Trophies of Sand

Synthesist Rheyne (Jon Barbieri) and guitarist Robert Manganaro mine the vein of improvised ambient on a terrific playlist full of chilled goodness.

The duo records their improvisations live and so all the loopng and sequencing and mixing is in real time. This is very hard to do as tautly as the two do it. Lots of technological acumen underlies the organic feel of these slow building improvisations.

Robert Manganaro – guitar
SoundCloud http://soundcloud.com/robert-manganaro
Instagram http://instagram.com/rmanganaro
Twitter http://twitter.com/robertmanganaro

Jon Barbieri (@RheyneMusic) – keyboards
YouTube http://youtube.com/rheynemusic
Facebook http://facebook.com/rheynemusic
Instagram http://instagram.com/rheynemusic
Google+ http://google.com/+rheynemusic
Twitter http://twitter.com/rheynemusic
SoundCloud http://soundcloud.com/rheyne

 

Music Biz: Some Real Information

https://soundcloud.com/ableton/smw_music_in_the_age_of_democratization

Good stuff. I don’t track the mainstream music business–such as it lumbers along these days–but the edge of technology and DIY aspiration remains where the action is centered. Andrea Leonelli’s DMT podcasts are essential for tracking that nexus.

Brian Eno Has a Year

highlife

Brian Eno & Karl Hyde – High Life at Warp Records

Brian Eno wins Giga-Hertz Award for contribution to electronic music
Producer and musician takes home €10,000 for his lifetime of ‘musical transgression’ at prestigious ceremony

Brian Eno Net

Brian Eno Tagged on Soundcloud

Brian Eno Music on Facebook

Eno & Hyde’s High Life is, for me, one of the highlight’s of the year in electronic and experimental music. Obviously the recording contains a bounty of wonderful sound, yet what really brightened my appreciation was learning that the duo made the record in five intense days of dedicated collaborative experimentation.

This reminds me of how I work. Although Eno is more a spiritual influence over thirty years rather than a direct sonic influence, some of the rough experiments for my next records are somewhat Eno-esque in their being unfinicky, ambient, experimental outputs.

Gear Lust 1

prophet-12

The Prophet-12 used to be at the top of the list titled, wish-to-have.

Pro-2

The Prophet-12 has now been replaced by the Pro-2.

Dave Smith Instruments Pro-2 Monophonic/Paraphonic Synthesizer Keyboard
The Pro 2 was designed primarily as a super-powerful monosynth, but it’s also a true, four-voice paraphonic synth that allows you to control each of its four oscillators individually with their own envelope. This makes playing four-note chords not only possible, but very expressive. Package all of this power in a three-and-a-half octave, semi-weighted keyboard with velocity and channel aftertouch, add two backlit pitch and mod wheels and two location and pressure sensitive touch sliders, and you’ve got one of the most feature-rich, awe-inspiring synthesizers ever created.

Paraphonic mode is implemented by allowing each of the four oscillators to play a different note on the keyboard. So you can play four note chords going through one or both of the filters. That’s cool, but what’s really brilliant (and my favourite trick on the Pro 2) is that you can still independently set the oscillator’s waveform, pitch, modulation etc. So each note of your chord can be using a totally different waveform and pitch offset. Each “voice” also gets its own amp envelope, which helps to make it feel even more like a fully polyphonic synth. Throw the arpeggiator into the mix and you get these amazing, evolving, timbrally complex, melodically shifting sequences that sound like they’ve taken hours of painful editing to achieve. It’s a very cool thing and definitely not something you will find in many synths. Review at Rozzer

Terrific and wide-ranging interview with iconic Mr. Smith

Audreio to the Rescue

Apple App-Store has always been about the most staggering example of Apple’s do it our way or not at all business approach. It remains a monstrosity stuck to an intentionally opaque and user-hating front end.

For us music makers on IOS hardware I would suppose we’re used to it and have figured out workarounds. Yet, sometimes an enterprising user-intefrace innovator comes along and helps the cause in a fell swoop.

Audre.io, apparently, is working on a remote audio IOS app. At the same time they’ve engineered a very useful interface for searching through available IOS music making instruments and effects and hosts. Muy bien.

It’s Mostly All About Documentation

roadcases
Two thirds of the live recordings of Wilco, available at their online store.

