26 October 2006
Life after iPod

Poppy Mom loves her iPod, up to a point:

I love that I have the ability to carry 8794 songs in my pocket at all times. Actually, I can carry more than that; that just happens to be the number of songs on my iPod. I love that, when my plane hit turbulence on Thursday night, I could immediately zip to whatever song I wanted to be the last song I heard during my mortal existence. Funny that the song that was playing suited me just fine.

But (isn't there always a "but"?):

[W]hile the iPod is a wonderful, perfect little chunk of technolgical glory, it does have its problems, and not just technical ones. It's changing the way we listen to music, and I'm not 100% crazy about this.

All my life, I've found ways to keep up with my perpetual music jones. Now that the most perfect device for music transporation is in my possession, I've got some problems.

I miss hanging around with my friends, waiting for that perfect song to come on the radio or MTV. I've become spoiled, and just like any other spoiling scenario, the wealth of goods in my possession sometimes leaves a bit of a hole in my soul.

I haven't made a mix CD in well over six months. In other words, I haven't made a mix CD in the time since I bought my iPod. Mixes used to be one of my great creative outlets, and I've let it go. Why spend a few hours making a mix when I can just put it on Shuffle and let the machine do it for me?

I've also gotten woefully behind on discovering new music. Why go to the effort of getting to know a new song, new album, new artist when I can listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for the fifth time this week?

I'm still doing mixes, but I can see the rest of this somewhere in my own future. After all, the turntable is in a different room from the computer, and it's not like I can just click on a vinyl LP and expect a favored track to start.

Perhaps I should consider this a warning?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:34 PM)
24 November 2006
1892 and all that

File this under Historical Inevitability: you can now get the B. C. Clark jingle on iTunes.

What's more, Oklahoma's Oldest Jeweler is presenting a collection of versions from the last thirty-odd years, including the original unexpurgated version. (Old Clarkies will remember that there used to be one extra line in the song, snipped when 30-second spots became the rule rather than the exception.)

The original jingle dates back to 1956, which means it's been around longer than "Jingle Bell Rock" ('57), the Chipmunk Song ('58) or "The Little Drummer Boy" ('58, though its Czech ancestor dates back to WWII).

Mercifully, no one recorded this version for posterity.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:25 AM)
30 November 2006
And in the middle of negotiations

I figured that the bad blood, or juice, between Steve Jobs' Apple and the Beatles' Apple was a permanent state of affairs, at least since the introduction of the iTunes Store, which would seem, on the face of it, to violate a deal between the two in which basically Jobs was allowed to keep using the name so long as he stayed out of the music business. This spring, a judge ruled that the iTunes Store was a data-transmission service and therefore not in violation of the agreement; of course, that agreement, which was reached in 1991, never anticipated digital music downloads and such.

But apparently Jobs and Apple Corps rep Neil Aspinall have decided to let it be: Fortune says that an agreement to put Beatles material exclusively online at iTunes is on the way.

Costa Tsiokos has one concern:

I have a sinking feeling that, even if this comes off, part of the conditions will be to sell Beatles songs in the dreaded "album only" blocs that various rightsholders (notably for movie soundtracks) demand. So even if you want to pay only 99 cents just for "Taxman", you’ll have to pony up $9.99 (or more?) for the entire Revolver album.

I wouldn't be surprised if this turned out to be the case, though it won't give me any grief: with the notable exception of the modern-day mashup Love, I have just about everything the band ever released, and a fair number of things they didn't, so there's no particular reason for me to want to spend money for the third time (first there was vinyl, then there was Compact Disc) on these tracks.

(Rejected titles for this piece: "Got to get you into my 'Pod"; "Come together, right now, over $"; "The one after .99"; "Why don't we do it on the Net?")

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:55 AM)
1 December 2006
Is this the future of radio?

With everybody defecting to satellite or shuffling their iPods, allegedly there's no audience left for good old FM, let alone even-older AM.

But wait:

I've been told, more than once, that the way around the copyright hassles involved with podcasts (basically, you can't play music from the big record companies — namely, most music you know — without [jumping through legal hoops] that are very much not in the lightweight-labor ad-hocky nature of what podcasters do) is to get a real (FCC licensed) radio station to play your podcast. Because they're allowed to play that music and you're not.

