This is the next century where the universal's free: Virgin Media's new service

Rachel Stevens, Virgin Media launch - can their new service put her music career back on track?

Rachel Stevens, Virgin Media launch - can their new service put her music career back on track?

Virgin Media and Universal music have gotten a LOT of press today after announcing they are giving the shop away – unlimited, unprotected mp3 downloads for a paid subscription service. If you are a Virgin Media customer (it’s a broadband service, non UK-ers), you can pay for this yet unnamed service like a subscription and keep all you download. No word on what this will cost.

Headlines are good – they create great anticipation for a new service. But this story promises much and doesn’t deliver very much in the ways of ‘how?’. More importantly – this is nothing new.

Universal Music has planted it’s flag here before. In 2006 they became the first high profile label to sign with Spiral Frog, an ad-supported download service. That is – you listen to or watch ads and in return you can download stuff. (Old story from 2006)

Spiral Frog struggled from day one. It’s self belief was not supported by the labels and it failed to secure the other major labels or the indies. It failed to find the advertising money and was by all accounts clunky and difficult. I wish we could point you to the service and see it yourself but two years after front page headlines, Spiral Frog spiraled to it’s doom in March of this year.

Having a risky and ambitious idea is one thing. Having no plan to execute it is another. Spiral Frog is one example – another is Qtrax.

Qtrax made it’s big launch at the music industry conference Midem in 2008. It’s a wonderfully wacky idea – a p2p program that is ad supported. That p2p activity is tracked, and what gets traded, artists and labels get a cut of the pie. Days after the huge launch, it turns out that they were only talking to the labels about a deal, no agreements were in place. A year and a half later, Qtrax is no-one going nowhere.

These two services contrast starkly with Spotify. This Swedish service with is launched in the UK made no big song and dance. It was in beta-testing for months and months – well after the time it started getting hot exclusives. They quietly did deals with the majors and the indie labels, and are slowly launching around the world.

What we like best about Spotify is that they don’t see themselves as a game changer – something that is going to rock the market. They want to be part of people’s internet entertainment experience. They don’t sell tracks – but they will point you to a service that will sell it to you if you want. That’s not what Spotify is about. No social networking add-ons. It’s just a streaming site. And a bloody good one.

A similar service exists and does pretty well. emusic.com has been going for years and is the biggest subscription service in music. Various plans from 25 songs for £10 to 75 for £25 a month – emusic has struggled to get major label stuff, but has a firm footing on the indies. You can get the new Sonic Youth and Placebo albums from there. It would cost you £10 for both together. It’s one of the biggest players in the indie digital world.

We don’t need a game changer. We need sensible alternatives. Not wishy-washy claims, which is what this new Virgin/Universal deal amounts to right now. No names. No dates. No price. No word on how this works in terms of paying artists. What the ads look like. What artists will be on there.

We will go into our take how this Virgin/Universal deal might work, or might not work, later. Right now, the CMU website has the best analysis of the deal we can find – http://www.thecmuwebsite.com/daily/090616.html – and a great deal of quotes and views from across the board.

we could not resist that headline, no matter how long and cumbersome it is

Wednesday Web: Graph Jam

We are in a mood for fun these days. It’s a bit touch and go sometimes, but Graph Jam is a great source for the odd cheap laugh, many of which are about music.

If only they made it easier to browse! Some tagging. Most popular. ANYTHING! If you manage to find any more cool ones, please let us know.

Here is some of our favourite Graph Jams.

song chart memes
see more Funny Graphs

More after the jump.

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Tuesday Tunes: The Lemonheads – Waiting Around To Die

The Lemonheads - Varshons

The Lemonheads - Varshons

The Lemonheads took ten years off there, but came back with a solid self titled effort in 2006. Now comes the follow-up, a mish mash of disparate covers, under the name Varshons. Not sure where the name comes from, anyone know?

We almost missed this one – so many tracks being given away, and only one Tuesday a week. The album is out this week, and it’s where you can find this track, and other tracks almost completely unlike it. Like we said, the record runs all over the shop. There’s even Liv Tyler singing on a track.

Evan Dando is a loose cannon, but his music taste is flawless. Although there are detours into the catalogue of GG Allin (a great crazy man), Varshons features great songs from the likes of Leonard Cohen, Gram Parsons and the late great Townes Van Zandt.

Van Zandt‘s elegant Waiting Around To Die is the track you can get for free today. Van Zandt is enjoying a bit of a revival, with Steve Earle‘s latest album being a tribute, and the latest Sound Opinions radio show being a Townes special. We love the man around here, and this track is one of his very best.

The track is a link from the Lemonheads site, and you can just close that survey that eventually pops up after you give them your email. It’s a bit annoying to tell the truth. Get it here – http://www.thelemonheads.net/list.php – after some effort.

