Monday, February 26, 2007

Digital Music Forum East

I'm going to be in NY for a couple of days at the Digital Music Forum East conference. If any of you guys are going to be there, let me know.

Otherwise, I hope to have some interesting posts following the conference.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Hands On: Critical Metrics

I stumbled across Critical Metrics a couple of weeks ago, quickly tagged it as a a music review aggegrator (similar to MetaCritic, or Parsefork). I came back to it this week, and realized it had a lot more going on that I had originally given it credit for.

Music review aggregation is a, if not *the* major component of the service - but from major publications like NME, Rolling Stone, Blender & Spin - in addition to major music blogs like Stereogum). But, it is also part MP3 aggegator (like The Hype Machine), part YouTube mashup and part playlisting site (like Fiql).

Here's how it works:
  • they filter all recommendations and all reviews ranked four stars or greater during the user selected time period, displaying the "most highly rated, diversely recommended, broadly circulated and recent results first"
  • users can filter by review source or category (e.g. "hip hop publications")
  • next to every song is a list of the relevant review snippets and their sources - with links back to the source publication (click the expand button to open the listing to see more)

  • as a nice bonus, they will pull in music videos for the song from YouTube if available
  • coming soon is the ability to deep-link to any number of music stores/service providers to buy/download the song
  • you can play the song (in-page) via a simple and slick little flash interface
  • quickly add songs to one or more playlists
  • also in development is the ability to export these playlists into other services (like Rhapsody and eMusic)
  • share you playlists via custom URLs that bring others pack to their site - I assume they will soon have embeddable players too, but don't appear to have them yet

One of my issues with in-page playback is that you essentially get "trapped" on a page, if you follow any of the links the song you are listening to stops playing. It looks like they are remedying that by including an pop-up player (based on the open source XSPF Web Player) although it seems buggy right now and wouldn't load the playlists.

There is also no notion of community, users are annonymous (which is nice in some ways since there is no registration required - but this cookie-based way of identifying me means that the playlists I create on this machine aren't available to me on my work machine (unless I email or post the share link somewhere I can get to it). It also means that comments I leave on songs have no attribution, but I'm guessing that is in the works.

But, all-in-all, Critical Metrics is a very slick site and service with a lot of potential. I'll see if it sticks as part of my daily routine.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Viacom to acquire

Viacom executives are in London negotiating the purchase of LastFM, the London based "online social music network" (read: internet radio station), according to a music business source familiar with the negotiations. The purchase price is said to be $450 million dollars.

I don't know how real this story is, but certainly interesting. I've made no secret that I think is an acquisition target for someone... but I didn't figure Viacom (I would assume with MTV being the main benefactor of such an acquistion). I guess they are looking to fill the void left by a missed YouTube opportunity?

Monday, February 19, 2007 Update

The beta I talked about a couple weeks ago is now public to all. It's got a couple of new embeddable widgets.

A "album cover quilt" of top albums:

And a player that plays back in page and can be "popped" out of the page so that you can continue to listen even when you navigate to another page.

Suppossedly, your radio stations are easier to find now... but they moved it out of the sidebar and I actually had a hard time finding them. But, they now also generate "user radio" for everyone (not just subscribers). The catch is that you aren't allowed to listen to your own station unless you pay. I'm sure this is due to the DMCA compulsory license stipulation that you can't have too much interactivity in the creation of your own station. Of course, I have had no interaction with YOUR station... hence the ability for you to create one, even though you can't listen to it.

Other features include:

  • Playlists (of full-length tracks and 30-second samples)
  • Contact/address book import (supports AOL, Yahoo, Gmail and MSN mail accounts)
  • Inline playback from the charts

Saturday, February 17, 2007


What: This program will look for tracks played from Real's Rhapsody service and submit them to the Audioscrobbler database.

Why: Tracks you listen to from Rhapsody will appear in your Last.FM profile.

I found this RhapsodyScrobbler mashup on ProgrammableWeb at the end of last year and was very excited by it. Unfortunately, something wacky with my PC and/or network kept this from working for me, but hopefully you guys won't have the same problems.

I think it is pretty clever in its approach... basically it just pulls in your Rhapsody Just Played feed, parses it and then submits it to using their plug-in protocol. It would be great to see more work done on this that it supported other web-based players/services via standard RSS too.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


I realize I've been quiet for a couple of days. Things have been hectic, and today I just got a shiny new Macbook Pro delivered to my desk. So, I'm probably going to be consumed with it through the weekend and my posts may be light until next week.