So, if you can get a friendly station to run your 'cast at 3am on a Sunday or whatever, you're set.

True?

San Francisco-based KYOU ("Open Source Radio") says that's exactly what they do:

If you’ve got a podcast that contains copyrighted music and a radio station decides to play it, it can be rebroadcast and, providing all DMCA rules are adhered to, it can be streamed as well. Since stations that play music pay all licensing fees (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC & SoundExchange) those fees will cover the music in the podcast.

This does not necessarily have anything to do with the fact that I finally got around to replacing my 31-year-old microphone last week.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
27 December 2006
We don't need no stinkin' bundle

Hmmm. I was installing QuickTime on a new box this morning, and apparently — as of 7.1.3, anyway — Apple no longer requires you to download iTunes to obtain QuickTime.

It wasn't a big deal, unless you were on a dialup and had to get those extra 20 megabytes or so, and I'd never had any trouble removing iTunes from a box where only QT was desired, but at least Apple seems to be paying attention to our cries in the wilderness.

(This was for a work box. At home I run both iTunes and — dare I say it? — QuickTime Pro.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:24 AM)
21 January 2007
Adventures in iTunes (5)

For the first time I actually ran afoul of Apple's DRM, and it was at least partly my own fault. I used to have iTunes purchases billed to my AOL account; when AOL reformulated itself into a more-or-less free service, I moved things to my own Apple account. After backing up the Purchased files today, things I had purchased under the AOL account would no longer work without jumping through an authorization hoop or three. At one point, none of my purchases were authorized on any computer.) It took rather a lot of dialog boxes to fix this up. Curiously, at no time did iTunes ever suggest that I had two machines (of the allotted five) running any of these files.

This experience, I suspect, is typical of DRM in general: you don't notice it until the exact point at which it gets in your way.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:07 PM)
23 January 2007
The beat of a different DRM

I grumbled a bit about the Digital Rights Management system built into iTunes a few days ago, but I noted that this was the first time that I'd even actually noticed the darn stuff.

Which seems to mesh with this:

Apple is selling DRM content because it provides a superior experience at a reasonable premium. People are cheap, but not infinitely cheap. Yes, Apple will lose the hard core misers, but those sort of people will never spend much money on anything, no matter how compelling. The key insight of Apple is that it doesn't make sense to compromise your overall product experience to chase after that sort, as you'll never get serious cash flow out of them. Instead, Apple seems to have optimized for the average person, who will pay a decent premium for content if that premium guarantees ease of use and quality. This is the root of iTunes' success. Everything is the same affordable price, the system as a whole (iTunes + iPod) just works, and the quality is top notch. Most people would rather spend the 99˘ and be done with it than spend a hour or two searching, downloading, and testing for quality.

Needless to say, this particular approach isn't being considered over in Zunetown:

In contrast, Microsoft and its backing content providers are acting more like misers, valuing the prevention of theft more than the increasing of sales. Better to prevent one act of piracy than sell a dozen tracks. That's just not a model that will provide long term success in an information society.

This may reflect the thinking of Bill Gates, who was griping about software piracy pretty much from Day One. (Can you say "Windows Genuine Advantage"? Without laughing, I mean.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:28 AM)
8 February 2007
The tin DRM

The Metropolitan Library System is now offering downloadable audio books to which you can listen.

Maybe. Dwight is not impressed:

I was kind of excited about downloading one and giving this new service a try. Load one onto my iPod and listen during my lunch breaks, or as I fall asleep at night. But alas, I got my hopes up too soon. The audio files come as WMA (Windows Media Audio) DRM-protected files which are incompatible with the iPod.

Probably won't work with the Zune, either. And yes, there are workarounds, but:

[F]or at least some of the titles, I could go through the time-consuming process of burning these titles to a CD … ripping that CD back into iTunes … and then putting it onto my iPod. But, for all that effort, I might as well just actually read the damn thing.

Careful now. They might start putting DRM on e-books.

Oh, wait ....

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 AM)
14 February 2007
The rattling of the keys

The smallest of the Big Four record companies is contemplating dumping Digital Rights Management altogether, and at least one vendor is predicting a sales boom:

Yahoo Music general manager Dave Goldberg predicts that by Christmas, most of Yahoo's catalog will be DRM-free. "The labels understand that DRM has to go," he says. "It's nothing but a tax on digital consumers. There's good momentum behind DRM going away." He says sales would increase by 15% to 20% without DRM.

