Category Archives: Technology

Streams Galore

I went to Apple Music and all I got was this silly software upgrade.

Apple Music launched today. I’ve intended to log some thoughts on the topic for a few weeks, but I’ve been wrapped up in local and domestic concerns. Besides, my $0.02 on a topic that EVERYONE is writing about aren’t consequential. Some initial random notions in no particularly order:

• That WWDC unveiling was equal parts lame, embarrassing, and uninformative. Ben Stein a la The Wonder Years reading from a teleprompter would’ve been more compelling.
• Yes, it’s good that Taylor Swift’s complaining budged Apple to agree (the same day) to pay artists during the three-month trial period. However, the actual infrastructure of the concession is a mystery. (Details beyond Taylor Swift being front and center of Apple Music’s “New” suggestions, of course.) Speaking as an “indie” artist myself, I received an official email from The Orchard (un)informing me that the company is “quite pleased” because they “have finalized a deal with terms in the best interest of all our label clients and are excited about the prospects of this new service.” Neat, but some details would’ve been nice. I then received a separate reminder today to finalize my Connect profile. I’ll get right on that…
• I wasn’t explicitly aware of the launch until today. I abstractly knew it was June 30, but then my Twitter timeline went nuts this morning. (Read: No automatic notifications from Apple.)
• Actually experiencing Apple Music was like when I taught myself to change a light switch by watching online tutorials. iTunes apparently needed to be updated to 12.2 but for hours I was told that I was current with 12.1.xx. Same on my phone. I found an article to tell me to update my iOS. (Yes, I wanted to listen on my desktop’s speakers instead of via my phone. It’s music, after all.)
• Upon the WWDC announcement, the thing I was most excited for was Beats 1 Radio. I’m a fan of radio – always have been – and I’ve long mourned the the gradual extinction of live, curating, human DJs. I’ve listened here and there today because the music hasn’t always kept me, and with one station I’ll tune out instead of to another channel. The St. Vincent mixtape show was okay but bordered on Delilah territory.
• The internet is supposed to be so free, and yet Beats 1 plays censored tracks. That’s great that Apple wants to be hip and celebrate “Dre Day” as I just heard the DJ say (it’s currently late on the first night, ET), but airing some molested version of “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” isn’t the most roaring tribute, is it? Blech.
• I browsed some curated playlists for about two minutes before moving on. I’ve occasionally used Spotify in the past, but I’m admittedly not big on streaming music nor am I interested in it as an end user.
• Connect. I’ve got nothing…

I’m not anti-Apple Music. Neither am I pro-Apple Music. It’s a curiosity at this point, and we’ll see what happens. I want to see how Beats Radio 1 works out, evolves (or devolves), and if the whole service catches on. But I am deeply suspicious of Apple’s move to possibly kill what remains of paying for music online. I don’t have the time to get on my “pay for what you like” soapbox at the moment, and after a while it’s just beating a dead horse anyway. But for most people, why buy an album on iTunes if you can take that same $9.99 each month and have countless albums on demand? Hopefully folks get paid for streams, but even if it’s only slightly better than Spotify it’s a pittance. (As someone who receives royalty payments, I know.)

[As an aside, I personally know a fair number of musicians who themselves don’t much care to pay for music. My initial reaction to this is that it’s because of one of two reasons: 1) they must not sell any music of their own for it to register in their minds, or 2) they’re happy to give all of their music away for free. “2)” is perfectly fine and respectable, but “1)” is just a blind spot. I know folks in each camp.]

If Apple Music takes off, then folks will be paying for music in some fashion, but it will be an abstract payment to all artists at once, with the 1% getting most of the royalties and the 99% getting a smaller and smaller share. Only those with astronomical numbers will reap the rewards. Financials aside, what then is the user’s relationship to his or her preferred music? I understand iTunes Match — it’s your library made mobile and accessible. But Apple Music is both everyone’s and no one’s library — an ephemeral collection of playlists. Oh well. I’m a quasi-luddite; I just put a new stack of CDs on my iPod Classic this past weekend. Good thing my Model T has a USB port.

Digital Music Battle Royal: Reax & Roundup

If you’re a musician or know one personally, then the past ten days or so have likely affected your blood pressure. What started as a simple All Songs Considered blog post (that annoyed me) snowballed into an all-out blitzkrieg throughout the net, with guns blazing (bombs dropping?) from all sides: for, against, attempting to find compromise, tearing everyone down, etc. I even received some flak for my quickly-written rant.

Because no one wants to read yet another article on this topic, suffice it to say that I stand by my two big points from last weekend:
1. NPR’s Emily White illegally acquired most of her library, despite her stating otherwise via some creative rationality.
2. My beef was not with Emily White specifically. What she wrote bothered me, but, as I stated last week, I know that she’s one of millions. Instead, I was “shocked and chagrined” by NPR Music’s de facto endorsement of her position by allowing its publication via All Songs Considered. After all, NPR Music is a major media organization that relies heavily on listener support. An interesting juxtaposition if you ask me…

Anyway, I thought it’d be worthwhile to curate a number of last week’s posts related to this issue for anyone wanting to return to the battlefield. While I have so much to say on this topic, I need a mental vacation from it. (And I’m also scrambling to pack…) I’m not necessarily endorsing the POV of all of the below articles. I full agree with some, fully disagree with others, and have mixed feelings about most.

