Posts Tagged 'Apple'

iPhone Instrumentals

Thanks to the multitude of applications available from Apple’s App Store, creating music through your phone has come a long way since Towelie’s “Funky Town.”

In fact, some, like rising YouTube sensation The Mentalists, are taking these applications quite seriously. Check out this band’s covers of MGMT’s “Kids” or Estelle’s “American Boy”.

Stanford University even has its own iPhone ensemble, called the Mobile Phone Orchestra, or MoPhO. MoPhoO director, Ge Wang, developed his own application for the group, called Ocarina, which turns the iPhone into a woodwind-like instrument sensitive to touch, movement, or breath.

The App Store has music applications for everything from digital drum pads to mash-up machines to kazoos. Some of the most popular include Jumpei Wada’s Mini Piano, Curious Brain Inc.’s TouchCords, and Magnus Larsson’s DigiDrummer Lite, all free. These apps are very user friendly, allowing even the least music-tech savvy people try their hand at a little music production.

Just another way technology is allowing a more hands-on experience for enjoying music, much like MixMatchMusic’s Remix Wizard allows artists to bring fans into the mix through remix promotions. For an Evolving Music list of other cool music related apps check out this earlier post.

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MySpace Music

Social networking site MySpace jumped into the music industry recently, setting up deals with the major labels to stream free music to the users of the site. The news I read yesterday stated that in only the first week, over 1 billion songs were streamed. The commentators seem to view this as a monumental feat, despite the fact that a) they’re free, b) there’s millions and millions of users on MySpace and c) they’re instantly and readily available. In fact, the majority of the press I saw yesterday centered around the idea that this was a sort of challenge to Apple’s iTunes.

Let’s be clear. Streaming music that is paid for by advertising is not the same as music sales. The record labels may use the income from the deals to pad their sales/income numbers, but a streamed song does not a music purchase make. The purpose of the move from CD to mp3 rather than CD to stream is that people like owning their music, taking their music around with them and playing it for others. The stream is great as a form of promotion and introduction to the music, but you can’t take it with you.

This isn’t to say that I’m against streaming music in any way. Pandora is pretty genius, and I would never knock my old home, USC’s streaming radio station that can be found at KSCR. But for industry writers, who in some part can help influence the record execs that read their work, starting to compare a free streaming music service on a social networking site to the largest music retailer in Apple’s iTunes is like comparing tap water to wine. Just because it’s free and easily accessible doesn’t mean that it can trump the demand for quality and the ability to save something far into the future. Of course, if users find a way to “bottle” the stream to their music library, how interested in continued streaming would the labels be?

As for where this turns the music industry, I think the only answer everyone has for sure is that no one has any answers. The labels are still looking to make money off of solid media sales, as mentioned previously, data companies like SanDisk are looking for ways to make albums smaller and more accessible, and artists are still trying to figure out how the industry would work without them given that they only make 9.1 cents from a song royalty, but there’s no money for the labels if they don’t have the song to exploit in the first place.

So for now, we watch. I’m sure it won’t take long for MySpace to surpass 5 billion streams, but how the labels will react to that and attempt to use it to influence other sectors of the music industry will be interesting to see.

iTunes, DRM and Artist Royalties

Earlier this week, alarm bells were ringing when a quote from Apple in 2007 found its way back to the top of the news heap. That quote? That if royalties were to change to a point of being unprofitable to Apple, it would shut its iTunes store down. Now even the thought of this, among Apple and its competitors, has been brewing frightening thoughts for the consumers for a while due to the fact that virtually all the music these stores sell is DRM protected. Of course, the DRM is built into the song, so what exactly happens if the company selling the songs ends their existence? Well, it looks like the DRM for the material would expire, leaving consumers with hundreds if not thousands of “purchased” songs that will no longer play anywhere. As a music lover (and legal buyer of mp3s), this kind of news, even if it is an undeveloped thought, causes a good deal of frustration. Here the studios want consumers to pay for music, foregoing the option of downloading all the music they want illegally for free, but the copyright protection within the music means that if the retailer goes down, the files go down with it? That’s like buying a CD at Tower which is then erased when Tower goes out of business (you all do still remember Tower, don’t you?)

