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What a streaming pile of crap!

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

The best kind of stream.

This is a stream. Yw.

As much as I appreciate streaming services, I think the limitations on mobile data bandwidth (as well as the threat of this in the world of wired services) and people’s familiarity with downloading translates into the death of the mp3 being much, much farther off than some are saying it is. I know when I see things like “the new ___ track STREAM is out!!”, I typically just click away. It almost makes me angry. Why tie up all that bandwidth EVERY time you want to hear a song? And why would someone hosting a file want to stream it over and over when they could just as easily send it once and then the listener can listen anytime she or he wants? Why pay for that bandwidth as a distributor, over and over instead of just once? Control? Oh come on, we know you’ll never get that again. At least not like it used to be. Besides, it’s not like streams can’t be captured. It all seems so wasteful. Especially with storage as cheap as it is now and bandwidth under constant threat of being more expensive/metered/capped for consumers.

As long as streaming is one of many options rather than the ONLY option, I’m fine with it. And please do not misunderstand, I realize the benefits of streaming music. I listen to Pandora here and there, at least until its cold, mechanized nature rears its ugly head. That usually takes about an hour or so.  Spotify seems like a great service, and yes I know there’s more human interaction and curation there.  I still prefer pure, absolute human curation, but they’ll do in a pinch and I have actually discovered some things using Pandora. It has its place. But for the most part it makes some really wild, inaccurate assumptions about my tastes that just end up frustrating me far too easily. (aren’t you all proud of me for not taking another cheap shot at Coldplay and bands that sound like them here?)

I realize there are streaming services that have social aspects to them, but I’ve honestly never found very much that’s compelling about any of them. Not even the most popular services. Its probably just me.

You can be sure, downloads are here to stay for quite a while. Many, myself included, will always prefer having the option to be offline and listen. Besides, do you really trust a few larger companies and services with archiving what will one day, without question, be obscure or even lost? Individuals are just as, if not more important for preservation. Collectors often consider themselves archivists, and rightly so.  Many works thought to be lost have been rediscovered either on purpose or accidentally in the collections on sale at swap meets, estate sales and garage sales. It warms my heart to know that there are people out there digitizing their vinyl (and CD) collections. Eventually, most of the vinyl out there will simply disappear and to be honest the CDs will deteriorate even faster. I have CDs that are just a few years old that are falling apart, even in protective cases and after being treated with kid gloves. The losses will be gradual, and most people will react in the same way a frog reacts to a slow boiling ( I know..eww ). But what of works created after the mp3 revolution? I remember naively thinking back in the days of Napster that very soon there would no longer be such a thing as a “lost work”. Now with this whole “have everything, own nothing” movement, that bright future is fading away again.

We luckily have that growing movement of people taking great care and pains to “rip” lossless copies of older and more obscure works (and the relatively obscure ones too). The copyright police will no doubt be wringing their hands and sweating over this, but even they will someday appreciate these people’s efforts. The way things are going with copyright, chances are “orphaned” works (music at least) will never reach the public domain. In a post-physical-media world, it will be profitable for lawyers to “haunt” our culture to watch for revivals of certain works for the chance to license or re-claim ownership to works they didn’t care enough about to preserve themselves. In a way, our love for the music itself will be turned into a sort of crowdsourced monetization game. We as a culture do the work, they reap the rewards through insanely long-living copyright, repeatedly extending it until no-one ever sees any works they grew up with fall into the public domain in their lifetimes. If they lighten up about fair use, I’ll take that trade. But we must value ownership, as consumers, if we are forced to live in a world of perpetual, infinite copyright. It’s only fair. Don’t buy into the whole “have everything, own nothing” concept so easily. Really think about the impact of that before embracing it.

