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My resolution for 2006

Filed in: consumerism, music, rights, Sun, Jan 1 2006 14:22 PT

My last good New Years resolution came to me at the Y2K party. (I quit smoking, cold turkey.) This time, I’m ridding myself of another addiction, one that’s cost me thousands of dollars in my lifetime, and has grown more hazardous each year.

I’m going to stop buying new CDs.

It used to be that CDs were a known quantity: you put it in the player, press play, it works. A compact disc was, like a vinyl record, an artifact of a recording, something you knew you’d be able to play on any device that was physically compatible with it. This is key to the success of any media format. Nobody wants to buy an album (or a movie, or a book) knowing that its functionality has been crippled, particularly when the precise limitations aren’t disclosed beforehand. But somehow, according to the majors, our reluctance to play along with their dirty tricks is our fault, and reason to jack up prices and lock down content.

These days, it is clear that the record cartel is playing fast and loose with the rules, and not much caring about the consequences for the consumer. On some recent albums, labels are purposely breaking the redbook CD standard that guarantees that kind of compatibility, as another ill-conceived anti-piracy move. And that turns out to be the least of the consumer’s problems: we know about Sony’s XCP fiasco, which showed us that infecting our computers is on the table, from the cartel’s perspective. Of course, Sony isn’t alone here, as other labels and content protection companies look for various ways to hinder users from accessing the music they’ve purchased.

A CD is no longer the artifact that it once was: its own compatibility and longevity is in doubt, and those two properties comprise most of the value of purchasing a given recording. The record cartel is guilty of turning music into copy-protected software, complete with end-user licenses and spyware, and charging us more money for less freedom.

My resolution for 2006 is to stop buying new CDs, with very limited exceptions. I will limit my music consumption to what is available legally online. Any CDs I do purchase will be direct from the artist, from independent labels, or used, and will be ripped to MP3 and immediately archived.

I will get most of my music from sources I already know and use: namely, various Creative Commons netlabels like Magnatune, Comfort Stand and Epsilonlab; the music RSS feed at; and subscription sites like eMusic and Wippit that offer MP3 files. If the urge to buy a mass-market CD should strike (as it did about four times in 2005), I’ll buy it from the iTunes Music Store (this being a viable option since I have an iPod and copies of iTunes everywhere). If the record cartel gets its way and pushes the album price above $9.99, I’ll stop buying those, too.

Something’s gotta give in this marketplace. I will not continue to pay increasing sums for the CDs I buy, particularly when it seems that labels are using more of that money to take capabilities away from me than they do, you know, to pay artists. The labels, even after their shady accounting and the virtual indentured servitude of their artists, are on life support. It’s time to pull the plug.

OMG ive been podjacked!!!!

Filed in: music, Wed, Dec 14 2005 11:14 PT

Okay, not really. Though there is a different guy hosting the 24th installment of Staccato. Grant Robertson of The Revolution and cc:365 goes all mixy and mashy with Creative Commons downtempo in my extended absence from the booth.

On the other hand, the space on my desk that is normally occupied by my laptop is instead filled by a Mackie d.2 with FireWire, so it will be hard for me not to get back into the swing just as soon as my schedule will let me.

Putting faces to names

Filed in: media, music, Thu, Nov 10 2005 13:38 PT

It occurred to me the other night that my speaking gig at the Portable Media Expo and Podcasting Conference coincides with the one-year anniversary of the first episode of Staccato. Clearly, I have no choice but to do a show tonight.

I’m in Ontario through Saturday night. It should be easy to find me: just listen for a voice that sounds like mine.

Bumbershoot weekend

Filed in: lists, music, Tue, Sep 6 2005 07:46 PT

I spent the weekend at Seattle’s biggest music festival. All four days, I managed to find something to see. Plus, I managed to stay largely out of the rain on Sunday, which was a bonus. Here’s my Bumbershoot list:

  • Maktub
  • Citizen Cope
  • IQU
  • Lauren Weedman
  • Dave Eggers, Sarah Vowell, Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), Mike Doughty and the Transatlantic Orchestra in a Benefit for 826 Seattle (featuring a cover of Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” with Mike Doughty, Daniel Handler on accordion, and the Orchestra, aka Death Cab for Cutie)
  • Talib Kweli
  • Common
  • The Decemberists
  • The Be Good Tanyas
  • Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
  • Keren Ann
  • Michael Franti & Spearhead
  • Tegan and Sara

Believe it or not, this was my first Bumbershoot, despite having lived in Seattle for eight years. My first excuse was that I lived in Redmond, and was scared away by my Microsofty coworkers. The crowds, the noise, all that. Then, I took up with someone who sustained a catastrophic injury. She came back for the first time this year, too, and I don’t think she regretted it.

