Random Song of the Day #15

Today I’m going to do some shameless self-promotion for the random song of the day: my remix of Amanda Palmer’s “Map of Tasmania” from her new album “Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under.”  To be brutally honest, I don’t really like the song all that much.  I saw “remix contest” and I jumped to enter before I even heard the track.  When I did, I ripped out everything except the vocals and the ukulele.  If I win, I get some cash and I get put on an EP.  If I win first prize (highly unlikely), I get more cash, put on an EP, and a chance to do a song with Amanda Palmer herself (let’s hope this isn’t the case, I think E would have my head from just sitting in the same room with her).  That’s not why I did it though.  I did it because I’ve been antsy about recording something for a while and I see all these remixes that @slighter does and have been wondering how he hears about these things.  So there you have it.  Listen.  You can post comments directly on the track on the official submission page, or you can just comment here.  Or you can not and say you did.  I’d post a download url but I can’t be bothered, so if you want to download it, you can head over to my Alonetone page. Pulled it down from Alonetone until after the contest so I don’t accidentally disqualify myself for having it published somewhere else.

[audio: afp-map_of_tasmania-jazzsequences_space_ambient_remix.mp3]

unbox pandora

openpandorai’ve been using Pandora for a long time, and i’ve always been a big fan.  when Tim Westergren came to Salt Lake City on his speaking tour, i went to see him at the SLC Main Library and i have the raglan-style Pandora tshirt to prove it.  the unique recommendation engine — powered by humans who actually analyze characteristics of each track individually for the Music Genome Project, rather than by computers and a centralized database of similar or related artists, or users who purchased other albums at the same time — makes Pandora’s recommendations unlike any other music streaming service on the ‘net.  the Muse Radio channel i made transformed from being a lot of Muse and early Radiohead-sounding stuff, into a more generalized brit-rock when it threw in some Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles into the mix based on my likes/dislikes and the station doesn’t miss a beat.  With other systems — even WinAmp‘s Advanced Playlist Generator and iTunes’ Genius (both powered by Gracenote) are limited in their artist database, and always throw in at least one left-field unrelated track that throws the whole mix off.

being a DJ, i’m all about the flow of a mix.  throwing in something unexpected or different is fine, but you have to prep your audience for it a little bit, otherwise the set is disrupted.  i’m equally (albeit unfairly) discriminating in randomly-generated playlists, and no system has fully been able to satisfy me.  that is, except for Pandora.  it’s also the single most accurate system for recommending new music that i’m likely to really like.  it’s rare (or an underdeveloped station) that Pandora gives me a track that i outright hate, although it has happened.  however, it nothing like getting Gloria Gaynor in an Amanda Palmer playlist like what iTunes Genius did to me.  wtf?

but the biggest reason i don’t just listen to Pandora 24/7 is because it’s a web-app.  it’s powered by a flash application that sucks up resources in already resource-sucking browsers.  and as a designer, i can’t have my computer compromised by limited resources while i’m building a website.  that’s solved with OpenPandora. (note: OpenPandora is just for windows. mac users…uh…come back later when i’m not talking about software.)

pandorafmfor a long time, i’ve used PandoraFM; it’s a mashup of Pandora and last.fm that streams Pandora (although it can also stream last.fm playlists) and scrobbles the tracks to last.fm.  and last.fm is cool because of their analysis of the stuff you’re listening to compared with your friends and provides charts and graphs of your most listened-to artists and recently listened-to tracks.  plus, thanks to a last.fm/twitter mashup, whenever i “love” a track on last.fm, it automatically tweets that with a link to the track (if it exists) on last.fm (or the artist if the track doesn’t exist).  it doesn’t solve the problem with CPU and memory resources, but there are other benefits by adding in the last.fm stuff.  but it’s a solution i can’t use all the time.

there are a few different standalone Pandora clients out there, but my favorite part of OpenPandora is that it has built-in last.fm integration.  i can’t “love” tracks like i can with PandoraFM, but it scrobbles everything i play (which you’ll see on my frontpage and lifestream if i’m listening to something).  and it’s a standalone app — from what i can tell, little more than a Flash player with a few extra options for additional settings — so it doesn’t consume all the resources of a new browser window, or suck more memory into a separate browser tab in an already bloated browser.