We have to say loud and proud… I want my data where I want it and when I want it. And not just when I’m connected. ( yeah it’s a mouthful and it’s not quite as catchy as.. say “we’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore”, but we still need to say it ) Sites and companies go down all the time. While I think cloud services by Google and Amazon will be around for a very, very long time, even they could someday just decide to stop. We need services that help us get legal, downloadable files in addition to streaming services. It’s not like solid state drives are going to have less capacity at higher prices in the future. Quite the opposite. And they will take up less physical space as time goes on. To stream everything will make less and less sense rather than more and more. And those cloud services will be used for what they should be used for primarily anyway, BACKUP!  Streaming is a nice, convenient, secondary use. The people who want to monetize your metered and limited bandwidth love the idea of going back to markets with limitations again, no matter if the limitations are bandwidth (that they meter and charge you for) or the concentrated, corporate-controlled curation, ultra-limited scope of selection and minimized diversity this will bring about. Probably both. Fewer choices coupled with concentrated media ownership that also profits from metered bandwidth equals endless, focused profit guarantees.

For a while.

Because all good things come to an end. Even when they’re evil.

But I’m just an optimist.

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Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31805863@N00/372687525/

Image and this document: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic  (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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6.9 Tips for Dropbox Submissions (and submissions in general)

March 13, 2011 1 comment

box 69

drop box 69

I run into a few problems here and there related to mp3 submissions. They can be frustrating, mildly annoying and in the worst case scenario, make it impossible to nearly impossible for me to include the track in the playlist. You have no idea how terrible it feels when I have a track sitting in a folder, a track that sounds amazing, only to find out that the track is called “song name.mp3″…….

Ouch.

Then I think to myself.. no problem. I’ll just check the id tags.

Double ouch. Nothing there. Not even the song name in the file name. So what do I do? Start a full investigation? Rely on my superpower (addled memory)? No, I simply have to move on. And that is very, very sad. I’m not being facetious! I find it genuinely sad when there’s a track I cannot attribute to an artist at the very least. And the file names that are truncated or incomplete are NEVER the band names or artist’s names, they are always song names. And in most cases, the song titles are common and could be any number of artists. Truly a shame.

So I thought now would be a good time to do a sort of “best practices” post regarding mp3 files, submissions and related things. I bring to you…

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6.9 Tips for DropBox and E-mail Submissions

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Tip 1If at all possible, find a way to e-mail tracks to me instead of using a dropbox. Yes, it may take a few moments longer, but in the end it’s better for both of us. I pay closer attention to e-mail submissions, and they are easier to keep track of in my gmail. Then, if something does go wrong, I can hit reply and clear it all up rather than having to sign into a site again, find the track on a long list of tracks and hope that the information I’m looking for is there. ( indiesixtynine@gmail.com )

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Tip 2 Get your file names and id3-4 tags right. If your song spreads around, as you probably hope it will, virally even, it will be important to you to make sure a few details are present in the file. Things like, oh.. I dunno.. your name or the band’s name? The name of the song? Less importantly, the name of the album or maybe even your web site urls? Cover art is a nice touch, even if it’s a digital only release.  You can edit these tags easily with programs like Winamp just by opening the file and clicking in the part of the program that typically displays such information. This will allow you to edit the info and save it very easily. There are also nice programs out there such as MP3Tag – The Universal Tag Editor . MP3Tag is freeware and works wonderfully. It’s easy to use, powerful and versatile. Never trust iTunes, as wonderful as it is, to do all the work for you. MP3Tag will let you add cover art easily, edit extended tags, and supports ID3v1, ID3v2.3, ID3v2.4, iTunes MP4, WMA, Vorbis Comments and APE Tags. Good stuff.

