Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Opening Pandora's Box: Streaming Radio That Only Plays What You Like

It's been out for quite a while now and I'm a little embarassed to be such a late adopter, but this morning I came across a fabulous Web site that just might change the way you think about Internet radio: According to the website, Pandora Media (formerly Savage Beast Technologies) has a single mission: 'To help you discover new music you'll love" and I think they've succeeded. The best part is that the service is completely legal and pays royalties - so the artists are getting paid. Pandora grew out of a unique concept founded 5 years ago by Tim Westergren called the Music Genome Project, which tries to break down songs into unique and discrete units (i.e., song type, instrumentation, melody, etc.)

Pandora as a free or paid service lets users generate up to 100 unique radio stations by simply picking a favorite artist or song. If you don't like seeing the advertisements with the free service, paying $3-4 a month seems very reasonable to me. The software uses the "genome" of the artist or song to instantly generate a streaming playlist of related songs. Adding new songs or artists to a particular radio station, or by giving a thumbs up or down for individual song choices, immediately changes the stream. Careful attention to the music's feel and genre is apparent by the similar choices delivered during my test. You can easily rate each song as it plays - providing real time feedback. (I like the fact that Album art is automatically displayed too...)

It's really intriguing because once you've "programmed" your own radio station (which is inherently much cooler than letting some other DJ do it for you), songs from up to 10,000 artists begin streaming in (major labels too), and the whole thing can be shared and e-mailed to friends. The fidelity isn't bad either... If you spend a little time with it, one could think of it as a favorite "iTunes playlist in the sky" that follows you around wherever you have an internet connection, but the best part is that you didn't have to pay for any downloads to make the playlists! One could argue that it's just another music rental service with no permanent ownership of the soundfiles, but I think this is a different animal because by learning your tastes it adds added value to the music listening experience...(Oh, and there's no DRM to worry about or licenses to transfer when you're computer crashes.)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Innovative Music Distribution Agreement

It's about 10pm and I just received a "pre-press release" from Weedshare's CEO, John Beezer. It truly is exciting news and I just had to sit down and share it with you before you read all about it online tomorrow. Those of you following the music industry's multi-year recession will most likely find the triumvirate announcement a rare beacon of light shining into the unknown darkness of the future of digital music distribution... Instead of waiting to see where the dust settles from the tumultuous climate, three relatively new companies are boldly rewriting the rules and leading the rest of the industry into unchartered waters with a slow and steady keel...

So what's the big news you ask? In a nutshell, online record label Magnatune has inked a deal with Weedshare and its superdistribution model to legally distribute protected uncompressed audio files on Limewire's upcoming P2P network called LimeClick . This new authorized content portal will reportedly serve as a primary distribution source for the files on the Gnutella network... (If you're new to the whole weedshare concept, I wrote a brief summary which was featured in entertainment attorney Steve Gordon's The Future of The Music Business...) Anyway, enough shameless self promotion... As a result of this unique partnership, the three innovative companies will cooperatively distribute and promote Magnatune's 200 independent artists (roughly 400 Cd's) via Weedshare's legal file sharing service. "Because Weed's commerce features are built into each file, the Weed format makes it simple for artists, record labels, bloggers, podcasters, social networkers, and dedicated music lovers to sell music on the Internet. The most difficult aspects of selling digital music - rights clearance and setting up e-commerce systems - are already taken care of with Weed files."

The bottom line is that artists get paid 50% of every sale - no matter what!

That's awesome progress, but there were a few other things that really caught my attention though...

1) Using the Weed format, Podcasters can now sell and monetize the actual songs they're playing on their shows (i.e., allowing people to download it on demand or via subscription) and thus build a valid business model for their continued existence...

2) Also, I've been preaching lately the fact that American consumers will never fully swallow the DRM pill, especially after the recent Sony/BMG rootkit debacle, which has now been expanded to include SunComm's MediaMax too... Let's face it, trying to protect Redbook audio files released on CD's just isn't going to work. "If you can't beat'em.....join'em......." It's time for the major labels to wake up and smell the coffee and at least acknowledge the handwriting on the wall... There are many of us in the industry that think the global music economy would recover much quicker if sincere efforts were made to develop softer copyright solutions that use DRM as an efficient accounting/tracking tool, rather than as a lock...

Basically, we have an entire new generation that thinks that downloads are free and that media/intellectual property usage rules and restrictions are made to be broken. With Magnatune's latest offering of high fidelity lossless audio files, customers can now burn true "CD quality" discs with DRM that's practically invisible after you buy the file. These CD's can then be ripped to MP3 or any other desired format with no second-generation quality loss (unlike all other existing offerings that are protected with DRM). That's really cool and as an audio engineer/producer who painstakingly massages each mix - I've been waiting a long time for this capability... Why should I settle for less quality when purchasing music online?? Now I don't have to...

