Posts Tagged 'iTunes'

Tools for Musicians Spotlight: Cartfly

Hey musicians, have something to sell? You know, like… an album? Enter Cartfly. Cartfly lets you set up a store widget to sell your product (jewelery, music, art etc). It is painfully simple, almost free, and you can post it in all those special places.

Capitalizing on the ubiquity of social networks, Cartfly is enabling retailers “… to establish a point of presence right inside profile pages and other sites” according to cofounder Joshua Manley. Even if you’ve got your songs on iTunes, CD Baby and wherever else, one more potential revenue stream can’t hurt, right? Slap it on your Facebook and show the world your goods! Oh, and the widget uses Flex, which gets the RIA (Rich Internet Applications) junkies all excited. Want to know more? Follow them on Twitter.

Universal Backs Live Video Streams

About a year ago I examined a Wired article looking at the head of the Universal Music Group, Doug Morris, and his attempts to move against the current of technology that was slowly eroding his old-timer’s hold on music distribution. My how times have changed. Not only has UMG joined forces with the other three major labels to eradicate DRM on iTunes purchases, now they’re actively joining the swelling ranks looking for digital solutions to real-life problems.

UMG, home of artists like 50 Cent and Lil’ Wayne, is always looking for new ways to interact with fans and bring their favorite artists to them in ways that are both exciting and relevant. Because of this and the potential they see in the company, UMG has joined forces with Kyte, an emerging web start-up that is aiming to fill a niche not currently serviced by YouTube: live video streams.

UMG is hoping that this will prompt massive coverage and interest in short live broadcasts from the backstage dressing rooms, the road, clips of shows or anywhere else these artists might find themselves wanting to reach out and directly connect to fans visually. It takes away the overhead of big-budget, high quality videos that need to be processed and uploaded and replaces it with a web-based streamlined idea that brings the live video straight to the viewer.

Of course, given that these video streams are live, it could become difficult if not impossible to control the content. I’m wondering how long it’ll take for UMG to take issue with that… This could also be a shot across the bow of YouTube as the four majors actively begin renegotiating licensing agreements with Google’s video baby.

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.

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 8

For a taste of October’s music, click here.

November’s update comes with over 100 tracks spanning both new and old albums, and quite a bit in terms of the Yancey family. We’ve got hip-hop and indie rock, R&B and rap. Enjoy!

Black Milk, Tronic: An album that pushes the traditional boundaries of hip-hop with futuristic synths and musical approaches, Black Milk still puts out several songs that utilize nostalgic samples. I won’t say much more because I’ve already written a full album review, but in my recent interview with Hieroglyphics members Opio and Tajai, they named Black Milk as one of the hip-hop producers they were liking the sound of recently. Read the full album review here. Don’t Sleep On: “Long Story Short,” “Bounce,” and “Losing Out” featuring Royce da 5’9″

Bloc Party, Intimacy: When Bloc Party released their initial effort, Silent Alarm in 2005, it brought a distinct sound to the indie rock arena with Kele Okereke’s emotional British accent and their hard charging guitars on songs like “Banquet.” That album spawned a remix album before the release of what I viewed to be a lackluster sophomore effort on 2007’s A Weekend in the City, an album that had three, maybe four really solid songs, tops. Thankfully though, Intimacy not only serves to take some of the band’s music in another direction, but returns the indie sound on their rock songs to the top-notch form that looked possible from their debut. Intimacy still has driving drums and screaming guitars, but the band has started to utilize more in the way of drum machines and electronic flourishes that create a new dimension for them to explore and in some cases creates some of the most musically advanced songs the band has produced to date. Okereke’s use of his voice is showing maturity, commanding more range of both pitch and emotion here. In some songs, it feels like the input they had on their work from Silent Alarm Remixes has prompted them to explore in new directions. A very solid album. Don’t Sleep On: “Signs,” “One Month Off,” and “Talons.”

Illa J, Yancey Boys: I’ve read a few reviews of this album that basically mock Illa J’s approach and state that he only made this album because he got posthumously released tracks from his big brother J Dilla. I think these reviews miss the point of the album in that Illa J doesn’t fancy himself a rapper or hip-hopper, he’s a self-described singer/songwriter, so it only makes sense that what he does over Dilla beats is going to be different from Dilla’s output when he was alive. On this album, the younger Yancey proves himself musically diverse and extremely relaxed, while also recognizing the importance of respecting Dilla’s production. The tracks here are laid back and jazzy, and Illa takes no effort to listen to, he’s that easy. Click here for the full album review, and click here for my interview with Illa J. Don’t Sleep On: “R U Listenin’?” feat. Guity Simpson, “We Here,” and “DTFT” feat. Affion Crockett

