Wk22: Radio, Radio – The TuneIn App and International Broadcasting

The golden age of radio?

In any given era, there’s always a certain type of music freak that knows about what’s going on in radio somewhere beyond their hometown. Be it the wonders of John Peel, or Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW – word of great shows gets around. As people talking of the death of traditional radio, it has actually never been a better time for a show to cut through. Because you can cut through worldwide.

There’s a really, really wonderful app on iOS called TuneIn Radio. Like all great Apps, it’s built upon a simple heart. All the radio streams around the world, grouped together. OK, so not all, but many – and all the big ones.

One of the great pleasures of radio is turning the dial and hearing what’s on. For many years now, most radio stations have supplied live streams. But that dial-surfing has been missing. You had to be on the BBC site, and use their own pop in player. Switching to NPR means another pop-up player. Or another for another station. The content was there, the delivery was messy.

Some places tried to bring it together with varying levels of success. But TuneIn Radio have really nailed it, and brings it all into the simplicity of an iOS App. No mucking around with settings and a cursor. Just jab your fat finger on the BBC6 Music logo and play that station.

Radio streaming always seemed like an easy win, but there are all sorts of challenges and problems. On a technical level – there is no universal streaming format. On a commercial level – stations prefer their own branded players. On a legal level – there are new fees and new laws regarding international radio broadcasting.

But now that it’s (mainly) here, there is still plenty to do. Song tagging for example. Some streams have metadata and song info. But some don’t – and Shazam already exists. Links to band’s websites. Buy links. Album artwork. The ability to see what’s on another station without switching. And some stations have webcams that can’t be accessed in the app – but that’s a whole new can of worms.

TuneIn already does some great stuff (the fast forwarding and rewinding is a breeze). It also has plenty of recent programs to listen to. What is really lovely is the TuneIn Radio alarm clock.

It’s really a great app, and it’s cheap too.

TuneIn Radio boasts over 50,000 stations. But is there room for 50,000 stations in the future?

There is one train of thought on the future of newspapers. That there will, ultimately, be a handful of recognised international papers online. A series of regional or national ones. And local community blogs. But it will be a pyramid, with a handful of big powerful papers servicing the whole world (like, for example, the Huffington Post).

Is this a possible future for radio as well? Why would Arcade Fire do dozens, if not hundreds of radio interviews, when they can do 3? If everyone’s tuning in from similar aggregated radio services, why does it matter if you get played on hundreds of stations?

Radio is a big challenge for bands. And one of the classic ways to break up a young band is to put them on a long slog of radio promo. Crossing big countries like the US, and shaking hands with dozens of DJs and station programmers in the hopes you get radio play. Those dozens of stations translates to many thousand listeners.

But if all those listeners can access the same international stations, then they are accessing the same radio sessions by this one band. And if there was just one of those radio stations – well, hundreds of thousands of listeners can still hear it.

What will the role of regionality play in the future? Sure, a classic rock station in Sydney and Melbourne will cancel eachother out. But what about one from America? Creedence and Led Zep get played on both, but the Australian stations also play Australian content. Will that be lost?

In many countries, the battle against the soft power of the US and UK is a big fight. Australia has laws in terms of mandatory Australian content to be broadcast. Canada has CanCon. But I can now access stations in Australia that play no Australian content at all – online. And stations with bigger audiences and hence bigger budgets, better exclusives and higher quality content.

Or will it go the other way? Will big international stations open up to a more international audience? I doubt it – Huffington Post is still makes no concession to it’s large international audience. What does it mean for big fish in small ponds? Perhaps they will need to get even more regional to survive.

Or perhaps that regional content will come from elsewhere. TuneIn Radio has limited support for Podcasts, but I don’t think podcasts have really reached full power yet.

They’ve been around almost a decade, and many people I talk to follow a couple at least – if only shows from existing radio. But there are ones not tied to radio stations, mainly tied to sites, that is guerrilla broadcasting. They are the blogs to online newspapers. And they have all the potential that implies.

Lately I have been loving the Slashfilm podcast (called Slashfilmcast). Not tied to a station, it streams every Sunday night regardless. It’s a film review show, as good as any I’ve heard on an actual radio show. It is focussed on film geeks and genre stuff. It is a huge audience, but no big station has a film show that can explore such niche as the new photo of Bane.

