E Story

Pureplay of the Day: Flashback Alternatives

Monday, December 9, 2013 - 12:20pm

How does alternative music become classic? Maybe Flashback Alternatives (www.flashbackalternatives.com) can help us puzzle it out. “The Past, Present, and Future of Classic Alternative Music” might be a head-scratching conundrum, but the music is good. We’ve been energized for Monday work with Morrissey, ABC, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, A Flock of Seagulls, and Depeche Mode.

The site is as snappy as the music, and provides a few reason for registering: a chat room which is sometimes active and a request line, to name two. On-site discussion forums are there for deeper conversations, and they also contain show playlists. FA presents over 10 themed shows such as An Alternate Universe, World of Noise, Friday Night Live, Friday Afternoon Bad 70s, and The Unheard Music. 

A pop-out player leaves the main page free for poking around. The site sometimes responds a little slowly, but not when you click the Support tab. An elaborate contribution page accepts monthly, annual, and one-time giving.

The “Save Winamp” movement raises its voice

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 - 11:00am

The Save Winamp alliance and Change.org are plugging away at AOL, which announced the sunsetting of Winamp and ShoutCast as ongoing products, as of December 20. (See RAIN coverage here.) Yesterday in RAIN, Jennifer Lane commented that the Winamp closure was inevitable. But thousands of Change.org petitioners want Winamp to continue, either as an open-source project or with a new corporate owner (rumored to be Microsoft).

In its latest gambit, Change.org has composed an open letter to AOL, formally addressed to CEO Tim Armstrong. (The letter would be better targeted to Jay Kirsch, head of AOL’s media and service brands.) The letter argues Winamp’s value to its many diehard users, and pleads for continued life by one route or the other. Interestingly, the letter cites radio stations which use Winamp for their music automation. The open letter is supported by a 40,000-signature petition

If you’re not a Winamp user, you might wonder why there’s so much fuss. Here in the RAIN editorial office, Winamp has been installed in all computers since version 1.0 came out 15 years ago. While we can relate to the sad sentiment surrounding Winamp’s demise, we also observe its increasing obsolescence as a music-playing interface. As ownership gives way to access, and local storage yields to cloud storage, Winamp fades in the shadow of music services like Rhapsody and Spotify

Winamp remains a stalwart production assistant not only for some radio stations, but for file conversion tasks -- Winamp was demonized in its early days for the facility with which it rips and burns audio tracks. But for the new generation of always-on mobile listeners, ripping and burning are quaint artifacts of a previous era.

Spotify’s whiz-bang summary of 2013

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 12:40pm

Spotify might not have a big-data operation like Wal-Mart or Target. But 24-million users listened to 4.5-billion hours of music in 2013, and have created one-billion playlists on the platform. So there’s a good flow of metrics. Spotify, which has previously demonstrated a taste for showing off its big numbers, has assembled an interactive presentation of how the service was used in 2013.

If you’re interested in music charting, the feature invites you to drill into global stats by artist, album, and song. You can get more geo-specific by country (only those countries where Spotify operates, naturally) and selected cities. Looking at most-streamed songs in different locations is fun, but Spotify raises the funness quotient by showcasing the most popular songs and playlists for various “moments” -- for example, hangovers, road trips, and break-ups.

Spotify reiterates its notorious 5th-birthday statistic: 20 percent of the Spotify library has never been played. That metric runs contrary to the long-tail presumption that there is a little bit of interest in everything. When Spotify first publicized this statistic in October, we suggested creating and promoting an Untouched Tracks playlist to give those dark-matter tracks some love. Whether due to our suggestion (unlikely) or on its own (likely), Spotify is now promoting an #Undiscovered playlist for that purpose. As of this writing, the #Undiscovered playlist is followed by, well, one person. And oddly, the list seems to consist of only spoken-word audio. “Scuba Diving - Frequently Asked Questions”? Well, to each his own on Spotify.