J Dilla, Welcome 2 Detroit: With the way underground hip-hop is structured and feeds into the mainstream, it’s often possible for fans to miss an initial classic album from an artist, and then never check it out once they’ve gotten big because it gets lost in the new music. With Illa J’s debut album dropping this month featuring almost exclusive production from Dilla, it only made sense to make sure people were aware of J Dilla’s initial solo offering and the way it intersects with the rest of the hip-hop genre. On Welcome 2 Detroit, Dilla’s signature melodic and stoned out beats are in fine form with lyrical help from other Detroit rappers such as eLZhi (WIH6) and Phat Kat. The album, released in 2001, still sounds fresh and innovative today and features several tracks that showcase Dilla’s ability to fuse other sounds into his hip-hop such as the co-produced (Karriem Riggins) “Rico Suave Bossa Nova” and “B.B.E. (Big Booty Express)” which Dilla seems to have created in order to slip onto future releases of the 1977 Kraftwerk album Trans-Europe Express. Don’t Sleep On: “Shake It Down,” “It’s Like That,” feat. Hodge Podge and Lacks, and “Pause” feat. Frank-N-Dank.

Jedi Mind Tricks, A History of Violence: Underground hip-hop mainstays Jedi Mind Tricks return for their 6th studio album with more hard hitting tracks, masterful production and intricate lyrics. The conspiracy themes from previous albums remain here, and the production draws from interesting samples such as the strings and haunting foreign lyrics on “Monolith” and the sparse flute in “Trail of Lies.” The lyrical deliveries on these tracks are tight, concise and deep in content, and on the whole, the album is a display of exceptional craft from artists working together with a common musical vision and knowledge of their strengths. Don’t Sleep On: “Trail of Lies,” “Death Messiah,” and “Heavy Artillery.”

Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreaks: Following the death of his mother, I was wondering what the latest output from an artist so in touch with his emotions and personal experiences would sound like. On the one hand, I could see West shaking off the events of the last year or so and putting out his most bouncy and sample-laden disc to date. On the opposite end of that, I could imagine West delving deep into what was going on and producing an intensely personal album. On 808s, West moves in a direction completely opposite of the roads he’s traveled before, and comes out all the better for it. Let’s be clear. 808s is not an album for anyone expecting the continuation of sound and work from West’s previous three albums, and it’s not an album that everyone is going to enjoy musically. Using an 808 drum machine and extensively using Auto-Tune to sing rather than rap, West has produced a stripped down and emotionally raw album. Heavy on synths and in points retro-80s sounds (tracks here could have made an Aphex Twin or Tricky album), West lays bare what’s going on with him and refuses to apologize for the new direction of his music. What’s amazing is that while I think the roster of musicians today who could completely change course from one album to the next and do so successfully is small, Kanye does make that list with this album. Dark, personal and musically adventurous, 808s and Heartbreaks exposes West as the musician he is rather than the hip-pop clone machine he’s often typecast as. Don’t Sleep On: “Paranoid,” feat. Mr. Hudson, ” “Bad News” (which features a sample from Nina Simone‘s “See Line Woman”) and “Street Lights.”

Ludacris, Theater of the Mind: While some artists are out to create philosophically moving pieces, or to in some way further the hip-hop culture, Ludacris doesn’t concern himself with such lofty ideals. He’s about making money. A lot of it. On his 6th studio album, Ludacris returns with the formula that has made him the hottest rapper in the South’s history… pulsing and grimy beats full of horns and deep bass kicks meet with quick delivery lyrics touching on sex, violence, money and his ability to outsell other rappers. Keep in mind, I’m not saying that this formula doesn’t work for him and doesn’t have its place within rap and hip-hop, but it is without any sort of creative growth that Luda moves forward. If there’s any doubt about the kind of sales Ludacris would like to see, this album is the most saturated rap album I’ve seen in years in terms of cameo appearances. Ludacris is the lone rapper on only 2 of the 15 tracks, getting guest appearances from Floyd Mayweather (yes, the boxer), Chris Rock (yes, that comedian), Jamie Foxx (still an actor?), Common and Spike Lee (one of them is a rapper, right?), Nas, Jay-Z and current Top 40 mainstays T.I., The Game, T-Pain and Lil Wayne. This approach either means that he intends to make a lot of money based on name recognition of his guests or he realizes that to put out an album that only has him on it, he’d need to come up with full lyrics to all of his songs, a task that might seem daunting (I mean, how many times can you really come up with new raps about rims and Cadillacs?) While musically and lyrically this album isn’t challenging, it has certainly produced some tracks that we’re sure to be hearing in clubs and parties very soon. Don’t Sleep On: “Intro” (only a minute of rapping, but well worth it, and one of only 2 songs with just Luda on it), “Undisputed” feat. Floyd Mayweather, and “Wish You Would” feat. T.I.

Opio, Vuture’s Wisdom, Vol. 1: The first in a trilogy of albums to be released by Opio from Hieroglyphics with production by Architect. The idea behind the albums is that people are saying hip-hop is dead, or at least that’s the popular expression lately. Vulture’s Wisdom refers to the ability to pick what’s left of life from the bones of the deceased, and this album shows that Opio hasn’t lost any of the edge that has carried him through more than a decade in the industry as a part of the Hiero Imperium. Be on the lookout for my interview with Opio and Tajai, where they discuss their plans to release a new single every week in 2009. Don’t Sleep On: “Don Julio,” “Mind, Body and Soul,” and “Some Superfly Shit.”