It gets easier to make podcasts every day, and the delivery method is pretty sound. And at it’s best, it can make some “proper” radio programming redundant. But more often, it offers something equally compelling but would never be played on radio.

Podcasts have issues with playing music, but if we can get that resolved, it opens another door. Niche programming for actual audio content. Live sessions of bands that can’t get on radio. As station playlists get narrower, podcasts could be a fertile ground for madness to grow.

But radio and podcasts have yet another fight on their hands coming up.

Spotify (and similar programs) should be a one stop shop for all your audio needs. Sure it has gaps, but that is the aim. Cloud services, like the new one from Amazon, streams your music. But what about programming?

Can Spotify and TuneIn Radio exist side by side? Or should they merge? Forget flicking between stations. Should I be flicking between my collection and radio stations? And add podcasts in there. It is silly that Spotify doesn’t support podcasts as it is.

Or will Spotify kill radio altogether? It’s not impossible.

Everyone is talking about streaming, and mainly streaming your own music back at you. But if we can merge it with radio, all new possibilities exist. Like a song you hear on the radio? Why not go straight into listening to the whole album at a click? Like an album? See what radio live versions there are.

Possibilities abound.

I love radio. I think as a format, it’s even more relevant today than ever. Be it over the air, streamed or on podcasts, it has a place. TuneIn Radio has simplified it and put international radio access easier. It’s a great app.

But there is still a way to go, and a discussion on where radio will sit in our digital lives.

TuneIn Radio – http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/tunein-radio-pro/id319295332?mt=8

The Slashfilmcast – http://www.slashfilm.com/category/features/slashfilmcast/

Wk21: iPod Classic – the whiz kid, now the black sheep

No, dude, really. How do I do album shuffle on this?

Apple was a fancy niche computer brand until they struck gold, somewhat accidentally, with the iPod. Released in 2001, it really broke through when Apple released a Windows-capable version of iTunes in 2003.

The iPod hit mainstream. The white headphones. Those TV ads. Then other models came along – nanos and shuffles. Finally, the iPhone and it’s cousin, iPod touch.

But what of the humble, original iPod? Now dubbed the iPod Classic, the reason many people started paying attention to Apple in the first place is now dying in obscurity.

My 160GB latest generation iPod Classic managed to wipe itself a week or so ago. And it occurred to me how terribly outdated it is. The current iPod Classic (the sixth generation one) was last given a real update in 2007. That’s 4 years!

In those 4 years, Twitter has rose from nothing. The iPhone and the iPad has come along. The entire career of the Fratellis has come and gone. The world has changed so much – but 4 years with no change for the iPod Classic.

Some Apple stores don’t even have them on display. It is a surprise every year that it isn’t phased out completely every year. Apple has moved on, and the iPod Classic is left behind.

Most of my music friends still use them though. The reason is easy – that capacity. 160GB of awesome space – 30,000 songs or so.

If they are trying to move us all across to iOS devices, they keep forgetting about capacity. 64GB is the top of the range, and a lot of it is used up by apps and things that go with those devices. Whereas in 2005, the iPod already came with 80GB for music.

(The reason, on a technical side, is the different types of drives both devices use.)

I have spent a hell of a lot of time digitising my music. And I like carrying around as much as I possibly can in my pocket. This is something I learnt to love with previous iPods.

So lets look at what it does – for music. I don’t care about cameras. I don’t care about games. What I want is the best possible device to listen to mp3s in my pocket.

For music, the iOS devices still lack a few things. Basically, for all it’s all-in-one-ness, the iPhone doesn’t make a terribly great iPod.

My favourite thing on the iPod Classic is the album shuffle. It basically plays an album in the proper order, and when it’s done, picks another album to play from start to finish. So you’re not just diving into thousands of tracks blind.

Even better is the ability to change from Song shuffle to Album shuffle on the fly. You can scan through songs randomly, but if you hit across one on an album that suits the mood, you can go into that album.