When the three volumes of Russell Sanjek’s American Popular Music and Its Business appeared in 1988, I waited for the interlibrary loan came through–I was in Vermont at the time–and then I was set for the task. I skimmed huge chunks of it and bore down on the last two volume, covering the modern music business.

When done, a single reflection dominated by sense of their history: it was almost a complete history but, strangely, their account so underplayed the development of the modern distribution system that it fell down just because of that single deficit. The major label distribution system allowed the labels to sell hundreds of thousands of units on Tuesday release days. It allowed for a deep integration with the ordering systems of large retailers. That system had its heyday from around 1970-2005, and it paralleled the rise of the chain record store. (My last stint in the music business was spent as a manager for a chain between 1995-2000.) By the end of the 2011, with the implosion of Borders Books and Music, the multi-outlet music specialist had instantly become a memory.

Because the giant pipelines and the attending policies of the major label system so favored chain outlets, also by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, most of the independent record stores in the U.S. had gone out of business.

The age of distribution lasted thirty-five years. In 1988, when Sanjek’s epic three volume history was published, the biggest issue in the music business was consolidation, retail price wars, MTV, and, the extraordinary costs involved in rolling the dice in hopes of positioning an artist to sell big numbers and make a profit. The business at the time was also a plantation and anybody who paid close attention to the predicament of music artists understood that the rise of the modern distribution system went hand in hand with all the dishonorable tactics record labels used to manage risk by hiding sales, cooking books, and shifting revenues from the artist’s side of the ledge to their own.

Here in Cleveland, the music departments at Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, are laughable ghosts of the old chain departments with their 15,000-50,000+ titles. Incidentally, Cleveland is home to roughly a dozen independent record stores, and two very small chains. The latter specialize in used entertainment media. 

I buy my music as digital downloads from iTunes, Amazon and eMusic. Every now and then, less than ten times a year, I buy a compact disc. And, I’m resourceful about checking out streams and downloads for the purpose of auditioning music. The internet cleary constitutes the biggest free record store ever, and this was not a revolution Russell Sanjek could have anticipated.

What accounts for the volume of new music that grows every year? Think about this awesome and awesomely weird fact.

Wilco
Wilco recording music in the comfort of their living room.

The Age of Documentation 2005 – ongoing

Because of the internet, distribution has been democratized. The incentive to primarily invest in pushing a single release every year has collapsed outside what’s left of the major label record business. The situation of independent labels (I would assume) is mostly precarious; stuck as they are between the challenging business and risk models of the big labels and the minimalist experiments of the do-it-yourself market space.

But, I’m guessing, really. The one feature of the 21st century music business I’m sure about is that the age of distribution has morphed into the Age of Documentation. Because the costs involved in being prolific have shrunk so rapidly and the barriers to meeting low demand are so low at the low end (!) it makes sense that, for example, Wilco would release thirty live records over the several years.

Last year, among the musical artists I am committed to, and trying to track, and acquire,
saxophonist Ken Vandermaark released at least five records, jazz icon Anthony Braxton released over the last two years six records, punk popsters The Flaming Lips released at least six records, ambient soundscaper Steve Roach released at least nine records, experimental guitarist and dronemeister Aidan Baker released at least six records.

What could be the business model underlying artists just pushing, usually on their own, all this music into the market space? I have no idea. Except, I can do the kind of math that suggest that ten records selling 500 units is equal to one record selling 5,000 units. 

Over the next month or so I will be reviewing my own favorite recordings of 2013. Wilco is a great American band. What I’ve heard of their Roadcase Series of concert recordings is stellar. There are 29 Roadcases to date! Hurray for documentation. 

Wilco – Roadcase #23 (Austin, TX) – 2013-10-11  is super fine. [Get it: Here] Wilco’s web site implements most of the modern “post-bricks-and-mortar” merchandising angles. This observer is reminded of the important and groundbreaking part The Grateful Dead played in all this. Defunct for over twenty years, The Grateful Dead released something like half a dozen archival records last year!

The Voice Gracefully Trapped In Time

Diane Birch singing her originalValentino from her 2009 debut Bible Belt.

I first heard Diane Birch on her episode of Daryl’s House. Alas, Episode #24 is no longer in the archive at Daryl’s House, but their set can be reconstructed from the wealth of her videos on youtube.

