Archive for the ‘Audio’ Category

The Internet is Either Bad or Good, Depending on Whether You’re Prince or the Rest of the World

July 12, 2010

The artist currently known as Prince shocked and amazed the world when he said that the “Internet is over” and that computers and digital gadgets ”fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.” The upshot was that he is not releasing any music digitally, only in CD format.  He has banned his music from iTunes, YouTube and even what was formerly known as his web site – there will be no downloads, anywhere, ever, from him.  I’m sure the music industry is overjoyed, and wish that Prince could start a movement, unlikely as that is to happen. He does have a point, as far as payment is concerned, because how artists will make money in the inter web world is still  in question.

Meanwhile, back at Pew’s Internet and American Life Project, the world of the Internet is a good and happy place, bringing joy and fulfillment to all who go there. Almost.  Specifically, a large majority of respondents (85%) agreed that, “In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the Internet has mostly been a positive force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future.” As a point of ethics, though, I have to divulge that the respondents to this survey were tech experts and “the highly engaged Internet public.”  I think that rosily colors their point of view somewhat.  Still it’s hard to disagree with the positives that they saw (from the report):

They said humans’ use of the Internet’s capabilities for communication – for creating, cultivating, and continuing social relationships – is undeniable. …

Many of the people who said the Internet is a positive force noted that … it costs less in time spent, allowing them to cultivate many more relationships, including those with both strong and weak ties. They said “geography” is no longer an obstacle to making and maintaining connections; some noted that Internet-based communications removes previously perceived constraints of “space” and not just “place.”

Some respondents observed that as use of the Internet for social networks evolves there is a companion evolution in language and meaning as we redefine social constructs such as “privacy” and “friendship.” Other respondents suggested there will be new “categories of relationships,” a new “art of politics,” the development of some new psychological and medical syndromes that will be “variations of depression caused by the lack of meaningful quality relationships,” and a “new world society.”

The visual difference between editorial content and advertising designed to look like editorial content is miniscule.  Given that it’s difficult to define the spot where news and entertainment separate, this has become a bone of contention.  The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors sent an open letter to the Tribune Company asking them to cease and desist, following a four page wrap ad for the King Kong attraction at Universal Studios which was made to look like the front page of the Times’ breaking news section, describing damage done to the city by a giant ape.

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The Next Chapter in the LimeWire Story

June 25, 2010

When we last saw LimeWire, it had just been found liable for copyright infringement, that its very existence had fostered infringement, and the RIAA was calling for it to be silenced forever. That’s pretty bad, but wait, there’s more.  Now music publishers want their piece of the carrion, saying that LimeWire should be liable for damages (paid to them) of up to $150K per infringement.  The P2P site, meanwhile, trying desperately to find a way to stay afloat, says that it wants to develop a new music service that will “compensate the entire industry”.  And, it issued a statement that “publishers are part of the solution”, and welcomed their presence at any negotiating table, reports the Media Decoder. Whether the publishers will agree to negotiation is another question altogether, although probably a better solution than trying to recover damages worth more money than LimeWire could ever possibly have made. But one statement in their complaint says “Although still a haven for piracy, the Internet now features a substantial number of legitimate avenues for the sale and digital distribution of music.”  Among those legitimate avenues is Napster, now owned by Best Buy, the P2P that started it all.

LimeWire Gets Nailed

May 21, 2010

Chalk one up for big music.  Last week, US District Court Judge Kimba Wood ruled that LimeWire, the big file-sharing service, was in violation of copyright, and that their business model depends upon it, nor has it taken meaningful steps to  stop this infringement from happening.  Limewire, which unlike most P2P services is way out in the open, and based in New York (as opposed to out in the middle of the ocean somewhere), does give a little warning on its site when users are about to download copyrighted material, still, about 98.8% of what gets downloaded through it is in violation. The next step in the case is a June 1 conference, which will lay out the schedule for moving forward, to resolve some still dangling issues.