More Staccato coming soon

Filed in: music, projects, Mon, Jun 6 2005 22:44 PT

Background: In a previous lifetime, your host produced a music podcast called Staccato, in which

Okay, that was early May. Anyway, for various reasons, including the Corante podcast I’m producing, the vacation I took, the job I’m wrapping up, various doctor and veterinarian appointments, a 5k or two, and the house I have been spending thousands on so that I can sell it and move closer in to town.

If you’re wondering what you can do to get me to do more podcasts, you could always buy my house. It’s spacious — too much so for our purposes — and I just painted much of it. It’s also clean, and you can visit my cats. Seriously. Buy my house. (The funny thing is that the other big Creative Commons music podcaster, Grant Robertson, is also selling his house. Strange.)

Otherwise, you’re out of luck. I have lots of music queued up to play, and I’ve more or less skipped the last month’s worth of releases because of lack of listening time (and that included about a week of vacation, where I had nothing to do but audition tracks).

Still, it amazes me that I get 500 listeners per show. But I’d like to get to 1000 regular listeners, while still keeping the show to a bearable amount of work to prepare. So I’m going to go to episode 20 with the current long-format shows, and then I’m dropping down to about 30 minutes weekly, on a set schedule. There may be some other surprises in store, but I’ll never tell. Less, I guess, is more.

Vinyl for sale

Filed in: consumerism, music, personal, Mon, May 30 2005 22:29 PT

Having sold my turntables, I see no further need for my collection of vinyl records. If you are a connoisseur of UK garage, 2-step, breaks, downtempo, or drum & bass, you may be interested in browsing the complete list of 231 titles. Fully half of these titles were carried over from London, by me, and many are rare if not impossible to find over here.

I am entertaining bids on the entire lot before I start taking requests for individual titles. Whoever comes up with the best offer will also get my two record cases, which are worth some money themselves, and were also born in London. (Or borne, as it were — I carried 70 lbs. of records and CDs through the streets and tube stations during my one-day shopping spree.) Mail me with any questions or offers, or if you know of any efficient ways of unloading this volume of vinyl.

Musical Baton

Filed in: music, personal, Wed, May 18 2005 16:06 PT

I have been passed the musical baton from Mike Davidson, D. Keith Robinson, and Molly Holzschlag. (Jeezus, people.)

Total volume
My MP3 share on my home network contains 60.8GB of music. (Yes, it’s legal.) I have an additional 4GB of music that has been played or approved for play on Staccato.
Last CD bought
A tie: Mike Doughty’s Haughty Melodic and Ani DiFranco’s Knuckle Down.
Song playing right now
Mike Doughty, “Unsingable Name”
Five Seventeen songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me
Dar Williams, “The Ocean”
“you are a welcoming back from the ocean/it’s where we came from you know/sometimes, I just want to go back”
Belle and Sebastian, “There’s Too Much Love”
“you say I’ve got another face/that’s not a fault of mine these days/I’m brutal, honest and afraid of you”
Dan Bern, “Jerusalem”
“if you must put me in a box make sure it’s a big box/with lots of windows/and a door to walk through”
Ani DiFranco, “Buildings and Bridges”
“we are made to bleed/and scab, and heal, and bleed again/and turn every scar into a joke”
Liz Phair, “6’1″”
“I bet you fall in bed too easily/with the beautiful girls who are shyly brave/and you sell yourself as a man to save”
Alison Moyet, “Ode to Boy”
“from a shadow by a stair/I watch as he weeps, unaware/that I’m in awe of his despair”
Aphex Twin, “Cornish Acid”
Bomb the Bass f/Justin Warfield, “Bug Powder Dust”
“shocking your ass like a faulty vibrator/hear me now, but you’ll probably get the vibe later”
Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, “Television, the Drug of a Nation”
“where straight teeth in your mouth are more important/than the words that come out of it”
Francis Cabrel, “je t’aimais, je t’aime, je t’aimerais”
“quoi que tu fasses, l’amour est partout où tu regardes/dans les moindres recoins de l’espace/dans le moindre rêve où tu t’attardes”
“whatever you do, love is wherever you look/in the tiniest corners of space/in the tiniest dream you linger over”
Zero 7, “Somersault” (DJ Danger Mouse remix)
“you give love to all/and give love to me”
Indigo Girls, “Hammer and a Nail”
“learn how to use my hands/not just my head/I’d think my self into jail”
Lamb, “Little Things”
“we’re so sure we know so much that/we forget to listen”
Röyksopp, “Eple”
Rufus Wainwright, “Foolish Love”
So the day Noah’s ark floats down Park/my eyes will be simply glazed over/or better yet/I’ll wear shades on sunless days/and when the sun’s out I’ll stay in and slumber”
Soul Coughing, “Screenwriter’s Blues”
“it is 5am/and the sun has charred the other side of the world and come back to us/and painted the smoke over our heads an imperial violet”
Michael Hedges, “Ready or Not”
“fear can always frighten up a few disciples/but nothing can convert true identity”
Five People to Whom I’m Passing the Baton