In somewhat chronological order:

“I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With” — NPR Music’s All Songs Considered, by Emily White

“Euphemistically Stealing” — MT-Headed Blog, by yours truly

“Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered” — The Trichordist, by David Lowery

“In Defense Of Emily White (The NPR Intern)” — Hypebot.com, by Emily White

“File sharing? It’s nothing personal. Seriously.” — McCarthyisms for Your Work Week, by David McCarthy
(David’s elusive online beyond the blog, but he’s a friend, former classmate, and someone with whom I always enjoy engaging on a variety of topics.)

“A Personal Aspiration Towards Ethical Listening” — Lubricity, by Alex W. Rodriguez

“White Vs. Lowery (Or I Don’t Have Time For This)” — The Clatter of Keys, by Erin McKeown (She’s great in concert, by the way…)
(Honorable Mention: Best Title contender)

“Music Followup” and “A Response to This Guy’s Response to This Other Thing on the Internet”My Quiet Life, by Chris Wage

“Hey Dude From Cracker, I’m Sorry, I Stole Music Like These Damned Kids When I Was A Kid” — Huffington Post, by Travis Morrison
(Honorable Mention: Best Title contender)

“I buy more music than Emily White, and you should too” — CityPages, by Erik Thompson

“A Perpetual Debate: Owning Music In The Digital Age” — All Songs Considered, by Robin Hilton

“Emily White, David Lowery And The Future of Music Consumption”Forbes.com, by Leor Galil

“Can we ease up on Emily White a little bit?” — by David MacDonald
(Another former classmate. I knew he’d chime in on this – and from this perspective – and that’s part of the reason I held off from posting this until now.)

 

PS: For giggles, I decided to listen to a little Cracker, for which I paid many years ago, when clicking “Publish.” That, coupled with all my previous contributions to NPR, should help to bring balance to The Force.

Euphemistically Stealing

Yet another article was posted to NPR’s All Songs Considered blog Saturday morning concerning iTunes in the Cloud, specifically referencing Bob Boilen‘s transition. I’ve enjoyed reading the occasional updates on this, as I’m about to join iTunes Match myself. While I’ll continue to invest in physical copies and (paid) digital content, I’m augmenting my library with it. (As opposed to “making the switch” – I’m not trading one for the other.) I think it’ll be a great help while teaching, especially during my month-long study abroad program in Austria.

This article, however, was not by Bob but an intern, Emily White. In her article, titled “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With,” she made the decent point of iTunes Match not being a big deal because her whole library is already digital. Therefore, the transition from physical to digital is non-existent.

Beyond that, I was caught up in the twisted logic behind her music library: “I’ve only bought 15 CDs in my lifetime. Yet, my entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs. […] But I didn’t illegally download (most) of my songs.” At this point, Ms. White lists euphemism for how she “legally” acquired the rest of those albums:

• Kazaa (the only “illegal” ones)
• Gifts (no problem there, of course)
• “Swapped hundreds of mix CDs” (um…)
• A 15GB “deposit” onto her iPod (*raises eyebrow*)
• “I spent hours on the floor of my college radio station, ripping music onto my laptop…” (what?!)

That’s a list of euphemisms if I’ve ever seen one. “Words that hide the truth” were George Carlin’s greatest linguistic enemy (see my thoughts on him and his rant here), and also one of mine. The above list begets: “As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love. […] But I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums.” But she would like to pay for Spotify, hoping that the company one day includes a much better royalty payment system than its current iteration.

PUH-LEASE!

Really? I’ll not waste too much time re-treading every reason why I believe it’s important to pay for what you like, since regular readers of this blog probably know my stance well. I see and hear the “convenience” trope quite a bit, but rarely does it answer the question of how the fan will actually pay for the music. And the fact that this was so proudly and publicly written by an intern at NPR Music – a really solid source for a whole variety of music and music news – further flabbergasts me. “Hey, musician! Come play our Tiny Desk series. Don’t mind our employees that don’t financially support your primary creative mode of expression. Got any free schwag for them?” I was no fan of Bob’s article about concert volume – though it inspired me to write this post on noise protection – but at least he financially supports the art he loves.

Swapping mixed CDs and “ripping” music is still stealing. Yes, stealing is a harsh word. But let’s avoid the “soft language” (as Carlin put it), and opt for the “simple, honest, direct language.” In music school, I knew a bunch of classmates who would spend hours at the library ripping albums to their computers. Because music is an aural art, the listener isn’t physically touching the music while he or she listens. But if it were a book instead of a symphony it’d be a different story. Imagine walking into an English major’s home or office and seeing their personal “library” of thousands of photocopied books in 3-ring binders. Impressive? Meh, didn’t think so. Yes, check out an album or ten from the library. But if you like, get your own copy. Really, it’s not that hard.