Here’s LimeWire CEO George Searle’s statement:

LimeWire strongly opposes the Court’s recent decision. LimeWire remains committed to developing innovative products and services for the end-user and to working with the entire music industry, including the major labels, to achieve this mission. We look forward to our June 1 meeting with Judge Wood.

And the happy dance music below comes from Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the music industry’s lobbying group:

This definitive ruling is an extraordinary victory for the entire creative community. The court made clear that LimeWire was liable for inducing widespread copyright theft.

Go RIAA.

Pandora Your Stuff – And then Measure It

April 26, 2010

Peter Gabriel has invested in a site called The Filter (for which he is the spokesperson),  which is like Pandora for your computer – it studies the music or movies you already have, and suggests other albums, artists or movies that are based on your taste.    It is available as a free download (www.thefilter.com).  The filter also acts as a partner to media companies who want to have a built in recommendation engine.  Recently NBC licensed The Filter’s technology for its own web sites  – Sony and Nokia also license it. How is The Filter different from, say, the well-touted Netflix recommendation engine, or Amazon’s?  Since it only works with digital files, it can tell whether you actually watched a full movie, or turned it off halfway through.  Originally, says Business Week, the service launched as a consumer Web site in 2008. It encouraged users to download a software application that sucked data from users’ Last.fm and Flixster accounts. It also observed what they did with their iTunes collections. Then the system took all that information and suggested movies and music. But it didn’t make any money until it started selling its services to media companies.  It should turn a profit this year.

Digital Sales Down a Little, Vinyl Up Alot

April 9, 2010

As far as digital sales are concerned, the idea that they would make up for declining CD sales has finally been put to rest, as Nielsen SoundScan found that digital sales dropped last quarter for the first time. They didn’t drop much, only about 1%, but that’s a portent of things to come.  Do you wonder how much this had to do with the raising of per-track prices to $1.29?  Billboard notes: “While consumers will still buy hit songs for $1.29, it seems that catalog tracks priced at that level are not selling as well as they were at 99 cents.” Meanwhile, underground, what is picking up, and we have said this before, is sales of vinyl. The Seattle Times reports that according to Nielsen, vinyl album sales are up 55% from a year ago.  And that is benefiting indie-record stores. A day in April has been set aside, for the third year running, as Record Store Day to honor the small brick-and-mortar spaces where music is sold.  To the surprise of many, these Record Store Days turn out to be the biggest sale days of the year, and they are heartening to many who thought that indie stores had disappeared along with tower Records and Virgin Megastores.

Reports of the Death of Radio Greatly Exaggerated

March 26, 2010

Maybe the radio isn’t as dead as we think it is. Ad Age found a study by BIA/Kelsey  that shows that radio’s web operations will fuel growth of 2-4%  a year, which will sustain itself for the forseeable future.  Not stellar, perhaps, but it beats the mammoth slide that the industry has suffered over the last year. Says an exec from BIA/Kelsey:

The industry will continue to grow its online revenues in 2010 as increasingly more progressive radio groups recognize they are more than just over-the-air transmitters and begin to integrate cross-platform promotions with their broadcast and web operations.

Music Meets Artificial Intelligence

March 19, 2010

A company in North Carolina, Zenph Sound Innovations is looking at new ways to play around with music, some of it very old.  One of their intitiatives is to take very old recorded performances and create new recordings based on what the now dead musicians would be making if they had access to today’s technology.  Wired has a sound snippet of a recently upgraded performance by a virtual Rachmaninoff.  Zenph is also  creating software that will allow today’s musicians to, essentially, jam with virtual versions of those who are no longer with us. The whole thing is predicated on gaining an understanding of the qualities that the original musician had, what made him or her sound like that. Says Wired,

Zenph’s technology looks at actual old recordings to find out how a performer played a certain song, and is not capable of figuring out how a musician would play a new part. ‘We hope — but we can’t demonstrate today — that after we’ve done several re-performances of a given artist, we will understand enough about that individual’s musical style to be able to suggest how that style might manifest itself in the performance of a work that the artist never actually performed,’ said [venture capital partner Kip] Frey, clarifying that today Zenph’s software only reproduces performances, it doesn’t create them.