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Tip 3When you are choosing encoding quality, choose wisely. Even if your track is lo-fi. I’ve met completely unknown artists, I mean completely unknown, who are severely and unrealistically paranoid about their music being “stolen”. Look, if you want your music heard, the only way to do it these days is to put it out there to BE heard. It’s your right to keep it to yourself, of course. And it’s your right to decide how it’s shared, if you believe there is power in that somehow. But if your intention is to have what you created heard by an audience, you will find that the “industry” is unwilling to take chances on emerging talent when it comes to exposing your music to a large audience. If what you created is something you believe is worth hearing, and you release it to the wild in the right ways, it WILL be heard. It is my opinion that in most cases this type of paranoia is usually not what it seems to be on the surface. I believe it is a sort of masked self-sabotage or fear of failure. Some of these people feel that if they release a low-quality mp3, people will be encouraged to buy a CD or a higher quality download version of their song or album. In my experience, this is not the case. What it really means is that the track you sent out the the public, the track that represents YOU and your new work, simply sounds like crap and will be perceived as such. There are really no subtleties and strategies here. If what you put out is crap, people will remember you as crap. Use the best quality encoding you can, at the highest bit-rate possible. And if you really want people to hear the subtleties of your recording, give people lossless versions of your tracks on your own site.

I would be so happy if there were even enough new lossless promotional tracks out there monthly to fill a new lossless playlist even 10 tracks long each month. But I just do not encounter enough of these monthly, at least not from genuine sources. The world of piracy seems to be the only true domain of quality currently, with a few exceptions. It’s not as if our portable music players don’t have the space needed to store these tracks, they more often do now than do not. For most people, mp3 is simply good.. enough. It will take a willingness and enthusiasm on the part of artists to encourage the use of lossless formats, because the common listener clearly is not asking for them.

But back to reality here. There are options, and the quality of encoders do vary. While the rest of the world of encoding rests on its laurels, the LAME project has and does continue to develop and improve mp3 encoding technology. LAME is only released as source code because of patent issues, but many open source, closed source, free and paid encoders use LAME to encode mp3 files. You can find a list of these programs HERE. UberStandard has a fantastic step by step guide to getting the absolute best quality CD rips (if you are ripping from a mastered CD of your own rather than from a mastered, higher bit-rate, lossless digital file) that makes it all very, very easy. There are other guides out there, as well as other encoders. Look around. But do your research if you care about your music and how it’s presented.There may be some controversy surrounding the various mp3 encoders out there, my advice is to try a few different things and go with the one that suits your ears and maybe a few other ears as well.

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Tip 4Include some information about your project/recording/band/process/history along with your file. Many artists may feel uncomfortable with what feels like self-promotion, but if you truly are doing it “indie” or “DIY”, you should probably relax your self-promotional standards a bit, as doing otherwise would go a bit against the whole idea of DIY/Indie projects. If you just cannot bring yourself to write your own bio, get a friend or a critic familiar with your work to do it for you. Make it short, informative and fascinating. If the whole project cost 15 dollars to make and you used all borrowed instruments, mention it. Figure out what makes your project stand out and focus a little on that.The music will speak for itself, and any context you add that is appealing, unusual or fascinating will improve that first listening experience. Include a little info on the other people involved in your project, to a point. But I don’t need to know who your management is or the name of the guy that loads your gear and who he toured with before becoming your personal slave.