So, what does this all mean to me you ask? What it means from a macro perspective is that the major record labels are one step closer to losing their vise-like grip on controlling online music distribution and they better hurry up and "get hip' to giving the consumer what he/she wants or the game will be over before they even step up to the plate... From a micro perspective, the bar has been permanently raised for delivering better sounding music with greater freedom and flexibility...

Friday, November 25, 2005

True Interoperability Is Already Here

I recently responded to another blog posting regarding the lack of digital music file/player interoperability in the industry and I'm going to expand on my initial thoughts...Beyond unprotected mp3's, which pretty much play EVERYWHERE but are undeniably below true CD quality in terms of fidelity, the industry has been experimenting with different types and levels of digital rights management for the last several years. At the end of the day, it is incredibly challenging to reasonably protect the intellectual property of the music creators while simultaneously delivering a seamless experience for the consumers. In other words, for DRM to work, it must appear invisible to the average user - which iTunes and the iPod have succeeded in doing and pretty much set the bar for everyone else.

However, in my opinion, the next holy grail for the digital music industry is to design and deliver an easier (less confusing) AND even better experience for the consumer. The way to do this is to simply embrace .wav files for sale instead of "Play For Sure" .wma files or protected AAC's . By doing this the industry kill 2 birds with 1 stone with regards to cross-platform computer playability and mp3 player soundfile compatability.

1) Releasing songs as .wav files would solve one huge aspect of the interoperability problem of files sold at various popular online music stores (i.e. MSN Music, Rhapsody, Yahoo) not playing on the Apple iPod. I mean really, who wants to rerip files they legitimately bought into MP3 files just to get them into their iPod? Who has the time or the energy?


2) Also, uncompressed .wav files are "true CD quality" and actually provide something worth charging more for - if the major record labels truly insist on this variable pricing nonsense (i.e., $.50-$2.50 per song). Many of you would argue that compressing music files is necessary to carry around your whole collection in your pocket, but flash drive sizes and pricing are improving daily so its only a matter of time before space is a non issue here...(Besides, who really needs more than 24 albums on a daily basis when there are only 24 hours in a day. Most people only like certain songs anyway and probably don't even listen to the whole album!)

Take the steam out of P2P. I don't know, perhaps I think differently becasue I don't have to please any stock holders, but I think the entire industry would rapidly flourish and prosper together if they just decided across the board to sell music online at the same quality and mobility as CD's, cassettes, 8-tracks and vinyl records provided - without trying to lock it down with finnicky DRM. Reward fans who pay for their music by giving them access to multiple copies (i.e., sampling rate, size, bitrate, formats) of the music they buy so they can take it with them wherever they go...and they can experience it whenever and wherever they are...

Monday, November 21, 2005

My Favorite Sites for Following Sony's Debacle...

The latest Sony/BMG CD count containing invasive and allegedly illegal DRM is now up to 52 discs and may also include another content protection vendor Sunncomm...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Podcast Advertising

I recently came a cross an interesting company/concept called Fruitcast, which is basically a web application that: 1) allows podcasters to generate revenue and 2) allows advertisers to easily advertise on podcasts. Sounds pretty cool, right?

In a nutshell, what Fruitcast does, is it automates the process of inserting ads into podcasts. They download a podcast's MP3 audio files, add the advertisements in on the fly, and then resend them to the podcast's subscribers. (This allows any advertiser to put their audio commercials on multiple podcasts within a few minutes and if you think that's cool - just wait until podcast video reaches critical mass!) Then, each time a podcast episode is downloaded by the subscriber, the advertiser is charged a predetermined amount, and a significant portion of that amount is credited to the podcaster. (Kinda reminds me of Revver for audio.) Anyway, in my humble opinion, this innovative idea is helping to make podcasting a viable medium for traditional ad campaigns by automating ad insertion, payments, and reporting for both podcasters and advertisers and I applaud them for their innovation...

Monday, November 14, 2005

Warner Music Appears To Be Adapting To The Digital Revolution

While I applaud Warner and Holzman's hipness to start an e-label (Cordless Recordings) amidst all the changes going on in the industry, what bugs me about the rollout is that it seems to still reak of the old way of doing business = FAVORITISM. According to the article, "Groups will release their work in three-song "clusters" -- mini-albums of a sort -- that will be sold at online music stores like iTunes and Rhapsody, and then manufactured in compact disc form only if the audience is large enough to make it financially viable."

