Posts Tagged 'iphone'

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.

Musical Musings

With 2008 and all the music that came with it steadily speeding away in our rear view, I got to thinking a lot about what we did and didn’t see last year in the musical world, and what’s coming. When it comes down to it, 2008 was largely defined by some of the musical trends we saw, the continuing struggle over DRM and the ever growing attempts to market, brand and distribute music in ways that utilize multiple media and social platforms.

Musically, there was a greater push towards mash-ups (AmpLive Interview) and punk fueled Indie rock. Bands like Fall Out Boy and Bloc Party among many others kept driving guitars, sometimes melancholy lyrics and music that’s in your face in terms of pace at the forefront of the radio mainstream. Hip-Hop continued its usual pond-like trend: scum on the surface, beautiful water underneath with “artists” like T.I., T-Pain and Flo-rida topping the charts while rappers like Akrobatik, eLZhi and Black Milk continued struggling to boost their word of mouth. The line between Hip-Hop and Pop was continually blurred as radio Rap brought in more Rock and World music sounds into their songs.

We saw Kanye West rebound from a personally disastrous year to re-vamp his sound with 808s and Heartbreak, and we saw Guns ‘N Roses dig themselves out of a nearly 20 year grave to release the much anticipated Chinese Democracy album, something that many fans thought they’d never hear. Of course, most fans expected to hear either a new Eminem album (Relapse) or the long awaited and highly anticipated Detox album from Dr. Dre, and they got neither.

The DRM battle raged on in 2008, and in even just the beginning weeks of ’09 we’ve seen a nice movement in the area. For most of 2008, the IFPI (2) and the RIAA battled downloaders, both large and small, in court. Looking for lost compensation, they took to trial serial filesharers and spent massive amounts of time and money scaring college kids into settling out of court for fear of an expensive and punitive sentence against them. In the end, these efforts were largely useless, and in my mind, a joke, as they claimed to be fighting for the artists, while we all pretty much know how little the labels show the artists from individual song downloads.

The record industry spent months wringing their hands over lost profits and ways to control music that they long ago lost almost all control over. You have to wonder if, looking back now, they aren’t thinking of all their recent efforts as merely shutting the barn door after all the animals already escaped. And the change in tune has been brisk… Now, just two weeks into ’09, Apple has announced one of the broadest and most accessible withdrawals of DRM and price restructuring of MP3s in years. The four major labels have helped produce this movement, and it shows the increasing power of the consumers in the music marketplace. Once tied to hard copy formats like CDs with an average price table, consumers this year found diverse and creative ways to obtain their music, forcing the hand of the labels to recognize that DRM is not what the people want. How this lack of DRM will effect iPod sales or iTunes downloads remains to be seen. The launch of the App Store on iTunes also took music mobile with an incredible number of music related apps (and a few apps that are just plain incredible) designed for the iPhone.

The idea of Take Away shows and having artists perform live in unconventional venues took off. Nine Inch Nails picked up on Radiohead’s experiment with a free download format of an album, but they’ve taken it a step further now by offering over 400 GB of HD video footage from their concert tours up on torrent streams for fans to remix and create DVDs. This fan interaction has become tantamount to bands in the last year with MySpace including music, and a large number of acts going from conventional websites to social networking platforms.

And while these social networking sites and the bands that use them were beginning to become increasingly entwined, musicians were getting in the mix as well, literally. Late in 2008, MixMatchMusic officially opened its doors to musicians from all over the world to create, upload, collaborate and work with stems to broaden the ways people approach making music. With the DemoGod award at Demo ’08, a write-up in the San Francisco Chronicle and the ever-popular RemixSarahPalin.com, this vision of worldwide musical collaboration and the power of mixing and matching steps closer to being a full-fledged reality. (MixMatchMusic)

So what’s next? With the DRM barriers falling, the new foundations of band and fan interaction being laid and Web 2.0 casting a wider net over the ‘net, music in 2009 could be anyone’s game. Personally, I’m just waiting for The Detox… And now a moment for the outstanding musicians we lost this year, Bo Diddley and LeRoi Moore, among others.

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…

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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