Singles… these are the songs where the full album just didn’t cut it, but the songs deserve their time in your ears. Check out “4 Wind,” a multi-lingual remix of the cut from Breez Evahflowin and Dirt E. Dutch’s Troublemakers album, and the radio ready hip-pop of T-Pain songs “Can’t Believe It” featuring L’il Wayne and “Karaoke” featuring DJ Khaled where T-Pain goes off on the rest of the industry (funny coming from the guy who did “Bartender”) and claims the only cool rappers are Kanye West and L’il Wayne. Well, at least he’s consistent. There you have it, the November update… up next is the second installment of last year’s 11 Songs to Be Thankful For.

Sex and Music

The Naughtibod

The Naughtibod

We all know how nice it is to mix and match music when we’re getting saucy in the sack. Whether it’s goth lovers tearing each other apart to the noise of death metal, or the college co-eds carefully copulating to Dave Matthews, music and getting it on have gone hand in hand since bagpipes blared over the Scottish plains and the first kilt went flying, and really, probably much longer than that. But up until now, that was really only good when you had a partner. But what if you’re on a plane? Or alone in your car? Or trapped in an elevator?

That’s why iPod owners everywhere should be thanking the creators of the new Naughtibod. Measuring 5.5″ long (with 4″ of that “insertable”), the Naughtibod is bigger than your ex and moves in ways that were probably beyond his imagination. You hook it up to your iPod, play some music and enjoy. Is your iPod in color and you’re an accessory fiend? Fear not, Ms. Bradshaw, this handy musically charged vibrator comes in Bubblegum, Licorice, Blueberry, and Green Apple.

Feeling the urge on the Muni heading across town? Put on your favorite John Mayer song, close your eyes, and ignore that bum gawking at you from across the aisle. On your way to that 3 AM drunk dial that you know you should probably avoid for your own mental health? Tell the cab driver to turn around as you turn up Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes,” and by the time you get back home you’ll wonder why you would even bother going to see that lousy bastard in the first place.

Of course, Ohmibod (the company that makes these) wouldn’t want you to be unable to de-stress if your iPod runs out of batteries, so they’ve made it detachable from the Pod and battery powered for those nights when your iPod’s libido isn’t running or you just can’t pick a genre. Intrigued? Go check it out here, and the next time you see someone seriously getting down to their music, before you go ask them what they’re listening to so you can download it from iTunes when you get home, make sure it’s not just the Naughtibod that they’re enjoying. And if anyone at Ohmibod is reading this, we have some staff members who might like to give it a try… contact me for a mailing address.

Singles and Fame: Stephan Jenkins and Eminem

At the San Francisco Music Tech Summit, which MixMatchers have written about and are currently attending, Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind spoke yesterday regarding the music industry and its future. While I have inside word that the introduction given to Mr. Jenkins’ was a bit gaudy and overblown, he had some interesting thoughts on the future of music and music downloads. What I found most intriguing about his comments was the support he seems to exhibit for the thought process I’ve followed the past couple months, especially in the “What I’m Hearing Now” posts, that the more control the consumer has over what they buy, as opposed to what they’re forcefed by labels (think full albums for $17), the more interested they’re going to be, and the less potential for album filler will exist.

While I think the album can remain an integral part of the music industry, the time when it ruled the Earth is done and gone. There’s a lot of bands out there that don’t deserve full albums, or simply don’t have enough quality material to fill one. Furthermore, with more and more options in terms of buying music, consumers have no reason to buy larger albums when they can save money and have only the music they want. Let’s not forget that not only does the full album raise the price considerations, but simultaneously eats into storage space which can cost additional money in CD and external hard drive back up options. Personally, I’ll listen to every song sample of an album on iTunes. I then make an album purchase decision based on the number of tracks I like enough on their own to buy, and if the difference between that cost and the full album cost makes sense. When I speak of albums remaining an integral part of the industry, I’m speaking of concept albums and others where the coherency and enjoyable aspect of the music is tied directly to its place in the entire album. I think Radiohead’s Kid A, Dave Matthews Band’s Before These Crowded Streets, and edIT’s Crying Over Pros for No Reason are all examples of albums where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

In other music news I found interesting, Eminem has been out interviewing with folks in advance of his new release. Apparently, in hiding, Em has been working on the album Relapse with Dr. Dre for quite some time. Given that chatter is starting to heat up regarding Dr. Dre’s long-awaited Detox album, one has to wonder how much cross-over work is being done by these two, and if and to what extent they influenced each other on albums coming many years after their most recent predecessors. But it’s nice to know that Eminem has had his share of fame and now would just like to make music…he’s been at his best when he concentrates on what brought him to the dance.

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.


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