Bookmarks for February 26th through February 27th

These are my links for February 26th through February 27th:

Bookmarks for February 26th from 10:39 to 20:05

These are my links for February 26th from 10:39 to 20:05:

Registered for SF MusicTech 2009

Took advantage of the discounted ($49 through end February) early registration for SF MusicTech, coming up on May 18th.

The SanFran MusicTech Summit will bring together the best and brightest developers in the Music/Technology Space, along with the musicians, entrepreneurial business people, press, investors, service providers, and organizations who work with them at the convergence of culture and commerce. We will meet to discuss the evolving music/business/technology ecosystem in a proactive, conducive to dealmaking environment.

Unfortunately, it overlaps with ICWSM09, will try to make both though.

Revisiting Pandora

I ran into Tom Conrad at Barcamp Block a few weeks ago, which reminded me to go check out Pandora again. I’d been an early adopter when they introduced it to the folks at the very first Barcamp, but accidentally stopped using it a while back when I changed out the computer in my office that I’d been running it on. I recently swapped in another system, and among other things I have it running Pandora again.

I like being able to launch a station with a single suggestion and get a few hours of “more stuff like that”, especially when it turns up something I haven’t heard before.

Here’s a sample “station” that I’m listening to at the moment, constructed starting with a track from Rick Braun, which has turned up selections from Larry Carlton, Jeff Golub, Joyce Cooling, and the Brecker Brothers on its own.

Coming soon – one click from SpiralFrog to iPod?

Today SpiralFrog announced a free subscription-based music service. Subscribers will be able to download music to their music playing devices, but will need to listen to advertising presented on the SpiralFrog site periodically, to keep the music authorized. It sounds like the downloaded music would be WMA files, using Microsoft Windows Media DRM.

A couple of days ago, Engadget pointed at FairUse4WM, a Windows Media DRM 10 and 11 removal utility with a user friendly interface.

This FT article says that iPod+iTunes has the largest market share for legally authorized music at 80%. At the same time, it notes the growing number of non-iPod MP3 and other music players coming to market. I suspect it won’t be long before there’s a one-click utility to remove the Windows Media DRM, transcode the WMA file to MP3, and import them into iTunes so subscribers can listen on their iPod or whatever device. It probably won’t be from SpiralFrog, though.

The upcoming Zune music / video players from Microsoft are likely to have similar issues, whatever their online media network turns out to be.

I think it’s great that the music publishers are trying different business models, in this case advertising. On the other hand, I find I use services like Pandora for casual listening and finding new music, then buy the actual CDs of music I want rather than purchasing from iTunes, just so I have a clean, portable DRM-free audio file that can be shipped around the house and across whatever device happens to be convenient. I’d rather just buy clean, portable bits, without needing the physical CD. Where’s the service for that? (Other than allofmp3.com).

More on SpiralFrog from BoingBoing, TechCrunch

Update Tuesday 08-29-2006 21:16 PDT – I see that Microsoft is working on patching WinDRM to block FairUse4WM. (Good luck with that.) And on the iPod front, it looks like jHymn has been getting updates so it can work with iTunes 6 to remove the FairPlay DRM, making those files portable to non-iPod devices.

Consumables and the decline of recording studios

Today’s Wall Street Journal (January 24, 2006) has a short profile of Paul Motian, an outstanding jazz drummer who was part of the Bill Evans Trio in the early 1960s. (If you haven’t heard of Bill Evans and have any interest in jazz piano, I highly recommend checking out their recordings).

What caught my attention, however, was this comment from Paul Motian on the decline of the recording studio business:

“A lot of recording studios are closing because people don’t use tape anymore, and that’s where the recording studios make their money. Everyone comes in with their hard drive, puts it on their computers.”

I still have a bunch of 1-inch 16-track master tapes somewhere out in the garage and remember spending a relative fortune on studio time and services, back in the 80s, probably the waning days of multitracking and overdubbing by hand on a mixing board. The Cars were wildly successful at the time and had opened a state-of-the-art studio at Synchro Sound, which was starting to use digital recording systems, but which far exceeded our band’s budget.

There’s still no substitute for good microphones, but these days digital mastering to hard disk is a big win over tape.

I’d never thought about the recording tape as being a critical profit driver for a recording studio, but in retrospect it makes some sense. When the only copy of your work is on a little strip of magnetic film shuttling back and forth on open reels, who’s going to buy cheap tape?

The Return of Vinyl


It’s been a long time since I’ve had a working turntable at home. This evening I suddenly have lots of new old stuff to listen to.

There’s a divide in the music I’ve been listening to for the past ten years or so. I packed away the records and turntable around the time our daughter was born, thinking that I’d put it back together when she was old enough not to destroy the records. So, ten years later, I have a fairly large collection of digital music, and a large collection of analog recordings which don’t overlap much, but which have languishing in storage.