For example:

Being a sucker for 60-70’s revivalism in, as I guess it makes sense to say, ‘younger voices and hands,’

Ms. Birch made mad progress between her plucky moves to LA and NY, the release of a 2009 debut stocked with nothing but original songs, and the session with Daryl Hall and his great house band. Myself being an old timer, she reminded me (in 2010) sonically of the squaring of Carly Simon and Phoebe Snow, and feel-wise of classic-period Elton John (1970 would be the marker year.) Plus, she writes terrific songs, putting her in the league of fellow revivalist and Daryl’s House alum Grace Potter and popster Feist.
diane-birch-speak-a-little-louder
Her new record (iTunes) is terrific and is also daring in its ambitious attempt to successfully capture the ambience of the 70s/80s historical turn of hippie pop, urban soul, and classic FM rock into the wall-of-sound pop music–think Tears For Fears and Prince–that did not itself largely manage to survive all the way past the upwelling of punk and disco.

What music were you listening to for inspiration while making Speak A Little Louder?
DB: I was listening to everything from Siouxsie & The Banshees, Depeche Mode to Peter Gabriel and Tears For Fears and ’80s David Bowie — that whole Nile Rodgers era. A lot of the same references I had for Bible Belt — sort of the adult contemporary music of the ’70s and ’80s, I’m a total sucker for! I love Phil Collins and I love Annie Lennox. It ends up sounding probably a little more genre-specific because my songwriting style is pretty influenced by the classic style of songwriting from those eras. I’m just not that influenced by Top 40 radio songwriting right now. You know, I hear it. I get it. But I just do what I do and I gravitate to the things that I like. (full interview)

Refinery29 Story

Steve Roach on Bandcamp

Kamelmauz is on Bandcamp and now Steve Roach is too. The prolific ambient musician–and influence on my own music–has always maintained a stellar DIY web site, but the move to the egalitarian territory of Bandcamp is a big transformative move.

Senzari’s Formulaic Fail

 

Comparisons with Pandora quickly come to mind when describing Senzari. Both services let you search for your favorite artist to create your own radio station which will mix that artist’s tracks and similar ones by other bands. Since algorithms aren’t perfect, you can still skip a few songs if you don’t like them.

However, Senzari’s CEO is quick in pointing out the differences between his service and Pandora’s. One of them is the depth of its catalogue: with 10 million songs, Senzari boasts “10 times more tracks than Pandora”. This is clearly a huge asset for Senzari – we all know how frustrating it is to fail to find an artist on these services. This is also an important element for a platform that hopes to please listeners all over the world, with different music tastes, including Brazilian and Hispanic music. (How Senzari Plans to Take On Pandora and Traditional Radio)

Sometime in my second hour of auditioning Senzari last week I realized its algorithm for choosing music sucked. I suppose I should qualify this impressions by adding ‘for my purposes.’ After all, my purpose, as long as I’m going to be subjected to some kind of algorithm, is to enlist it to aid a serendipitous journey of discovery.

Pandora leverages the Musical Genome Project to great effect. The Pandora user loads in multiple “seed” choices when initializing and developing a custom radio station. This really revs up the subsequent unwinding of the algorithm’s musical choice-making. It is easy to develop custom stations that step off trail.

Whereas Senzari’s current algorithm fails. To set-up a station you select a single artist. There’s no way, yet, to refine this initial choice. The ensuing broadcast set reflects this ‘monological’ approach.

Presumably, refinement of this “single factor” comes with plugging in social factors gleaned automatically from Facebook friends on Senzari. Whatever…

I started with rock choices, and started stations with the seed of The Byrds, then of Quicksilver Messenger Service. Initially The Byrds station reflected the folk rock core of the early Byrds, ignored the group’s country-rock breakthrough, and, then morphed into a mostly non-stop 1965-1967 pop hit machine, interspersed with minor tracks from Roger McGuinn and Stephen Stills. My first thought? Way too much of the machine part involved in executing the algorithm was showing through.

My Jellyfish station cycled through Jellyfish and XTC. Inexplicable. Likewise, the Ry Cooder stations cycled through about ten artists. Senzari didn’t get the AFrican core of Abdullah Ibrahim or Randy Weston. The most successful station I created was the one with experimental guitarist Aidan Baker, but only Baker’s context and musical relations are not very familiar to me.