Bringing back the radio star: Weezer, Eagles and Aguilera radio.

Irving Azoff - who listens to the radio

Irving Azoff - who listens to the radio

What do Weezer, the Eagles and Christina Aguilera have in common? Well, starting next month, they will be one of a number of artists launching their own radio programs. Under the banner of A.P.E., (artist personal experience – a corporate term if we ever heard one), July will see these artists choose songs, take to the mic and become DJs.

It’s run by Clear Channel, the massive super company, and the press release only describes the distribution as digital (but that can include digital radio) – and through applications on the iPhone and Blackberry. It’s clear how this came about – old industry stalwart Irving Azoff manages the Eagles and Aguilera, and is Chairman of A.P.E.

If Azoff is a meaningless name to you, his long a sordid career is work a look-see. He’s been at it since the 60s and was one of the biggest movers in music from then til the 80s. Tales of record company backstabbing, drug taking, outrageous spending and general debauchery usually involves Azoff (and his rivals like David Gerffen). His reputation is of a no nonsense tough guy (although he is short in stature – a Napoleon figure), and a ruthless business man.

This whole project has a huge whiff of big business. Congrats to a.p.e. for touching on 3 huge demographics – yuppies, fratboys and teenaged girls – on launch. There is nothing cool or indie about this. Unless the programming blows our socks off.

The best we can hope for is the Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio Hour – which may now be sadly over. But that show was not done for fame, and kept a quirky charm. Do we expect that of Don Henley? Or will it end up like yesterday’s sports heros, mumbling through boring anecdotes?

Or even better – what if this is the new band zine? Band podcasts are pretty much dead, but perhaps this can turn into a great vehicle for bands to communicate their individuality directly to fans.

We hold our cynical tongues a bit because we love Weezer. And if some more of our favourites are on the list to be announced, hey, we will be right there (unless we’re paying for it). We adore hearing (or reading and watching) artists talk about the music they love. But we think it’ll be a diversion for the fans rather than anything ground breaking.

Billboard has the story – http://www.billboard.com/bbcom/news/eagles-weezer-aguilera-to-launch-24-hour-1003983953.story

If you want to find out more about the fascinating Irving Azoff and music business in the 80s, check out Frederic Dannen’s Hit Men – one of the greatest music books ever.

We took our photo from Azoff’s recent appearance at D7.

Has Apple Forgotten the iPod?

Apple - Forgetting something?

Apple - Forgetting something?

Apple‘s announcements this week are all over the web. At their annual WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference), they touted new MacBook Pros, iPhones and more. But what about for the pop culture fan? Somehow it seems like Apple is leaving them behind.

When the iPhone was announced, it was a combination of a phone, a net browser and an iPod. Since launch, the interface of that iPod has, really, not changed.

Amongst the highly tech-y new announcements were some things that relate to pop culture.

1. The new Quicktime X. Looks quite interesting, and is set to launch in September with the new operating system. We like the look of it, and lets face it, there is no GREAT video player at the moment. We mix about with the current Quicktime, VLC, Windows Media Player, iTunes for some, our DVD playing program (add YouTube, BBC iPlayer and more – wouldn’t it be great if that was all in one screen?). It looks a lot neater and nicer, but will it do much more than the existing quicktime? With Apple doing such great business on video in the US, it would be great to see them lead in this area. But hey, anyone else who wants to take the crown here, we welcome you.

More here – http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/03/07/a_peek_at_apples_new_quicktime_x_interface.html

2. Line 6/Planet Waves unveiled a new application for guitarists. It’s basically an all in one guitar amp simulator. Pretty cool, but is there a line out? I can’t imagine people using their phones over a decent piece of music gear. Especially as they botched the presentation. We couldn’t tell if that was a real guitar or some new piece of hardware. Coolest thing though – setting the tuning of your guitar on the phone.

More here – http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/06/08/iphone_os_3_0_app_highlights_tomtom_gps_line_6_more.html

3. We can now buy and rent TV shows and movies from iTunes over 3G on the iPhone. If only they weren’t over priced already, and if only I didn’t have to pay data charges on top of that. Fail.

4. The new iPhone operating system promised a hundred new features, only some of which were presented. Maybe there is new functionality in the iPod side of things but we wont know til June 17th when it’s released.

It’s clear that Apple‘s current success and acclaim started with one product – the iPod. They took full advantage, but it seems like in recent years they have forgotten about the poor iPod. Last year’s changes amounted to very little. Genius has been given a lukewarm response. It will be interesting come September to see what changes Apple brings to the iPod line. Or is the iPod over? And the gaming/internet/all-in-one device like the iPhone going to rule us all? We don’t know, but we don’t know many people who use their iPhones over their iPod, especially if they need more that 16GB.