I’m happy to find that the turntable still works. Modern stereos don’t have phono inputs, so I ended up rummaging in the garage to dig up an old amplifier, which makes for a large but serviceable preamp. Right now I’m listening to Brian Eno’s Music For Airports.

Looking through the boxes I’ve hauled out so far is like receiving a musical time capsule from myself. There are a lot of albums I haven’t heard in a while and that Emily’s never heard at all. Tomorrow I think I’ll see how she likes J. Geils Live or The Roches. The plan is to gradually migrate the vinyl to digital and put it on the server with everything else, but this evening I’m just enjoying a bit of analog technology and album artwork the way it was meant to be.

I haven’t started researching the best solution for digitizing the albums and possibly cleaning up scratches, pops, clicks, and surface noise. Anyone have a favorite method they’d like to recommend?

Pandora is now free

I spent a lot of time digging up new music a couple of months ago during the pre-launch period beta tests of the Pandora music service. I put together a list of interesting music that I found, and ended up purchasing a number of new albums, and put off signing up for their paid subscription service until I finished working through the new music. I thought the fee was OK ($12/quarter or $36/year) but I simply had too much other stuff to listen to, so it would have been wasted money until the backlog cleared a bit (all the CDs I found from listening to Pandora in the first place).

Given my experience (liked the service, liked the music, put off signing up temporarily when the fees started), and the opportunity for affiliate referral fees from Amazon and others, this move to a ad- and affiliate-supported service could end up generating more revenue in the end.

In addition to many new features (bookmarking, station editing, playlist improvements, etc.), Pandora v2.0 includes a free, ad-supported version. Listeners have the choice to subscribe and stay clear of ads, or use the free service, which will gradually incorporate advertising. What does this mean for you? You can now come back and listen to Pandora as much as you’d like for free–and all the stations you’ve created remain intact.

At a referral fee of 6% of sales, it would take around $50 of CD sales to directly replace the old subscription fee. However, many more users who would turn away if even a small payment were required might try using a free service. And Pandora is the sort of service that creates demand for new music that those “free” users might be happy to purchase from Amazon (or iTunes). I don’t know what their conversion rates look like, but if they look anything like my behavior, Pandora is far better off working on bringing in more music-loving users than trying to collect subscription fees.

See also:

Pandora launch, DRM, and media

Pandora officially launched this morning. It’s been over a week since I signed up for an account and I’m still using it. It’s specifically designed not to provide on-demand streams, but I’m getting the hang of steering Pandora into building playlists that have what I want, which is almost better than on-demand, since I don’t have to actually build the playlist myself.

What I really wish for is a sane way to make my personal digital media effectively (and legally) portable across my networked environment. Pandora will be providing $36/year streams of interesting-but-not-on-demand music, Rhapsody provides on-demand music subscriptions at $100/year, and iTunes Music Store provides downloadable purchases that may or may not work elsewhere on the network and won’t survive a computer transplant.

My general preference is to own the album. So I buy CDs, rip them onto the house server, then store the CD. This doesn’t work so well for iTMS. If I could get a reliable subscription service that provided the range of music that I’ve accumulated over the years and let me distribute content among the various client devices in our household, I’d be very interested.

With DRM and online distribution, I’m never sure I’m going to be able to put my music on some new device I get next year. Worse, I’m not even sure that the music I purchase will continue to work on the devices I already have. The short term future proofing is having a stack of physical CDs in a closet that can be re-ripped as needed. I also occasionally find myself looking to download a track that I have on vinyl LP that I haven’t ripped yet, since I’m generally unwilling to repurchase my entire collection on CD, (for those albums that are actually available in CD format). I’d be very happy for a subscription service that could effectively replace those albums.

Fred Wilson has a much nicer audio setup than most, and writes about his experience with iTunes and DRM.

We connected these servers to a multi-room audio system and we control them with a combination of crestron panels, java clients, and web browsers throughout our home

In the peer to peer world, with DRM working behind the scenes, we end up buying the music several times, and then can’t play it on every computer we own. That doesn’t make sense.

Peter Burrows wrote about his music purchasing experience with iTunes recently as well, and why he’s been using Rhapsody lately (reformatted computer, didn’t want to purchase music over again).

I had to wipe clean my PC and reinstall Windows upon my return (for totally unrelated reasons), but forgot to back-up my iTunes folder one last time before I did so. So when I got the PC back up and running and repopulated iTunes, I found that the album was no longer in my library. And since Apple only lets you download purchased music once, clicking on “Check for Purchased Music” didn’t do the trick, either.

…subscription services are another kind of user experience, that would appeal to many current customers and millions more.