sometimes, i just want to listen to the music that i have on my external hard drive, and for that, i’m still shopping for a good playlist generator (WinAmp’s Advanced Playlist Generator is the current favorite, but the database often gets corrupted for me, forcing me to rebuild the database from scratch, which, with my collection, can take a full day and lots of memory; the other option is Genius, but that requires, um, iTunes, and their Library management leaves much to be desired, it’s an even bigger resource hog than all of the other solutions in this post combined, and they don’t offer full support for all filetypes).  i’d love to see a Pandora plugin for WinAmp (something i suggested to them on twitter a while back), but until that happens, OpenPandora is an awesome way to experience Pandora outside of a browser (sidenote: they also have an iPhone app, a mobile app for non-iPhones, and a standalone receiver, so you’re not just limited to experiencing the Music Genome Project in a browser).

go check it out and leave a comment if you think it’s as cool as i do (or if you hate it and need to vent, i’m here for that, too).

the music industry’s last caress

[audio:LastCaress.mp3]

sam rosenthal is a very driven man.  he’s built projekt records from the ground up, by himself, starting out as a way to release his own music as black tape for a blue girl.  he did this back in the early 80s when starting your own record label was something you didn’t do, and his record company has always moved somewhat against the grain.  since 1983 he has singlehandedly made his company successful, at lest, successful enough that he can afford a roof over his head, veggie chicken nuggets in his son’s tummy, and a few staffers.

sam rosenthal is a very opinionated man.  he often uses his monthly newsletter as a soapbox for rants about politics and music.  he’s a die-hard democrat, and lambasted us far-lefties for voting for Nader in 2000 and not Al Gore.  And you know what?  He was right.  But that was a different time — we all figured Gore was a shoe-in (no one could really vote for such a doofus like G-Dub for President, right?), and giving the Green party 3% of the vote meant they could get a real campaign fund — and a real shot — in 2004 and beyond.  In retrospect, Al Gore would have been great for our country, and given us a lead in clean energy research.  hindsight 20/20 and all…that’s behind us.  but sam doesn’t let us forget it.

sam rosenthal is a very angry man.  he’s angry at you.  yes, you.

recently, he’s stood up on his newsletter soapbox once again to talk about file sharing.  he’s talked about his thoughts on the subject before, and in the beginning, he was for filesharing services, back in the early days of napster.  i think we can all agree that things have changed a lot in the 10 years since napster got its start.  in fact, i’m going to say that the entire music industry has changed.

a couple weeks ago sam posed the following question, in big, bold writing:

If 95% of what you did for a living was stolen rather than paid for, how would you feel?

this was in response to a report by the international federation of the phonographic industry that 95% of all digital music was acquired illegally (as reported by the new york times).

it’s a bit of a gross oversimplification of the situation.

here’s how the law and concept of ownership typically works:  i have a product to sell.  you buy my product.  that product becomes yours to do with as you please.  as is often cited, the “Death of Music!” cry was first heard back in the days of cassette copying.  People won’t buy music! was the paranoid claim from the recording industry.  if the theory as applied to the current state of the music industry is the same as the basic concept of ownership, once i purchase a cd, i own it, and i can do whatever i want with it.  the reason the recording industry can’t claim royalties on used cds is based on this same concept of ownership — you purchased it, and you chose to sell it, therefore they can’t claim any additional royalties for the resale.  so, if i purchased a cd, i should have the same right to convert the audio data stored on that cd to mp3 (or other formats) and store it on my computer.  and, by the same rights as if i loaned a friend my cd — or sold it to them for that matter — i should likewise be entitled to give my friend a copy of the mp3 i just made, so they can check out this band i like so much.  this is the premise of filesharing, and it is the reason i think the whole copyright infringement for music acquired via peer-to-peer or other filesharing networks doesn’t hold water.

the recording industry wants to claim that digitizing your music — you know, the cd you just payed for — is unlawful usage.  since they sell mp3 copies of the music, if you make your own mp3 copies of your music, you are — by their claim — infringing their copyright.  that idea is ludicrous.  it’s like saying i violated a law by checking out a cd from the library.  i didn’t actually purchase the cd, so my possession of it is unlawful.  this is the reason the RIAA has failed in most of their lawsuit attempts that have gone to court, and why most of their suits are settled out of court (in fact, they tend to push the victims to settle out of court, a move which seems to imply that they know they have no claim, they just don’t want you to know that).