So what can we do about it when the very mechanism that has allowed music labels to go digital, and therefore the infrastructure that controls all of our legal downloads, is compromised by companies willing to close their DRMs? Unfortunately, not much. Short of burning all of your DRM tracks to a CD and then re-ripping them to mp3s to strip of them of their DRM (and some sound quality in the process), if a store goes down and discontinues its DRM licensing, all the tracks you’ve bought could die on your iPod. This to me seems like the ultimate Trojan horse of the music industry…we don’t want you to have mp3s, but if you do, we’ll create a way so that once they’re in your music library, should the stores you bought them from close, we’ll demolish your entire music collection from the inside.

I understand the purpose of DRM, but unfortunately its just not a viable business model if there are ways to stop the music playback at any point after the purchase. The point of buying music is that you have it forever. All the CDs I bought are still mine and will be mine for as long as I manage not to lose or damage them. The idea that you could buy a song which at some point in the future becomes unusable is, to me at least, outrageous.

The reason that all of this has come about this week is because the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) was weighing a decision to raise the artist royalties on digital downloads from 9.1 cents per song to 15 cents a song. From what I can ascertain from the article announcing the steady royalty fees, a .99 cent iTunes song is sold like this…

1) Apple sells the song for .99. 2) Apple keeps .29. 3) Apple gives .70 to the record label. 4) Record label gives the artist 9.1 cents, keeping 60.9 cents. I don’t know about you, but even at 9 cents a song, it seems like the labels and iTunes are getting over on the artist. Are we really supposed to believe that the iTunes store deserves to keep almost three times as much money for a song it sells than the artist receives?

What this scare does do is make it painfully obvious that the record labels and online music stores need to create a way and find a method to allow consumers to legally retain their music, no matter what happens to the store you buy it from. Should royalty rights eventually be raised in favor of the artist, it would be a travesty for Apple to claim it can no longer operate iTunes profitably (with the number of sales they have per year and the fact that they’re getting money just to be a middle man, it would be very hard for me to accept the idea that they aren’t profitable), disable the DRMs and leave music consumers with a bunch of dead and unusable files. Apple needs to show a little more foresight and decency when it comes to wolf cries of lost profits with a change from 9.1 to 15 cents of royalty. This could have been Apple simply playing politics in order to protect its profit margin, but even then the greed factor, given what the artists out there are making, comes into play.

For now (the CRB’s decision lasts 5 years), it appears we can rest easy. But it makes it clear that more thorough examinations of the digital music sales industry, DRM technology and what the rules and technology mean to consumers are necessary and should not be ignored.

Kick Ass Music Apps for the iPhone

Ah, mobile music. How sad would our lives be without it?

First came the iPod that we all know and love, which made its predecessors (the Boombox, the Walkman, the MiniDisc, the MP3 player) look just…silly. Its many subsequent iterations became sleeker and cooler each time. Then the iPhone came along and more and more of us drank the Apple flavored Kool-Aid. With 3G and the rapidly expanding App Store, the iPhone has become a veritable phenomenon.

Despite ongoing issues with MobileMe, email, low battery life and more, the little phone machine is charging down its steep rocky path alone, leaving its competitors in the dust and getting better every day.

Random sidenote: Someone actually told me they were torn between the new iPhone and the new Blackberry. I told him that’s like saying you’re torn between Prime Rib and a Big Mac. (He bought the iPhone the next day.)

Combining your phone and your music player into one device was certainly a convenient first step. But now, with the App Store going nuts, more and more innovative music apps for the iPhone are popping up. Here are my favorites so far:

Pandora
Yes, I know. We rave about Pandora ad nauseum. But, quite frankly, they deserve it. What was already a killer service is now one of the leading iPhone apps. Sick of your own music? Hate the radio? Then open up Pandora at home, in your car, or in your earphones while you’re on the go and have your customized radio station at your finger tips. Remember, the more you use it the better it gets. In this case I say go ahead Captain Curious! Open up Pandora’s box and watch the magic unfold.