Here’s the rub:

But if Zenph and other companies succeed in the quest to create virtual musical personalities, the market will likely create licensing mechanisms that allow a wide range of artists and labels to license their personalities to interactive music formats, potentially resulting in wrangling over music licensing. The problem has philosophical overtones: If a machine has to license a certain performer’s style, why doesn’t a human? Licensing the style or personality of performers would open a strange can of worms, even if the intent is just to fairly compensate those involved.

Universal Music Does the Unthinkable – Lowers CD Prices

March 19, 2010

And speaking of licensing issues, what’s up with the big music companies these days?  According to Billboard, Universal Music is hoping that although you haven’t bought a physical CD in years, you will when they lower their CD prices to under $10.  They will begin testing this concept in the 2nd quarter, and not a moment too soon.   The big question will be, of course, whether it isn’t a moment too late.  UMG will also be selling deluxe versions of albums at a higher price point.  Trans World Entertainment began testing the $9.99 price point in over 100 stores, while Wal-Mart has been telling the majors to release shorter albums at lower prices more frequently. The other major labels seem to be balking at the idea of the low prices, but as one “source” said, “The definition of idiocy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Things are not going to get better for CD sales unless the price point is addressed. One thing that the Trans World test shows for sure, $10 will drive sales and traffic.”

Waiting for Spotify in the US? It May Be Very Different

February 12, 2010

Free music got a few knocks this week.  Warner is getting upset with ad-supported services like Spotify and Pandora because they are not positive enough revenue generators for the music industry.  Their problem with these services, is that first of all the amount of money that advertising brings in much less money than a subscription or paid model would.  And, although customers are paying for these sites by having to sift through advertising to get to the music, the implication is that the music is free, and therefore, devoid of value.  Never mind that millions of kids under the age of 25 have never paid for music, and are appalled by the very thought of it, and yet it may be the most important thing in their lives.  Now, says Wired,  although Warner will not cancel its license with Spotify in Europe, the music lovers who have been eagerly awaiting the site’s presence in the US may get a very different deal when it finally shows up.

“To Spotify, its licensed free music competes with the unlicensed free music on file sharing networks. But to Warner, it apparently represents lost sales. It’s highly unlikely that Spotify would launch in the states without Warner on-board, because nobody wants to use a music service with that big a hole in its catalog.

This leaves precisely two ways forward: either Bronfman backs down, or Spotify launches in the U.S. with a more restrictive free version.

Our money is on the latter — not only because Spotify CEO Daniek Ek said months ago that the U.S. version of Spotify could differ from the European one, but also because Warner likes music subscriptions, and Spotify sells one.”

For Spotify, this puts them in the awkward position of trying to please both the labels and the users, groups that are historically at odds. As we know, the music business is trying desperately to hold onto its old media model, even as it tries out new forms of distribution. And just as ad supported models are coming to the starting to do well, that’s not quite good enough.

Google Pulls the Plug on Music Blogs

February 12, 2010

The second knock to the music industry has apparently been going on for some time now, only I just found out about it. Google has taken it upon itself to delete several music blogs hosted by Google’s Blogger and Blogspot services.  The site owners were notified of this only after the sites, and the archives that went with them, had already been wiped out.  The claim, of course, was that the bloggers were violating copyright law by posting MP3s on.their sites. Not all of these are behind the scene, fly-by-night sites, either.  As the Guardian reports, “After the success of blog-buzzy acts such as Arcade Fire, Lily Allen and Vampire Weekend, entire PR firms are dedicated to courting armchair DJs and amateur critics.”  One blogger, the owner of I Rock Cleveland, who had the plug pulled on his site told Google, “”I assure you that everything I’ve posted for, let’s say, the past two years, has either been provided by a promotional company, came directly from the record label, or came directly from the artist.”  A friend with experience in the music blogging world said that many sites have since become web sites with offshore servers, but that doesn’t change the fact that Google has been taking it upon itself to determine what is violating copyright and what isn’t.  Google has said, however, that DMCA notices would not result in removing entire blogs anymore – only individual posts.