The track counts and play information seems to be more reliable. I often listen to albums on my phone, and my play counts remain unchanged. I know this sounds like a nerdy thing – but it should work and it doesn’t.

Other little things. Lyrics work better on the old iPod. Physical buttons meant you can scroll tracks blindly. I have perfected the in-pocket un-hold and next-track.

In fact, the iPod side of iOS gadgets have not really changed since launch. If anything, the iPad takes away one of the better features – cover flow.

That is not to say the iPod Classic is perfect. Far from it.

It seems hopelessly dated for one.

It is hopelessly slow for another. Trying to activate cover flow with 25,000 songs is almost impossible. It takes too long for the images to load.

Search is hard. Not only due to volume, but no keyboard means it’s a complicated scrolling process. Creating playlists are a drag.

Album covers are so small as to be rendered useless. (Oddly, the iPad has made me fall back in love with album artwork, seeing new details on the covers of albums I already loved).

What seemed so innovative in 2005 is now dated and old. Take the click wheel. So clever to begin with, it’s lack of accuracy is now a bane.

But the capacity wins out. It really does. To have just about everything I want on hand is better than any cover flow or genius playlist. I spent years working on my collection, why not have it with me? Why can’t I listen to an old Bob Dylan b-side followed by a new Bon Iver track? Or every album by Elvis Costello? Why let hardware restrict me?

It is far too late for me to go back to a pathetic 64GB.

(And for all it’s faults, it is still better than any non Apple mp3 player.)

Could someone build a better iPod app for the iPhone?

Seems kind of silly, but people have created other browsers, other calculators etc. Apps can access your music library. It’s just a button on your phone, after all.

Here’s what would be great:

Something that can allow me to edit things on the fly.

Something that allows me to correct artwork on the phone

Something that previews what tracks are about to come up on shuffle

Something that does the album shuffle thing

There’s probably more things that can be improved. Could some nerd out there do this now? I’d pay for it.

Could all be moot thanks to the upcoming iCloud predictions. Everything will be on the cloud, right?

I think it will take decades, if ever, for could computing to be everything. But right now, the iPod Classic is still the best mp3 player for the music obsessive.

And I’m worried Apple are going to can it any second. I will probably go buy one or two new ones, keep them sealed, and use them when my current one dies.

The ball has really been dropped for music fans. And if Apple doesn’t pick it up, hopefully some young app-maker will. I just need them to create that 1TB iPhone.

Creative Sydney – The Money Shot – May 31st, 7:30pm

I am speaking at Creative Sydney this month – I’m on a panel called the Money Shot.

Along with others, I will be talking about the challenge of making money in today’s fragmented industry, and how music fits in with it all.


It’s on May 31st, 7:30pm. At the world famous Sydney Opera House. How amazing is that? Although the panel is sold out, you can sign up for the newsletter that can inform you of last minute tix (here).

Creative Sydney is part of the huge event “Vivid Sydney“. In it’s third year, it’s a festival of light, music and ideas over winter. And it’s free! If you have not heard of it, you may recognise the yearly light show at the Opera House.

I will be talking about how various bands and artists have used new models, and how they have successfully (or not) leveraged that.

Depending on how it goes, I will post my speaking notes on this blog after the event.

Wk20: Wi-Fi Ways – ISPs, Telcos and who is giving us the internet?

"I only really use this landline to get the internet..."

Technology is moving fast and we all know it. The world of online is ever changing and ever challenging. But what about the changing and challenging ways of even getting online in the first place?

Traditionally a space owned by all powerful ISPs. The only way to get online was to sign up with one of their services. But now their power is corroding and their businesses are about to hit some major trouble.

ISPs are in a strange place right now. They face a number of new challanges.

On one hand, governments are rallying them to implement anti-piracy measures. ISPs are being pressured to foot the bill on the entire piracy debate. In some countries – like Australia – they are fighting back effectively. But it is a costly exersize, and their role in the piracy debate is still to be settled.

ISPs are losing power and prestige. Having little to offer in terms of services, and they are in a race to the bottom in terms of price. Broadband deals are wrapped up in bigger home deals – cable, mobile and broadband in one cost.