the problem with the filesharing model is that, chances are, these people are not my friends — they’re just random peers on the network.  people who, by the very nature of the software, are completely anonymous.  this is where it gets sticky.  because you can’t allow one usage (me giving my friend some mp3s of stuff to check out) and disallow another usage (sharing whole catalogs via BitTorrent).  a few years ago, the record industry started trying to blame the software — if it wasn’t for software like bit torrent, this wouldn’t be a problem.  but stifling software development impedes creativity and innovation.  and anyway, it’s not the software’s fault that it’s used this way.

and so, it seems, the whole issue has come to an impasse.

but recently, musicians have started to take a stand, again, against filesharing, this time appealing to our sense of decency.  and their method is by making claims like sam: you’re stealing music from innocent victims, it’s just the same as walking into best buy, picking up the latest Muse cd, and walking out with it, without paying (imagine this scenario without the lights and alarms that would sound as you walked out the door).

there’s one big problem with this argument: it’s not going to work.

10 years is a long time, and this is a whole new method that has gained momentum steadily over that time.  it’s become a part of the way we do things, and — because we value bits different from atoms (see: chris anderson’s free ) — we feel entitled.  telling people that what they’re doing is very, very bad is not going to change anything.  it may change a few people’s minds who were on the fence, and it may embed a sense of guilt when they click that download link, but it’s not going to change the movement that began 10 years ago with napster, and — if you think about it — even longer than that if you include cassette copying.

the death of the music industry didn’t happen with dub tapes.  the most that happened was that it created a community of sharing, and opened new doors for people to hear music they wouldn’t have otherwise.  cassette copies were never as good as the originals, and, when CDs came along, a far cry from the disc.  if you really wanted it, you’d spend the $15 and buy the CD, tape, or vinyl.  the same is true for mp3s — they’re never as good as the originals (although some other, lossless formats, like FLAC can be as good as the originals if you’re willing to sacrifice more hard drive space.  i tend to be opposed to FLACs because they can be a crutch to never have to buy CDs again, although, in my experience, their usage seems more specifically confined to collectors who want to back up their music collections).  but, as chris anderson has pointed out, mp3s are “good enough.” but the fact that we can’t get access to new music any other way hasn’t changed, only intensified.  as more pressure is put on the RIAA by the industry’s steady loss of sales, record labels have tried other methods to increase their revenue stream.  this includes buying up all the formerly independent radio stations, and attempting to claim royalties on internet broadcasts by pushing their case in front of politicians (the reason why pandora is constantly in a state of distress).  in effect, the music industry is compounding the problem by making it more difficult to access music other than what’s at the top of the billboard charts.  and those charts themselves are a misrepresentation, because all of those artists, now, are the ones who can afford the huge marketing push by their label to mtv, corporate radio, advertising, etc, etc, etc.  the little guys are lost in the dust.

little guys like projekt records and sam rosenthal’s band, black tape for a blue girl.  projekt has never been a huge seller, but it’s carved out a niche in the goth community, and sam has done well signing on some really great new acts in the last couple years (android lusttearwave, and mira being some of my personal favorites).  it’s no secret that record labels are bleeding all over the floor, and especially with small, independent record stores being replaced by corporate conglomerates like best buy and borders, projekt — and lots of other indie labels — are losing a major avenue for getting their music in people’s hands.  because it’s people like me, and fans of independent, underground, alternative music, who are going to go to the indie shops, and all those shops are closing their doors.  it’s much harder to find representation for your indie music in barnes and nobles — against this week’s top 10 best sellers nationwide — than it is to make some expansive shelf space in a closet-sized, dimly lit indie record store with some crazy awesome music playing on the speakers that you’ve never heard before.

