Sunday, January 28, 2007
This is an interesting story about the subscription music space. They highlight an apparent paradox of the current marketplace.... existing portals and online brands with lots of visitors are having a hell of a time succeeding as a consumer's preferred vendor of music service. Perhaps it is based on consumer perception that the smaller companies are specialists (compared to the big portals' generalist image)? I suppose it's possible... back when I bought CDs, I would go out of my way to go the local record store because I felt like they would better represent my tastes and be more knowledgeable than the 60 year old guy behind the counter at the superstores. I never bought a CD from Walmart or Target... it just didn't seem right to me. Is this the equivalent of what is happening in the online marketplace? Are the portals "not cool enough" for the hardcore music fans? Don't know... but something to think about.
Speaking of specialists vs. generalists, I heard this saying a while ago and it resonated with me:
"A specialist knows more and more about less and less until eventually they know everything about nothing. Conversely, a generalists knows less and less about more and more until he knows nothing about everything."
I'm sure that is somewhat butchered from it's original form, but I still like it.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
I'm not a subscriber to Last.fm's paid/premium service, so I hadn't seen this (and can't yet implement it). But, David Jennings is showing of the beta of their new embeddable flash player. You, as the embedder (if that is a word), can set it up to default to any station you want (your personal station, recommendation station, neighbor station, tag-based station, etc.)
As the visitor to a site with this player, you can listen to the default station that the embedder set, or you can change the station yourself to virtually any "similar artist stations" by simply typing in an artist name.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
So, when I wasn't looking MyStrands rolled out some new features, new UI and new integrations. High-level, the new stuff includes:
- More Mobile Support - Symbian client, Windows Mobile Client, mobile web interface
- New embeddable flash charts
- Indie radio - basically a Pandora knock-off (at least in terms of UI), but only featuring indie music
- Napster integration - giving users 2.5 million commercial full-length songs to listen to for free (based on Napster's three-play model - stream any song 3 times for free)
- New taskbar - this appears to replace the "sidecar" interface for WMP, Winamp and iTunes
- PartyStrands - send text messages and pictures, vote on songs and much more, all from your mobile phones. The partyStrands Host Display allows you to choose the music for your personal party, join your friends, add pictures to show to your friends and start music and custom votes to keep your friends interacting and entertained. You can also switch from Auto DJ, where your friends choose and influence the music, to Manual DJ, where partyStrands will play music from your playlists in your favorite music players.
I haven't been able to try all the new stuff out yet, but I think MyStrands does many things better than Last.fm. Where they fell behind (IMO) was in not offering an audio consumption experience (e.g. radio).... Last.fm built out a consumer destination that build an audience and created habitual usage. Conversely, MyStrands seems more focused on building out the technology, patent portfolio and capabilities and pursued a B2B licensing model.
As I recommend to anyone playing with MyStrands, check out their "Labs" stuff - this is where some of the real interesting stuff resides (including Rhapsody and Last.fm mashups and some very nice data visualizations).
- Chinese search portal Baidu.com and EMI launch free all-you-can-eat streaming
- Ruckus opens up free downloads of their entire catalog to anyone with a .edu email address (including alums - if you just fib and say you are an active student)
- SpiralFrog in a death spiral - most of executive management departs
The question I have is... are startups like Streampad making this a moot point? You will notice that last week a Streampad widget showed up in my sidebar. I've just got it pulling what's hot on Hype Machine (which in turn is creating a playlist of MP3s from different locations all over the web). So, that playlist is dynamic and updates in real-time based on what people are blogging about and listening too. Or you can simply log into Streampad and search (a la SingingFish) - find a list of freely available MP3s and stream them to your heart's content via their embedded player. You could just as easily create your own playlist and embed that on your page - like this one:
Streampad also has some other cool features hidden in there. They (or is it just he - that being Dan Kantor, ex-Microsoft and De.licio.us developer) are working on remote-access to my own files (a la Orb). A small but potentially powerful music community. Integration with MP3tunes locker (find a song you like - copy it to your online locker). Also some other nice value-added mashups of listener maps and related information - as well as integrated reporting/scrobbling back to your Last.fm account.
Monday, January 22, 2007
It's nice in that it gives you quick access to your controls from the application most people have open all day... their browser. The Foxytunes guys then started pulling together some cool mashups based on what you are listening too (one click to Lyrics Search, Amazon, and others).
