Archive for the ‘Digital Age’ Category

Wait, THAT was part of the fucking deal?!

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

So this eMusic business is way worse than I thought it was. As part of the PR rollout for the new pricing structure and the major label additions, eMusic was pimping the fact that you could download albums with more than 12 tracks but only get charged for 12 tracks. What they didn’t tell anyone (as far as I can tell, at least) is that you also get charged 12 tracks for downloading a lot of albums that are less than 12 tracks. I went to grab a Cecil Taylor record that has 2 tracks; in the good old days that would have cost me 2 downloads. Now, I have to spend 12.

This change doesn’t appear to affect all albums with fewer than 12 tracks, but it does seem to affect a solid percentage of them in a quick random check I did, including those on indie labels. This effectively completely destroys eMusic’s price competitiveness over iTunes and Amazon, as far as I’m concerned. I was definitely going to re-up my subscription when my current plan expires in October, despite all the controversy, but this might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I am really disappointed. Fuck.

eMusic about to get a lot less awesome

Monday, June 1st, 2009

eMusic recently announced that it is finally partnering with some major labels, first off all Sony, to bring some of their older back-catalogue releases to the download service. Sounds great, right? Except there’s a hitch: “minor price increases” which turn out to be not so minor at all, especially for folks who have old plans grandfathered in. Myself, for example: I currently pay $143.90 per year for 65 downloads each month. After my current plan expires, I’ll have to pay $171.99 per year for a measly 35 downloads each month. That’s something like a 220% price increase per track. Ouch. Ultimately, I will keep downloading almost exclusively stuff from indie labels, which means that the higher prices are effectively me subsidizing major labels even though I’m not benefitting from their new presence on eMusic.

So that kind of sucks (no: that totally sucks), but if it means that eMusic’s business model becomes more sustainable, I guess I can’t really complain too much. But Swindleeeee!!!!! thought of another interesting potential negative scenario:

I think the major downside other than the price increases is that people will be very mistrustful of having a repeat of the Rolling Stones fiasco. That apparently wasn’t eMusic’s fault, but if Bruce Stringsteen or whoever decides that they don’t like their music being cheapened by being sold at eMusic prices and is successful in getting it pulled, or if Sony upper management gets cold feet and decides to kill the entire deal, that’s going to leave a pretty sour taste in the mouths of eMusic subscribers, especially given that the new higher prices will likely remain in effect.

I would love it if eMusic introduced a price plan that restricted access to major label downloads but kept prices where they currently are (or with a much more modest increase). I’d sign up for that in a heartbeat.

So far I am seeing a pretty big backlash from diehard eMusic fans at places like 17 dots and, more locally, the 9:30 Club boards, with lots of folks saying they’ll cancel their subscriptions when the new pricing structure begins to affect their accounts. Wonder if it’ll be a big enough backlash to cause eMusic to reconsider?

Deluxe packaging in the digital age

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Here’s a nice piece by the Washington Post Express‘ Chris Porter on deluxe/limited edition packaging (specifically regarding the new releases by Lamb of God and Mastodon) in the era of the MP3 download.

I’ve never been one to fetishize the hold-the-vinyl-in-my-hands-while-listening-to-the-album experience, even though I came of age in the LP era, bought super-stacks of wax and like the format just fine. But I’ve long since moved onto CDs and, more recently, MP3s, and now I don’t really think twice about not having physical artwork and lyrics in front of me while listening to music; if I want to see what the album cover looks like, or what dudes are yelling about, I can find the info online. And while I still want a hard copy of the albums I really love (on CD, not even vinyl), like with music people, the majority of the music I listen to these days is in the MP3 format, played on my computer, with no extra-musical doodads influencing my experience.

That about describes my experience as well, except I’m a little younger than Chris and grew up in the dawn of the CD era.

Anyway, I’m not psyched about this new Mastodon, but then I haven’t heard it yet. I was so disappointed by the direction the band went in with Blood Mountain that I’m pretty sure I’m going to dislike Crack the Skye just as much. Seriously, I was shocked that Blood Mountain got such a good critical reception, and now that the new one is getting equally good reviews I don’t really know what to expect. I plan to buy it anyway (the basic CD version for $9.99, not any limited editions) and see what’s what.

eMusic + Web 2.0

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Some good eMusic news — lots of interesting things in this piece. The juicy bits are:

Let’s say you are a fan of Arcade Fire. You can already read quite a bit about the critically-acclaimed Canadian cult band on its eMusic album pages. Now eMusic will add a wealth of content from the Web 2.0 universe: the band’s Wikipedia entry, pictures from Flickr, and videos of Arcade Fire concerts from YouTube. None of this is available on iTunes or the Amazon digital music store.

eMusic will also allow members to share these pages with friends on popular social media sites like Facebook, Digg, Del.icio.us and Twitter. “These are the things that we know our customers are already doing with the music they love,” says eMusic CEO David Pakman.

This is great, because eMusic is way behind the curve in user experience. It’s nice that there are user reviews and reviews pulled from AllMusic, but the user interface is terrible and there are things like the eMusic discussion boards that might as well be on a totally different site. I’m psyched about this integration with Web 2.0 entities, should make browsing a lot more fun.

