Category Archives: music

the music industry would be proud: I bought music this year

I love music and I refuse to be one of those people whose listening habits were formed in college and never progress. I pride myself on acquiring music on a regular basis, but I absolutely positively refuse to buy DRM-ified music. I’ve been buying CDs and ripping them for years, grabbing music from friends, and downloading using P2P software (even though I know that all three are “illegal”). Because most of the music that I listen to has a short run on CDs (and is not carried by any of the Top 5 distributors), I usually can’t buy the CD if I don’t get to the album in the first few months. As much as I love psyshop, it’s really irritating that the majority of albums are “not available.” This means that my only option is to “steal” them. Not an ideal situation. The other problem is that I hate having to wait for CDs – they take forever, especially when they’re being shipped from Europe. Thus, I’m more likely to grab them by any means necessary than to buy them, not because I don’t want to buy them, but because the inconvenience factor is so high.

Another issue with music shopping has been the dreadful “recommendation” systems. Any system that can’t tell the difference between psytrance and house needs to be shot. I want nuance in my recommendations because “electronica” doesn’t describe my tastes. I had been really hopeful that Last.FM would be the answer, but it seems as though their algorithm is incapable of taking into consideration context. Just because I listen to Dr. Toast and Johnny Cash and Ani Difranco doesn’t mean that I’d ever put them together in a playlist. Also, people suck at tagging music. Mega suck. I need to find good new music, but the systems haven’t been in place. Historically, Fake Science always had music that I loved, but they’ve closed their doors.

To make matters worse, my music situation has always been a combination of wires and hacks and crap. And interesting new stuff comes out on PCs but I don’t do Windows. Even my nightmare with Leopard is more bearable than Windows.

Things have been changing in the music industry for a while and for the first time in a long time, I feel like the music bits came together for me. It’s a weird hodgepodge, but it works surprisingly well. For those who are curious about how others handle music, let me detail it. For those in the industry, maybe my “solution” might give you some ideas.

Setup: Airport Express attached to stereo. iPod with car iPod input. Airfoil for streaming anything other than iTunes to my Airport Express (including Pandora and Firefox). 70 gigs of current music on computer, another 100 gigs of “haven’t listened to recently” on backup drives simply for space reasons. (I’m waiting for Airport Extreme to really work.)

My iTunes is organized by genre (obsessively with genres like ClitRock and PsyChill) with smart playlists to combine my genres. Because iTunes still doesn’t do tagging (damn you Apple!), I’ve resorted to creating even weirder genres like “CalmGirl-Folk-80s” so that I can smart playlist around it. Music from iTunes gets auto-uploaded to Last.FM through the Scrobbler software.

When I want something new, I switch to Pandora. Because the Pandora app doesn’t update to Last.FM, I go through Pandora FM and set Airfoil to stream it to my Airport Express, but Airfoil doesn’t really do well when Firefox crashes so I end up listening to Pandora less than I’d like to. When I hear something that really impresses me, I jump to Last.FM to find out more about the artist and preview the tracks. I then jump over to Amazon to buy the album through the MP3 download. I don’t know what has changed in the last few months, but lately, everything that I’ve wanted to buy has been available for download at Amazon. It’s been shocking. If it’s not available, I usually don’t buy it. If I’ve heard it a bunch of times and desperately want it and it’s still not available, I decide if I want the whole album. If not, I just go P2P. Because MP3 downloads have finally happened on mass, I’m buying a whole lot more music. $7.00 or so for an album is AOK by me.

There are still things that I want. So, for you out there who are thinking about music, help a girl out.

1. Pandora/Last.FM: let me save artists/songs on a wishlist (Last.FM’s playlist feature is not good enough). Let me store the names so that I can go back to them and buy them. Right now, I put the album in my Amazon wishlist but that’s downright silly and I only do that if I _really_ like something. I’d buy more music if I had a record of the things I liked and could go back to them.

2. All y’all: while I usually love Pandora’s recommendations, I think that a recommendation system could be a whole lot better if it would combine music structure with the network structure of listening. Take into consideration context. A song relates to another song if it’s played shortly after the first one. Build networks of songs, connect them.

3. Apple: figure out how to make actually smart playlists. Learn from my listening habits, take advantage of recommendation systems. Help me listen to my own collection of music in a more interesting way. Let me start with a song and then you take me down a new path through my own music collection.

4. Labels: make EVERYTHING available via MP3 download. I know the quality isn’t as good, but y’know what, I still buy it. And if you don’t make it available for download, I don’t. What the hell are you afraid of? Yeah, I know.. you don’t like Apple having so much control and you’re not sure you want to work with Amazon.. you want something that’s just yours. Well, frankly, that’s just annoying because I never know what artist is on what label. Why can’t you all just get along?

5. Scion: while I appreciate being able to go to my playlists through my stereo, I hate that I can’t go to my genres that way. You also have the worst interface possible for scanning through 1500 artists. At the very least, let me scroll through the alphabet to get closer.