There seemed like hundreds and hundreds more announcements from Apple during their WWDC. There’s great coverage over at Apple Insider – http://www.appleinsider.com/

and hey, we took our image from the great site gadget site Gizmodo.

Wednesday Web: Smoking Gun Backstage/Rider Collection

Backstage pass - no brown m&ms

Backstage pass - no brown m&m's

After several weeks of this column, talking about great new website doing cool things online and with music, this week we present to you a website that’s truly in line with what the internet is about. Cheap gags.

You know a site is important when it’s Google search results has it’s own search bar. Such is the awesomeness of the Smoking Gun, now in it’s 12th year of publication. If you don’t know it, you may have heard of some of the stuff that’s on there. Smoking Gun collects documents that are fascinating, shocking or damning. It slants towards legal documents. Mugshots, who’s-suing-who’s and other incriminating evidence.

But our favourite part of the site is the collection of band riders. Found in the ‘Backstage‘ area of the site, 250 lists of what artists demand when they rock into your town. The crazy excess of rock ‘n’ roll life is now laid bare. The most famous backstage demand of all – Van Halen asking for no brown m&m’s – has been preserved on this site.

Most of them are quite dry, but a couple are truly amazing. Above and beyond the occasional ridiculous demand, sometimes you have a tour manager or a stage manager who should have written for comedy.

We have two far and away favourites. Iggy Pop (requests for someone dressed as Bob Hope) and Foo fighters (one bag of Pirate Booty, not Johnny Depp’s).

Iggy Pop’s rider – http://www.thesmokinggun.com/backstagetour/iggypop/iggypop1.html

Foo Fighter’s ’08 rider – http://www.thesmokinggun.com/backstagetour/foo2008rider/foo2008rider1.html

Read ’em to believe ’em.

After several weeks of clever, innovative, practical and obscure websites in our Wednesday Web column, it’s good to just write about a simply fun site. And hey, it’s still the kind of music site that can exist in this brave new age.

The Smoking Gun Backstage – http://www.thesmokinggun.com/backstagetour/index.html

Tuesday Tunes Bonus: God Help the Girl – Funny Little Frog

God Help the Girl - Funny Little Frog

God Help the Girl - Funny Little Frog

When we decided to do this Tuesday Tunes column, we thought we might struggle to find one free legal download a week by established bands. Right now, we are looking at doing two a week. There is so much great music being given away for free in the world. We love it.

We can get away with calling this a bonus track because we’ve already posted a free track from God Help the Girl. It’s the new music/film project by Belle And Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch.

Their self titled album is fast becoming our favourite album of the year. This track is a particular highlight, having already been a favourite of ours from the last B&S record, the Life Pursuit. This version is slower, sexier and more dangerous.

Get the track here – http://godhelpthegirl.com/news/56/funny-little-frog-mp3
More about God Help the Girl including some great videos can be found on their site – http://www.godhelpthegirl.com

Tuesday Tunes: The Clean – In the Dreamlife You Need A Rubber Soul

The Clean - Mister Pop

The Clean - Mister Pop out Sept 8th

The very exciting news that the Clean are releasing their first album in 8 years is a nice excuse to talk about Flying Nun Records. Lets face it, no one knows who the Clean are, but those who do love them. More than that, they are one of the most culturally significant bands, thanks to their groundbreaking first single Tally Ho.

Quick history lesson: One of the greatest, most under-rated labels of the 80s was Flying Nun Records, from Dunedin, New Zealand. The label supported a small family of local bands, who created some of the greatest 80s indie songs ever – from jangle pop to post-rock. It was the New Zealand version of legendary labels like Postcard or Stiff.

The Clean released the second ever FNR release, and their first chart success, with a song called ‘Tally Ho‘. They were one of the tent pole bands for the label, and created some of the label’s most timless music. That music made a big impact in NZ and also overseas, where all the right indie kids found out about it. In fact, the easiest way to get music by some of these bands are through US compilations.

The Clean‘s Anthology – the best way to get the classic stuff, is on Merge Records. The fantastic North Carolina indie who brought the world bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Spoon and Arcade Fire have now resigned the Clean for a brand new album.

Listening to the new track (wonderfully titled ‘In the Dreamtine You Need A Rubber Soul), they’ve lost none of their indie pop smarts. They’ve also not succumbed to new technology to clean up their lo fi sound. It sounds as groovy as their early work, mining the same space as early REM, the Go-Betweens and Orange Juice.

You can get the mp3 for ‘In the Dreamtime You Need A Rubber Soul‘ at the Merge Records site – http://www.mergerecords.com/blog/2009/06/the-clean-announce-mister-pop/

Storm the castle: Music Pirates in the EU Parliament.