Well, yesterday I got invited into the beta for Foxytunes Planet - which basically pulls all of this information into a single destination - and positions itself as a music search platform.
You search for an artist, and you get a page that surfaces:
- Photos from Flickr
- Videos from YouTube
- Artist Radio from Pandora
- Similar Artist and Fan Radio from Last.fm
- Related Artist info from Last.fm
- MP3s as aggregated by The Hype Machine
- Albums from Amazon
- Search Results from Google
- Catalog on Rhapsody.com
Optionally, you can add other widgets to each Artist page including
So, while you are listening to a song, you click the "Planet" icon in the Foxytunes browser tool bar and it will spawn a window with all of this info about the artist you are listening to.
In that way, it is similar to Sleevenotez, but unlike that application - it doesn't suffer the lag time introduced by waiting on a data roundtrip to/from Last.fm's servers. Give it a shot and let me know what you guys think.
Note to Foxytunes guys: Any way to create an AIM plug-in and provide the controls in my instant messaging client? Unlike my browser, my Buddy List is one of my few applications that are actually maximized all day long.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
To me it appears like the labels have become the exact opposite of what they were founded to be. Back in the day, the biggest draw of a major label to an artist was the fact that they would promote them, get them radio airplay, get their music distributed. Now? Well, now they spend there time and effort making sure there artists *can't* be heard. How does that pitch go to an up-and-coming artist?? "If you sign with us, we'll make sure that everyone knows who you are, but no one has actually heard you!" Brilliant!
Yes, the amount I don't know about the inner working of a major label could fill the internet's "series of tubes". But, the labels have fallen prey to what many other companies have.... they have forgotten to look at the business from the consumer-perspective. Create a great consumer experience, then optimize for profit after that. So many today have it backwards.
I was just thinking about the newspaper business as an analogy to the music business. What helped them become so successful decades ago? They made it easy to consume their product. You could get it anywhere, easily. The delivered it to your door. Is it easy to steal newspapers? Absolutely, but most don't - because it is easier to NOT steal it. Guess what... if my Sunday newspaper wasn't legible half the time, or the newspaper box on the corner made me jump through hoops to validate I was who I said I was, then it would be easier for me to just swipe one from outside 7-11. Can I share my newspaper? Absolutely. Does that hurt the newspaper's bottom-line in any substantial way? Highly doubtful. Because people don't want to just read the same newspaper over and over again. If they do, then let them... they are not your real consumer base anyways.
The labels are suing the satellite radio guys for introducing devices that can record content. The Home Audio Act of 1992 established that recording something off of radio was covered under Fair Use. Why is this not? Well, the quote I saw from the suit was "it is manifestly apparent that the use of a radio-cassette player to record songs played over free radio does not threaten the market for copyrighted works as does the use of a recorder which stores songs from private radio broadcasts on a subscription fee basis.” That is a scary statement, and a slippery slope for consumer's rights. What's next, my TiVo won't be able to record movies off HBO?
Note to the major labels: Love your consumers, and they will love you back. Treat us like criminals and we will go elsewhere for our love.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
I've been a fan of Orb for a couple of years. Their remote access + transcoding/transrating engine has enabled me to stream music, tv and videos to my Smartphone while in my car, sitting in an airport, or just showing of to friends... "look I'm watching The Daily Show on my phone!". They also power the relatively new "Winamp Remote" feature of Winamp 5.3.
This relatively easy "hack" (if you can even call it that) now enable Wii owners to listen to their music over their stereo.
Orb brings iTunes to Wii console | Reg Hardware: "Demonstrating that you can do convergence on a budget, Orb claims that Nintendo Wii owners have downloaded 50,000 copies of its software that permits them to access their home music and photo collections on their games consoles."
Personally, I use a Media Center PC connected to a first generation "Media Center Extender" (from HP). I think I'm one of the few that actually own one of those things, but it gets the job done (with varying degrees of success - depending on whether I'm trying to stream audio or video over my 802.11g network). It's a nice step up from the Turtle Beach Audiotron that I used to use (or the 50 foot RCA cables connected to the mini-jack Y-adapter connected to my soundcard that I used before that). The question that I'm starting to ask myself, is what will I use next? Vista + Xbox360? AppleTV? Some other Set-Top Box? Not sure yet, but when I decide I will let you guys know...