Nor could Senzari make a station from Amos Garrett or The Quarter After. I stopped trying to stump it when it went 0-2.

Next I decided to challenge the obviously thin formula by introducing two left field seeds, Pauline Oliveros, and, Bill Laswell. In both cases, the test I posed to the darn algorithm. was to travel down the various branches implicit in the substantial diversity on offer by Oliveros and, then, Laswell.

Here’s what the formula spun on the Pauline Oliveros station:

Gordon Mumma
Deep Listening Band
Gordon Mumma
Henry Cowell
Pauline Oliveros
Charlemagne Palestine
Henry Cowell
Terry Riley
Pauline Oliveros
repeat: Gordon Mumma
Charlemagne Palestine
Deep Listening Band
Lou Harrison
Harry Partch
Pauline Oliveros
Oliver Messiaen
Gordon Mumma

On one hand this provided an intriguing aural trip. On the other hand, the formula revisited the same records by Mumma and The Deep Listening Band and Henry Cowell, and so shouted out to me how stupid it is, as a musical set-inducing piece of programming.

The Laswell set was even more narrow, and, as a ‘machine take’ purportedly able to access hundreds of recordings related to the various genre preoccupations of Bill Laswell, laying into Jah Wobble and Burnt Friedman for seven of the first twelve tracks was ludicrous and revealing.

Burnt Friedman
Jah Wobble
Praxis
Bill Laswell
Burnt Friedman
Bill Laswell
Muslimgauze
Jah Wobble
Burnt Friedman
Jah Wobble
Material
Burnt Friedman

Senzari won’t be damaging Pandora based in their having a superior music-choosing technology. For me, if there are sensitive muso types laboring for Senzari, their day hasn’t arrived. The musical results sound random, and in comparison to Pandora, Senzari’s hype is cynical.

Equal Treatment

The nogutsnoglory studios is otherwise known as the ‘command center.’ During the winter, it can get very cold in the uninsulated command center. My creative world’s infrastructure is in the command center! Creativity is not befriended by the chill. Darnit. Guitars don’t stay in tune; the laptop demands a restart; the visions slow down to a crawl. Luckily, I’m able to slice off enough of a chunk into a moveable feast and park-and-play this stuff in Matt’s room. Then the Commander comes home on leave! Darnit. So, off to the living room and into the territory of the, now, six month-old kitty cats.

(Recall Céleste Boursier-Mougenot and Bird Maniax.) No, cats aren’t birds. Glori jumped up on the Fender, traversed it like a bridge, stopped for a photo, and, jumped down. Luckily it wasn’t plugged in because much of time it’s configured to sound frightening.

Speaking of frightening sounds, I’ve plugged Kamelmauz into Bandcamp. Compared to Myspace:music, all I can utter is: how cool is bandcamp? Way cool. Think about the DIY channels on the web in relationship to the revolution that has thrashed both the old hard goods model of the music business, and, the various corporate attempts to cage the freeforme monster and build a highway. Major FAIL on both counts. Meanwhile, Myspace:music and Last.fm, and numerous others, made their own weird roadways. I guess by weird I mean idiosyncratic, and so, weird in the sense of awful, one size for everybody, interfaces.

Bandcamp comes along in September, 2008, with a brilliant concept: keep it simple.
Bandcamp announces itself, September 18, 2008:

Earlier this year, one of my favorite bands left their label, recorded a new album, and released it as a digital download from their own website. The hour it was due out, I headed to their site, and after several minutes of watching the page struggle to load, concluded that they were just slammed and made a note to check back the next day. But when I did, the site was, once again, excruciatingly slow. This time I was a bit more patient, made it to the checkout page, entered my billing info, and…the download didn’t start. I checked my credit card statement, saw that I’d indeed been charged, and emailed the band. A few days later, the lead singer sent me an apology, along with a direct link to the album’s zip file. I did not then forward that link on to my 200 closest friends, but I wondered how many did, and couldn’t decide whether it was a good or bad thing that most fans had probably given up before getting this far.