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Tip 5Check your links. If you are not attaching a file, and are instead pointing to a download, make sure that the download works and if it does work make sure that the number of hoops I have to jump through to get said file(s) are as few as possible. I recently was sent a link to an mp3 submitted for the playlist that sent me to a site, which required that I join the site, then wait for a confirmation e-mail containing a link to the file. When I finally got the automated confirmation and reached the link, I discovered that in order to download the file I needed to allow javascript for approximately 9 domains. (NOT an exaggeration) Then, after allowing all that scripting, the file still would not download. I simply had to set it aside and move on.I realize that this type of process is very common and somewhat popular, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck the stink out of rotten eggs. Because it in fact does. I also realize that this is sometimes not the fault of the artists themselves. All they know is that the service they are using is common and widely used. My suggestion is that if you are using a service to reach fans and/or promotional resources, try the service first as if you were a fan or a blog (or playlist). Then count how many seconds pass before you want to go do something else. Direct downloads and attachments, the “old fashioned way” (in other words, 2009) is always best. Keep it simple, make it fun (or at least not annoying). And try to remember exactly what it is you want to do by making a file available for download and stick to that one task. Any service that is trying to DRAG a fan to a site and make them stay there or force return visits for something as simple as a file download, is repelling to fans. A compelling site brings fans back because when they last visited, they found what they were looking for, hassle-free. And when it comes to critics, you don’t generally want to piss them off right before they listen to your music, attaching that emotional response to your music, probably for some.. permanently! Just because a service is popular or widely used, does not mean it is useful to YOU. It may be useful to some established artists, ones who already have ravenous fans willing to jump through hoops to get to their content. But to others it may mean the difference between giving your music a shot or NOT. And don’t even get me started on streams. Someday, streams may be available to us 24/7, wherever we are. For now, this is still not the case. Even for those of us with modern smartphones and unlimited , fast data plans. Even for those people, networks are unstable and unpredictable, sites go down (or go away completely). Nothing… NOTHING beats a file that a music fan can HAVE and KEEP. Nothing. And nothing promotes your music better than your music.

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Tip 6Exclusives feel good. Yes, you want your track to reach as many ears as possible. But when I get an exclusive track, even a few days early, it feels great. And I’m going to be paying closer attention. This may or may not be true for other playlist peeps. And I’m not sure many artists actually realize the size of the audiences we reach (collectively) every month quite yet. When you consider the number of monthly playlists out there now, and the various ways some of them make the files available, you have to imagine it’s in the hundreds of thousands at this point. I know Blalock’s and Criznittle’s playlists get TONS of downloads every month alone. Add in the rest of us, and you’ve got some pretty big numbers, rivaling most blogs out there. But the focus still seems to be on giving bloggers the exclusives. And that’s fine. When I get them, I smile. When I do not, I don’t frown or anything. That’s for others to do. Like you when you reach 400 people instead of 40 thousand, along with a snarky review that compares you to the flavor of the week because it makes them feel like better critics. Don’t get me wrong, I loves the music blogs. Without them I wouldn’t be doing all this. And I am kinda one of them. I just tend to focus on what I like and do not spend a lot of energy on tearing down the tastes of others, as much as I respect the art of criticism. I just see a lot of really underdeveloped, deceptively polysyllabic critics on overly-respected blogs lately. While a lot of the less-read blogs are doing the real work out there and following their own trends. The point is…. notice us. We’re working hard to get the music out there because of pure love for it. And I think we’re all doing a better job of it than many of us get credit for.

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Tip 6.9If you submit a track for a playlist, be sure the track can actually be downloaded. There have been several recent SoundCloud submissions that have been stream-only. Know what you’re submitting to. And, (here’s the .9 part) don’t suc…

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I hope this has been helpful to some of you out there, and not too snarky. I cannot wait to hear your music. Genuinely.

Image credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/darwinbell/2936681653/

Image and this document licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.

Doyle and The FourFathers – New Single and free track!

September 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Anglophiles rejoice! One of my favorites for a while now, Doyle and the FourFathers, have released a new version of their great track “Governor of Giving Up”, along with another new track that honestly is just as good for your free downloading pleasure. You can stream (320 kbps stream) the new version of Governor at their Facebook page.  Physically(and virtually), the single will be available for purchase on Oct 4th in CD single, 7″ and digital download(pre-order it!). I should honestly dust off the turntable and grab the vinyl! I think it would sound great that way. Like it belongs in that format. No, I’ll grab both! The free download, “Please send my Regards” is just another example of their constant growth as songwriters and performers.  I already adored the demo version. And this new version of Governor is a huge improvement of what was already a stand-out track.  Once again, Doyle and the FourFathers will dominate my mp3 player. The strings in the middle section, the vibrato guitar, all so much better than the original. Even the vocals are stronger. It’s not just a better recording, it’s a better performance.  It sounds fantastic. Normally I avoid not making the tracks I’m sent available for direct downloading here, but this is SO good, I’m sending you to the band’s site at their request. When you enter your e-mail, you’ll be able to get the track AND they’ll let you know when new tracks and other DT4F stuff is available. A more than fair exchange. Don’t worry, they won’t spam you.

