Archive for the ‘future of music’ Category

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Music and tech news roundup

May 22, 2009

serato-recordplayer

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

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Small-scale tiered pricing models

May 20, 2009

geoff edgers

Guest blogger Scott writes:

As technology has enabled increased efforts by musicians to sort customers by willingness to pay, it’s no surprise that people would be developing Web sites to bring those tools to smaller-scale creative projects. Kickstarter came to my attention when my friend Eric started a non-music-related project there, but musical projects are well-represented, unsurprisingly: you can also support the editing for a documentary about The Kinks (which I’d already heard about – it’s getting local press), for example, or you can buy a Creative Commons-licensed album on vinyl. Or, if it’s more your thing, you can support creative begging. According to Eric, there are still some minor process issues, but the developers are in the process of working out, well, The Kinks.

MP3: The Kinks – Low Budget [buy]

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Hypetape: new playlist site

May 12, 2009

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Hypetape describes itself, somewhat redundantly, as ‘the illegitimate lovechild of The Hype Machine and Muxtape.’ It scrapes the web for MP3s, and lets you put together playlists, which you can save and share. They don’t host any of the music (so they aren’t vulnerable to filesharing charges). It’s a neat idea, with a straightforward interface, but there’s one major problem: music posted to blogs is almost always ephemeral, whether by choice or necessity.  That means that the life expectancy of your playlists is shorter than a snowball in a supernova. I did a test search on British Sea Power and I think that the resultant songs were ordered chronologically (“Come Wander With Me” was at the top), but it would be useful to see a posting date, so you’d at least have a sense of when the best-by date would be.  What would make this a really compelling application, as far as I’m concerned, is if I could use Hypetape to pull together a mixtape, and then for it to automagically find and download the MP3s, and have them appear as a labeled playlist in iTunes. Ideally, it’d be coupled with a good music exploration or recommendation system, to make it easy to find artists that I didn’t already know about (if anyone is listening, I would also like a pony).

What do you think? What would you want to see in a playlist site?

[image: buy the t-shirt!]

MP3: British Sea Power – Come Wander With Me

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Upcoming: SanFran MusicTech Summit

May 11, 2009

hotel kabuki

Next Monday, May 18th is the SanFran MusicTech Summit, and it’s shaping up to be pretty interesting. Speakers include Dave Allen (of Pampelmoose), Terry McBride of Nettwerk (who gets around), and Fred Von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, with panels on social networking, digital delivery, monetization (with the description, ‘idealism in practice,’ which sounds promising), and more. It’s at the Hotel Kabuki in Japantown, and full conference and registration details are here. I’ll be heading down to SF for the weekend, and there’ll be a report-out on z=z. If there’s something you are particularly interested in hearing about, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best.

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Online music services and payola

April 23, 2009

money

Book editors Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who are involved in educating would-be authors about scammers who who would defraud them by posing as reputable publishers (rather than as the vanity presses they are), frequently quote Yog’s Law: Money should always flow towards the author. The music industry variant seems to have historically been, “Money flows towards the artists, but not if we can help it.”

But that’s no longer true, it seems. Recently, two streaming music services instituted pay-for-play schemes: $30 on Jango, and $200 on last.fm, buys you 1000 plays of your music, slotted between songs by the established artists of your choice. There’s a great overview article here.

I’m all for doing things differently in the brave new world of online distribution for artists, and part of that is thinking of new ways to get your music out to listeners who might like it. But I am fundamentally wary of any business model that puts the best interests of the company (in this case, making money from selling music slots) in opposition to the the best interests of the user (hearing music they like), rather than aligned with them. Maybe I’ve just been hanging around with Paul Lamere too much, but it seems like a more sustainable model would be to get the music recommendation part right first, and try to monetize it afterwards.

I’d be interested in knowing what others think about this. Please share your thoughts!

MP3: M.I.A. – Paper Planes (DFA remix) [buy]

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LEGO Rock Band!

April 22, 2009

lego-rock-band

LEGO Rock Band! Warner Interactive announced today that they were teaming with LEGO, game developers Harmonix and TT Games, and MTV Games to create a LEGO version of Rock Band. It’s intended to be more younger-kid-friendly than the original, with songs like “Kung Fu Fighting” and Blur’s “Song 2.” And, of course, you also get to customize your minifig avatars, as well as those of your “band and entourage, including roadie, manager, and crew.” (“Mommy, what’s a groupie?”)

The game is scheduled for release in time for the 2009 holidays. You can check out the press release for more info.