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
The iPod maker is expected to make two announcements, possibly as early as this week - the first will be to allow streaming of protected AAC content via USB; the second will be to licence its Fairplay DRM to the company's Made For iPod licensees.
This is an interesting move that I hadn't been aware of. Apple is now opening up pieces of Fairplay so that others can benefit and the consumers aren't *completely* locked in. Interestingly, as the market is demanding (and even some of the major labels are moving towards) a DRM-less ecosystem, the company with arguably the biggest amount to lose in that scenario is Apple.
MP3s are the great equalizer. While it is certainly not the best audio compression scheme, it is obviously the most widely supported. Virtually every media device on the plant can play an MP3. So, if MP3s become the standard, then iTunes will have to start selling unprotected MP3s to compete. Then a song you bought on iTunes could play anywhere - which granted, will still most commonly be an iPod. But, the rest of the market would also be selling content that would play on an iPod (and an iPhone). At that point, do you care where you buy your content? It may be in the virtual check-out line, could be from a news story, or a review on Pitchfork. The backend provider is almost marginalized, and others will be building compelling applications on top of their catalogs - give they pennies to MusicNet, keep the dollars from the ad revenue. Just look at what companies like Yottamusic are already beginning to do.
It will be interesting to see how hard Apple fights to keep DRM part of the online music market - and to what extent it becomes a liability in consumers' eyes. Apple has done a great job convincing people that when they buy a song from iTunes they "own" it and can do with it whatever they please. Steve Jobs has a gift that way... he tells people what to believe, and when to believe it, and they do. Sign me up for that. That's magic.
- Birdmonster = no results
- The Thermals = no results
- U2 = 2 results (although both results were the same song)
I also got a bunch of songs that I would consider "crap" based on my selections. Artists such as "Ace of Base", "Hillary Duff", etc. It's not a stretch to understand that U2 could very well be played on the same station as those others (considering their popularity and widespread appeal), but I was hoping for a little more intelligence based on the context of my other selections (Birdmonster/The Thermals).
More disappointingly, once "clipped" the song was actually cropped in the middle and turned into two separate MP3s - one with the first half of the song, the other with the second half. Obviously a bug that I hope will be resolved soon.
The other (more) major issue is that there are no settings allowing you to specify a minimum bitrate for the songs that you wanted. Obviously, doing so would result in less matches, and a longer amount of time required to get what you are interested it, but my U2 song(s) were at 24kbps/MONO(!). This is a function of the station that is broadcasting it, but I would like to bea able to filter those out. Basically, songs at that low quality are not something I would ever want to sync to my portable and listen to repeatedly.
So, I'm going to give Broadclip more time to cook before I try them again. I still think it is interesting, but not yet ready for primetime.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
One of the more interesting things I saw at CES just went into beta this week. Broadclip started off focused on TV (if your PC had a TV tuner), but have just added the music features. Here's how it basically works:
- You download a little agent to your PC (runs in the systray)
- You go to their website and tell them what bands you like. Search for an artist then "clip it".
- They search the SHOUTcast directory for stations that are likely to play those artists
- They trigger their app on your PC to record those stations in the background (stream rip) while they keep a time-synchronized record of what songs were played when. So, on your PC exists a big contiguous MP3 of dozens of songs.
- You go back to their website to see what songs you now have in that file. You can pick particular songs and then will then tell the agent on your PC to "clip" out the songs you want and/or throw away the ones you don't.
- It doesn't clip out just that one song (more like a block of 4 or 5 songs around it), but with a basic audio editor you could easily clip just the one song you want.
They are claiming protection under fair-use and that it is just "tivo for internet radio". But I have a feeling that the RIAA isn't going to see it that way. Also, I'm assuming that if the PERFORM act is passed (and radio stations have to be DRM'd) then that would break it as well.
I'm just now checking it out. I've selected 2 relatively obscure (Birdmonster, The Thermals) and 1 big artist (U2) and had it running for about an hour. So far it hasn't picked up any songs by either of them but I'll let it run all night and see what it turns up in the morning.
Monday, January 15, 2007
He has also got a separate wishlist for Pandora features that you can vote on. Great stuff, check it all out.
Friday, January 12, 2007
It is a Wi-Fi-pod based on Zing's media platform, and looks pretty slick. With Sandisk's relationship with Real, and there recent support for Real's DRM scheme (in addtion to PlaysForSure) - I'm sure there are lots of compelling download-to-device and sharing use cases in the works. Unfortunately, I missed this device at CES but I'm sure we will see a lot more about it in the coming weeks.
