Sunday, February 19, 2006

My First Post About Actual Music

After spending the entirety of my adult life around the "business" of music or somewhat related fields, I go through spells of really losing my enthusiasm for new music. As a music fan, it means I spend considerable time re-listening to existing collection and becoming reacquainted with old favorites.

And then there are the times when something comes along like a breath of fresh air and restores your faith in underground music. This time, that band has been Be Your Own Pet, who I was fortunate enough to catch at Maxwells.

Here's the disclaimer: I don't really read alot of the the hipster music press for the latest trendy band of the month, nor do I slobber in pavlovian ecstasy when the Pitchfork ilk extolls someone's virtues. Truth be told, I usually vacillate between rolling my eyes at, and/or wanting to punch said hipsters in their bony necks. I really walked into this event not knowing at all what to expect.

What I got was a very young band who could have been one of the best bands of the whole late 80's nascent indie rock scene. A post Black Flag / pre- Grunge SST sound? Toss in a little No-Wave? Fast, energetic, quirky with elements of Greg Ginn guitars and a female frontperson who conjures her inner HR with perpetual energy, and doesn't rely on sex appeal as a crutch. For those of you who remember the Lismar Lounge on 1st Ave. in NYC, they wipe the fuckin' floor with that entire scene.

Anyone with any sense of true punkhardcoredom in their veins must see this band live. For a tidbit, check out this cool video of byoP posted by the Ecstatic Peace folks. [note: beware crappy camcorder audio.]

I cannot wait to see what they come up with when they go into the studio.

Send them love here.

That is all.

pic from

Friday, February 17, 2006

Ah Tony

Tony Brummel of Victory may be the Bill O'Reilly of indie music. His rantings to music biz tipsheet Hits magazine are now almost as famous within the business as his bands. But you gotta hand it to him... everyone who read his iTunes bloviation certainly talked about it (and knows of a certain upcoming release.) And that's his game all along! So hats off to him in pulling a wonderful PR stunt.

Everyone from boardtrolls to bloggers seemed to chime in on this topic, so as I'm late to the table, I'll just post some of my favorite hightlights and my own personal feelings on the matter.

1) Apple/iTunes do not care about independent labels or, for that matter, the record industry. Without the music industry, their site and their iPods are useless. Why did the major labels bend over and super serve Steve Jobs free content without negotiating a % of each iPod sale, variable pricing of singles (if the labels CHOOSE to make one available from an album) and other say in how the content is sold? Has anyone looked into any stock option kickbacks here? Since when do record companies give their content away without extracting an advance? If the major record companies wanted to take a stand they would PULL their content. But, if they all pulled their content in unison, Apple would claim collusion… I say, pull it anyway. The defective hard drives are making people deaf as it is.
Pandora's box is now fully open with digital music and photography. 85% of kids don't even listen to the radio anymore. The web is it. There's no going back. Don't you think SONY (remember the Walkman?) who owns Epic and Columbia would have proverbially shit themselves to have thought of this vertical hardware/software/content solution during the mid 90's? What about Matsushita Panasonic, who owned Universal Music during the glory days of Web 1.0? They were certainly capable- but they, like Brummel, are married to the CD. Furthermore, what other business model gives the consumable goods producer a percentage of the hardware?? The detergent company doesn't get a percentage of dishwasher sales do they? It's an ass-backwards thinking process. Like it or not, those deafness-inducing hard drives are here to stay. With digital downloads accounting for 7% of music revenue (and growing fast) those who aren't selling their music in any format possible are ultimately shooting themselves in the foot.

For an indie, Victory is in a really unique position. They've had enough success with bands to command major-label respect from the buyers at all the key chains. They can afford to do a $300,000 end-cap campaign to support their latest slew of MTV2 advertised releases. They also make a ton of money from all those "special edition reissues." But what Tony really doesn't like is that nobody wants to give him, just another software vendor, preferential treatment and massage his ego. It would be refreshing to hear, "I just want to keep on milking this sweet deal I have, and by going digital, I can't continue on my gravy train." If I were in his postion, maybe I'd feel the same way. (I'm not, and most of us aren't.)

2) I absolutely believe that allowing people to cherry-pick the tracks they want from each album cannibalizes full-length album sales and is ultimately detrimental to the artists who created the music.
Buying the one good song and not having to suffer through album filler is the way it is. I personally still buy complete albums as I'm concerned with the "body of work". But letting people just get what they want isn't so bad. Again, my feeling is that this goes back to the major label mentality of "sell them a $16.98 CD so they can get the one song they saw on Fuse." If bands make great albums, they'll start selling complete works.

To compete this, I imagine artists may go back to the model that existed before Album Oriented Rock became the buzzword in the 70's. Sinatra, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, The Beatles, and scores of Motown artists recorded some of the most memorable "sides" in history, not albums. Albums were really just glorified compilations of greatest hits, possibly re-recorded, with maybe a few new tracks included. Even in the days of early 80's hardcore, those short blasts of (collectible) music on 7" were (and remain) a precious commodity.