Maybe. I haven't run into too many DRM issues — well, one, actually — so I don't think I'm suddenly going to run out and download tons more stuff, presumably at the same price, just because it's going to be a tad easier to use. On the other hand, Microsoft just loves DRM, and anything that perturbs Microsoft can't be all bad, can it?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
26 March 2007
Get back to where we once belonged

Up until 1948, all records were singles: 78-rpm discs, ten or twelve inches across. Once in a while you'd see a set of five or six of them bound together in one very thick package, which was called an "album."

CBS, which in 1948 began selling a 33⅓ rpm disc which could contain the contents of five or six 78s, eschewed the term "album" in favor of "LP," or more precisely "Lp," which they registered as a trademark. The customers, even then not willing to take their marching orders from record companies, persisted in calling them "albums."

And they still bought singles: from RCA Victor, also in 1948, came a 45-rpm disc, a mere seven inches across, which duplicated the format of the 78 — the hit and the B-side. RCA also developed a 45-rpm record changer that plugged into your RCA television using — yes! — an RCA plug. And despite the higher profit margin on CBS's LPs and such, the record industry learned pretty quickly that there was no way to generate those profits, except in minority formats like classical and jazz, without coming up with some hit singles once in a while. This was the way of the world, and the 45 ruled that world.

So this should surprise no one:

Last year, digital singles outsold plastic CD's for the first time. So far this year, sales of digital songs have risen 54 percent, to roughly 189 million units, according to data from Nielsen SoundScan. Digital album sales are rising at a slightly faster pace, but buyers of digital music are purchasing singles over albums by a margin of 19 to 1.

Because of this shift in listener preferences — a trend reflected everywhere from blogs posting select MP3s to reviews of singles in Rolling Stone — record labels are coming to grips with the loss of the album as their main product and chief moneymaker.

Which, again, should surprise no one:

I distinctly remember recognizing that it was a pure ripoff to plunk down several dollars for an 8-12 track album, when all I wanted was the one or two songs that were hits. I adopted a three-song minimum as a requirement for buying an album; if you’re at all familiar with the past twenty-five years of pop music, you can make a pretty accurate guess as to the paltry number of albums I wound up purchasing.

I realize I was in the minority. Plenty of my peers scooped up those albums, and justified it as the only way to get at the popular tunes. The potential bonus was the discovery of an unpromoted gem in the album's filler tracks; realistically, that was usually just wishful thinking. But for me, it turned me off on developing any sort of music-buying habit.

Further complication: musicians had long been hiding some good stuff, not on the inner tracks of their LPs, but on the B-sides of 45s, where presumably the truest of fans would find them. In 1966, Dylan had sneaked a live version of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" onto the back of "I Want You," a track you simply couldn't get anywhere else. Even Simon and by-gosh Garfunkel did this, dropping the irritable "You Don't Know Where Your Interest Lies," never issued on an LP, underneath "Fakin' It." ("You Don't Know..." didn't even make it to the S&G Collected Works CD box.)

Is there a future for the "album"? It might be something like this:

I think albums can revert back to what they were in the '50s and '60s: Less concept packages and more like compilations of proven hit singles, released after they made their noise. That dynamic's already made a comeback today, with the proliferation of "greatest hits" albums from artists that had barely three or four notable singles releases.

The Beatles, who recorded their singles and their album tracks as wholly separate entities (though their US label tended to mess up their scheme) were very much anomalies in the couple-of-hits-plus-filler milieu, and when Led Zeppelin, for whatever reason, refused to allow "Stairway to Heaven" to go out as a 45 — a few white-label promos were pressed, but no store stock — radio stations treated it as a hit single anyway. The circle, I'm tempted to say, is complete.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:36 PM)
10 May 2007
Three peas in one's Pod

Picking three songs for a radio (or podcast) set is something of an artform, and the best such are very good indeed. (I have a few tucked away for possible future use, which, if nothing else, will appall my brother, who did actual time as a Radio Guy.)

One criterion for "best" is sheer effrontery — who in the world would have thought of that? — and accordingly, I award props to Monty for her Sammich set last weekend: two Bread tunes, with Meat Loaf in between. Delicious, in a couple of senses of the word.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:58 AM)
New wrinkles in the nomenclature

Remember prunes? Of course you do. Except that they'd rather you called them "dried plums."