I used to be a Mac guy... but made the switch to Windows back in the early 90's and didn't think I'd ever come back to Apple. I'm not sure if this is going to be my primary machine yet, but I've got Parallels running on it so I'll see how much I can get away with on a single machine.

I'm loading up with "essential OS X downloads" right now. So, if you guys have things that you think are must haves, I'd appreciate any leads.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Mobile Music - All You Can Eat from MusicStation

Thanks to Hypebot, I just learned about Omnifone's new MusicStation service that is launching (outside the US) in partnership with Musiwave (a division of Openwave) and 23 of their 35 different mobile carrier partners - giving them a total addressable market of 690 million users. The first commercial rollouts will be Scandinavian network operator Telenor and Vodafone partner network Vodacom in South Africa beginning in Q207. Other countries where they have partnerships include: Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and UK - most looking at Q3 rollouts or later.

If the service works as advertised, it seems pretty compelling. Basically, there is an incremental fee of 2 to 3 euros/week (8 - 12 euros/month) added to your mobile bill for the right to download and stream as much content from their 1.2 million track catalog as your heart desires (or your phone can handle). This includes the ability to stream one song while downloading another in the background. The weekly fees are inclusive of the data fees - where the higher subscription fees allow you to transfer the tracks that you downloaded to your phone back over to a PC. These tracks can *not* be burned to a CD, and it is unclear whether they can be synced to another mobile device.

The service works on "most" phones (symbian, java, 2.5g, 3g, etc), although Windows Mobile is conspicuosly missing from the list. The service has many "music 2.0" features including user playlist creation/sharing, charts, recommendations, member profiles, and the like. It also will send news, new release alerts and other related information on your favorite artists to your phone. Presumably, this is based on your listening history and doesn't require you to do anything special to receive this info besides just listening to your music.

As with all subscription services, sharing is easy.... if I'm a subscriber and you're a subscriber, we can "share" all we want. In that scenario we are sharing little more than a link to the asset on the service, but the consumer experience is seamless.

Other specs:

  • Tracks are encoded as eAAC+ (Enhanced Advanced Audio Coding)

  • Uses "industry standard" DRM is used (unclear as to which specifically, although it is not WMDRM)

  • The application comes pre-installed on specific handsets

  • Includes content from all major labels as well as many indies and aggregates

  • Automatically stores a user's favorite tracks on the phone's internal or removable memory (This means that users can access their favourite tracks when in Flight Safe mode and access the full catalogue when connected to a 2.5G or 3G data network)

  • It's play-on-demand capabilities (streaming) means their charts track most played tracks (instead of just most downloaded) - similar to most subscription services as compared to download stores like iTunes

  • Uses collaborative filtering and nearest-neighbor technology to identify new tracks, artists, albums and other users that are likely to be of interest

  • Message other consumers, sending recommended tracks, albums, playlists and messages

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Yahoo Music Shakeup

Industry shake-up.... Yahoo's Music group is undergoing a changing of the guard. It will be interesting to see what effect it has on their strategy and commitment in the subscription music space. The Economics of Content: "two of the longtime fixtures at Yahoo’s music group have resigned, and the company says it is for personal reasons. Dave Goldberg (VP) and Bob Roback (GM), both of whom came into Yahoo through Yahoo’s acquisition of Launch in 2001, are out, and Vince Broady, Head of Entertainment and Games at Yahoo, is overlooking the division now as part of his broader responsibilities. "

For the record, Goldberg has long been a proponent of abolishing DRM, and perhaps he just got tired of waiting?

UPDATE: Techcrunch is actually reporting that they are hearing rumors that Yahoo may be looking to divest of some/all of their music properties.

Deja Vu DRM

If you look around the room and don't see any crazy people, then you might be the one that is off his rocker. I'm baffled by this announcement from Microsoft....

Microsoft Announces Breakthrough Technology Enabling Simple Access to Broad Set of Digital Content, Including Music, Games, Video, Ring Tones and Pictures: Microsoft PlayReady powers next-generation media experiences on mobile networks; mobile: "Microsoft PlayReady technology enables a broad spectrum of business models such as subscription, rental, pay-per-view, preview and super-distribution, which can be applied to many digital content types and a wide range of audio and video formats."

They are introducing a new DRM scheme that they are promoting to content distributors and device manufacturers - this is after they just royally screwed everyone in the portable media player/music space by basicaly abandoning "Plays For Sure" in favor of their own closed-DRM ecosystem around the Zune. They are also said to be working on a Zune Phone, that would then compete with all of the phone manufacturers that they are pitching "PlayReady" to.