Well the new record turned out to be even better than I’d hoped, but now, months later, I’m still running into other fans who don’t have it. This just kills me, because here’s a relatively unknown band that deserves all the success in the world, made the admirable decision to do an entirely independent release, yet was tripped up by the sorts of aggravating technical issues familiar to anyone who’s ever tried to build out their own website. What choice did they have though? They could have put their music up on MySpace or any of its dozens of imitators, but all of those services offer bands what is essentially a sharecropping arrangement. They host your tunes, and in exchange it’s their logo, their ads, their URL, their traffic, their identity. What if you want to build out a site that’s very clearly yours? The only choice seems to be to do what the band did: hire a designer and engineer, buy or rent some servers, spend a lot of time and money, and risk ending up with something that either works poorly or not at all. Does it not seem crazy that if you’re a blogger, you can create a rock-solid site that’s your own in a matter of minutes (and for free), but if you happen to create music instead of text, your options just suck?

Seemed nuts to us, so we created Bandcamp, the best home on the web for your music. We’re not yet another site wanting to host your tracks alongside the trailer for High School Musical 4: I’m Pregnant. Instead, we power a site that’s truly yours, and hang out in the background handling all the technical issues you dread (and several you’ve probably never even considered). We keep your music streaming and downloading quickly and reliably, whether it’s 3am on a Sunday, or the hour your new record drops and Pitchfork gives it a scathingly positive review. We make your tracks available in every format under the sun, so the audiophilic nerderati can have their FLAC and eat mp3 v2. We adorn your songs with all the right metadata, so they sail into iTunes with artwork, album, band and track names intact. We mutter the various incantations necessary to keep your site top-ranked in Google, so when your fans search for your hits, they find your music long before they find bonkersforlyrics.com or iMyFace. We give your fans easy ways to share your music with their friends, and we give you gorgeous tools that reveal exactly how your music is spreading, so you can fan the fire.

So what’s Bandcamp then? We’re a publishing platform for bands, or, anthropomorphically/arthropodically-speaking, your fifth, fully geeked-out Beatle — the one who keeps your very own website humming and lets you get back to making great music and building your fan base.

One size fits all, yet with the virtue of being really straightforward, shorn of bells and whistles, and, centered on commerce. There’s no easier way to make a storefront for music. The commerce model is really simple: sell ten of a title, and Bandcamp pockets the entire tenth sale’s proceeds. Their factor is Paypal. One prospect that this approach brings forward is a deep A&R resource. When I think of how this could have been the major’s approach, I sit back and chuckle. Bandcamp converts straight digital (i.e. lossless,) files into a number of formats, provides 128kbs streams for every single track in their entirety, and, allows one to give away freebees. Every track is treated equally too. Any track can be embedded in 128 off the site. That feature speaks volumes about Bandcamp’s visionary assumptions.

For example:

There are only three shortcomings, the streams should be at least 224 kbs, and, the artist’s site would benefit from enhanced options for hooking into various social channels. I suppose over time Bandcamp will accrue a lot of dead sites, so it will be increasingly of value to create a genre index using the extant tags and then indicate which artists remain active, and have provided new content in the past six months. The directory of artists (and growing) doesn’t provide any help, however it is great for deploying the random click.

Sufjan Stevens offered a pre-release of his All Delighted People ep and sold 10,000+ copies over a weekend, and prior to the formal release on iTunes. The stir this caused continues to ripple. (See also: Sufjan Stevens and Asthmatic Kitty Take on Amazon, Bootleggers, And You, Maybe _ Village Voice)

It’s open to all, and since this includes me, quality obviously will vary a lot. Still, as an experimental music maker with zero commercial ambitions, I’m not going to think twice about throwing up the latest noise popping out of the command center’s maw.

Here’s In Khorasan–the full thing embedded via Bandcamp. Elegant, if you ask me; even if the stream here is higher quality.

May not show up in Chrome, so a bad bug.

Mantra Modes Revived

My first self-publishing idea oriented to the internet popped into my mind in 1996. I wanted to make a vanity web site featuring some of my interests. At the time this meant that there would be sections about Jung, Jazz, Sufi poetry, Karl Weick (a sociologist of management,) and, the South African musician and composer, Abdullah Ibrahim. Ibrahim remains one of my favorite artists, and also was one of the most influential teachers in my life.

I called the section devoted to his artistry, Abdullah Ibrahim’s Mantra Modes. The title was taken from one of his recordings. For a brief time between 1996-2001 it was one of the few outposts on the web devoted to his artistry. Then, around the time his official web site came online, I backed away from my creation.