These guys are golden, watch ’em closely.

Go grab “Please send my Regards” at DT4F.com immediately.

You can also stream some of their music on MySpace and you can follow them if you’re on the Twitter.

Top 13 ways to bring Radio back from the Dead

September 16, 2010 2 comments

Radio Towers

Towers of Love

I’ve probably made my love for radio fairly clear on this blog. But I’ve never really explained it in detail, given my reasons and my hopes. Your imaginary curiosity combined with my lack of mp3s to easily and quickly post this week means my chance has arrived. This will be a long read. But the rewards will be many.

My love for radio started when I was very, very young. (yes, it’s going to be THAT kind of blog post,sorry) It all began with AM, oddly enough. Those weird stations you could pull in across the country on just the right night, with just the right weather conditions. UFOs, weird religious shows, oddballs, really old music, all of it.  Then I found my first truly independent AM station, which was probably a pirate radio station considering most nights they played noise music and strange stuff like the joyous Residents and a bit of the old Throbbing Gristle. I remember thinking “you can do this on the radio?”. Turns out you can. Then I found left of the dial FM and I was hooked.  There were a couple of years there when so-called “alternative radio” kept my attention, until they became the Limp Bizkit/Korn/Sublime networks.

Can we just come to a mutual understanding that Sublime (or at least its surviving members) doesn’t practice Santeria and leave it at that? It’s pretty clear and they’ll be getting no argument from me anymore. And we are all clear on how many joints you smoke in the morning as well as at night. It’s 2. Perhaps a total of 4 per day or more.

In my region, radio died a few years ago. We still have two truly independent stations in the area, but they are usually just out of range. In the city itself, you have to tune to obscure cable radio to find independent radio that is not the local NPR outlet or a jazz/classical only station. Pretty sad for a major area.  I can think of at least 3 religious stations. Only one of them AM. I’m sure there are more. Then we have your usual 2 country stations, 2 classic rock stations and countless pop nostalgia stations focusing on the 80s and now even the 90s and 2000s. And those aren’t even over yet. One top 40-ish station (even if something that is not your typical top 40 fair crosses over and makes it to the top 40, they still won’t play it) and one rap station that honestly sounds more like the top 40 station than a real rap station. Your average normal will say that’s diversity. It’s not. Many of these stations are pre-programmed and identical no matter where you go in the country. Anyone who has taken a road trip recently can testify to this. Once you leave an area, you can count on another area having a station with different call letters and not much else. There’s a “The BUZZ” in every major area. (I just made that name up.. I think..) And their playlists are identical, as are their on the air personalities, if they even have any.

Living in southern California for a short period of time at the end of good commercial radio, I witnessed those last few years of radio personalities. DJs that still chose content to play, participated in playlists and actually had an interest in the artists being played. And they even expressed opinions. Those days are also over. The only place you’ll find DJs still talking about the music between songs is on geezer rock stations. And these classic rock stations are only doing it because they know it’s a proven formula for their audience.

Now I find out the radio industry would like mandatory FM receivers in every mobile phone. Some say this is a way for them to “save radio”.

WTF??

You want to save radio? How about you actually bring radio BACK from it’s coma. I’m going to do the industry a favor and hand this over for free. You can even pretend it was your idea. I know some of you will be surprised at how money-focused some of this is. But the reality is that you cannot operate a commercial station in a major market and reach a large audience without considering the money side of things. Things just do NOT have to be the way they are. You need to bring the new audiences back to radio. And music needs radio back in order to bring back large-audience curation.