ISPs are under massive expense to keep up with technology too. Broadband speeds are increasing, and ISPs are huge infrastructure businesses. It took Australia a long time to get people off dial-up (having invested in it so thoroughly). Now that we have broadband cables in 10 million houses, what happens when they all become irrelevant?

Because – finally – that little broadband cable is under a bit of pressure itself. Nearly half of Australia has mobile internet access now. Although in it’s infancy, it’s growing fast. Native apps for things like internet banking and transport services make them essential.

Standard, wired, broadband marketshare is only going in one direction – down.

So what are ISPs doing to protect their business? Then why is internet access, on the whole, a pain?

You can tell how important their product branding is by their advertising. TPG use big numbers and discounts as a way to get customers. Iinet have been running a gag about being the country’s number 2. Both scream of the kind of ad campaigns favoured by car insurance companies. Broad. Catchy. No credibility.

The high competition makes ISP services a race to the bottom. It’s like budget airlines. The only thing that ISPs have to offer is internet access – how much, how fast and how expensive.

How much means how much data. And there is one utterly massive rip off when it comes to how much data – this off peak/on peak business. It is utterly bullshit. Half your internet access is to be used between 2am and 8am – only 6 hours of the day. Basically, most ISP plans are practically half the downloads they advertise. So annoying.

Are they expecting us to track our own usage? How do we even do that? Why should we do it anyway? Should we change our work hours to 2am til 8am?

Off peak hours is ridiculous. And I’m talking about future generations laughing at us, the way we laugh at open sewerage in Victorian times. Off peak internet is an open sewerage.

How fast? 128kps is still available. Who is using this? It’s almost an insult that they offer it. 1mb/s is more reasonable, but we are already looking at doubling that as standard. The technology exists.

It’s that pesky cabling. It will take hundreds of millions of dollars to redo the country. And then again in five years time when technology should have increased another four-fold.

Bad wires exist even now. Unclear signals over old cable corroding your access. Now those wires ferry an old technology. Of course, it’s usually us who pay the cost. First we had dial up installed. Then pay TV. Then broadband. Then whatever’s next.

Well, whatever’s next is public wi-fi.

On my street, at my house, I can pick up 4 or 5 wi-fi signals. What a waste.

Not only the cabling, but my biggest pet peeve about it all – those little router boxes. I have about 4 of them in my house from old accounts. Every new service sends me a new one. What poor third world people are putting these crap things together? And how badly are they being disposed? It has to stop.

Why can’t my 4 or 5 neighbours share one box?  If we all did that, we could spare the world the pressure of creating 80% of it’s router industry, and hopefully save us all some money. We could just have a password, and my usage charged to my account.

And then we can extrapolate. If 5, why not 50? Why not 500? Why not 20 million? Why not one mega router to serve the entire country?

The last one is probably overly ambitious today, but achievable for small cities. It’s not like I ever plug my computer into a wall anymore. What does it matter where the box is? Wi-Fi also solves the problem of wiring. No more new cables every couple of years.

The other great thing is I don’t have to worry about where I am. Imagine I can hook into my own Wi Fi account from a friend’s house, or from the other side of the country.

Problem for ISPs though is another entire billion dollar industry is owning that space. Telecommunications Companies (or Telcos). Traditional ISPs are facing off against big business names like Telstra, or Verizon. Who do offer more than a pipe. More often than not, they give you a phone too. Most already offer home internet as well.

But it’s the 3G (and soon 4G) data that is interesting. I know a lot of people who don’t use a home phone anymore, but need to keep a line active for their internet. If people just use cheap, fast, 4G, over-the-air data, will they need that home connection anymore?

It is going to be the rebirth of the the telco. Having lost people on landlines, they are now back with 3G. And 4G. And the signals they turned off when they pushed you to digital TV? They are going into more data services.

The same old reasons hold us back – lack of signal. Lack of speed. Expensive. But history shows us these are the things that go down with time and mainstream acceptance. 4G over the air will becaome more affordable.

The question is whether it will be come commonplace.

I think so.

ISPs also have another fight – free commercial wi fi.

I decided to save a few bucks and not get the 3G iPad because 1) My phone is a hot spot and 2) Sydney has a fair bit of free Wi Fi. That Wi-Fi is usually tied to another business. Be it a café or a library (or Circular Quay station). I don’t find myself evetr that lost for signal.