I have revived Mantra Modes, and attached to the squareONE web. Over time I will slowly bring new content to this blog-style new/old site about the artistry and music of Dr. Ibrahim.

Abdullah Ibrahim – Bombella


Abdullah Ibrahim mixed into a snap of his web site’s splash screen. abdullahibrahim.com

An amazing thing happened the other day. I caught wind that my favorite musician, and friend, Abdullah Ibrahim, had released a new recording, Bombella. But, there was a rub: it wasn’t available anywhere nearby as one of those old fashioned compact discs! One could download mp3s from Amazon or eMusic. I tracked the record to the label, Intuition (Germany.) Yet, it wasn’t out at HMV-UK, or FNAC-Paris.

The desire for instant gratification “at the highest fidelity” being what it is, I went back to check out the link that popped first on google, to an outfit called soulseduction.com. There indeed was the record in downloadable form, in mp3, and, could it be? wave files. Pure digital. Was soulseduction a scam? A pirate haven?

As it turned out, no, soulseduction is a download-only distributor in Switzerland that had licensed Intuition’s catalog and new releases. Bingo! Quick international transaction and 800mb of music was on its way through the wonder of the internet. This isn’t the wave of the future—only an odd type of muso will take the trouble of downloading and burning full digital audio. Still, there the new recording was playing through the monitors after 45 minutes. $19.00.

Let me offer the briefest of reviews: a spectacular record.

Consider its context: Dr. Ibrahim is the most sophisticated and creative musician the continent of Africa has produced. Africa’s music tradition goes back about 50,000 years. Ibrahim has made tens of records during his visionary journey to extend that tradition. Almost every recording is very very good. Bombella exceeds the implied high standard. My guess is that in a month or so I will feel this record is as good as anything he has released.

Bombella page @Intuition

composer: Abdullah Ibrahim
interpreter: Abdullah Ibrahim
conductor: Steve Gray
orchestra/ensemble: WDR Big Band Köln

Abdullah Ibrahim: piano / Paul Shigihara: guitar / John Goldsby: bass / Hans Dekker: drums / Andy Haderer: trumpet / Wim Both: trumpet / Rob Bruynen: trumpet / John Marshall: trumpet / Klaus Osterloh: trumpet / Ludwig Nuss: trombone / Dave Horler: trombone / Bernt Laukamp: trombone / Mattis Cederberg: bass trombone / Heiner Wiberny: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet / Karolina Strassmayer: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet / Olivier Peters: tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet / Paul Heller: tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet / Jens Neufang: baritone saxophone, flute, clarinet / Steve Gray: conductor, arranger

War of the Worlds

Ahhh, eMusic, what have you gone and done now?

A little background: I joined eMusic in 2000 at the tail end of their unlimited mp3 tracks for $14.99 orgy. I knew that was too good to last. Heck it was insane. But, over 9 years, they’ve grandfathered my monthly package at every price increase bump in the road. The end result is I’ve paid $1,400 for 6000 or so tracks, the equivalent of 700+ albums, and paid about $2 per album. How good is that? It’s great and almost insane.

Over that time, eMusic has been a trendsetter on the low-margin mp3 boulevard, you know the street that runs smack dab through the middle of the town called, Absolutely Free Music. As a user you made your deal: cheap music and lousy bit rates but with no DRM, and, eMusic’s inventory of small indy labels was heaven sent. If you the user was a muso and fan of the margins of various genres. Count me in.

A few years ago eMusic was sold to an investment firm. A price hike followed. But, eMusic kept doing their thing, offering non-major label tracks (and full albums,) at a great price. On June 1st they changed their own landscape. Taking my own customer commitment as an example, my monthly package will remain $11.99, but my download will decrease to 30 from 50. This works out to a 16 penny per track increase, to a 40% increase. Bummer. Read about it. Fury.

However, unlike the many hundreds of suddenly disgruntled customers, I’m not sent into apoplexy. I get their pain, yet, I never thought eMusic was going to forever hold itself to the match with the projection thrust on their brand. This projection was that eMusic was akin to the ol’ hippie indy or specialist record shop. When the investment company bought eMusic, I figured the bloom scattered from my own more modest illusion.

