Category Archives: tech

Thoughts on Apple’s acquisition of Beats

Beats Music is really no different than Pandora, Spotify, Rdio. Sure they all have their own recommendation methods but in the end they are quite similar.

None of them has done anything groundbreaking.

Pandora has a rather limited library and has been living off of its Genome Project since its inception.

Spotify’s apps are interesting but make it cluttered and the UI is a bit of a mess. (Just how many ‘apps’ do we need for individual artists? Here’s a clue – ZERO) Its recommendation service and UI is rather disappointing. Maybe the EchoNest acquisition will help but they still need to implement it successfully into the already goofy UI, and that alone isn’t grand enough.

Beats Music seems to be hanging its hat on curated playlists. I see this as a smokescreen, or at least I hope it is. I hope that Apple and Beats Music aren’t putting that many eggs in the curated playlists basket. It doesn’t seem very innovative. Tonight during the Code Conference interview session Apple’s Eddie Cue and Beats’ Jimmy Iovine stated,

“We think that streaming services need curation. The album is going away. We all know that. The sequencing of an album used to be important. You need an hour’s worth of music. Some of the other services are just based on algorithms. That doesn’t work. Kids listen to programmed radio, and it doesn’t work. We wanted to fix that.”

Just how is Beats Music’s version of curated playlists really that much different than Spotify’s? Because they are created by ‘industry experts’? Spotify’s version is close enough, if not the same. There are celebrity and industry expert playlist on Spotify too. Here is an interview with Beats Music’s CEO Ian Rogers.

Check out some of these curated playlist on Spotify. There are thousands of them:
@indiesongaday – 1 song per artist
@indiesongaday – indie rock – best of 2013
@indiesongaday – indie rock for running

They all fail to create a whole package that is automatic, intuitive, AND complete. (I won’t go into what I think that encompasses here but would be happy to discuss further) Let me just say that they aren’t as successful with recommendations, education, notifications, and user effort/input as they should be at this juncture.

I don’t think Iovine and Dre understand that aspect of it either and I can’t believe Apple is making this deal for the headphone tech. I’d be shocked if Beats Music has a v3.0 waiting in the wings that will be substantially different than the current version which is rather lackluster.

Music technology has been treading water for almost a decade now, and that includes today’s release of Beats Music 2.1. All of these companies are leaving features on the table that I feel could really upset the industry.

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Music streaming service updates (Spotify, Rdio, Beats)

Beats Music has gone live:

The iPhone app for Beats Music went live in Apple’s iTunes app store ahead of its official launch on Tuesday morning. Beats will also be available on Android. There is a 7-day free trial, which is nowhere near long enough to hook someone who is already knee deep in another service.

Download the app for iOS here

Rdio:

Rdio is now totally free, with ads, for web streaming per the Rdio blog

If you love something, set it free. Well, we couldn’t agree more. So starting today Rdio is free in the U.S. on the web. That means you can listen to 20 million songs plus all the albums, playlists, and stations you love anywhere there’s a computer. Absolutely free.

As part of this update, we’ve added in-stream messaging to Rdio on the web. These new ads are short and sweet. Free listeners will hear a mix of new feature announcements, messages from partner brands, notifications about exclusive content, and other helpful tips.

Spotify:
Spotify to tailor music to your heart beat

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Headphones

Two of my favorite headphones are on sale for an amazing price on Amazon.

The Audio Technica ATH-M50 ($119 $199) and the Sony MDR-V6 ($49 $109) Monitor Series headphones.

Both of these headphones are much better sounding and better built than anything you’ll find from the mass marketing consumer grade headphones by Bose, Beats, Skullcandy, etc. and for much, much less. I’m on my second pair of MDR-V6, the first I had for over 10 years with almost daily use for the first 5.

Both headphones have a 4.5 star review from Amazon customers, though generally I’d not listen to most people when it comes to reviewing headphones. Too many people are easily influenced by marketing and ignorant peers.

Audio Technica ATH-M50



Sony MDR-V6 Monitor Series

 

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Apple planning to launch online radio service by early next year

bloomberg.com

“Apple and major music labels have intensified negotiations to start an advertising-supported Internet radio service by early next year, according to people with knowledge of the talks.”

I’m curious to see what Apple comes out with but doubt that I’ll be crazy about it. There are many music services and every one has their list of pros and cons and no one is really knocking it out of the park.

The inability to listen to a complete album on Pandora is huge plus their limited music offerings. I’m not even happy with what they recommend and that’s supposed to be their strong point.

Rdio and Spotify are both decent but a ways off. The recommendation engines are either luck luster or nonexistent. That’s just one of many things. If Apple can tie this in with their Genius data then they may have a chance.

Non-targeted advertising will probably persist with Apple as well. They’ll force me to listen to some new ‘sponsored’ hip hop song when I’ve never played a hip hop song on the service to begin with. What makes them, or the sponsor, think that’s a working ad model?