Fool me once Microsoft..... you won't be fooled again.

UPDATE: There is an interesting exchange between Wired and a Microsoft spokesman on the subject here.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Grammy Listening Party

As I'm watching the Grammys, I thought I'd let you guys know that you can hear the full CD of 20 different Grammy nominated albums on AOL Music. Check it out here:

Old Posts

Some of you that subscribe to this feed will notice a bunch of my old feeds re-surfacing and appearing like new posts. Nothing is new in these posts, I was just going back and adding some labels/tags to my old ones.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Add Some Juice to Streampad for a Tasty, On-the-Go, Treat

I have a feeling I'm late to the game here, but as I was struggling through the process of trying to download songs one at a I time while using Streampad, it finally struck me that a great compliment to this streaming media web application is a small podcatching client. Honestly, I'm a bit embarrassed that it took me this long to come to this realization, the concept is one I'm very familiar with (and fond of) from Music Now.

Simply copy the RSS feed URL (from the details window in the lower left) for any playlist that you have created, subscribed to, or that Streampad created using their very useful PageStreamer bookmarklet:

Paste that URL into your podcasting receiver of choice (I'm using Juice - the artist formerly known as iPodder), and let it run. Now you've got all of the songs from your playlists on your machine where you can then sync, burn or listen offline.

The beauty of the PageStreamer capability is that you can easily subscribe to (and download) songs from your favorite music blog with no work required beyond adding the URL ("Open URL") and clicking "subscribe" and then taking the resulting feed URL into your client (as shown above).

When Stereogum (for example) adds a new review and MP3, it just flows to you - ready to throw on your portable device the next time you sync.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Linkroll Broken

A couple of people pinged me today wondering where their companies went in my linkroll in the sidebar. It seems that the script I am using maxes out at 100 items, and they were rolling off the list in order of tenure. So, you will see that a number of very prominent companies in the space aren't in the sidebar, including notables like:

And a number of others. I'll have to find another script that lets me display more links, but in the meantime you can always see/subscribe to the entire list here:

Sorry guys, I wasn't dissing you.... but thanks for bringing it to my attention

The Beatles + EMI + iTunes + Unprotected MP3s = The Perfect Storm

Not that I need to tell you guys, but things are moving fast in the digital music space. The DRM dike is springing leaks and Edgar Bronfman doesn't have enough fingers to plug the holes...

Are we in the making of a perfect storm? Let's look at what is going on:

You see where this is going, right? Steve Job's is going to stroll on stage and announce that iTunes has the entire Beatles catalog... and it is available as unprotected MP3s. The flood gates open, they sell billions of tracks, EMI makes a boatload, the digital music consumers go crazy, everyone that isn't yet a digital music consumer becomes one, Apple sells a billion more iPods. Kaboom!

Hold on to your seats... this could be the big one.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Virtual Worlds and Fair Use

I've been checking out Second Life a bit recently. I think virtual worlds are interesting, but I have yet to really get involved in any substantial way. But, the complexities that swirl around copyrights and virtual worlds got my head spinning a little bit.

First of all, I'm no lawyer (INL) and I don't claim to fully grasp all the issues, but this is the scenario that gets me thinking...

  • I can have a party at my house, invite hundreds of people, and play my music to them all - or have any of them pick any song to play at any time... fair use, right?
  • I can NOT take that same music and put it on my website and invite those same hundreds people to pick from the same songs and stream them on demand... the RIAA and copyright holders would have a fit

Now, what happens if I have a virtual house in Second Life? What happens if it's a mansion? With it's own ampitheater? Can I invite thousands of people to come and listen to my music? Can I leave my music collection exposed on my virtual PC, connected to my virtual stereo in my virtual living room? And leave my virtual front door unlocked? And put a big billboard in my front yard that says, "come on in and listen to my music". Is if fair use? What if someone at my party wanted us all to listen to their music (something I didn't have)... could we all teleport to their virtual house and listen to their virtual stereo? What if I created a playlist out of all of the MP3s that existed in the virutal world, and when I listened my virtual self just teleported from house to house to house? Obviously there is a line where things are more obvious infringements... but where is that line?

My head hurts... yours?

Brett Dennen

I just stumbled across Brett Dennen on Streampad.... this is my song du jour. If a song can actually grab my attention while I'm working, then I know it's got something special.

Take a listen...

Multiple Personalities?