Wi-Fi is losing value in itself, but more and more people are using it as a value-add commodity. Pubs, restaurants, trains and more. The discount Fung-Wah buses from New York to Boston now offer Wi-Fi. We are connecting from everywhere.

Yet we only pay for it in our own homes.

We are going wireless. We are keeping files on the cloud. We should be shedding cables and boxes along the way.

The ISP model is getting old – and fast. We are getting around it, and plenty of people – from billion dollar telcos to your local café, and giving you over the air data, mostly for free.

In the next year, as the tech gets better and the prices drop, the ISPs will be in real trouble. They need to offer a better service – more speed, more data and less cost – than 3G. And by a big margin.

Otherwise, we’re going to cut the cord.


Comparing worldwide camping festival prices.

OK. So this can be a bit controversial. But let me explain.

There has been a lot of talk in Australia about festival prices. Big Day Out did not sell out this year, and Splendour in the Grass did not sell out in a day, for the first time in years. Both have other factors (BDO was two days, Splendour had computer issues) to consider. Nothing is that black and white.

But what does annoy me, what really gets to me, is people telling me “that’s just how much things cost”. People accept prices because they don’t shop around.

So I’ve been talking to people recently about festival costs. There’s a lot of bad feeling out there. There also seems to be strong feelings about the cost. And lots of excuses – “it would cost you more to fly to Glastonbury”. “Bands have to fly here”.

So in the face of opinion, we have fact. And hard data.

So how much does a festival cost?

Well. Here you go.

These prices are based on the following factors:

– all are camping music festivals lasting 3 or 4 days
– one ticket for all days of the festival
– camping for all days
– one car
– no early bird discounts
– a small handful I could not find the booking fees, and took a 10 euro estimate.
– all currency exchanges done by my little dashboard app. Blame that.

What isn’t included

– who’s playing
– festival size
– how many stages
– how to get there
– quality of the facilities
– other aesthetic factors.

The reasoning is this – how much does a music fan pay for the festival experience? People go to festivals for many reasons, not just music. And not everyone wants to see Kanye West (something that has come up a lot lately). So for everyone who says Kanye costs extra, there are those who don’t care to pay for Kanye. So acts could not be taken into account.

(I personally quite like Kanye. And I would argue that most people go for the festival itself, rather than picking too much over the line-up)

And I’m not taking the view of how much it costs for Australians to go to a festival. I’m comparing Australians to music fans around the world. I would say our CDs are a bit more expensive than most, but of course it’s more expensive to ship it from the UK.

Of course, Australia has it’s own unique issues. Distance. The strength of our currency. The size of the country. But those are all industry issues.

What about the Music Fan?

But it’s comparing Music Fan Person in Aus, and one in, say, France. And how much it costs to be part of the festival experience. Who has it better?

What do we learn?

The average price of a festival is $284.

Australia and the UK dominate the top.

Some festivals have started to offer a price with no hidden charges. No additional camping fees, no hidden booking charges etc. I like this a lot – I hope it catches on. Booking fees, although quite standard, are a pain in the ass.

It also seems quite difficult to buy tickets. Some you get taken to external websites. You have to tick various boxes to suit your situation – which camp site. Parking. Camping.

Some sold out festivals were quite hard to find the price. But some still list prices for a very good reason – to prevent scalping. If you know the list price is £170 pounds, it makes it easier to spot some third party adding to your price.

And finally – it is glaring how much more expensive Splendour in the Grass and Falls are. A common thought amongst Australian music fans is – I’ll save up and do festivals properly in Europe. The other side is also a problem. Those European festivals draws tourism. Backpackers from abroad are asked to pay more for festivals than anywhere else.

I know there’s a hundred reasons for it to be this way. Sure.

But are we acceoting that blindly, or is there a way to bring the cost down? Is bringing the cost down even on anyone’s mind? Most people seem unhappy with the price, but many still pay it.

Maybe the Australian dollar will help. Maybe we’ll finally get hybrid planes. Or if a couple more festivals happen there will be more competition.

