second clip from this obscure Vermont funk band that I like.

It’s a lot more than just a search engine, so check it out!


Sad Steve


Streaming vs downloading

May 26, 2009

peanutsAt the SanFran MusicTech Summit last week, Terry McBride continued to beat the drum for streaming music versus downloading media. He argues that mobile devices will enable us to listen to anything, anywhere, thereby obviating the need to select and store music ourselves. I respect McBride and what he’s done with Nettwerk tremendously. But, at least at the moment, the streaming-only model of music has some significant challenges.

Streaming requires an always-on connection. Some places where I’ve listened to music in the last couple of days: At my desk. On the highway. In my apartment. Somewhere in the Snoqualmie-Mount Baker National Forest. In the weight room of my gym, which is in its basement. Only two of these places have a reliable connection to the outside world. It was pointed out (by Robb McDaniels, I believe) that you can always push music to a device faster than you can listen to it, which means that you have a buffer. Of course, this seems to defeat one of the few advantages of streaming: that you can select music spontaneously.

Bandwidth is a much scarcer resource than storage. Raise your hand if you think that we have lots of wireless bandwidth to go around. Now raise your hand if you think that that we’re near the lower limit of memory storage size and price. You over there, doing the Superman impersonation, put your hands back on the keyboard and go learn about the tragedy of the commons and Moore’s Law. If I want to listen to the Hold Steady and Malcolm Middleton cover of Bryan Adam’s “Run to You” a hundred times (and I do), I can download it a hundred times and save the storage cost, or I can download it once and not have to worry about bandwidth and a connection. And frankly, I much prefer the solution where I’m paying the cost of storing the music on my nth generation iPhone rather than making everyone else share the cost by wirelessly streaming it everytime I want it.

I don’t trust the music companies. Unfortunately, there isn’t a technological fix for this one. After a decade of RIAA, DRM on iTunes, and more, we’ve been Charlie Brown to the music industry’s Lucy a few too many times. I don’t trust them to not yank the football of my music away from me – it’s as simple as that. I’m happy to stream music, especially when it’s well-curated and new (thank you, KEXP). But if I’m ever going to want to listen to it again, I want a physical copy or an unrestricted digital copy. I want to own it – to have unrestricted, irrevocable access to it indefinitely, so I can listen to it without EULAs or unilaterally-defined ToS.

What do you think? Am I hopeless Luddite, clinging to the notion of music as property when I should be embracing the Great Big Jukebox in the Sky? Has the ability to stream music changed your buying habits? Let us know in the comments.

MP3: Malcolm Middleton and the Hold Steady – Run To You (live) [via Stereogum]


Memorial Day

May 25, 2009

military cemetary

Memorial Day. More than just the official start of the American summer.

MP3: The Pogues – The Band Played Waltzing Matilda [buy; more about Eric Bogle]


Music and tech news roundup

May 22, 2009


An assortment of music and technology news from around the Internet:

Indie music label sponsors BitTorrent site. Florida’s Awesome New Republic, and their music label Honor Roll, decided to try a new strategy to reach potential listeners. They are sponsoring torrent site isoHunt via a banner ad linked to a torrent download of their debut album, Rational Geographic Vol 1. The idea, of course, is to get the word out about their music. [more at TorrentFreak]

Makers of DJ software to release vinyl. Serato Audio Research, makers of the widely-used DJ software Scratch Live, are releasing tracks on vinyl. In the Scratch system, all the music is in MP3s on a laptop, but the interface to control it is still in the form of two turntables. However, instead of the records storing the music itself, the two records are pressed with ‘control tones,’ which can translate the physical movement of the record by the DJ into a signal used to control the music in software (you can see the regular grooves in the photo above). Serato decided that, since they were pressing vinyl records anyway, they could do something cool with the other side, which has led to Serato Pressings. The first three releases include tracks by Diplo and Blaqstarr, and more records are in the pipeline

Social tagging and music. Paul Lamere wrote a terrific conference paper that includes everything you wanted to know about tags and music: the good, the bad, and the ugly. You can download the paper as a PDF here.

This week’s reading assignment. Canada’s Globe and Mail has been running a terrific series called The Download Decade, including a bunch of feature-length articles: Thank You, Napster; How The iPod Changed Everything; If Piracy is Wrong, Why Does it Feel So Right?; New Media, Old Rules; and the latest, Making Way for the Mobile Decade.

MP3: Awesome New Republic – Rotary Clone


SanFran MusicTech Summit roundup

May 21, 2009


This year’s SanFran MusicTech Summit had a lot going on. Somewhere north of 600 people turned up, including tech/development people, marketers, and business development people, and I’d say about half of the crowd put up a hand when asked if they were a musician (I suspect there’s considerable overlap between that category and the others).

Unfortunately, with three concurrent tracks, it’s easy to miss a lot of the conference. If you’re interested in knowing more about what went on than what’s in this post, here are some other summaries: CNet, NY Times, Washington Post. And if you think Twitter, and not journalism, is the first rough draft of history,  you can read what people (including me) said about it in the heat of the moment by searching for #sfmusictech.

Some highlights:

Biggest tease: Paul Lamere of Echo Nest demo’ed their extension to Spotify that uses their musical analysis-based technology to create extended Spotify playlists, based on a seed song, for example. It looked great, and you can read more about it at Paul’s blog. Unfortunately, because of the byzantine licensing arrangements (another theme of the conference), Spotify is not yet available in the US. It’s gonna be the future soon, right?

Second-biggest tease: We wrote about Band Metrics, a music analytics service that aggregates data from across the web, a few months ago. The site was demo’ed at the conference. While it’s still in private beta, conference attendees were given an invite code. Unfortunately, it turned out to be only valid for the day, so my attempt to register after the conference was unsuccessful. Stay tuned for more info about the service in the coming weeks (I hope!).

Biggest app north of the border: I talked to Darryl Ballantyne, of Toronto-based LyricFind, and he mentioned that their free iPhone app is one of the most-downloaded in Canada. The company does all the back-end work to make licensed lyrics available (their engine powers, for example) and they’ve recently branched out into consumer products. Worth checking out (and I’m not saying that just because they brought kegs of Canadian beer for the reception).

Biggest fight: By far the most, uh, lively panel I went to was the Monetization: Idealism in Practice panel. Jim Griffin talked about Choruss, which is a proposal to charge colleges a flat per-student fee for access to music, in whatever form (torrents, streaming, purchases, whatever). The school would collect data on how students acquired and listened to music, and use that data to disburse the collected funds to artists (by means which were not fully explained). It was worth going to the panel just to see the Electronic Frontier Foundation (in the person of Fred Von Lohmann, one of their senior staff attorneys) on the same side as the major record labels (Choruss was started by Warner and is backed by several other majors). However, this is still a pretty contentious proposal, especially since the colleges are kind of paying protection money (‘you promise not to sue us, right?’), because it’s not clear how the indies or unsigned musicians will be represented, and because it seems incompatible with other business models. I know that many z=z readers are musicians, associated with a college, or both, and I’d be really interested in what you have to say – does the Choruss model make sense to you? Why or why not?

MP3: Jonathan Coulton – The Future Soon [buy/download]

Image:  San Francisco Music Tech #4 by Flickr user .schill, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.