The remarkable success of this top-down attempt to force the language into another direction, whether it wants to go there or not, has inspired many. Why, it's even made it to television:

Digital rights management (DRM) is the wrong term for technology that secures programmers' content as it moves to new digital platforms, says HBO Chief Technology Officer Bob Zitter, since it emphasized restrictions instead of opportunities.

Speaking at a panel session at the NCTA show in Las Vegas Tuesday, Zitter suggested that "DCE," or Digital Consumer Enablement, would more accurately describe technology that allows consumers "to use content in ways they haven't before," such as enjoying TV shows and movies on portable video players like iPods.

"I don't want to use the term DRM any longer," said Zitter, who added that content-protection technology could enable various new applications for cable operators. One example could be "burn-to-own DVDs," where a consumer would use a set-top box with a built-in DVD burner to record a movie onto an optical disc, thus eliminating the costly current process of pressing DVDs and distributing them physically at retail. Another possibility, says Zitter, is "early window exhibition," either in the form of making a movie available through video-on-demand (VOD) the same day as the home video release or allowing home theater users to pay extra to see a high-definition version of a theatrical release in the comfort of their home.

The minor detail that none of those vaunted New Technologies actually would require DRM, of course, can be found nowhere in the wild, wonderful world of ZitterSpeak.

Still, if they can sell Simpson's Individual Water Absorb-A-Tex Stringettes — and let's face it, we could use some flood preventers here in Soonerland this week — surely they can sell Zitter's "enablement," assuming the language mavens don't hurl at the very sound of the word.

(Via The Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
28 May 2007
Major tunage

Rob's DJing a wedding reception for an old friend, and he takes this task very seriously indeed:

For starters, I’ve downloaded somewhere around 9,000 songs over the past 48 hours. At 4 minutes per song that's 36,000 minutes/600 hours/25 DAYS worth of music. From those I'll be picking the best of the best, listening to each one that I select (to make sure it's not screwed up or mislabeled) and then placing them in a queue. These songs are in addition to the ones I already have in my personal collection — all my old 80's, party, and dance CDs that I've ripped to MP3 over the years. I've also been searching the web for lists of "popular wedding reception songs", ensuring that I have all of those songs on hand as well. While mathematically the vast majority of the songs I have pulled will not make it into the four-hour-long playlist, I will have all of them with me just in case someone requests one of them. Andy and Lea like 80's music, dance music, and country music, so I am creating a playlist that contains an equal number of songs from all three of these genres, but with extra songs on hand I can change the playlist on the fly (thanks to the software I'm using) depending on the mood of the crowd and the party.

Impressive indeed, though the part that really amazes me is the downloading of 9000 songs in two days. That's a little over three per minute. I should have such bandwidth. (And I probably could if I weren't such a skinflint.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:31 PM)
31 May 2007
DRM beat?

Apple's iTunes Plus has arrived, and with it the usual 40 MB software download. Things were extremely hectic in the iTunes Store last night, which I find heartening: the idea that people will pay a smidgen (okay, 30 percent, but still) more for proper downloads without all that DRM crap has always seemed at least somewhat plausible to me, and I'd like to think that there were lots of like-minded individuals queued up to try it out. I was amused to see an offer to upgrade any titles I'd already bought to the Plus version; I'll probably take 'em up on it this weekend. (I mean, what's sixty cents? You can barely get penny candy for 60 cents these days.)

I also plan to buy some tracks with which I am overly familiar, just for comparison purposes. (I mean, I don't need any more Pink Floyd or Sinatra.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:58 AM)
Tagging along

Apple, as mentioned earlier today, is rolling out iTunes Plus, which vends DRM-free music at a 30-percent price premium.

I can't say that I'm surprised by this:

[S]ongs sold without DRM still have a user's full name and account e-mail embedded in them, which means that dropping that new DRM-free song on your favorite P2P network could come back to bite you.

We started examining the files this morning and noticed our names and e-mail addresses in the files, and we've found corroboration of the find at TUAW, as well. But there's more to the story: Apple embeds your account information in all songs sold on the store, not just DRM-free songs. Previously it wasn't much of a big deal, since no one could imagine user