Right now, for whatever reason, we pay a lot for festivals.

(Any errors or inaccuracies, please let me know and I will be happy to update)

Wk19: Wrapped Up in eBooks – the Australian side.

Apple's iPad with iBooks

This column is all about trying to write about new ideas. So much writing about digital online, and trying to say something that no one else has said is tough. But this week is an easy one. One big gaping hole that I have seen under-reported, and for Australia, unreported.

Why is the Apple iBookstore so utterly devoid of books? And in Australia, it is even worse?

I’ve covered the idea of “paperless” before, but what about the nuts and bolts of the ebook market as it stands today? And in Australia?

iPads are expensive, but the cost can be better justified if you were going to put a couple of hundred towards an ebook reader. And despite a lovely reading experience – the is NOTHING to read.

Well, not nothing. But pretty close.

For the last few months, I have had dozens of books I’ve been looking to read. And absolutely none are available on iBooks. We are not talking obscure ones either.

The new Tina Fey memoir (although it seems to be up now)
Street Gang – the new book about Sesame Street
That last Woody Allen book.
The Sondheim biography.
That Tom Waits bio….
…and so on.

Not particularly obscure books. But the point is this –

I’m WANTING to buy my first ebook, and so far I haven’t been able to. I am waving my credit card at you, begging for you to take it. Why don’t you want my money?

Let’s do a quick compare – iBooks Top 10 vs Dymocks Top 10. Only one – Charlaine Harris’s Dead Reckoning – appears in both lists. The rest of it is filled up by 99c books. Repurposed classics like 1984. Not to mention a huge collection of Free books.

iBooks are developing a different audience than a bookshop. The demographics are vastly different. The e-reader base in Australia is miniscule.

But they don’t come close to replicating a bookshop experience. Where I would say iTunes covers off 90% of what you can find in a regular Sanity store – what would you say for books? 20%? 10%?

But there is a bigger story here – which is some types of books have not become digital. Specifically – anything designed for a coffee table. How is an iPad supposed to replicate that? Of those cute little novelty books at the counter.

Other types are better suited to apps. Cookbooks, travel guides and dictionaries can be bought in the App Store, not iBooks.

So iBookstore is little more than a store for novels. And there is a gap for it to expand. Magazines. Comics. Newspapers. An e-reader can handle any text. Why restrict it to one type – novels?

But even for novels, iBookstore is shockingly lacking. No Harry Potter! No JD Salinger. No “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Genre stuff like Star Wars novels. Not even Da Vinci Code. Surely if any ebook will sell, it would be evergreen sellers like the ones above?

So where the bloody hell are they?

I don’t know – but my guess is they are crippled by the same fears we saw in the music industry a decade ago.

– Cost

Digitising, en masse, costs time and money.

– Red tape

New formats come new rights, royalties and deals. Some bigger authors could be squeezing more money. Some publishers may not be able to report digital sales. There are contracts to consider.

– Fear of supporting a format that makes less money

An odd one, but big at the time for music. Why support digital, when the money is in CDs? (The reason is CDs are dying and to not be left behind, and to make more money out of fewer people)

– Artistic stand offs

Like AC/DC and Metallica, some authors might be making a stand.

– Territory rights

A big one for Australia. A book could be cleared for e-sale in the US, but they haven’t investigated Australian rights (or anyone else outside of the US), so to play it safe they don’t allow AU sales.

All this is very frustrating for the people who pay for the people making these decisions – the readers. We don’t care about that stuff. I want to buy a book for my iPad. LET ME.

Why can’t I see the iBookstore on the web? You can only access it via an iOS device. What is the point of that? Kindle’s store is online and easy.

Why is it not just part of the bigger iTunes store? Why not attract those 50 million customers you have?

And why are ebooks not much cheaper? Most new releases seem to be $20, more than an iTunes album. Looking at Fifth Witness – $23 on Dymocks, $20 at iBookstore. Bossypants – $25/$20. Seems as though it should be cheaper no? At least around the same as an album.

I’m not usually cynical, but this time, I think perhaps Apple doesn’t want people to be able to see just how awful iBookstore is. How expensive it all is. And how bad the range is.