Well that's great if you happen to have inside Apple and Real connections, but what about the rest of us independent artists who have our own record labels and are still waiting to get in the front door without going through a middleman? What I'm saying is that the "little guy" still doesn't have a voice when dealing with these online music stores. As far as I know, they (i.e., Apple, MSN Music, Yahoo, and Real) will currently only deal with offering complete albums from large labels or aggregators like IODA and Orchard...The rules are obviously being bent for Cordless, which will hopefully lead to new opportunities for unsigned artists as well...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Consumers Digital Rights

Here's an interesting article about DRM posted on the Consumers Digital Rights website. The European group is working to guarantee all consumers certain basic rights in the digital world and to tell them what they can/can't do with their digital hardware/content.

Here's a PDF of their take on the situation...... Digital Rights Management - BEUC position. (BEUC is an umbrella body for Europe's consumer rights organizations)

Basically, they are urging policy makers to endorse the 6 consumer rights below:
  • Right to choice, knowledge and cultural diversity
  • Right to the principle of “technical neutrality”
  • Right to benefit from technological innovations without abusive restrictions
  • Right to interoperability of content and devices
  • Right to the protection of privacy
  • Right not to be criminalised

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Is The WiFi iPod Next?

Kodak has released a new camera called the KODAK EASYSHARE-ONE Zoom Digital Camera. As far as I know, it's one of the world's first Wi-Fi consumer digital cameras - enabling a new way of instant sharing that the music industry will likely imitate if its finished hibernating. You can easily email photos right from your camera or print pictures without messing with memory cards or docking stations. You can even transfer pictures and videos to your computer without USB cables. My favorite feature is that its compatible with most open public hotspots...

It features a rotating touch screen and stylus with 256 MB of internal memory, which stores up to 1500 pictures. The US retail price is a little steep at $600 for 4.0 Mega Pixels and a 3X Optical Zoom Lens, but the novelty got me thinking..What's Apple waiting for? With the rapid proliferation of wireless home networks and low cost portable internet connectivity, it would be a cinch for Apple's iTunes to offer wireless browsing and purchasing directly from the iPod. Shoot, for that matter, whoever beats Apple to it just might steal some marketshare!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Top Videos on MySpace This Week - 11/9/05

It's interesting to note that to watch videos on MySpace - you need to use Internet Explorer as your browser and Windows Media Player 9+...
  1. My Humps
    Black Eyed Peas
  2. Shut Me Up
    Mindless Self Indulgence
  3. Shake
    Ying Yang Twins
  4. One Wish
    Ray J
  5. Who I Am Hates Who I've Been
    Relient K
  6. Dirty Little Secret
    The All-American Rejects
  7. Jesus Of Suburbia
    Green Day
  8. Feel Good Inc.
  9. Hung Up
  10. I Wasnt Prepared

Saturday, October 29, 2005

What Every Citizen Should Know About DRM

Here's a LINK to an excellent "plain-spoken" guide to DRM, written by Public Knowledge Legal Director Mike Godwin. While I haven't yet finished reading it because it's rather lengthy at around 35 pages - it seems to be a very valuable find. Thanks Mike!

(You will need a PDF viewer to open it)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

New Podcast Survey Results

I recently met Chris MacDonald at the Future of Music policy summit in Washington D.C. and he seemed to be one of the most knowledgeable people with respect to podcasts. He currently runs IndieFeed Podcasts - which delivers permission-based single-serving songs to thousands of listeners via 7 subcategory music genres - and he's also General Counsel of the Association of Music Podcasting. Anyway, about a week ago he launched a small listener survey (200 respondents) and got some pretty interesting results...While the sample is admittedly small and the results could be somewhat biased with double entries made from users on the web, I think it is an excellent start to compile some very useful data. Thanks for sharing Chris! The major insights can be found below.
  • 50% of all respondents have made a purchase because our service referred them to the music.
  • 86% of all respondents have visited the referred website.
  • Listeners are mostly 18-34 years of age, heavily male, technology savvy/gadget freaks, disposable income which is used to make monthly music purchases and occassional concerts.
  • This demographic hits the elusive gen-Y and tweener categories straight on.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Digital Media Alliance of Florida

Forgive me if I toot my horn a little, but last month, I was invited to help moderate a panel at the Digital Media Alliance of Florida's (DMAF) DiMeNar conference held at FullSail Center for the Recording Arts. The event was entitled, "Digital Music, Audio and Sound Design - what does the future hold?" and was one of several digital media seminars the organization has produced in the last three years. FYI - The DMAF is Florida's non-profit digital media industry association and I highly recommend joining...During my presentation, I focused mostly on the recent Future of Music Conference that I attended recently in Washington, D.C. If you're interested, here's a link to my Powerpoint (the meat and potatoes are in my notes below each slide) and I'm currently editing the video footage, which I hope to release as a vodcast soon...