Yahoo, iTunes and music rental

Filed in: music, rights, Wed, May 11 2005 17:03 PT

I see here, from the beaches of Ixtapa, that Yahoo has announced a music subscription service that comes out to around half the cost of the competing Napster and Rhapsody services. I don’t have many details other than the stories I managed to download, but it looks like something that I’d be willing to sign up for, at $5 or $7 a month.

There’s something that sort of confuses me when it comes to the debate over music subscription versus something like the iTunes Music Store. Advocates of the iTunes approach tell you that it’s all well and good that you can listen to all of this music on demand, but you’ll never own it like you do with music you’ve bought from iTunes.

Really? How’s that? I have about a thousand albums that I can for all intents and purposes say that I “own”. They were CDs that I purchased in stores and MP3s I bought legally from Emusic. I have no limitations to how I use these tracks for my own purposes, subject to existing legal limits, which I disagree with, but obey.

On the other hand, I have three tracks that I’ve paid for via the iTunes Music Store. One of them was on the laptop that was stolen, and I won’t get that one back. If I had the CD, I’d have been able to re-rip it, but as it is, that’s a dollar down the hole. Another track is associated with an email account I no longer control, with a password I can’t find, so that one’s as good as dead to me. And without burning the tracks to CD (at a lower quality than I would have had on a physical disc) and re-ripping them as MP3, none of them are of any use to me outside of Apple’s iTunes/iPod walled garden. In fact, I found iTunes changed my default ripping behavior from MP3 to AAC without my knowledge, presumably during my upgrade to Tiger, only after I’d ripped a dozen or so CDs for my vacation. (Luckily, BetaPlayer on Windows Mobile understands AAC. Free software kicks ass.)

Meanwhile, for these tracks I’ve paid for, Apple has changed the terms under which I can use them by altering its FairPlay DRM. To state an extreme case, Apple could shut down the entire iTunes project tomorrow, or even disable the software — something nobody can do to my CDs or MP3s, try as they might. And the day will come when that software is ancient, and support could be dropped. It may be five or ten years from now, but when it happens, those with hundreds or thousands of locked-down music tracks will be feeling pretty silly for not having made a CD copy.

How is this considered ownership? Both of these systems represent the same offer — temporary access to DRMed music files — on different terms (individual tracks on long-term lease versus entire catalogues on short-term rental). Music on demand is worth paying a fee. The sale of music in easily-obsoleted digital formats is not.

I’ll take Yahoo up on its offer and rent my music, rather than buying from iTunes. But when I find something I like, I’ll hop over to the record store and buy it on CD. It’ll save me money to be able to hear entire albums before I buy them (Blu Cantrell: what was I thinking?), and I’ll have ultimate control over what I can do with the music, unless they manage to succeed in making the DRM CD. (Which I doubt they will, unless they can fool us all into DVD-Audio.)

But at the same time, I’d pay much more for a compulsory licensing scheme, where I’d have unlimited download access to an entire catalog in a robust format. And I’d pay even more than that to be able to turn around and podcast the items that I want, rather than fooling around with the licensing nightmare we have now.

I’ve even considered submitting a show to Adam Curry’s Sirius show called The Podcast I Can’t Do, featuring the music I have in my collection. I’m not able to distribute a show like that because of the cost involved in doing it all legally, but since Sirius picks up the tab on its broadcast network, I’d be free to do what I like. I wonder what Podshow would think about that.