Shazam
How often do you find yourself saying “Wait, who sings this song?” You make a mental note to find out later and never actually do? Here is the answer to your dilemma. Open Shazam, let your iPhone “listen” to the song in question and it will tell you the artist and track name. Freaking great. I’ve also been using it as a way to effortlessly tag songs that I want to possibly download later, as I hear them.

SeeqPod
On the flip side of Shazam’s service, you have SeeqPod. You know the artist or track name but don’t have the song when you want it. Type it into SeeqPod and, boom, their crawler finds songs and videos for you. (We’ve mentioned them before too, as pioneers of a growing digital music trend – “playable search”.) So now, with SeeqPod on your iPhone, whenever a song pops into your head that you want to hear it’s there for you.

Midomi
Midomi is like Shazam, but with with more flavors to choose from. In addition to letting your phone “listen” to the song à la Shazam (Midomi calls it “grab” not “listen”), you can also sing/hum the tune, or say/type the song name. Very handy. Naturally, once you find the song you can buy it on iTunes, bookmark and share, watch YouTube videos etc. Watch the overview video here.

All of the above are easy to use, insanely practical, and really fun to have. But, for the more musically inclined among you, here are a few others worth checking out:

For musicians, there is Stay in Tune, TyroRuner (guitars only), and OmniTuner to tune your instrument on the go. If you want a mobile click track check out Orfeo or iMetronome. For DJ types, MixMeister scratch (cool concept, reviews not great though) and BeatMaker (see a review and video here).

And these are just the early apps. Imagine how prehistoric they will seem in a year or two…

Lollapalooza Going MixMatch

In a press release today, I read a most interesting thing about the long-running mega music marathon known as Lollapalooza. Founded in 1997 by Perry Farrell to say good-bye to the legend of Jane’s Addiction, the tour stalled out on the national level to be revived in a format similar to Bonnaroo, Coachella and this year’s Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco. While not a multi-day festival like these, the Bridge School Benefit has been doing much the same at the Shoreline Amphitheater for more than 20 years now.

Of course, the most frustrating portion of these festivals is the opportunity to see a wide variety and assortment of acts, and then never hearing their music or their collaborations again. In recent years, Bridge School has started recording and releasing acts by the artists, but it seems to me that in this day of high quality live recording and digital distribution, it shouldn’t be that difficult to release an entire live set from one of these festivals a few days after it ends.

For the charitable festivals (Outside Lands/Bridge School), this can increase the revenue poured into the cause, and for artist-centered festivals, it can help increase their revenue from the show. But really, it’s the unique collaborations that happen on stage between dissimilar artists that are usually the highlights of these shows. Tom Waits performing with the Kronos Quartet at Bridge School, Tom Petty sharing the stage with Neil Young. These are musical moments that are incredibly memorable to the audience (“Man, you should have been there when X and Z performed together!”) but retaining the way it sounded in your mind is much more difficult over time.

Now, with the line-up at this year’s Lollapalooza, featuring distribution revolutionaries Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, odd couple Gnarls Barkley, Bloc Party, Broken Social Scene, G. Love and Special Sauce and the rapidly diversifying Kanye West, the potential combinations are endless. How about Trent and Thom settling their digital download dispute through a mash-up of “Hurt” and “Idioteque?” Or Kanye and Barkley going “Crazy” over “Diamonds From Sierra Leone?”

Well, in an idea that sounds like it came straight from the MixMatchMusic garage, Farrell has announced that he will be attempting to collaborate with the Empire that is Apple and iTunes to release iTunes-only music from the festival in digital formats that could include on-stage collaborations followed up with studio releases of those collaborations for download. Whether Farrell is actually focusing on the release of the live performances isn’t too clear, but he talks openly about his idea of having bands who have performed on stage together at the concert working through the internet and various worldwide recording studios to put the songs together in a more polished format.