MP3: The White Stripes – Fell in Love With a Girl [check out the video]

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Online music chart: We Are Hunted

April 21, 2009

wearehunted

Sometimes it’s all in the interface. We Are Hunted scrapes and aggregates a host of online sources – everything from Twitter to torrents – to produce a ‘online chart’ of what the Internet is listening to. But all of that is in the background; the website simply presents a 3×3 grid of songs or artists, that you can just click to play (or click ‘next’ for more). For casual listeners,  it’s one-stop shopping to hear what’s hot and new. Sleek and simple.

[via Underwire]

MP3: Metric – Poster of a Girl [buy]

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Trent Reznor on the future of music

April 15, 2009

nin-janes

Trent Reznor, always a man to call it like he sees it, gives great interview to the Guardian. The NIN iPhone app went live last night, and Reznor uses the occasion of its release to share his thoughts:

People are going to steal your music whether you like it or not; it’s out there, it’s free… You’re never going to make a lot of money selling records like you used to, that’s a fact. It’s over… Record labels do not know how to deal with the new media environment that they’re confronted with. They’ve made their fortunes selling plastic discs and now no one wants to buy plastic discs – they’re just trying to get their fingers in every other pie, but they’re so greedy and ignorant they’re not prepared to do what they have to do… All we’re trying to do is make something cool. Something that as a fan you’d say, ‘Hey, I want to have that’. If we can monetise it, then that’s fine, no problem.

You can read the full Guardian article on iPhone apps here, and the Wired Underwire blog has a great article on what  Reznor has done since leaving his label 18 months ago, including releasing music under Creative Commons licenses to encourage sharing and remixing, as well as harnessing social networking to create a fan community. It’s well worth the read.

MP3: Nine Inch Nails – Discipline [download/buy]

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Report: MEIEA conference

April 9, 2009

goldberg

The Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association 2009 conference was held last weekend at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Roving reporter Joe Kendall filed this report for zed equals zee.

Prior to this past weekend, my last visit to the Berklee Performance Center involved listening to Dave Brubeck play “Blue Rondo à la Turk”, so it felt a bit strange to sit in the same concert hall listening to industry players discuss ways to make money in the music business. I quickly discovered that the Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association (MEIEA) International Conference was not going to be as focused on music as I thought. (It might have helped if I had paid more attention to the title of the conference: The New Entertainment Economy.) Panels on music in gaming or the worth of a song were considerably more focused on methods of licensing and distributing music than they were on the creation or use of music.

Overall, it’s clear that the industry has accepted that things will be different in the future, and panels focused around music publishing and other licensing opportunities were well attended. These panels and the keynote address each stressed the importance of taking risks and exploring new options for making money with music. A few highlights:

Last October, the Copyright Royalty Board set new rates for the amount songwriters and music publishers are paid for each song use. Putting a song on a CD or downloading it now earns the songwriter or publisher 9.1 cents per use. Downloading a digital ringtone earns songwriters 24 cents per use. [press release]

With the ability to download content to music-centered games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, musicians have a new channel to connect with their fanbase. Less-established musicians are getting more exposure through these games, and more established musicians are using these games to increase marketing opportunities. [previously: Videogames and the music industry]

There was considerable discussion around the role of the Internet but, as Danny Goldberg (pictured; former manager of Nirvana and president of Gold Village Entertainment) said in his keynote address, “the Internet is not magic.” The panelists representing the music industry said they were using the advantages of the Internet, but not relying on them to create new opportunities.

Goldberg also called on President Obama to increase government support for the arts once he had addressed the economic and housing crises. He also asked educators and students to start a national conversation on the devaluation of intellectual property caused by non-monetized distribution of music.

With the diminishing importance of record companies and an economic recession, attendees seemed apprehensive about the survival of the industry. That apprehension didn’t disappear as panelists pointed towards growing live-performance sales and new growth opportunities in video games as signs of health;  the economic nature of the questions exposed the mood in the concert hall to be hopeful but anxious. Goldberg expressed the view that the industry had shifted over the past twenty years from focusing too much on the music side to focusing too much on the business side. It’s a difficult time and a difficult transition, but let’s hope the music industry can balance the two.

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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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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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Music artwork for ever-shrinking canvases

March 12, 2009

wired-record-art

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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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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♬.ws: music search engine for Twitter

March 10, 2009

musebin1

There’s a new music-related-service for Twitter, ♬.ws. The basic premise is that you can enter the name of a band, and you’ll get a page with info on the band, a listing of relevant tweets, and links to iTunes, Amazon MP3s, and Musebin (a website of one-line music reviews and, not incidentally, the creators of ♬.ws). But the big advantage to the memorable-but-annoying domain name is a very short URL for your query, which can be embedded directly into a tweet (in lieu of a hashtag, for example).

I beta-tested it with two z=z faves, The Motion Sick and Logan 5 and the Runners. The Motion Sick worked pretty well, with only one nausea-related false positive. I was less successful with L5R; their album name, Featurette, hit lots of non-music-related tweets.