I did finish my first ever eBook the other day. I found a digital, pirated copy of the Tina Fey memoir. I couldn’t buy it anywhere (although it’s out now).

And it was great. I got over the fear of taking out the iPad on the train. I read the end of it in a park. Readability and navigation was all fine.

One thing that did annoy me was I couldn’t do anything else with the iBooks app. Searching for new books, looking at other books, would take me out of Tina’s. Closing the program meant I needed to actually search for the Tina Fey book just to pick up where I left off.

The other problem is, once again, I have nothing to read. I am now carrying a Charlie Brooker hardcover with me everywhere I go. Didn’t I get an iPad to prevent this?

I can be forgiving. The ebook market, especially is Australia, is just terrible for everyone – not just Apple. There are so many challenges ahead.

– Sorting out rights to international books.

– Sorting out a format that can hold all kinds of book content

– Think harder about the pricing

– Building excellent stores with good selections

– Building a reader base that uses e-readers

Because right now it is horrid. To the point where there kind of is no ebook market in Australia.

And it was very, very easy for me to find a pirated copy of Tina Fey’s book. I’m sure I could find more. And once again, industry will be racing against piracy.

And if it’s anything like music, it’s the Australian book industry has to wake up fast and embrace ebooks.

(thanks to Jess for the title)

Gig: 07/05/2011 – w/The Aerial Maps @ the Basement

I have joined Sydney band The Aerial Maps as a bassplayer and general all-rounder. I am playing my first gig with them this coming Saturday at the Basement in Circular Quay.

You can buy tickets here – http://www.moshtix.com.au/event.aspx?id=46046

The Aerial Maps formed a few years back and released an album – the Blinding Sunlight. It really captured something Adam (lead Aerial Mapper) and I have talked about a lot. An Australian sound. That darkness of space. That brightness of heat. I played bass and keys for Adam’s old band – Modern Giant. I was stoked to be asked back.

We are launching a new Aerial Maps single – The Sunset Park

It’s taken from an album, also called The Sunset Park, due out on July 1st, on Popboomerang Records. The album is something else. I am very excited to play on these songs.

The gig this Saturday is a showcase night for the entire Popboomerang label (link). The Melbourne label is run by Scott Thurling, a true music fan and a friend for many years. The label is about to take off.

The Maps are filled out by really talented players. AJ, Sean and Simon make up the rest of the “core”. Andy, Alanna (Simon’s cohort from the Hummingbirds days) round it out, with Adam, of course, up the front.

There are other acts on the bill. I’m most excited about seeing Russell Crawford again. A great songwriter who is actually a great drummer. Drummers don’t usually make great songwriters, but when they do, they always make something special. Also there’s Mark Lang, of Skipping Vinegar Girl. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this Melbourne band, and will be good to see Mark solo.

This is the only Aerial Maps show for months. And it will be a fun night.


Wk18: Bandcamp – taking MySpace further

MySpace is in trouble. In  the last month or so I have taken my opinion back from “dead” to “slowly dying”. But even right now, it has become a forgotten destination.

MySpace leaves a big gap in the market. There were many things good about it. Most of all is the easy way for people to hear your music.

Which leaves me to Bandcamp. I really think Bandcamp will take over much of the gap MySpace leaves behind. And it’s really good.

What is the gap that MySpace leaves behind?

MySpace made social networking, but it didn’t realise, like Facebook, everyone would get involved. It was a place for music fans. It didn’t really have much for those who didn’t like music (or stalking).

On the other hand, Facebook is not a music site – and doesn’t want to be. And people don’t want Facebook to be one either – it’s about more than that.

Which leaves music fans, and young musicians, with a gap.

The thing that MySpace did best was make music immediate. You could put your new track, or demos, up on your MySpace straight away.

Which is the promise of the internet – that direct access to fans. That elimination of the middle men.

But the internet is full of music. I have claimed, for years now, the challenge of the internet for music is not discovering new music. It’s filtering it. And for some reason, being able to get yourself a MySpace profile is the first step. If you can do that, it seems, you can probably string a couple of chords together.

And it’s true. Spending a few minutes getting your MySpace profile together meant you were kinda serious about your music. And the brand was a good one. You could say, hey, check us out on MySpace.