The talk of all of these artists coming together in music in some way gets my pulse racing. One can only hope now that Farrell doesn’t stop short. Sure, the idea of studio versions of these collaborations is very cool, but he should well know that with a festival like this, fans would love to get their hands on copies of the entire live set, and will certainly want to download the various combinations of these artists. All that’s left is to let Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails debate over which file format the songs should be available in to download.

Super Bowl Music Ads?

We all know how much Super Bowl advertising costs. It’s annually the highest priced commercial time, commanding millions of dollars for 30 second spots. Not only do large audiences watch the Super Bowl, but companies know that they’re not just getting the standard football viewers they would normally get for ad time during a football game, they’re getting everyone at a Super Bowl party. Usually the airtime is filled with humorous beer commercials and commercials for websites.

In the changing music industry we so often like to talk about, the methods of promotion and sales have grown wildly beyond what we ever might have expected. Long relegated to the internet and radio, I was very surprised to see numerous music related ads during the game, and in multiple cases from a completely unexpected company. In Super Bowls past, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see a chip commercial. But what about a chip commercial that is actually trying to sell music? Doritos, apparently making a run at getting into the music industry and entertainment industry by “taking snacking to a whole new level (anyone else find this slightly ridiculous?) had two ads that I saw, sneakily co-funded I’m sure by Apple. I have to comment on this one more time because of just how funny it sounds to me…Doritos wants to “Take snacking to a higher level with entertainment, gadgets, and promotions designed to enhance your DORITOS(R)-eating experience.” I wasn’t aware that my snacking needed any higher level other than snacking. Of course, Doritos is entitled to whatever kind of mix and match they want.

When the first one came on, I was a bit confused. It was a bio of a young female singer followed by almost a full minute of her singing one of her songs. Literally, it was a truncated music video. At the end, expecting to see a blurb about a sponsored music store where you can buy it (i.e. Sam Goody or one of those other record stores that usually has hokey TV ads that you ignore, although those commercials have been dwindling in recent years), instead the Apple logo comes on at the top of the screen and there’s a small blurb about finding the song on iTunes. Then there’s a Dorito logo and a Dorito based website about music. I sat there stunned for about 5 minutes trying to put together what I had just seen…a mini music video for a relatively unknown artist sponsored by a chip company turned record label and oozing Apple’s iTunes message. In the middle of the Super Bowl.

Another interesting teaming of companies came from Pepsi and Amazon.com’s Justin Timberlake commercial. The soda and the store are coming together to give you free MP3 downloads if you drink more of the kool-aid. Interesting to see a soda company looking to entice drinkers with free music. Especially ironic when you look at consider that an iTunes song is .99 and a plastic bottle of Pepsi definitely tops a dollar and change. It’d make more sense if they gave you free Pepsi coupons for large song purchases!

When a chip/snack company and a computer company are combining to sell a fan-voted-on artist by buying what had to be around 4 million dollars in Super Bowl Ad time in order to push song sales, and soda companies are giving away music, you know the musical landscape is changing.

Ringtones: When DRM Goes Too Far

Digital Rights Management and the relating issues have been big topics recently in both music news and the world of MixMatchers. As a large portion of our group is involved with creating music, the questions as to who owns it and how it can be controlled are always at the top of the conversational trash heap. It’s a sticky situation which I touched on a bit in my previous post “Record Execs: Stupid or Just Plain Greedy?“, and constantly up for debate. It’s also the subject of quite a bit of mud throwing in the higher levels of the music industry as executives try to pass the buck as to who wants DRM, how they want it and where it came from. Furthermore, some of the bigger companies are starting to roll back their DRM in an effort to make more content cross-compatible with multiple hardware solutions (Apple DRM will only play on iTunes and iPod). Steve Jobs has expressed his opinion, and despite having helped create one of the most profitable and highly controlled DRM markets with iTunes and FairPlay, he advocates an end to DRM for music. I find the amusing point here that Jobs probably said one thing about DRM when he was trying to get label executives to let him sell music on iTunes, but has a much more pro-consumer point of view in his open letter.