so what’s the solution?  we really don’t want the indie artists to go away.  more than anything, that’s where real innovation, creativity, and art lives. (i can already hear tina turner’s voice in my head singing “we don’t need another coldplay)  but how are we going to find those artists if filesharing is bad and the radio doesn’t play those artists anyway?  are you listening, sam?  no one’s going to go to your show or buy your stuff if they don’t know who you are.  you can’t close off the only way into your music for a lot of people who may grow to become die hard fans.  and i’ll let you in on a secret, sam: android lust? i downloaded her music after reading what you wrote about her several years ago right after signing her.  i then purchased 3 albums.  mira?  ditto that, i have the whole catalog, including the ep.  emilie autumn — i know she’s not signed to projekt, but projekt distributes her music — i wouldn’t have bought opheliac if i hadn’t downloaded it first after reading about it in the projekt newsletter.  there are lots of other artists i can say this about including the dresden dolls and amanda palmer, lots of stuff released by fat possum records, i could go on.  and the fact is that i go to the shows, i hit the merch table, i buy the records.  or i find them online and buy direct from the artist or label or distributor.  the real problem is that increasingly, for a lot of would-be fans, mp3s are good enough.  that is the problem and that is the key to solving the problem.  filesharing isn’t going to go anywhere, so attacking it only makes you look like a bad guy.  what needs to happen is to shift the demand back to the atoms.  last summer, trent reznor posted on his forum some ideas of how to be a label-less, independent musician, and one of the things he suggested was limited-run, deluxe packaged cd releases.  box sets, or really awesome, deluxe, hand-numbered packaging like what dark disco club did with their latest two hearts, one blood release, which came with a neat, hand-sewn cd booklet. monetizing your music by other methods is another option.  amanda palmer has supplemented her income by doing webcasts. all over asia, artists are becoming popular through filesharing and making up the difference by selling ringtones and touring.  in south america, touring bands will send cd-rs of their music for cheap to be bootlegged and passed around to create a buzz before they come to town on tour.  ashley morgan uses a micropatronage system.  we can’t think like the old recording industry dinosaurs anymore.  the climate has changed; it’s time to change with it and come up with new and innovative ways to get your music out there.  this is an exciting time — a time when the playing field has been leveled — right now you have just about an equal chance of getting heard whether you’re on a major label or no label, and that’s what the big labels hate and are trying to fight.  killing filesharing is not the solution.  stop thinking like the big guys, sam, and start thinking like an independent again.

take that, corporate rock

in a magical fairytale land, closely resembling our own, there was a bard.  this bard appeared as just another travelling musician-storyteller, like most bards, from a small town and humble beginnings.  in fact, this bard was secretly a vassal under the employ of an enormous fiefdom, taking a small cut off the top of her tips and giving the rest to her liege.  in return, the lord arranged taverns for performances and spread the word about his bard, and the deal worked well.  however, the bard was trying to capitalize off of the “common bard” routine, when in fact, she had many more opportunities handed to her by her liege than most bards did, such was the nature of their agreement.  and so, everything was fine until another lord from a smaller fief revealed the deception and spoke publicly about it.  this angered both vassal and lord and they tried to sabotage his crops.

readers of Upstart Blogger may recognize this tale.

the music industry is in a period of turmoil.  the entire face of music and how we go about getting that music is altering on a fundamental level.  once upon a time, this fief and vassal relationship was the only way to make music and have it heard by a wide audience.  and while this method worked, what also worked was the fact that you could also listen to other music, if you so desired.  putting aside the medieval metaphor for a few minutes, back in the day when corporate rock wasn’t a bad word, and we listened to bands signed by huge corporate conglomerates without a second thought, what was also true was that radio was independently owned and operated.  this gave an opportunity for local bands to be heard, small indie band and travelling bands on smaller labels.  you would send your record to a radio station and if they liked it, they played it.  there were radio dj’s like frickin’ doctor demento who gave “Weird Al” Yankovic his entire career.  Weird Al had a single track he recorded himself on a cheap 4-track mixer but sent it to Dr. Demento and got an entire career out of it.

if you’re a musician and think you can get a break by sending your demo to a radio station, you are several decades too late for that.  why? because the greedy lord has expanded his fiefdom to include the radio waves.

now, huge conglomerates decide what music that plays on the radio.  all the stations (or most of them anyway) are part of the same network, meaning they get the same playlists fed to them by the huge record labels who are funding the radio station’s broadcast.  this means no variety, no independent travelling musicians, no demos.  (i’m speaking very generally here.  there may be some stations that do some of this, but it’s not on the scale that it once was.  here’s a tangential anecdote: when i was in high school there was an awesome alternative station in San Francisco, Live 105.  they played what was new and happening in alternative music, stuff that was just emerging on the radio and MTV, so Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, all when they were just barely getting big.  they also had an amateur hour — more like a couple hours, actually — in the dead of night.  you could try to get on the show by sending in a playlist and a letter of why you should be on the radio, or you could just enjoy what people had to play.  i happened to tune in one night and heard Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Front 242, Revolting Cocks and all sorts of other underground industrial that I had only heard from friends before.  it was astounding — Skinny Puppy on the radio?  holy crap!  if you think you could do that now, on Live 105 or any other radio station, again, you’d be sorely mistaken.  </tangent>)

right now, the record industry is in growing pains.  the major labels are scrambling to retake control and figure out how to make money doing what they are doing, which is promoting music, while independent musicians are realizing that they can make music without a record company.  upstart blogger’s ashley morgan is one of them.  also? amanda fucking palmer.