It’s an interesting concept, but I think it still needs some work. It’d be great if it also gave website and Myspace pages for the artists. And I hope they redesign the results page – I’d happily trade the 18-pt type and ugly Roman font for more tweets on a page and something more legible.

MP3: The Motion Sick – Winged Bicycle [more]

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More new models for music

March 5, 2009

freezepop-premium

Adding to our collection of new models for music, here are a pair of subscription models for premium content:

iTunes has finally figured out that they can do better than just give you a digital album for $10. Depeche Mode is the first band to offer the new iTunes pass: for $18.99, you get a download of their new album, Sounds of the Universe, together with a bunch of bonus tracks, remixes and videos over the course of the next few months. At the moment, the new single, “Wrong,” is available for download, and there is also a remix of “Oh Well” exclusively for pass subscribers.

In a similar vein, Freezepop offers their ‘Premium Updates‘ subscription. For $2.99/month, you not only get access to exclusive songs and videos, but you also get updates including, ‘wacky hijinks,’ ‘what we ate for dinner,’ ‘exciting tour stories,’ and ‘pictures of our pets.’ It seems like a good combination of relationship-building and revenue generation – I wonder how it’s working out?

MP3: Depeche Mode – Personal Jesus (Dsico feat. Adrian Roberts Cover)

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$99 Music Videos

February 25, 2009

$99 Music Videos hopes to occupy the space between fan-created videos and traditional music videos. The brainchild of Next New Networks, the rules are simple: the video has to be made for less than $99, it has to be shot in one day, it has to be edited in one day and—this is where it’s really differentiated from fan videos—it has to be made with the collaboration of the band. The idea is to bring together emerging bands with enthusiastic filmmakers: the band gets a video, the filmmaker gets exposure, and Next New Networks gets its cut via the (occasionally intrusive) advertising. Every video has a companion making-of video, in which the creators get to document how they worked within the constraints (here’s the one for La Strada’s “The Sun Song” video, above); for someone who’s interested in how things tick, they might be more interesting than the videos themselves.

Want to make your own? Go find a band you like, or a fan who’s up for shooting a video, get five twenties out of an ATM, and submit your own video here.

Wired has a longer interview with the site creators here.

MP3: La Strada – The Sun Song

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The return of Muxtape

February 19, 2009

muxtape

Guest blogger Scott writes:

On Monday, the NYT Freakonomics blog reported on the return of mix tape site Muxtape. While the blog entry has pictures and content links that give a sense of where Muxtape is going, there’s very little at the website itself right now, although the story of what Muxtape was, and how it got to where it is now, is interesting. The major change from the original Muxtape format is that, instead of anyone being able to upload songs and create mix tapes, only artists with licensing rights will be allowed to upload music. On its face, that makes this Myspace without the thirteen-year-old-who-just-learned-HTML design dynamic (which might be sufficient, actually).  But, for me at least, the important aspect is this: “The goal of Muxtape remains facilitating the discovery of new music, and anyone can still create a mix from the music available on the site.” (emphasis mine) In other words, while only those with legal authority can upload music (the charter members include Amanda Palmer, Girl Talk, Dan Deacon, and Of Montreal), a user-created mix tape can include any of the uploaded music. That’s a fairly straight-forward tipping point business model—once a critical volume of music is reached, the ability of Muxtape to reach new listeners has the potential to expand drastically.

Even as improvements in technology have greatly increased the ease with which music can be shared and distributed, the technology of what-the-database-thinks-you’ll-like has been a huge step back, for me. I’ve never been a big fan of Pandora and its ilk, and much prefer recommendations with the human touch. The Shuffle function on my iPod hasn’t seen use since the first two weeks I owned it. While I don’t always know what song I want to listen to at any given moment, I do know that randomization (even based on a seed/relational database or a playlist of things I know I like) does a very poor job. Mix tapes, on the other hand, follow a path that someone has laid out, and if that path passes through something I know I like, then there’s an excellent chance that there will be other steps in that path that appeal. Mix tapes and personal recommendations from people whose taste I understand are generally how I learn about new music, and although there are many options for the latter, the options on the Internet for the former haven’t been especially successful to date. So the return of Muxtape is welcome.

On a related topic, the Freakonomics blog entry also includes a link to an economics paper suggesting that television availability on the Internet increases total television program viewing, even though (as would be expected) it decreases television program viewing on television. The models are sufficiently different that it’s hard to claim that this argument is generalizable to music, but it might help to explain why Alec Baldwin was laughing maniacally during the Super Bowl.

MP3: Of Montreal – Faberge Falls for Shuggie [buy]