Waving the flag for copyright reform

The Pirate Party - Waving the flag for copyright reform

Sweden is definitely the most interseting place in the world right now for Digital Rights law. Unlike places like Japan, Sweden’s location in Europe means any decisions made there will have a big effect in the western world. Slowly, in the last few years, both legal (Nokia, Spotify) and illegal (Pirate Bay and the legal battles) innovation has been taking place in Scandanavia. This has been taken to a new level today with the Swedish ‘Pirate Party‘ taking a seat (maybe two) in the EU Parliament.

Formed in 2006, the Pirate Party is taking copyright issues as their mandate. It’s an amazing showing from the young people of Sweden (we assume it’s young people anyway) that this issue is something they feel so strongly about. The conviction of the Pirate Bay founders have increased the party’s media presence. Is this a one-off blip or something more long lasting?

We strongly disagree with the Pirate Party on almost all it’s issues. Looking at their website, we believe they have made some terrible assumptions about how art and copyright works are created. They talk about the imbalance in creating and promoting culture, but they have shifted that balance to the side of promotion. It’s also pushed to the extreme. With almost no concessions for the artwork creators.

People are creative because they have something to share with the world. Take away the money and the rights side, artists want to have a painting or a song and say this is mine, this is what I created. The Pirate Party want to sever that sense of ownership. It does not encourage creativity. It does not inspire. The fact that copyright is automatic is one of the most basic functions of art. We have never met an artist that is against copyright.

It also stifles originality. And strangles innovation. Why would anyone try to invent something new if they cannot patent it? It pushes every innovation to the hands of whoever can promote it best. Some young kid who creates a great new YouTube succesor, for example, will lose it to a big company that copies his work. There is no protection there.

That said, the world of copyrights is a changing one, and perhaps the EU parliament is the best place to be part of that discussion. Just a couple of weeks ago, Apple was calling for a Europe-wide license for iTunes. The free-for-all nature of Europe has hampered innovation for years. When the numbers are crunched, 200K people in Sweden voted for this party. They also got 1 percent in Germany. Something has to break, and the Pirate Party may be the first ones with the mallet.

Great story about all this on Torrentfreak – http://torrentfreak.com/pirate-party-wins-and-enters-the-european-parliament-090607
(Our photo, from the press conference after the election win, is taken from this story)

Find out more about the Pirate Part (in English) – http://www.piratpartiet.se/international/english

30 mp3s! A cover a week from Bill Janovitz

Bill Janovitz - weekly

Bill Janovitz - weekly

If you’ve not heard the name Bill Janovitz, you may know his band Buffalo Tom. Although not as big as other 90s alterna-rock giants, they were critically acclaimed and well loved for their emotional, passionate rock songs and Janovitz‘s great vocals. Although it’s been over a decade since their heyday, Janovitz has embarked on a (quietly) ambitious project to record an new cover a week, and giving them away on his blog.

Janovitz is older now, and has kids and a day job. He does a weekly residency in Boston and as a way of getting music out there, he has created this little “self-assignment”. 30 weeks in and he has yet to miss a week, although he is honest on his blog about how close he comes.

It’s one of the charms of his blogs; the stories he tells of what he has decided to cover. And what led him this week to the song. A conversation with a friend, a gig that he saw or something he read in a magazine can set him off. He also went seasonal for Christmas, New Year’s and the presidential inauguration. Reading this blog, you feel like you a peering into a man’s music diary. Which is essentially what this is.

Above all, Janovitz, a talented writer, goes on about the past. How the songs he has chosen came into his life. Stories of family, friends and poker nights that conspired to lead him to a tune, the one he’s singing for you now. It would make a great autobiography. I’m sure Nick Hornby agrees.

The range of songs Janovitz chooses is quite impressive. There’s breadth – from Hank Williams, Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, Bruce Springsteen, The Replacements, Blondie and Radiohead. But there’s also depth – little known gems by the Band (Whispering Pines), Husker Du (Hardly Getting Over It) and many others that have sent us back to the originals for another listen. Of course, quite a few gems we’ve never heard of at all. We caught a show in Boston and he covered two songs yet to appear on his blog that we loved – Neil Young‘s ‘Barstool Blues‘ and Elvis Costello‘s ‘Oliver’s Army‘.

Also mentioned a few times is a new Buffalo Tom record in the works. They still tour every now and again. I’m almost going to be sad when they do, if it interrupts this down home, intimate experiment.

Check out The Life And Times Of Bill Janovitz: Part Time Man Of Rock – http://billjanovitz.blogspot.com and get your mp3s now!

Some cool links and thoughts on Buffalo Tom after the jump. Also the fantastic videos for the Buffalo Tom classics ‘Taillights Fade‘ and ‘Wiser‘ .

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