At present, if you’re willing to live in an all-Apple or all-Microsoft universe, things can sort of work for now. I have a hard time accepting anyone’s DRM package as being the one true implementation, especially with some much interesting development going on around devices rather than desktops.

More on Pandora from Tom Conrad, TechCrunch, and my earlier post on Pandora.

For reference: Cory Doctorow’s talk on why DRM is broken (originally presented at Microsoft Research, June 17, 2004)

Barcamp – The Video

Dorrian Porter has assembled a wonderful video (55MB .mov) capturing the feel of the past weekend at Barcamp, hosted by Laughing Squid . A great job of compressing the idea of the weekend into under 4 minutes, using commodity video and computing tools. It’s still beyond the casual consumer, but this level of production would have been remarkable (and expensive) even a few years ago.

Dorrian’s post discussing the selection and use of the Creative Commons-licensed music (in this case, “One Big Holiday” by My Morning Jacket) is also interesting.

Now, I am a lawyer and I have to say that it wasn’t as easy as the good folks at creative commons made it out to be to figure out my rights.

I am most hopeful that I am living up to at least the spirit of the license. The point is that as video comes scorching to the web, folks with no intention of commercializing their videos need better ways to insert a little jazz singing now and then. I want to encourage music artists to adopt creative commons type licenses that allow for easy access to and use of great tunes for non-commercial films. You will keep your copyright, but you will make this new age of media and distribution a little more fun.

It would be interesting if this particular batch of CC-licensed music helps get some visibility for My Morning Jacket. I’d never heard of them, and never got around to listening through the CD from the Wired issue that it came in, but thanks to their CC-licensing, now I have.

I’m still not sure how this turns into a sustainable economic model for My Morning Jacket, or for CC-licensed content publishers in the end, but part of the premise has to be that the content producer will benefit by wider exposure and finding an audience. I’d like this model to work, so I’m going out of my way to point to these guys. If you like the music, here’s their concert schedule. They’re playing in the Bay Area at the Fillmore on November 11 and 12.

See also: Notes from Barcamp

Pandora

I’ve spent a few days now playing with the prerelease “friends and family” version of Pandora, the “music discovery service” demoed by Tom Conrad at Barcamp last weekend.

Summary
Some quirks, but overall really good, and easy to get going. Unlike some other services, I’ve been running it most of the time I’ve been at my desk for the past few days.

Discussion
My personal taste in music is simultaneously eclectic and encyclopedic in some areas, yet with odd gaps. Using Pandora, I’ve been able to think of one or two songs, albums, or artists that’s representative of what I want to hear, and it will come up with a fairly decent playlist of similar tunes.

Although I’m finding that I could have theoretically constructed the playlists by hand, it’s really easy to try dialing in a tune or two until Pandora starts queuing up something like what I had in mind. The music discovery part seems to work reasonably well too, it’s turned up a couple of new artists for me to check out later.

On the Pandora blog, there’s a post with assorted user feedback, feature wish list, etc. Here’s some of what I’d like to see:

Wishlist

  • Playlist history (maybe with timestamps, like some of the radio stations provide), so I can go back and see what was playing a while ago.
  • Playlist lookahead (so I can see what Pandora is queuing, to help decide if I want to skip ahead)
  • Some mechanism for requeuing a past song in the future. I understand that at the moment, Pandora can’t provide a “backwards” function in the playlist, in order to avoid becoming an audio-on-demand service. On the other hand, having a method for indicating “I really liked this song and would like to hear it again” (or “I stepped away and mostly missed this song”) could be useful for the playlist queuing function. This may be handled by the “Guide Us” input form, not sure.
  • Music parameter template – since Pandora is building the playlist based on similarity to the starting tunes, I’d like to be able to see how it’s characterized the starting point.
  • Control over the parameter variation over time — I’ve let Pandora run for several hours at a time, and at times I’d like it to have wider variation over some aspect than others. For example, vary tempos gradually over several songs, but leave instrumentation and vocals more similar. Or vary instrumentation, but leave the tempo, echo, and bass / drums similar.
  • Some kind of clustering of characteristics for a given artist or album might be helpful. I get the impression that if you start with an album or artist, the starting “genome” is an average or perhaps a median of the entire collection. I get reasonable songs for a while if I enter something like “U2″ or “Lou Reed”, or “Lenny Kravitz”, but if I start off a channel with a specific song I will get very different results (as expected), but which never turn up otherwise (not entirely expected, since these all span a wide range of “sounds”).
  • Similarly, I might never want some combinations of characteristics to turn up on a given channel. So a way to specify the ranges or variances for a given “genome” parameter on a given channel would be handy.
  • A “time period” selector or bias might be helpful. This might not work well since there’s a lot of re-released material.
  • A progress bar and track info would be nice. Duration, artist, release info, link to iTunes, Amazon, etc
  • A way to stream the Pandora audio into devices on the local network, i.e. Roku and similar network players
  • A way to queue local audio data into the Pandora playlist, since I may have selections unavailable to Pandora
  • A community track rating function and/or message board, for promoting interesting discoveries among site users, and perhaps as data for improving the playlist generating function
  • Maybe a blacklisting function? Since the playlist is selected automatically by similarity, there can be interesting juxtapositions from a human listener’s point of view. I like that, but it might not work for everyone.