In addition to myself, the speakers included: Full Sail's Matt Bielejeski, Game Audio Network Guild member and GDC speaker; Brian Young, Audio Post Production Course Director and Digidesign Certified Pro Tools Instructor/Operator; Keith Lay, Music History Course Director and international composer ; and Michael Cochran, classically trained composer using digital tools to create music for TV specials, films, the Super Bowl, Disney and more.

Podcasting Study Due Next Month

Internet radio pioneer Daniel Anstandig, now VP of adult formats at Cleveland-based consultancy McVay Media, revealed some preliminary results of a new podcast study McVay currently has in the field. While he said the final study is not due for another month, Anstandig said the study shows "music is the primary appeal of podcasts, particularly music not readily available on terrestrial stations." In other words, the part that appeals most to people is the part that is not currently legal...That's not surprising really after all the P2P hoopla of late...

Source: Billboard Radio Monitor

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

What Is SUPERDISTRIBUTION And How Does it Relate To Music?

I wrote a short Superdistribution article about a year ago for my eNewsletter, The Beals Media Update, because it seemed to be a growing buzz word and I wanted to learn more about the concept. Since then, the term has become pretty ubiquitous and I was recently delighted to find out that the article was used as a reference in a formal DRM paper written by Markus Auckenthaler, Lehrstuhl f¨ur Datenverarbeitung - Technische Universit¨at M¨unchen.

I'm assuming the parent 69 page document is a German University research paper on DRM, but I'm not sure since I don't read German :) Anyway, here's a link to my 3 page PDF article in English and here's a link to the Geman one... (It's interesting to note that this was the same newsletter issue that The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School linked to last year...)

Monday, October 17, 2005

Video Podcasting 101...

Here are a few cool links I recently discovered on Pho, which will no doubt be useful for those of us "early adopters" interested in producing video content to sell through iTunes or make freely available for the greater good of mankind...(Just make sure you have permission and the legal rights to do so!!)

Claiming My Feed

No Need to Click Here - I'm just claiming my feed at Feedster

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Apple Unveils The Video iPod

Yesterday, October 12th, 2005, will definitely go down in the digital media history books as Steve Jobs and company officially unveiled a new video-enabled iPod, which can reportedly hold 150 hours of video footage, featuring a broad range of paid video content. The move is significant because Apple has already sold more than 28 million iPods since their introduction in October 2001 and now has a commanding 75 percent marketshare of the portable music player market. A new version of iTunes was also announced (6.0) that offers 2,000 music videos and television programs like “Desperate Housewives” and "Lost", which are conveniently available for download the day after airing. "I think this is really pretty big and I think it's just the beginning," Jobs said in an interview. So, is this the new portable Tivo then that many of us have been waiting for?

The unit features a small 2.5 inch color screen and is available in a black or white casing. The 30GB model is available for $299 and the 60GB model retails for just a hundred dollars more at $399. However, what's really interesting and perhaps monumental is that these new releases will test the appetite for legitimate downloadable music videos (i.e. $1.99 each) and could actually become a brand new market for record labels - a market that only Apple could single-handedly create using its technology trendsetting abilities...That all sounds good on the surface, but how much of that pie does the artist actually get and does the video license and content travel with me if I upgrade and get a new iPod next year??

- Apple iPod sets sights on video

Monday, October 10, 2005

Bootleg Television's 1st Indie Music Podcast

I posted my first official podcast over the weekend. The 3o minute alternative show is Bootleg Television's Indie Music Podcast from Will's Pub Tribute #1. This is a brand new series from Bootleg Television creator Dave Segal, highlighting some of the best and most innovative Central Florida performers (U.S.A.). The music is pretty eclectic and was recorded live using a mini-dv 3-chip camera. I submitted to 6 Podcast directories including iTunes, so I'm curious to see what the subscription traffic will be in a week or so...

The RSS feed is:

O'Reilly European Open Source Conference

The O'Reilly European Open Source conference (EuroOSCON) is being held in Amsterdam next week. EuroOSCON targets the specific needs of European developers, programmers, strategists, entrepreneurs, and technologists, helping them to deliver the benefits of open source technology to their companies and organizations. Tutorials, sessions, panel discussions, and on-stage conversations focus on all aspects of building applications, services, and systems with an emphasis on practical skills. Sounds like fun, maybe I can go next year!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Time To Jump In

Dear Friends & Colleagues,

Ok, I've officially joined the blogosphere after creating this site almost a year ago. I used to publish a monthly eNewsletter called The Beals Media Update, but I got too busy maintaining Billboard Magazine's Digital Music Blog called Postplay. Well, that Blog is currently on hiatus, so I have more free time to share. Also, since the industry changes so fast, I think a blog (which can be added to daily) makes so much more sense than a twenty-something page newsletter - no matter how good it was!

Feel free to cross-link and comment as much as you'd like. I look forward to many stimulating discussions about the evolution of digital media and the intersection of art, music and technology.