Here are the top 13 ways you can save radio and bring it back from the dead….

13. Start doing better research into your potential audiences. Yeah, numbers suck. Marketing sucks. Polls and estimations suck. But it’s a game none of us are going to be able to avoid now. Embrace it. But do it the right way. Listen! A lot of your radio audience is not part of the crowd that hangs at the mall or regularly frequents Starbucks, or even the local retail stores. I can guarantee you, whatever method you’re using to figure out what the radio audience wants is grossly inaccurate. That’s part of why no-one listens to radio anymore. You just got it wrong for far too long and delivered crap because you thought it was what we wanted. The truth is, probably a good 50% of the people you made contact with regarding listening habits wouldn’t know what they wanted to hear unless someone told them what it was. So what do you do? You ask those people. And what do they tell you they want? More of the same. Ungh! Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want you to go out and find a bunch of indie hipsters and only listen to what they want. That would probably be a worse disaster. But you need to find SOME of those people. And people who actually love radio.

12. Get rid of the anti-DJ creep that’s been going on for over a decade now. It all started with “less talk… more rock” BS. Radio programming by computer is worse. I don’t need to prove that to you now, do I? It’s obvious at this point because radio is dying or in some places dead already. It’s a nostalgia fest catered to state workers and soccer moms that love Coldplay. People whose lives ended with high school. Harsh? Yeah. But it doesn’t make it less true. The only way to get past this crap is to put actual people in charge of deciding what gets on the radio. AND let them TALK about the music they pick. And give them some time. Which brings us to the next thing…

11. Give new formats time to build a loving, loyal audience base. Like I mentioned above, many of these people don’t know what they want until they’ve had it for a few years and miss it when it’s been taken away from them.  They will tell you NOW that what they have is fine. But the truth is, it takes time for people to warm up to any kind of new ideas or diversity they’re not used to. Arrogant? A little. But again, not any less true. When those first numbers come through, don’t drop the ball. And you MUST continually mix things up. Don’t over-play one genre, but focus on the NEW.

10. Once the programming feels like it’s found it’s sweet spot, don’t freeze playlists. I know it’s a temptation. But that’s how it starts. A year later when your audience is telling you they want to hear the same STP and Nirvana tracks over and over (of course now the bands would be different), you’ll listen. And then gradually your audience numbers will drop. See, that’s a great way to not gain a NEW audience. It can be a hard balance, and difficult to do when your audience die-hards are asking why “you’re playing all that new crap.. that’s ghey”. But you have to not listen at that point. That’s the bad advice that will spell your doom. That new song that pisses off 50 of your old fans (vocal ones) may be the ONLY reason 500 NEW listeners (quiet ones that do not give you feedback yet) are listening at all.

Read more…

New MGMT video will make you squirm.(Not Work-Safe)

March 30, 2010 2 comments

WTF is that? (or wt fisthat)

Your fleshlight is ready Mr Goliath.

This thing is pretty creepy. Yet wonderful in some way. Not since Cronenberg’s version of Naked Lunch have I seen so much uncomfortable stuff crammed into a few minutes of film(I can think of a few moments in that film). Is that a human hand “turtling” out of what appears to be an anus at the end of an iron lung!!?? Is that a phallic alien creature singing out of his neck wound? Why, yes it is! When’s lunch??

You can see it for yourself here. I think I may need to consult some experts to determine if it’s work-safe. So, to be on the work-safe side, let’s just say maybe no.

Not work safe? Hell, this might not be consciousness safe. All kidding aside, this might be the best video I’ve seen in years. Made by the guy that brought you Fever Ray’s “If I Had a Heart”, Andreas Nilsson. So there ya go. MGMT has outdone themselves with “Flash Delerium”. I love the track, unlike a lot of folks out there. And the more I hear it, the more I like it. And the album is really, really good. You can stream it right there at that same link. You can also pre-order. It comes out on the 13th of April.

Have fun squirming and dancing.

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