More data points:

  • A sample channel built using “Steely Dan” comes up with a reasonable start, but repeats tracks fairly regularly within an hour or so
  • A sample channel built using “Pat Metheny Group” is also reasonable, but repeats within an hour or so rather than moving to other albums.

These last points are easily fixed by using the “Guide Us” input form to select some additional starting points, but the playlist queuing function could probably use more latitude. I know the tracks are in the system, because I can use them as starting points as well, I just can’t get from “here” to “there” yet.

In addition to building playlists of music I know reasonably well, Pandora is turning out to be quite good at turning out electronica, techno, and club mixes, where I can throw in a couple of starting tracks and get back similar ones. I’ve already turned up a few tracks that I have heard, but didn’t know the artist or title. Since there’s often no artist, or the track is actually a DJ remix, Pandora provides a great way to find things. As a sample: starting with Gus Gus, Dirty Vegas, and Chemical Brothers turns up lots of similar, but different tracks.

Other early reviewers have mentioned Last.fm and Audioscrobbler. I ‘ve poked at these a little bit, but they’re geared more toward the social end and seem to require more upfront investment of effort. I think Pandora could ultimately benefit from the social functions, but it takes nearly zero time and effort to put together a very listenable channel or two. I’d probably find last.fm easier to use with something like Pandora spliced in as a selection filter, in addition to or instead of the user tags there.

Pandora is still in limited trial mode, but apparently I can invite 25 people from my trial account. Let me know if you’re interested!

If you’ve read this far, you should definitely check it out…

Update 08-26-2005 13:56 – In an e-mail to the prelaunch users, Pandora founder Tim Westergren announced that the service will be launched to the public next week. $36 for a full year of service, new users get a “short period” free, plus some changes based on user feedback. More at TechCrunch.

Update 11-10-2005 11:55 – Pandora is now free

Pink Floyd at Live 8

I’ve been mostly offline for the past week+, and was a little disappointed at not catching the Pink Floyd reunion set at the Live 8 concert on any form of media. So while catching up on mail, news, and blog scanning, I was pleasantly surprised to find that both Fred Wilson and Brad Feld are also Pink Floyd fans and that Fred had already dug up and linked the MP3 files from BitTorrent.

Here’s the set list:

  • Breathe
  • Money
  • Wish You Were Here
  • Comfortably Numb

I haven’t really thought of Pink Floyd as actually being “Pink Floyd” in years, after the band split up around 20 years ago. There’s some speculation about a reunion tour, but as much as part of me would like to see it happen, I think I’d rather just see Roger and Dave patch things up and call it a day.

MP3 encoding sounds terrible!

I rarely sit down and just listen to my music collection these days. Most of the time, any music I hear is on the radio, computer or CD player while driving, or working, or generally doing something else. My largest weekly block of music listening time is using an MP3 player during treadmill workouts.

So, it was interesting yesterday evening when I started noticing how bad MP3 encoded tracks sound compared with the original CDs.

I’m old enough to have actually purchased physical media (first vinyl, then CD) for nearly all the music I presently own. However, I have rarely gone back and played the actual CDs I’ve purchased for several years, as the first step after removing the wrapper is to encode them and put the bits on the file server. When my daughter was a little younger, duplicate CDs were being replaced weekly after being stepped on, spilled on, turned into art projects, and other mishaps. Other sets have been left behind on airplanes, rental cars, etc. Having everything on the server has allowed us to enjoy the music without worrying about physically destroying or losing the original.

Back when I started doing this several years ago, I remember trying a comparison of original CDs vs 128kbps MP3 and deciding that the encoded recordings would be good enough for general use, more or less replacing cassette tape. 192kbps and 256kbps encoding seemed extravagant — disk storage was much more expensive then, I was planning to encode all of my CDs, and the modest degradation in quality didn’t seem too bad.

I may have to revisit this, now that hard drive capacity has gone up, costs have gone down, and for some reason the “audio haze” added by the MP3 encoding has suddenly become more noticeable to me.

My old turntable and albums have been in storage for years, since our daughter was born. It might be time to set them up and give her a demonstration of what vintage vinyl sounds like. I think I might still have the old Mobile Fidelity pressing of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon somewhere…