3) If only 4% of this business is iTunes, who cares? Focus on the 96% which is traditional retail. Traditional retail supports music 1,000 times more than iTunes does. If someone does not want to leave their house, they can go to our webstore, Amazon or the hundreds of other online sites that sell music. For the very casual consumer. there are digital consumption models that will work when and if properly deployed. People are using iTunes because they like the iPod. When Dell or Samsung makes a better device, iTunes will lose relevancy.
Not for long. Like I said above, digital accouned for 7% of WMG's revenue, while CD sales continued to take a dump. Web media means more to the music marketplace than radio or MTV (note their recent push into Overdrive.) As far as iTunes model? I agree that there are other models that work just as well. Like I said many times before, I use Rhapsody, Emusic, and iTunes to get my legal music fixes. Will someone build a better mousetrap? Amazon? Maybe. Until then I'm pretty psyched with my 60g video iPod.

iTunes makes music disposable. It makes it a faceless impulse item. It steals its soul.
No. It makes it convenient and on-demand, which is the lay of the land in today's market. It's as meaningful as you make it. What makes it faceless and without soul is crass commercialization.

I'm outta gas right now... maybe I'll have some more later.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

RIAA Lobbies To Make Ripping Your Own CD's Illegal

A post at the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that as part of the legislative procedures surrounding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, our pals at the RIAA want to make ripping CD's you've purchased to digital files, an illegal action.

Since I can remember, making mix tapes has been a crucial part of the music experience. I personally remember getting a cassette dub of the Misfits out of print singles (before it was re-issued as The Collection) from a friend, and treating it like gold. That old-school viral legacy was very important to keeping that band's name alive. Now Big Brother is telling me that even taking my old collection and putting it on my iPod is illegal?

How exactly would anyone enforce this? Track ISP numbers that reference CDDB? Have Apple, Microsoft, et. al create hardware/ software prohibitions on CD ripping? Are they REALLY THAT FUCKING ARROGANT AND STUPID?

The only thing that this would do, on the outside chance that it does come to fruition, is create a wave of piracy which will probably even include legal downloaders (like myself.) My attitude as a music consumer is, I bought the CD and I should be able to play it through whatever device I want. What it will also do is speed along the death of the major label system as it exists.

Speaking directly for my label, there's no way I would ever support this knuckleheaded move. I want people that actually purchased my music in any format to be able to listen to it without the need to repurchase it for every device they own. I consider that part of the unwritten contract a label has with their customers.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Pandora In The Hot Seat

A week or so ago, Lefsetz sparked a very lively debate about MySpace. This week, he set his sights on the Music Genome Project’s Pandora, a site that I recently compared with the slightly more human powered To those late to the table , both of these sites use collaborative filtering and advanced algorithms to recommend new music to a listener.

A recent addition to the whole “discovery through mathematics” set is Muiso, who uses an Audioscrobbler like software plugin to track listening habits on a users machine to create a personal playlist that it compares with that of your musical neighbors. (As it doesn’t run on a Mac yet, I have yet to actually test it, but I’ll get to a Windows machine at some point this week.)

We can apply Bob’s critique of Pandora to the other sites as well. Here’s the crux of his argument.
  • Pandora is a scam and not about turning you on to new music, it’s about advertising.
  • Pandora does not give you useful results..
  • Machines can never replace the good ol’human being.
I disagree on all of these points.

First, Broadcast radio isn’t about the money???? A certain Mr. Spitzer would disagree. Who cares if I have to look at ads if I get quality recommendations? If it worked well, I’d even pay for it (as I have with There is no doubt in my mind that these types of services are ultimately going to drive traditional music radio to an even more marginal status. In fact, if Infinity, Clearchannel and other media giants had any brains whatsoever, they’d be already offering big money to get into this market.

It's no secret I’m a huge fan of Last.Fm. Their model (and seemingly that of Muiso) isn’t based on a “music genome” like Pandora. Their little web machines look at what other people who are already listening to similar music are listening to, and presents an individual with some new recommendations. I’ve actually made several purchases based on what I’ve heard.

I’ve had a decent discovery experience on Pandora. The problem Bob found with it is that they focus only on sound, and not any sociological reasons why people get turned onto music. There may be some stylistic similarities between The Banner and Kreator, but the social scenes (hardcore vs. metal) where these two bands come from, are pretty different when you look at them from within. I also don’t think Bob gave their internal filters enough of a chance to hone his taste to it’s maximum ability. Finally, the Pandora music database isn’t developed enough yet, and as they add more music there will be more viable options to recommend.

I concede, there are indeed duds in the mix. But far less than you’ll find with traditional radio. As more data is added, and the internal filtration / artificial intelligence is refined- near perfect niche, personal radio will be achieved.

As someone who never found new music from the radio, I welcome these services with open arms, and look forward to seeing how they develop.