Also, AOL's Tegic division (who acquired WildSeed last year) showed off their wireless-enabled media platform and will be working with Chinese up-and-coming manufacturer, Haier, to bring that to market this year.
Finally, iRiver also announced a Wi-Fi player as well. I didn't see this one at the show either, but the renderings look pretty nice.
I should have had in my 2007 predictions.... "this will be the year where people besides Apple start to do devices right".
Well, this day has been looming over my head for a few months, and unfortunately it has finally arrived. It's like watching your beloved pet slowly dying and you know you are going to have to put it to sleep. You have to keep positive, and enjoy your last days together, knowing that one day it will have to end.
AOL signs Napster as its sole music subscription service - Jan. 12, 2007: "Napster to replace AOL Music Now AOL tells Music Now's 350,000 customers that their accounts will be converted to Napster unless they opt out; transfer should be finished within 60 days."
Napster now has Virgin and AOL's music subscribers (and who knows... maybe more to come). Hopefully they are simultaneously working on a DRM alternative (or better yet, working on a major-label sanctioned DRM-less offering) so that Microsoft's PlaysforSure program's pending demise doesn't leave them out in the cold.
So, where does someone like myself (product lead on Music Now for the last 1 1/2 years) now go for my subscription music service provider? I'm not sure yet. I'm going to start my evaluations (as a consumer) all over again... Napster, Rhapsody, eMusic. iTunes? Nope. I'm sworn off of iTunes and basic a la carte offerings. I love subscription music services, and until Apple offers me one, then I'm going to pursue other providers.
UPDATED COVERAGE FROM NEW YORK TIMES
Thursday, January 11, 2007
As for the attendees at CES itself... most of it was relatively boring in my opinion. Lots of HDTVs as always, but this year they are just bigger and better resolution. Dual mode HD-DVD/Blu-Ray players that cost as much as stacking a dedicated HD-DVD player on top of a dedicated Blu-Ray player. More iPod accessories than you can shake a stick at.
I finally made it over to the Sands Convention center (where the smaller companies where), and that is where the more intersting stuff was. Sling was there with quite a crowd. Torian, the Aussie company with a wi-fi portable radio, was there. A couple of EVDO/WiFi routers that you mount in your car's trunk and turns you vehicle into a dedicated hotspot at 70 mph. Moxi is entering the retail channel this year with the set-top box/entertainment center/DVR.
There were a handful of other things that I thought were relatively interesting, but my brain is resting right now and unable to recall what they were...
Sunday, January 07, 2007
I agree that the death of DRM would the digital music equivalent of the Berlin Wall coming down. But, I think that if/when this happens, then Microsoft is actually in a really good place with the Zune. The sharing capabilities would instantly become compelling and all the iPod Nation would start to quickly realize that they lead in "form" but trail the rest of the device world in "function".
Although, imagine the consumer bliss if ultimtaely people with iPhones could share tracks with the Zuners, Nokia-cans and Treo-istas. Cats and dogs living together in harmony, whoa...
Friday, January 05, 2007
Hypebot has more details on the Virgin/Napster deal. Microsoft abandoning PlaysforSure may be the best thing that ever happened to Napster. It is helping to force the hand of the subscription players - basically testing them see how serious they are about competiting in the space. They either need to invest time and resources in coming up with an alternative DRM/device story, or just bailout and sell their subs to those that are willing to (apparently Napster).
Where are the Coral guys in all of this?! They should be swooping in and providing an easy migration plan and ecosystem story to all of these guys....
Thursday, January 04, 2007
The big subscription music shakeout is starting quickly in 2007.... it appears that Virgin is getting out of the business and selling off their subscribers to Napster.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
New Features in this version:
New eMusic browser tab at the bottom of the page monitors the track “now playing” and automatically displays the closest corresponding eMusic album page, artist page, or similar artist page
New “Recently Played” tab keeps a running linked list of the tracks & artists played/mashed
New “eMusic Radio Charts” tab highlights eMusic content receiving heavy airplay on various online radio services
Also, there is an iTunes (mac) plug-in that lets you select an artist from you library and "create station" in Pandora. Others also seem to be in the works:
Coming soon: More radio stations to choose from… KEXP, Seattle; WFMU, Jersey City; Soma FM, Last.fm, Selected Shoutcast stations, etc.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
He thinks Zune is dead. I think Microsoft will continue to pump money into it until they find a cure for death. Granted, the boys in Redmond have had some serious hardware failures (remember their brief foray into wireless routers, or UltimateTV?). But, many video game pundits wrote the Xbox off early on... but Microsoft decided this was far too important to their overall strategy to go quietly into this goodnight. I think the same will happen here, even though it may take a couple of years.