here’s something i found last night, via neil gaiman’s tweet: why i am not afraid to take your money.  amanda palmer gets on her soapbox about why she’s sick of people trying to guilt her into taking people’s money for events.  about people not really liking that she made a bunch of money off a webcast.  her response: get over it.  and she’s totally right.

pirates figured out that we could essentially grab a copy of any piece of music we want, for free.  maybe it’s illegal, but in the age of bits vs. atoms, we’ve adopted this belief that bits (i.e. information transmitted via computer) should be free.  and that’s okay.  file sharing has become an integral way to find new music that you can’t hear on the radio because it’s not sponsored by the corporate record labels.  for myself, i support these bands by going to their shows, and hitting the merch table.  or going to their website or their indie label’s site and buying their album directly and not from best buy.  occasionally i still use amazon for used cds, but i still buy cds because i value the atoms.  i like having the physical disk in my hand and i like leafing through the liner notes.  i realize that i’m becoming old fashioned for this preference.

but music shouldn’t be free, and there shouldn’t be a problem with paying an artist for what they do.

even if paying that artist comes in a different form, and from a different means of commerce.  (and here’s where i spin this right back around to upstart blogger.)  this morning i found this on upstart blogger: confessions of a blogger.  and from that post i realized that the whole shenanigan with a certain uk pop star and emi didn’t end when ashley got his twitter account suspended and pulled the posts about said pop star and emi.  no, then his new twitter account and the twitter account of a completely unrelated band he plays in also got suspended.  what gives?

well said pop star resembles the bard, backed by a powerful lord who enjoys making money from his bard’s performances.  but in an age when that music can be found for free, the lord (and other, similar lords) need to take a stand against finding music for free because then it is no longer controlled solely by the lord.  they perceive it to mean they are losing an income stream.  i disagree, but that’s besides the point.  so they urge their artists to take a stand against file sharing, saying that it is stealing money from artists and labels.  even when artists have come out with ways that you can make money as an independent musician without a label. artists like trent reznor, radiohead, and amanda palmer.  artists like ashley morgan, who uses his blog to generate his income and fund his music career.

once upon a time i saw the chief architect of genesis rocket sitting on a pile of cash and able to talk his way into getting freebies like an awesome frickin’ microphone from a top manufacturer.  that was before he told me in an email that the uk takes away 50% of those earnings in taxes.  even disregarding that, the scope is wrong; genesis rocket isn’t just a get-rich scheme from some anonymous marketer trying to cash in on twitter — it’s an income stream for an independent musician.  and as we all know (or should), music costs money.  it costs money to get a recording studio, to buy the software and the gear, to mass produce your cd, to promote your music.  and as we all know (or should) musicians aren’t rich.  not most of them.  and it’s because they have to pay all these extra expenses that we can’t even fathom.  they have all the same expenses as you or me, but additionally, their chosen means for making money costs as much as it makes.  but they do it anyway, because they are doing what they love, and we respect them for it, but usually only in words.  i don’t know if anyone stops to think about what it actually means that their favorite musicians are, often quite literally, starving artists.

but this isn’t an ad for a product.  it’s an observation about the music industry.  and it’s been made before, and it’s getting old.  but it still needs to be said.  major labels need to wake the fuck up.  shutting down filesharing is going to get you nothing but resent from potential fans.  and fans, you need to wake the fuck up.  music isn’t free.  period.  grab the mp3s from bit torrent, go ahead.  but if you like what you hear, support the fucking artist.  buy their cd, their tshirt, their commemorative fucking plate.  go to the show.  tell your friends.  you are an income stream. your favorite musician isn’t going to your workplace and telling your boss not to pay you for a day, so you shouldn’t expect them to do what they do for free.  if you do, your favorite musicians will no longer be able to support their music, and stop making it.  if you want to listen to more records by your favorite artists, do them a favor and actually buy some of them.