Instead of going deep with artists or genres, I’ve heard many people refer to their music collections in terms of bytes. “Yeah, man, I have 20GB of jazz.” Cool. Have you listened to it all or know it well? Or did you get a 15GB deposit too? While I don’t like to part with my money, I enjoy paying because I then have a vested interest in the music. I paid for it, therefore I’m damn well going to listen to it. Even if it’s a blind purchase I end up disliking (which rarely happens), I’ll give it a couple good listens just to be sure. And if I like it, then it’s mine and I’m happy to have it. I earned that money, therefore earning that album or box set, and I’m going to take it in. It’s also why I don’t like to buy too many albums too fast. While I have a one album per week average, I’ve ended up recently falling behind on my listening because I’ve gotten ahead of myself with my purchases. Six new albums in the last couple weeks means that I just today listened to Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium, an album I bought two weeks ago. (It got lost in the shuffle.) When I say I have 1,XXX albums, trust me that I’ve listened to them all.

Beyond my ownership of the content, I want to support the musicians behind all of these recordings. Yes, Apple and the various record companies take a big chunk of change. I understand that, and don’t much agree with the ratio. This is where I empathize somewhat with Emily’s attitudes toward Spotify. But there are also other models. Louis CK wasn’t the first to totally manage the distribution of his content. Radiohead beat him to the punch with In Rainbows and then King of Limbs. And there were others before that. Yes, Metallica has more money collectively than they know what to do with. But what about those thousands of other lesser-known and unknown musicians out there doing the nitty-gritty on the road and at the local level?

Yadda, yadda, yadda…

I get it. People will steal music. It’s now part of the culture. But you’d think that, at the very least, musicians and those in the industry would perhaps participate in this tricky bit of commerce.

Pay for what you like. And, to NPR Music: get it together.

Serendipitous Blogging: PS

Wow. Call me prescient. Nine days ago I write about the cons of social media and the next day Daniel Carlson does the same regarding live-tweeting specifically (I posted a follow-up here just two days ago.) And just last evening I came across this live-tweet gem via Andrew Sullivan‘s The Daily Dish (my single favorite blog). Yes, that’s right: The National Zoo decided to live-tweet the artificial insemination of a panda. Perhaps this is an instance of live-tweeting jumping the shark. Or panda. Or some other large animal. Regardless, I hope this serves as lesson in what not to do with one’s social media…

Serendipitous Blogging & Stifle III

Last Sunday’s post discussed frustrations with social media. The next day I happened upon this article touching on a similar, albeit more specific topic: live-tweeting.

I intended to rail against live-tweeting in last week’s article, but by the time I remembered to do so I was ready to be done with that particular entry. Although Daniel Carlson’s article centers around television, his complaints apply universally. A common, though perhaps less ubiquitous, phenomenon in music is the live-tweeting of setlists. While this occurs mostly with pop music, other styles aren’t exempt. NPR Music’s classical and jazz branches occasionally live-tweet setlists (or, rather, “programs”) from The Village Vanguard or Carnegie Hall. I just don’t get it. Are there folks sitting at home with the entire Chopin catalogue on standby, listening to whatever nocturnes and polonaise is tweeted next? (And to the many sources that live-tweeted Bruce Springsteen’s SXSW keynote address as he gave it: don’t do that again. Just publish a transcript afterwards.)

The closest I get to this as a consumer is my checking DMB’s setlist each night of a tour. Full disclosure: I’ve been doing this since 2000, and both the band and unofficial site provide real-time setlists online. But I don’t need the songs as they happen.

Once, unfortunately, I was on an end similar to the dreaded live-tweeter. At the 06.13.09 DMB show at Saratoga, NY’s SPAC – one of the absolute best DMB shows I’ve attended – I experienced my first “Halloween.” With the exception of 1992-4 and an unexpected run in 2008, this song is one of the band’s white whales (along with “Spoon” – still waiting to see that one live…). I’ve only seen it twice live, and the first didn’t happen until my 39th show. I absolutely LOST IT when they busted it out as a surprise encore. After my screaming and convulsing – dancing is too classy of word for what I was doing – I had to text all my friends who I thought would care. In my excitement and need to spread my joy via phone, I ended up missing a portion of this song I had waited so many years to see. And while I can relive DMB’s performance via audience tape, there’s a chunk of my excitement I cannot relive because I was staring at my phone. While I was never one to really text or anything during a rock concert before that night – I’ve never done the call-and-hoist-the-phone routine, and I never leave my phone on during classical or jazz performances – I’ve all but cut it out of my concert-going experiences since then. I’d rather be in the moment than on the network.

And when I saw “Halloween” again last year at The Gorge I didn’t grab for the phone – I sang and danced with my friends. That memory is much more intact.

“Halloween” @ SPAC 06.13.09

 

“Halloween” @ The Gorge 09.04.11
You can look for the back of my head in the pit. I was right under the chain of glow sticks, stage right… 🙂