6. Someone: I almost killed my computer last week. I have 70 gigs of music on this system alone. Do you know how long that takes to backup and how much disk space I use doing so? Why can’t I “recover” through my playlist somehow? I know, I know.. evil labels think that the act of copying is akin to blasphemy and that I should buy everything over again rather than be allowed to back it up. But that’s just plain lame. Maybe this should be something insurance companies do… Tehe. I know plenty of folks who lost their music collections in a fire. Instead of having to pay them to buy it all again, imagine if the insurance companies would be able to just give them a hard drive of everything they’ve “insured.” Anyhow, labels, I know that you’re super greedy, but it might help if you respected your consumers a little bit. Give them some support when they’re down. I can’t tell you how much it sucked to have 250 CDs stolen a few years ago. And I can’t tell you how grateful I was when a nice kid in NY volunteered to burn off every psytrance CD I could remember having (and since I’m compulsive, I had an excel sheet for him with a record of all of the CDs I had owned). Yeah, it was illegal.. but y’know what? I had bought all of those CDs once and so I took the moral high ground and refused to buy them again just because some prick threw a rock through my car window and got into the trunk while I was living out of my car. So maybe y’all could get together and come up with a respectful way of preserving what people did buy?

7. Artists: please don’t go with Universal or its sublabels. They’re the worst abuser of their consumers and I refuse to buy their music in any format out of protest. There’s a lot to be said for remix and innovative distribution models and they’re so the big bully in the room. Is it really worth it?

8. Mobile phone people: WTF is up with your approach to ringtones? I know you see a big market and want to take advantage of it, but duuuuude, talk about abusive. Why is it more expensive to buy the ringtone than it is to buy the song? And why can’t I actually keep the song when I buy it as a ringtone? Definitely not humored.

OK… that’s my music rant for a while. Now back to writing…

calling Steve Jobs an opportunist

In Salon today, Cory calls Steve Jobs out on his coy efforts to throw up his hands and say “not my fault” when it comes to DRM.

Actions speak louder than words. Artists have asked — begged — Apple to sell their music without DRM for years. From individual bestselling acts like Barenaked Ladies to entire labels of copy-friendly music like Magnatune, innumerable copyright holders have asked Apple to sell their work as open MP3s instead of DRM-locked AACs. Apple has always maintained that it’s DRM or nothing. These artists believe that the answer to selling more music is cooperating with fans, not treating them as presumptive pirates and locking down their music.

As Cory rightly points out, if Jobs was sincere, he wouldn’t wrap Creative Commons publications in DRM and he wouldn’t prevent artists/labels from putting their music up as MP3s. By blaming everything on the corrupt music industrial complex, he’s trying to make himself look clean, but the truth is, his shit kinda stinks. For anyone interested in the issues surrounding DRM, music, and Apple, this article is a must read.

At the end of the day, DRM is the biggest impediment to a legitimate music market. Apple doesn’t sell music because of DRM — it sells music in spite of DRM. The iTunes Store proves that you can compete with free. People have bought billions of dollars worth of music from Apple because it offered a better user experience. But no one bought for the DRM. Some people bought in spite of it, some bought in ignorance of it, but there’s no customer for whom DRM is a selling point. No one woke up this morning wishing for a way to do less with her music.

crazy radio stations

I swear that everytime i turn on the radio i hear Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” If you’ve managed to miss this song this summer, you’re living in a black hole cuz the song is catchy as hell. The problem with my feeling of being inundated is that there is no way to test this. Is it really being played that frequently? Or is it just that catchy? And then i found which lists the Top 10 of different radio stations. Sure enough, “Crazy” is in the Top 10 of every radio station i listen to in SF and LA. Of course, it’s never #1 which makes me think that there are many songs that i don’t even recognize are being played all the time. I guess they’re not as catchy. But the best part about is that the front page shows a visualization of songs as they come on the radio all around the country. It’s totally mesmerizing.

customized MP3s: alternatives to DRM

In the midst of all of my movement, i forgot to highlight the fact that Jessica Simpson released her latest single “A Public Affair” as an MP3 for $1.99 via Yahoo! Music. This may not mean much to you but it’s actually quite significant… Here is a pop star releasing a single without DRM. And she’s still making money off of it. How? It’s a personalized MP3 so that you can get one that’s meant for you. In this way, Yahoo! and Jessica Simpson are trying to show that DRM is not the only way to make a profit when it comes to music. What is required is some innovative thinking about how to serve consumers as well as artists. Anyhow, if this is of particular interest to you, you defeinitely should check out Ian Roger’s blog post about it. He describes the details far better than i do (and there’s an intense conversation in the comments).

For those who aren’t aware, my move to Venice also means a move within Yahoo! I am no longer at Yahoo! Research Berkeley but have instead moved to Yahoo! Media Group. I am still a Social Media Researcher but i’m focusing more on the relationship between new media and old skool media of all sorts. Personally, this is a very welcome change. I have to admit that i got a little burnt out by the tech industry proper. I have a hard time engaging in yet-another of anything and that was swirling all around the Valley. I’m not particularly interested in the technology of knock-offs although i will continue to follow user patterns. To shake myself up a bit, i decided i needed to dive into something new. In reflecting on this, i realized that i kept getting sidetracked by Henry Jenkin’s arguments concerning Convergence Culture. Although this relates to my dissertation, i don’t know shit about Hollywood or the culture around movies, music, gaming, TV… I certainly don’t understand why user-generated content is such a big deal. But i’m learning. And Yahoo! Media is the perfect place to think through the relationship between old and new media. I’m quite excited to see what i can learn and how i can help YMG. Maybe if i’m really well behaved, i’ll even get to meet Lloyd Braun… cuz one has to give respect to the man who got fired for standing behind Lost.