Two or three bucks per song

Filed in: marketing, music, rights, Thu, Apr 21 2005 14:08 PT

Think Secret reports that Apple will offer iTunes Mobile in June. Okay, cool. It’s a phone and an iPod mashed up. Not a bad 1.0 for that offering. But that’s not what this post is about. It’s really about the so-called competition: Sprint, Verizon and Cingular are launching competing services, charging “between $2-$3 per song”.

To the operators building these services, I have one question.

Are you fucking nuts?

How stupid do you have to be to think this is an acceptable value proposition to the listener? Let’s do the math: a CD at Sam Goody costs $19. (It’s more like $12-15 at places that don’t try to screw you.) It contains a minimum of eight songs, and that disc is your property until the pits fall off of the CD. The iTunes Music Store is only a viable concern because at $10 per album, it offers a discount off the cost of a physical CD to counterbalance what is lost: physical ownership, portability and permanency.

Let’s apply these properties to the operators’ offering: for the privilege of downloading DRMed content, which is presumably only playable on your phone, and which will disappear once you change carriers, they want to charge you more than you’d pay for a DRM-free, higher-quality, utterly flexible CD. Never mind how frustrating I would imagine a pre-3G interface on tens or hundreds of thousands of tracks will be. Yes, I know that the cost of the DRM is high. But as the saying goes, your failed business model is not my problem.

The part that kills me about this is that the operators’ offering is going to be such a spectacular failure that they will walk away shaking their heads and saying that the market wasn’t ready for them. Then they’ll spend 5 years holding off on giving us higher bandwidth and more advanced services, because they won’t be able to figure out anything to sell over that connection besides ringtones. I have no confidence that they will eventually realize the strategic error in their thinking, and as a result engage in a market conversation. It seems that’s not what a mobile provider does.

The carriers would have been wise to adopt the Napster To Go model. Add $15 a month to your mobile bill (a great deal for operators who wish for $100 per subscriber per month), and have access to all the music in the Napster catalogue. Even better from Napster’s perspective, the devices have limited storage space relative to desktop machines, and limited bandwidth with which to suck down files. That beats the hell out of $3 for a single download. The way I see it, if I’m going to pay money for music that I’m not going to actually own, I want to not-own all of it.

New music month

Filed in: music, personal, Mon, Apr 18 2005 09:52 PT

I’m on a music-buying kick. Here’s what I’ve picked up in the last 30 days:

  • Ray Lamontagne – Trouble
  • Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose
  • Moby – Hotel
  • Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced?
  • Thievery Corporation – The Cosmic Game
  • Beck – Guero
  • Police – Synchronicity
  • Guns n’ Roses – G n’ R Lies
  • Phunk Junkeez – Fear of a Wack Planet
  • Outkast – Stankonia
  • Handsome Boy Modeling School – White People
  • Busta Rhymes – It Ain’t Safe No More…
  • Busta Rhymes – When Disaster Strikes…
  • 2Pac – Me Against the World
  • Jay-Z – The Blueprint
  • Jurassic 5 – Quality Control
  • Kings of Tomorrow f/Julie McKnight – Finally (single)
  • REM – Document
  • Julia Fordham – Swept
  • Anne Sofie von Otter meets Elvis Costello – For the Stars
  • k.d. lang – Ingénue
  • Cat Stevens – The Very Best of…
  • Johnny Cash – Love
  • Johnny Cash – God
  • Michael Hedges – Aerial Boundaries
  • Who – Quadrophenia
  • Soul Coughing – El Oso
  • Soul Coughing – Ruby Vroom
  • Jack Johnson – On and On
  • Jack Johnson – Brushfire Fairytales
  • Jill Sobule – Happy Town
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygene
  • Télépopmusik – Genetic World
  • White Stripes – Elephant
  • St. Etienne – Travel Edition
  • B.B. King/Eric Clapton – Riding with the King
  • Eagle Eye Cherry – Desireless
  • v/a – Cream Anthems
  • v/a – Stoned Immaculate – the Music of the Doors
  • v/a – Sacred Rhythms of Cuba

So, 40 CDs in about a month’s time. Of which, 29 were $1.50 or less, another four were $3, and all but one cost less than $10. This is why I love the Seattle Public Library’s half-yearly book sale, and why I am absolutely deadly whenever a $9.99 sale, cutout bin or used CD store is within range.

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