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Spotify only paying some artists .004¢ per play

Read or Hear the full story here on NPR

“The independent musician Erin McKeown has her albums on Spotify, and because she doesn’t have a label, she gets all of the royalty money the service pays out every time someone plays one of her songs. McKeown asked her accountant to figure out how much money she was making. The answer was 0.004 cents per play — not much at all. McKeown says most of the money she sees from online activity comes from iTunes downloads.”

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Spotify’s Daniel Ek: “The Most Important Man In Music”

Forbes.com has a long article on Spotify’s Daniel Ek.

“Next week (this week) he’s scheduled to return to New York to unveil Spotify’s new platform in front of his first-ever press conference—a platform that he admits still isn’t ready for a public debut.”

I’m been playing with the Spotify app beta for a while now and there isn’t much there. If you don’t know much about music and don’t have time or the desire to find new music there are playlist by popular sources. (Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, The Guardian, Fuse) Also one app that somewhat mimics turntable.fm, called Soundrop, although it’s far from perfect and suffers the same problem top 40 radio stations suffer from… repetition and lack of depth. You can’t ‘thumb down’ songs and lots of bands get played to death.

Will they unveil something for the more experienced and adventurous music fan?

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Google Music

[fastcompany – google music geeks try to show they love music more than algorithms]

It’ll be interesting to check out at least.  I’m sure Google has the talent and cash to give this a serious run but the execution is pretty important.  There is a fine line between being too simple for the masses, who only have 500 songs total, and the small percentage who have 50,000 songs.  Suggesting music for the former is easy… for the latter, not so much.

I like Spotify and use it from time to time but it doesn’t yet ‘wow’ me.  I’ve yet to find a service that does. Pandora’s suggestions for me are too repetitive or just wrong.

Last.fm, Slacker, Mog, Rdio… they all are trying but seem to be missing something that’ll push them past the competition and to the mountain top with their current iterations.

I’ve had ideas for my dream music product for years and don’t see the space changing all that much to really incorporate all the bits that would make it off-the-charts engaging. Maybe all the music tech companies are taking the Netflix approach and dumbing down the GUI to not confuse the average consumer. Maybe “dumbing down” is the wrong description… ‘incredibly simplified’ may be more appropriate. There are ways around this though.

Maybe I’m just like the Jack Black character Barry?  I did read High Fidelity when it came out in ’95.  It was suggested to me by another obsessed music fan on an old listserve for an under-appreciated British band.

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Jawbone Jambox, a nifty, portable, wireless speaker for your iPhone or other bluetooth device

Jawbone JAMBOX (Black Diamond)

I decided to try out this highly rated bluetooth speaker for my iPad and iPhone and was shocked at its ease of use, sound quality, small footprint, portability and long battery life. I liked the choice of colors which makes these small speakers standout and easy to spot. When I first opened the package, I was pleased that the company included several high quality cords including both short and long micro USB cords for recharging and computer synching, charge adapter, and a tangle-free audio cord for non-bluetooth sources. You can create an account on the Jawbone MyTALK site to download voice profiles and apps. In pairing mode, it easily connected with my iPad and iPhone. I tested the iPad first with Netflix, Pandora, Hulu+, Air Video Server, and iTunes.

Jawbone JamboxConsidering that the speaker is only the size of 2 stacked Wii controllers, the sound was surprisingly strong, clear, full-bodied, and free of hisses or pops that I have experienced with other bluetooth speakers and maintained the bluetooth connection without a single drop.

I ran Pandora and tested the speakerphone function which worked nicely. You can program a quickdial number that can be immediately dialed by pushing the round button on the top when paired with a phone. You can download apps for voice commands which I didn’t try since I rarely ever use, but the transmission and receiving sound quality is quite good.

There’s no need to bring any cords which is the real advantage of using this speaker for true convenient portability. A full day with great tunes and the speaker lasted the entire day using only 50% of the battery life.

I researched all of the bluetooth speakers currently available, and this stands out by far. The Bose Soundwave is grossly overpriced, as is all Bose products, and you’ll be pleased by the quality of sound this little sucker puts out. It’s not audiophile quality but nothing is that is this size, including anything by Bose or Monster.

Jawbox has released a 2.1 firmware update to introduce LiveAudio, quoted from their website:

“JAMBOX is the only speaker in the world that gets smarter every time you plug it in. Just sync it with MyTALK, Jawbone’s industry-first online platform to download apps, software upgrades, and the latest features – including LiveAudio™, an immersive three-dimensional listening experience. Jambox’s integrated intelligence allows you to personalize it to your specific preferences. No other speaker on the planet is intelligent and updateable – but then again, nothing else is quite like JAMBOX.”

“This immersive, three-dimensional listening experience brings incredible depth, detail, and unprecedented spatial realism to everything from mp3s to special binaural recordings. It’s like hearing your favorite music and audio content for the first time — the way it was meant to be heard.”

While “meant to be heard” is OBVIOUS marketing fluff (as is the same statement by Monster and their terrible ‘Beats by Dre’ line, “as the artist intended”) LiveAudio at least is a feature you can disable.

Jawbone JAMBOX (Black Diamond)

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Live Nation magazine subscription scam duping customers out of $14.99 per purchase

Please beware that when purchasing tickets to certain events via Live Nation (Ticketmaster) you are very easily being duped into a “bonus” or “complimentary” magazine subscription. Why is this a scam?