Quick Hits: Rescuing radio; Deezer vs. Spotify

Monday, December 2, 2013 - 12:15pm

Worthy of note:

  • Doc Searls, author and one of the first cognescenti bloggers (since 1999), has published a prescription for radio in the Internet era called “How to rescue radio.” In it, Searls seems taken aback by the changing definition of “radio,” and particularly offended by Apple’s iTunes Radio, which he calls, “...a body-snatch on all of radio, as well as a straight-up knock-off of Pandora.” He’s late to the game with that objection, and not exactly correct about the knock-off part. But the substance comes down the page when Searls lays out a multi-part plan for keeping broadcast radio prominent as users shift to digital and mobile. His suggestions are provocative, but not gratuitously so. Searls has clearly brought years of experience to his perspective of old media navigating new-media waters.
  • Music subscription services Spotify and Deezer are head-to-head competitors, but American listeners don’t feel the competitive tension since Deezer is not (yet) available in the U.S. (Many reports indicate that Deezer will migrate to the states early in 2014, perhaps on the wings of a telecom partnership.) For our European readers, Deezer and Spotify are both important pureplay platforms with large audiences across many countries. In that context, Liam Boogar’s comparative review in Rude Baguette (“France’s Startup Blog”) is interesting and well-done. Cut to the end: Boogar started out this piece of work as a Spotify subscriber, but ended up ditching Spotify for Deezer for what he perceives as better music-discovery tools.


Pureplay of the Day: Minimal Mix

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - 11:50am

We’re going small today. Anyone for whom Tuesday is a head-down, intense day at work will appreciate the steady beats and level dynamic range of Minimal Mix programming. If they like electronica, that is. This is music which provides a pulse, sonic wallpaper that can propel a productive day. The tempo might be too slow for the Red Bull set -- this is marathon music, not sprinting music.

Most of the cuts heard on this Polish station are original (although submissions are encouraged -- deep techno artists take note), and the site makes them available for download. The station creators also distribute their stuff on SoundCloud.

Streaming is a breeze on Minimal Mix’s elegant website, which, by the way, is a refreshing change from many 1998-era presentations of indie pureplay stations. The play button just works, on every platform we tried. (We did not find a pop-out option, though, which we prefer.)

Tech disruption of music documented in two videos

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 12:10pm

The music business has been pivoting around new digital realities for about 15 years. All layers of production are affected -- composing, performing, recording, manufacturing, distributing, and ownership of copyright.

Streaming music, RAIN’s core focus, is the just the most recent expression of technology disrupting business models in music. Unauthorized files sharing and song-by-song download stores set the stage for streaming’s paradigm of replacing ownership with access. But the surge of streaming services is a radical twist on the digitization of music. As mainstream audiences migrate to listening platforms as a major form of music consumption, musicians are offended by granular royalty payments from those services -- sometimes filtered through label contracts created before streaming was on the musician’s radar screen.

Is music being destroyed by the Internet? That alarmist view finds voice through David Byrne (“...the Internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left”) and others. It is safe to say that music is being disrupted, as the creative arts have been many times in the past.

This week a panel event called Virgin Disruptors hit the topic straight on: “Has tech killed the music industry?” (Watch the archive here.) The conversation featured musicians Zoe Keating, will.i.am, Amanda Palmer, and Imogen Heap, and from the tech side, reps from Spotify, Vevo, and Songkick. The conversation seeks alignment of the artists’ business needs with business models on the tech side.

A more formal exploration of tech/music disruption is in the works: a documentary called Unsound: How Musicians and Creators Survive in the Age of Free. A nine-minute extended trailer is showing on Vimeo. The trailer, movie title, and key quotes tell a preliminary story of gloom, and appear to advocate for plights of musicians: 

  • “UNSOUND reveals the story behind the dramatic collapse of the music business.” 
  • “As the world becomes increasingly digital, creators are now at risk.”
  • “The future of all creators is at stake.”
  • “The digital delivery of IP is our generation's nuclear power.”

Interviewees featured in the trailer include Jim Griffin (thought leader in the digital media space), David Lowery (activist musician who writes about streaming royalties), Chris Vrenna (Nine Inch Nails), and others.

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