My other point of contention is with respect to Subscription Music services (he pinpoints Rhapsody, but I think it pertains to all). Bob seems to subscribe (no pun intended) that people want to "own their music" in the near-term (with subscription being potentially viable longer term). The thing that always has bugged me about that paradigm, is that people have never "owned" music. They own a specific recording or piece of plastic that it is delivered on. Pre-digital distribution, I bought CDs.... if I scratched that disc beyond repair, I didn't have the right to get another copy. I'd have to buy it again. Luckily the market and technology has progressed, in that, we can "own" a digital copy of the file (and redownload if it gets corrupted). That stands for both DRM'd and unprotected versions of the file.
For those that know me, you will know I am biased... I LOVE subscription music. To be it is not about "owning" music, but about being able to discover artists and albums that I would never before have access to. I can listen to millions of tracks (regardless of how I discover them). Those I like, I download. Those I don't, I just move on.
I completely agree that the issue the entire subscription music market has right now is being able to convey this value proposition to the mass public. I have been saying for a long time, that subscription music suffers from the "Tivo dilemma"... no one understood the value of Tivo, until they had one. Yes, it took time for people to understand the value, and the market grew relatively slowly as the value prop was spread virally - generally from people like me who would over-dramaticize it by saying (with a wink), "Tivo saved my marriage - instead of getting in trouble for not listening, now I can just hit pause and say 'yes dear?'".
I'm not claiming to be a marketing expert, but one of the (few) things I learned years ago in B-school.... market the benefits, not the features. People don't care about access to 2 million songs, they want to be exposed to music they know they like (or have a propensity to like based on their tastes).
My two cents (may, or may not, be worth more than your paradigms)....
Monday, January 01, 2007
- eMusic gets acquired - either by Microsoft or Amazon
- Last.fm gets acquired - smart money is on Google, but if Real was able to dig up enough of their settlement cash from Microsoft, then a Last.fm/Rhapsody combination is an extremely compelling service
- Pandora gets acquired - gotta think this is Microsoft considering they have already partnered with them for the MSN Radio relaunch
- Mercora gets sued - the labels will need to make an example of someone that they think is violating DMCA, and Mercora looks like a great target
- SpiralFrog launches with a thud - the ad supported model may eventually work for downloads, but I don't think SpiralFrog will be the ones to pull it off
- Zune slowly starts to make inroads - this is the equivalent of Microsoft Windows Mobile (CE) vs. Palm OS battle of last decade.... MS will spend enough time and effort to make this work for them
- Apple iTV will get lukewarm response - remember the Mac Mini? It was supposed to be perfect for this application as well...
That's a bunch of the top of my head... I'll come back later and add some more.
UPDATE: I checked in on my predictions half way through the year. See how I'm doing.
There are some good ones in here, with my favorites being:
* Last.fm will be bought by Google, Viacom or Clear Channel in that order for a figure in the low to mid hundreds of millions of dollars.
* Pandora will go to the suitor that lost out on Last.fm.
I think Google is a great guess for a Last.fm acquistion, particularly considering they are in the business of aggregating usage behavior around consumers. They've also been quietly dipping their toes in the water with their Google Music Trends (which is fed by their IM client).
As for Pandora, I've got to think that Microsoft would be the most likely suitor considering their recent deal to have Pandora power their relaunched MSN Radio product. Also, an acquistion of a highly-regarded "music 2.0" company would give them some much need positive publicity to help feed their Zune ambitions....
If I still went to a lot of shows (ah... the good ole days), this would be an indespensible tool. If I didn't have this set up, I'm guessing that I would have never known about this show until it was too late. There is another service called Track50 that does similar alerts, but it requires you to manually enter the bands you are interested in - something that changes far too frequently for me to make that service useful (and it continually thinks I'm in New York City... which I'm not).
Now, if I could only motivate myself to start going to shows again....