But the other thing that really caught my eye in this article was this:

Jesse McCann, digital operations manager for Allegro Media Group, a music distribution company in Portland, Ore., says his company makes about the same amount of money selling songs on eMusic as it does on iTunes: “I’d say our eMusic check is about the same as our iTunes check.”

Given eMusic’s absurd cheapness, this is one hell of a statement.

The new Radiohead

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

A couple days ago I finally downloaded the new Radiohead album, In Rainbows. I still haven’t quite figured out what I think about their distribution method (if you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, they are offering the album as a download and allowing fans to pay whatever they want for it; a CD release isn’t coming until next year). I decided to pay… nothing. I feel okay about that for a couple reasons: point one, these are 160kbps MP3s we’re talking about here, not lossless files or even VBR MP3s; and that ties into point two, that if I like this I’ll probably go ahead and pay for the CD when it comes out. Also, these guys make a shitload of money anyway and since I have the option, I’d rather invest my music budget into bands that lose money with every record and play in shitty holes in the wall for 5 fans at a time.

Kick over any given virtual rock on the Internet and you’ll find a debate about this innovation in music distribution, so I won’t get into that here. Regarding the music itself, well, it’s okay. I probably like it more than anything they’ve done since Kid A, so that’s great, but I’m not exactly blown away. As a tangent, I find it really amusing the way that Pitchfork likes to verbally fellate this band to a ridiculous extent, giving the album a 9.3 (I honestly thought they were going to give it a 10.0 even before they ever heard it) and running like five or six news articles and full-length features about the album, in addition to the review. Sometimes that website is just absurd. In any case, In Rainbows is definitely a solid effort, if a surprisingly chilled-out one, and I’m looking forward to listening to it some more. I don’t think it’ll ever rate the equivalent of a 9.3 on my scale, though. That’s what, a Gnosis 14? No, I expect this one’s more like a strong 10.

Maybe the most fun thing about this sucker is that there’s no cover art provided, so fans have taken it upon themselves to make their own. Here’s a place with a ton of covers, some of which are really, really great. But my choice for easily the best of the bunch is this one:

Zeuhl makes it to eMusic

Friday, August 10th, 2007

Newsflash: Seventh Records has put four albums up on eMusic, including two Magma live albums! The two albums are Théâtre du Taur and BBC 1974 Londres, though oddly the former omits the second disc (which consists of MDK in its entirety). The other two albums include one by Simon Goubert and one by Collectif Mu, with whom I am not familiar.

Hopefully Seventh puts some more Magma up in the near future — their albums would be particularly downloader-friendly in that many consist only of a couple tracks. I would love to round out my Magma collection with some of the more obscure live albums that I have no intention to purchase at anywhere close to full price.

Mike Borella: Musicianship is obsolete

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

Sheer musical ability is one of the traits that die-hard prog fans often lord over other genres: for many, a defining element of prog is consummate musicianship. These prog fans in particular, then, will find Mike Borella’s latest opinion piece at Avant Music News rather, er, provocative, as he makes the case that musicianship is becoming obsolete in the face of advancing technology. I’m not sure this is entirely true, it seems to me that it’s more a case of the definitions and parameters of musical talent changing than said talent becoming irrelevant. Still, a very interesting little essay on a topic that’s well-worn in some circles (say, EAI) but definitely not in prog or even rock circles more generally.

Some great obscure jazz added to eMusic

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

Newsflash: hard-to-find Scandinavian jazz comes to eMusic! Two great little labels who have very limited distribution in the U.S., Jazzaway and Smalltown Superjazzz, have recently put up a bunch of stuff for download on the service. The former is home to groups like Crimetime Orchestra (whose Life Is a Beautiful Monster I only found at a reasonable price after a year’s searching on eBay) and The Core, while the latter houses The Thing, various other Mats Gustafsson projects, and more. Great news for those of us who can’t easily get some of this stuff!

20 Things You Must Know About Music Online

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Via HypeBot: a free 96-page book in PDF form, “20 Things You Must Know About Music Online.” This seems to be targeted at musicians trying to figure out how to use the Internet as a distribution mechanism for their art, but many of the concepts could apply to anyone trying to market anything using the latest Web 2.0 fads. Pretty interesting read.

The most interesting piece to me is “The Death of Scarcity.” This is a concept that the conventional music industry definitely doesn’t get:

There may have been a time where you would press a thousand copies of a CD, give away a couple of hundred as promos, and try and sell the other eight hundred. Now, you can press a thousand, give away a million, and still sell the thousand.

The death of scarcity makes a nonsense of the notion of the ‘lost sale’. If someone would never have bought your music in the first place, but acquires the music through some other means (perhaps as a recipient of one of those million promotional copies), you haven’t “lost a sale”, you’ve gained a listener.

More importantly, you’ve gained attention (remember that word — it becomes important).

This Heat now at eMusic

Saturday, May 12th, 2007

Missed the Ahleuchatistas/Eyesores show. Had awful allergies and headache all day and something made me think that Ahleuchatistas would probably not make my head feel any better. Damn.

Amidst the news of labels like Tzadik leaving eMusic, here’s some great news: ReR USA has put up all the This Heat albums on the service. Considering I never dropped the cash to get the box set that came out a while back, I might go this route and download some of their stuff — although I admit that I really fetishize the ReR box set packaging. (The Art Bears box set is one of the most beautiful things I own.)