So, recently I've had a couple people reach out to me with the idea of adding multiple editors/voices to this blog (and had interest in contributing). As those of you that blog yourselves, you certainly understand that it is hard work keeping it fresh, opiniated and interesting... especially for those of us that have day jobs too.

I read lots of one-person music and technology blogs, and I'm guessing some of you reading this are the ones who I read as well. So, the question is... should we pool together to create a sort of "Techcrunch" focused on music and related technologies? Or perhaps just pull together a front-end site that aggregates all of our posts on our own indvidual blogs?

If you're interested, or have some ideas, either comment below or send me an email at jherskowitz (at)

Web 2.0... The Machine is Us/ing Us

This video was making the rounds early this week, and I thought it was great. Creative, informative, entertaining... it is one of the things that makes YouTube so powerful.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Artist Capital and the User Generated Record Label

I scribble down ideas. It used to be a lot of ideas, now it is far fewer. But one idea that I was always fond of was one from several years ago around the notion of "artist capital" - or more accurately, establishing a virtual stock makret where fans can invest in up-and-coming artists.

Most of the ideas I jot down are really high-level, usually just a few bullet points and a sketch, and this particular one said little more than:
  • Network of entertainment/music financieers and music distribution infrastructure
  • Songs are posted/distributed, people can "invest" in the band
  • Established bands can raise money for tour and merchandise without using their own money
  • Investment can be used for studio time/production, video production and/or marketing promotion
  • Investors share in the profit of band's earnings (tours, downloads, merchandise, etc.)
  • Eliminates traditional record label infrastructure

So, I was very excited to see that somone (obviously far more motivated than I) got a very similar model and service built for indie artists. It is called SellaBand, they are run by some ex-major label guys in Europe, and I just discovered them yesterday. I think they have done some very interesting things, and obviously have a nicely flushed out model with some interesting angles that I had never thought of.

Here's how it works...

Sellers (the artist), post their content (generally demos) to where investors (the fans) can find them and listen. If the fan is a "believer" they can then invest $10 in the artist. Once the artist has 5000 believers (aka $50K raised), SellaBand will then finance a recording studio, producer, A&R consultant and physical CD production. They take the resulting content and make it available for free to the public (presumably as unprotected MP3s) for download. They also send each investor a physical CD (there's their $10 back right there).

Where's the money? Well, SellaBand does a 3 way advertising revenue share between themselves, the artists, and the investors. The split between groups of sellers/believers is based on the popularity of the artist's content on the site. Additionally, they will provide CDs for the artists to sell at their shows (or online).... the revenue from each CD is sold is split 50/50 between the artist and the investor. It looks like they are getting ready to launch a webshop soon for artist merchandise, and I'm guessing a similar revenue share model will be instituted there.

I'm biased, but I love this concept. The artists have a vested interest, the fans have a vested interest to promote their artist, and the consumers win with free MP3s. The only thing I'm leary of is the advertising revenue (how much is there to split), and the fact that to generate the ad-revenue Sellaband needs to bring everyone to their front-door (limiting syndication/viral distribution opportunities). I think there are solutions to both, and it will be interesting to see if (and how) the model is tweaked in the future.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

More Thoughts on Jobs' Thoughts

So, I was trading emails with a very smart music-technologist/friend of mine on the topic of "what happens to Apple in a DRMless world", and he brought up some very interesting points. I'd love to share his whole email, but I'll leave that to him if he wants to post it (here or somewhere else).

To paraphrase, he thinks that by getting Apple to (help) convince the labels to go DRMless, the boys in Cupertino would benefit in a number of ways:
  • it makes the pending European lawsuits around Apple's closed-system a moot point
  • it also deflects much of the bad press that Apple has been getting recently about their closed system onto the labels who inflicted it upon them
  • it shuts the labels up who are complaining that Apple has too much influence
  • it completely undercuts the subscription music business model
  • it could be a death blow to companies like eMusic - Apple could quickly turn on unprotected indie + major content, it may take eMusic longer to do so

I think these are some good points, although I'd argue the point about it killing subscription services. I agree that a move like this would force the subscription guys to re-tool their model slightly. For example, the $15/month "to-go" models would not be sustainable in a world where users can sync and burn any track they get as often as they want. But, it *may* enable some interesting moves around marketplaces that support variable pricing of tracks (for example, Amie Street prices tracks based on their popularity).