Unlike a large majority of my peers, I don’t have a problem paying for my music. In my mind, the .99 cents we pay per track now is a much better deal than the 16-18 we used to pay for CDs. Think about it…on an 18 dollar CD, there might be 12 tracks. Of those, you might only like two. But you don’t know that until you buy the entire thing. Now, you just buy those two tracks, $1.98, and you’re on your way. Furthermore, when you really think about it…if you pay 1 dollar for a song and listen to it 4 times (which you know you’ll do if you’re buying it), that’s .25 cents per listen, right around juke box prices (for those that remember those). Keep listening and the math’ll eventually drop you to fractions of a penny per listen. Not a bad deal in my mind. I’ve noticed that the price and ability to preview tracks before buying them has made me a much more intelligent buyer, and I almost never look through my library and think, “I shouldn’t have bought that.” I can’t say the same for some of the CDs in my collection.

Still, so many of this Generation Y grew up with the full force of Napster, LimeWire and others running the show, and still can’t get used to the idea that maybe musicians deserve to have their music bought. While I won’t name any names here, one of the worst culprits of this idea of stolen music is not only a great friend of mine, but also a musician and aspiring attorney. You would think that if ever there was to be someone who would respect the legal rights and compensation of musicians it would be a fellow musician with a legal background, but not the case. Regardless of how much I pay for my music, he has no problem taking it from me for free, and in the end, I believe he feels an inward sense of smug satisfaction that he’s getting away with something, all the while failing to see where that would leave him if his musical career ever got off the ground.

Where the DRM conversation get really interesting is when you match it with the topic of ringtones. Now that phones are mp3 players too, and Apple’s iPhone is running the game in terms of what a hybrid hardware solution has the potential to be, the ringtones of beeps and blips from our Nokia phones has been replaced with full 2-30 second clips of songs. Just when everyone thought the copyrights were locked up for music, you have to now examine them in the context of clips for ringers. According to Gavroche, the reason for this is that the end user agreements for a song and for a ringtone are different. Then the question becomes why. In my mind, once you’ve paid for something, you should be able to use that personally however you see fit. I’m not advocating the free sharing and swapping of music and ringtones among friends, but if I want to burn the song I bought to a CD, listen to it on an mp3 player or program it as a ringtone, I should be able to without additional cost. iTunes, however, requires you to pay an additional .99 cents to turn one of your songs into a ringtone, and they don’t offer a simple solution, within the application, for turning a non-iTunes store purchase into a ringtone.

Now without getting into specifics that could be at odds with the legal standpoints of the companies I’m talking about, I will tell you that there are solutions to this problem out there. GarageBand offers one of them, and a bit of simple maneuvering of songs within iTunes will help you create a free, custom ringtone from any song in your library. It’s really quite easy once you’ve learned the process and done it a few times, but it still requires multiple steps in order to “trick” iTunes into thinking the clip you’ve made is a ringtone. The problem here is that having already established one payment and method for protecting music, the industry wants to change what and how much you pay to use music you already own in a different way from what they intended when you purchased it. It smacks of revisionism…already late to the party in terms of recognizing the moving trends towards digital music, the industry again finds itself behind the game. “What? You mean people might want to use the .99 cent track as a ringtone and not just a song to listen to? Better find a way to make some money off that.”

As someone who supports the idea of paying artists for their work in a way that is fair and equitable both to them as the producer and me as the consumer, I don’t have a problem with DRM. I don’t think it really solves anything (there’s always multiple ways to “unlock” a track), but if it helps the industry feel better about digitally distributing their product, in the end it benefits me as a listener. But rights are rights, and once a song is purchased, be it an mp3 or a hard copy CD, the purchaser needs to be able to take that song to any device or medium they want, even if that requires copying it for multiple locations. It’s one thing to limit the ease with which people illegally share music with one another. It’s another thing to try to step in and dictate how and when the consumer enjoys their purchase. That’s why my ringer is The Fall by Blake Leyh. So stick it to those DRM people, People, and make your whole library into unpaid for ringtones! Go crazy! That is, of course, if you already own it.


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