First of all, yes, Live Nation gives you the option to ‘opt out’ of this “complimentary” subscription but it’s listed under “Privacy Information”. It should be listed elsewhere with a different heading. Also, “bonus” implies free, no cost to you, and this is not the case. Also, you must check the box to opt-out versus checking the box to opt-in.
(Click on the image below for larger version)

Secondly, if you do decline this “bonus” offer, you are then eligible for a “refund” of $14.99 if you are thorough enough to read the fine print and follow a couple links. Why are you eligible for a “refund” if this is indeed a “complimentary” offer?!


Ticket Special Bonus:
A one-year (52) subscription to Entertainment Weekly (a $14.99 value) is included in your concert ticket purchase today. Your first issue will mail in 8-12 weeks. You will not receive a bill for this magazine subscription. This offer is valid for new U.S. subscribers only and is limited to one subscription per household. Entertainment Weekly publishes eight double issues a year. Each double issue counts as two of 52 issues in an annual subscription. The subscription will be mailed to your ticket purchase order shipping address. If you would like to decline your magazine subscription you may request a $14.99 rebate. To request this rebate: please mail this completed form along with confirmation of purchase to Live Nation Rebate, Entertainment Weekly, P.O. Box 63440, Tampa, FL 33663-3440 within 30 days of your purchase.

I, for one, didn’t read the fine print and received 2 issues of Entertainment Weekly in the mail. I had no idea why I was receiving this magazine until a friend, weeks later, asked me if I noticed this practice on Live Nation’s website when she was purchasing tickets for a different comedy show. That’s when it became obvious to me why I was receiving Entertainment Weekly. Of course this was 30 days after my “purchase” and too late to request a refund. I suspect this is intentional and part of the scam. By the time customers figure out what is going on, it’s too late. 6-8 weeks to receive your magazine, remember?

Here is the quote from Live Nation’s Privacy Policy:


“Newsletter and Magazine Subscriptions: When you complete the ticket purchase for our shows, you will be automatically enrolled in our newsletter. In addition, for some shows you may receive a complimentary subscription to a trade magazine. For this purpose, we will provide your name and mailing address to the magazine subscription fulfillment company. You may choose to simultaneously opt out of both subscriptions during the checkout process.”

You can see the entire Live Nation final ticket purchase page to the right. (click on it to enlarge) Notice how there is a timer on it at the bottom right? It forces you to rush through the page and not read everything because you’re afraid of losing your tickets.

Let’s put a stop to this practice by complaining directory to Live Nation. You can retweet this here.

-Chris Thacker
http://alternapop.com
http://twitter.com/indiesongaday

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Update: May 11, 2011

On February 18, I purchased tickets via Live Nation to see Kevin Nealon at Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco. Now that I’m aware of Live Nation’s duplicity when buying comedy tickets I was diligent enough to check the box to decline the “complimentary” magazine subscription and fill out the necessary paperwork to receive the $14.99 refund on said COMPLIMENTARY subscription. I mailed out the paperwork within a week.

On April 28th, I realized that I hadn’t received my refund so I tweeted this to @livenation and a specific Live Nation employee who follows me. She said she’d have someone look into it.

On May 2nd, Ben from Live Nation emailed me to assist. I told him that I hadn’t yet received my refund and was curious if Live Nation had a comment regarding my concerns about the nature of how these subscriptions are filled. He said he’d look into the refund and ignored my other point.

On May 4th he said that he learned that the refund had been processed and I received a voice mail that day or the next. I replied back:

“Hi Ben,
Thanks for your help with this.

So correct me if I’m misunderstanding this whole process but every time
someone orders comedy tickets online, they must opt-out of a “free”
magazine subscription yet are entitled to a refund if they both decline
the free subscription and fill out the necessary paperwork? LiveNation
expects customers to repeat this process over and over for every ticket
purchase?”

Again no reply.

Today it’s May 11th and I have yet to receive my refund. I emailed Ben, the Live Nation rep, and he replied back, “The check is on the way and you will be receiving it this week!”. This tells me that they didn’t send the check before, like he said they did, and they just got around to it. Really?

Additionally, I found this class action lawsuit against Ticketmaster (1)(2)(3)(4) from 2000! They have been doing this for over a decade.

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Update: June 1, 2011

After calling/emailing Live Nation numerous times I finally received my rebate check for $19.99. I have no idea why that was the amount versus the stated $14.99. So the three tickets I purchased totaled around $89 and I got $20 knocked off of that.

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Recording Studios Face Uncertain Future (NPR)

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121304883

Here is an interesting story on how digital recording (your laptop) is replacing expensive recording studios. There is a 6 minute audio segment from NPR at the top of the above link.

“”The real value for most bands isn’t the equipment,” says McTear. “A guy at Guitar Center or Sam Ash would like you to think it is. They’d like you to think if you just spent 3 grand, you’re on your way to making your record because you bought the equipment. The sort of unseen, disappearing player in all the records being made today is collaboration — between artists, engineers and producers and studio musicians — all those people.””

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