Ultimately, what I think it would do is create subscription and/or advertising play-on-demand streaming (only) services. All of a sudden, those services whose content and links are most widely syndicated (Rhapsody and come to mind) can flip on a model where for a small fee ($5/month?) anyone that stumbles across one of their playlists, charts, widgets, etc. can stream all songs in their entirety. Obviously, you could go to their destinations as well and listen all day long. If you want to take a song "to-go", then you pay for them and download an unprotected track at $1/pop (or less). While this could also be done with some of the free streaming services like Streampad, Webjay and others, what you lose with those is Quality of Service.... I'm a fan of those services, but the fact that I often hit dead links has me wondering how long before consumers get fed up (like back in the Napster 1.0 days where half the files you downloaded were corrupt, sounded horrible or were not the track they pretended to be).

As with most of my posts, this opinion is a work in progress, but I'd be interested in what others think.

Steve Jobs - Thoughts on Music

Steve Jobs has just posted an open letter to the major labels telling them to free their content and sell unprotected MP3s.

Apple - Thoughts on Music:

"The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music."

The main points he makes are:

  • You can't be succesful licensing DRM schemes since the more widely distributed they are, the easier they are to crack (since more people know how they work)
  • In his estimation, less than 10% of all music sold is unprotected (read: CDs) and requiring the digital providers to enforce it while the physical media doesn't won't solve the music industry's problems

I think both are valid points. Where it gets a little more sticky is with subscription services.... totally unprotected all-you-can eat would undoubtedly require a different business model than $15/month. Basically, most would need to move to a model more closely aligned to a wireless carrier model where you purchase the right to use X minutes (or songs)/month. Some providers may choose to have these be use-it-or-lose it credits, while others may offer rollover credits.

I'm sure I'll be thinking about this more tonight, and may add some more thoughts later....

Monday, February 05, 2007


So, I took a quick dip into Radio.Blog.Club. On the surface, it appears that Radio.Blog.Club is the flipside of The Hype Machine.

Where The Hype Machine finds and aggregates all of the MP3s that bloggers are talking about (and their readers are listening to), Radio.Blog.Club gives bloggers the ability to easily find, and embed, an MP3 into their blog (presumably with a bunch of their own editorial wrapped around it).

In honor of the a great half-time performance, here's one of my "guilty pleasures" from my youth (although I feel much less guilty about it now then I did then).

Social Music Overview: Techcrunch

Social Music Overview

For those of you that have been here before, you've read me talk about most of the half-dozen "social music" companies that Techcrunch covers. The only notalbe exception is RadioBlogClub, which I have tagged but have never really gotten into detail on.

Perhaps that will be my next post....

instructables : Convert DRMed WMA files to Usable MP3s

instructables : Convert DRMed WMA files to Usable MP3s

It looks like FairUse4WM is resurfacing again. Above is a link to an article that walks users through the process of stripping Windows Media DRM off of either subscription or purchased tracks, convert them to MP3s and add ID3 tags. I've never tried it (honestly!), but I know that some people have been asking how to do this... particularly those that are coming from a subscription service that is being absorbed (e.g. Music Now and Virgin).

I will continue to subscribe to one of these services once my Music Now account disappears, but I'm not excited by the proposition of having to redownload the thousands of tracks I currently have... let alone having to re-sync them to all of my different devices.

As I've said before, even if I could unlock all of my subscription tracks, I would *still* subscribe (as I believe most current subscribers would do). That is because the value to me is having easy access to everything that is NEW - as well as benefiting from the really solid programming and discovery mechanisms that most of these services have built.

When all is said and done, services are worth paying for, if they provide value and guarantee Quality of Service. Back in the day, I sold a first generation DirecTV box for a premium to a friend of mine because they were easy to find pirated smartcards that would unlock virtually every channel. My friend did this for a while, but after a while it just became a pain in the ass to reprogram it every few weeks to keep up with the latest changes. Guess what he does now.... he pays for the services he uses, becauses it's easier.

If you are looking to try this yourself, just google for "fairuse4wm.exe" and you can find version 1.3 pretty easily.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Great MP3 Experiment

Rumor has it that one of the major labels is going to release some unprotected (yet watermarked) MP3s into the wild, and then are going to study what percentage of the illegally traded content was from digital downloads versus pure-and-simple CD ripping. What I would expect to see is that the vast majority of pirated material is actually coming off of the CD sources themselves - if the labels realize that as well, then this may be what starts the DRMless trials in earnest.

It will be fun to watch....

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Music Video Widget

This is pretty cool. Using Truveo (now part of AOL), you can create a video search query (at then plug the query string into the widget on to create a dynamically updated video widget on your page. It will pull content from all over the web, although in the example below I limited it to music videos from AOL Music, with a sort of "most popular today" and tagged "indie".