The other key thing is music itself. Right there on the front page. Pretty much every band. If you wanted to hear a song – one that didn’t need to go through labels, publicists, CD manufacturers etc – just go to MySpace.

So that’s what we need. A trusted brand for musicians. A place to hear songs. One that is easy to sign up to, with no fees and complete control.

And I think Bandcamp has it.

Bandcamp isn’t a social network. I would argue MySpace in it’s last years wasn’t one either. Bandcamp us a sales site.

The core of Bandcamp is you can sell your digital music on their site. And it’s not a store where everyone is grouped together, like in iTunes. Every artist gets their own profile page. And it has taken a decade of learning about digital sales and made a fantastic system.

First and foremost is the music player. A by-product of album sales, every song is streamed in great quality. And not just 60 seconds – the full song. It is something that iTunes would love to do.

And from there, you can embed any track. I love the embed service because you can make the player look like anything. From a simple play button, to a large, pretty album player.

Here is the big player

And here is just a button

And there are several sizes in between.

I am working on building several sites, and I am recommending bands utilise Bandcamp as their music player. It was the one killer thing MySpace couldn’t do – make their player embeddable. With the large range of options, you can integrate music on any site.

(Which is much better than Soundcloud and it’s annoying wave form. Who cares about wave forms?)

It’s also not a Flash player, and works great on Apple’s iOS products.

The pages look great too. Taking in years of learning, it is customisable – but to a point. You can’t create real bombs like in MySpace. But it’s a neat modern design. And you don’t have to know html or any code to make something look great.

On the money side – Bandcamp takes 15% of each sale. They take the first sale, and you get the money for the next 14. And the cycle starts over again (It is less for more than $5000 worth of sales per month). It all hooks up to a PayPal account.

Although this started as the core of their business, it is secondary to the player. MySpace tried several times to integrate a sales mechanism to their site but couldn’t do it. Bandcamp have done it. If you like a song you hear, chances are you can buy it.

I say “chances are” because you don’t have to sell your tracks. You can disable downloads and just have your music up in their player. Not sure if this will keep Bandcamp in business, but it’s a good trick.

You can do a lot more with Bandcamp.

They will handle transactions for physical goods for you (you just pop them in the post). You can also add other digital products such as booklets as a bonus for digital albums. They even allow for hidden tracks.

Other pros – There’s a great stats page that can tell you what tracks people listen to the most. Every profile page has it’s own URL. If you wanted to be a metadata nerd and input ISRCs and UPCs, you can. If you don’t know what those things are – doesn’t matter.

It is truly international too. Any currency can be supported. And it takes PayPal and credit cards.

It just works.

But there are faults. Every profile stands alone – it’s not a site for discovering music on it’s own. Artwork size is small, which is odd because you can buy FLAC files for audio. There’s not a place for band profiles and info. None of the sales are chart eligible.

But the biggest con is you have to know your rights. If you have a digital deal in place – you can’t be on bandcamp. Is your label or distributor going to allow you to sell without them?

I have discussed this with PayPal and there is a possibility of splitting finances. But chances are your label would have to do it for you – leading to an accounting nightmare.

But for indie bands, why not?

Or, why not upload your demos on there? Why not just put any and all of your music online? Don’t need them to be downloadable.

Because there’s another problem approaching.

Streaming, cloud computing and all that is coming. But it is coming from above, with big businesses like Google, Amazon and Apple heading the charge. And you kind of have to be a big business to be in.

Major labels, major distributors – they can get you onto those services. But what about everyone else? And why do you have to go through someone to get your music online anyway?

That’s surely what Sufjan Stevens and Amanda Palmer are thinking. And a whole slew of indie Australian bands. Almost every indie artist I talk to. And we just need a couple more medium level artists to jump on board to really create a groundswell.

Bandcamp is going to be big – and in the next year. And I’m excited about it. It’s going to fill a gap left by MySpace. And it’s going to put money in the hands of indie artists. And it’s free entry – and a breeze to set up.

So get involved. The sooner this joins the public consciousness like MySpace did, the better it will be for everyone. Go check it out and if you’re a musician, get involved.