I don’t envy any business and business model which seeks to peddle at a profit tracks from recordings amidst the scourge or paradise of the world’s biggest ever free record store. Interestingly, the Guardian’s report on eMusic’s new pricing asserts that eMusic has something like 400,000 customers. Alright: basic plan is $11.99, call it $12 x 12 months, equals $144 per customer, times 400,000 = $57,000,000 per year.

Is that a lot of sales? In the scheme of the current record business, it’s at the upper end of the middle of the drastically consolidated music industry. After all, Apple’s iTunes is selling around 60,000,000 tracks per month, and doing $3+ billion worth of annual business. $57 million is equivalent to having a chain of 30 bricks-and-mortar stores doing $2 million each on a yearly basis. But, perhaps eMusic’s sales are half that. *

eMusic gets a tiny slice of the pie. Just as it is, was, for the Rounders and Telarcs, etceteras of the old hard goods music biz world, living on a business model focused on the thin slice of (no-doubt,) fanatic customers for indy produced music, consigns one’s business concern to a thin slice. And, there isn’t any way around this brute fact.

eMusic was driven to revamp their business model because new partner Sony is going to add 2 year old catalogue to their offerings. Not to eMusic’s credit, they showcased to their loyal customers news of the gigantic price increase in the clothing of benefit presumed to derive from adding the pathetic Sony legacy catalogue. This was equally disingenuous, and, patronizing. Uproarious.

By all accounts, eMusic CEO Danny Stein is one of the most arrogant people in the music biz, this in an industry where little napoleans have always been a dime-a-dozen. So, he didn’t help his brand here, with ludicrous rhetoric found in his slapping announcement:

The addition of these bold-face names [Sony] doesn’t change our mission. eMusic will always be an alternative to mass market digital music stores — a deeper, richer music shopping experience. more of the good stuff 17dots blog

It won’t be the last time the hard core fan gets crapped on. (Twas ever thus.) Nevertheless, it seems fairly, if not bluntly, obvious, that eMusic is heading in a necessary direction, given that they cannot grow their pie much, maybe can’t grow at all, if they remain a hip outlet casting a net to the margins, and doing this for even 40 cents per indy track.

Whereas, by undercutting their immensely larger competition, especially doing so overseas, in peddling Sony catalogue, it might be possible to double their user base in due course. If this is close to the mark, then the price increase locks in new customers at a more profitable price point, does the same for older customers, and, probably insulates eMusic from too much attrition in the short term.

But all eMusic can really do is pump up their tiny market slice of digital downloads from, say 3% to 6%. This is not an enviable market position.

Actually, eMusic, iTunes, all the others are–over the mid-term–trying to establish some traction against a truly for-free market space. I have no real idea, but my guess is that for every track somebody pays for, 10 more free ones find a home. Also, I’ll bet that most music fans who have sustained their enthusiasm for collecting music for more than ten years, are likely very resourceful at driving their own marginal acquisition costs down, down, down.

Still, I understand how pissed off the world of the music fanatic is at the world of bean-counting investors. This is true whether it’s eMusic or iTunes. What isn’t true of eMusic is that it ever was really like some hipster’s hole-in-the-wall room of vinyl bins. There used to be, and, to an almost laughably inconsequential sense, still are attempts to make a love-the-music-first business model actually work. But, after 30+ years of observing such things, love-the-music-first is always the canary in the coal mine.


Apple iTunes rival eMusic to unveil overhauled website
“The US company generates 80% of its revenues from the domestic American market, but said its UK business was growing more quickly.

Pakman said the site sells between 7m and 8m songs globally each month, adding that global revenues and subscriptions would rise by 40-50% this year.”

8,000,000 x $0.30 = $30,000,000. (For every mp3 eMusic sells, iTunes sells 8. Sobering.)

Hoon’s Tunes and More on Pandora

I’ve got five stations cooking on Pandora.

    Cold But Danceable
    Pop Purity Radio
    Feat Radio
    Pickin’ and a Grinnin’
    Hoon’s Tunes

I have no reason to believe there exists anybody who likes music who wouldn’t prefer to program their own stations by using Pandora’s front end to the Musical Genome Project, but feel free to check out what I’ve come up with. Were Pandora to provide a widget so it streams through non-Pandora pages, then my own creations could be made available via remote widget or player and then it would be a real killer app.