Wk24: Ten Questions about iCloud from a music fan.

Will we be trying to get off the cloud?

Apple announced, to much fanfare, the iCloud last week. A dynamic way of controlling files across all your devices, all stored on a central server.

I’m worried. Apple has really let their music business fall away in recent years. iTunes LP. Ping. They’ve been living on the success of 2005, and have done very little to expand their audience. iCloud was supposed to be their new way of revolutionising the music experience.

In short, everything you buy on iTunes can be re-downloaded to any device free of charge. You can also use your own music, uploaded to the “cloud”, and treated like purchased music, at a cost.

One of the things the music industry sometimes forgets is not everyone wants to own music. The CD era seems like an anomaly these days, because people had to buy music that fell out of a conservative radio format. So iCloud could be good for them.

But what about the music fan?

I have my questions. About how it will work. How it will cost. And what it will mean to give up control.

1) What about deleted music?

This is the first one that came to mind for me.

Music catalogue move around every day. Things fall out of print for many reasons. Does this effect my collection, if I don’t own it?

Take Paul McCartney for example. His solo material just changed hands again. I’ve uploaded my “McCartney” album from 1970. It hits a match on iTunes, and now the newly remastered version is what I own.

What if McCartney moves again, and the album is unavailable. As a previous buyer, can I download it anyway?

The problem is, iTunes owns the tracks. Not me. That is whole reasoning behind their deal with the majors. So if they lose the rights to something, will I?

2) What about pirated music?

Music leaks. And leaked music can get played on iPods. Can Apple restrict this?

Say Arcade Fire’s next album leaks. Two weeks before release, I upload it to Apple. Can Arcade Fire’s label work with Apple to block those tracks? It is illegal for me to have them. And for Apple to have them. Will the enforce this?

And if they do, what if people have a valid reason for uploading? Could be members of Arcade Fire themselves. How can Apple tell?

3) Demos, bootlegs etc?

If Apple go down the path of restricting what you can listen to from their servers, then there are a whole can of worms here. Artists canning liver bootlegs of performances they don’t like, for example.

For the record, I don’t think Apple will go down this path. But they don’t own the music, and record companies could insist on it.

4) Can they hunt pirates down?

Especially in America, they are not afraid to sue consumers for piracy. With Apple’s new insight into your music library, can they spot a pirate if they see one? Can the RIAA compel Apple to hand over that data?

5) Will they use other uploaded versions?

Let’s look at a band that is not on iTunes. Say AC/DC. If I upload my AC/DC tracks, will it match with someone else whose uploaded it, saving me trouble? Or will they keep hundreds of thousands of Hell’s Bells on their servers?

Multiples go against what the cloud is about. And for a real music fan, I’m sure lots of your music is not available on iTunes. It would still take weeks for me to upload stuff. For something like AC/DC that a lot of people have, matching is the preferred option.

But they might have to. What happens if I have a version that is badly ripped and skipped, and that replaces all other versions?

6) Will my metadata be locked?

Anyone who has worked with iTunes knows they have a team of people who “fix” metadata to suit their own needs. I’ve had entire albums unreleased because iTunes didn’t like the metadata.

For the record, iTunes, you don’t call Abbey RoadAbbey Road – LP”. So similarly, you shouldn’t add “EP” to the end of every EP. Or “single” on the end of some singles.

If I upload something from an EP, am I stuck with Apple’s naming conventions every time? Will it now by iTunes way or the highway?

Also, what albums will things be tied to? Will “Something” be on Abbey Road or a compilation? Who’s to say?

I also make my own stuff up all the time. Various single tracks on my collection, I make a one track single with the 7” artwork. Will Apple wipe this?

7) What happens to international versions?

Will America trump again? I have an awful feeling if I upload Ash’s Nu-Clear Sounds album into iCloud, I will get the US album cover.

Or what if I want the US cover?

What happens to the Raconteurs/Saboteurs? Will the Saboteurs suddenly not exist?

8 ) Will it destroy bandwidth?

Sure, we will save storage space. But we are expecting to download a lot of stuff?

Music fans have lots of music. Moving the music around used to be free, with the use of a cable. If I had no cable, then I am using up my bandwidth on music I own and have.

And is it so revolutionary? I was always able to re-download apps that I bought with the same log in. Emusic also allowed for re-downloading.

I guess this question is, how much does cloud re-availability actually mean to people?

9) Is there a limit?

So far, the biggest number Apple has mentioned is 20,000. Is there a limit? I have 50,000 tracks (a lot of crap, sure). I can easily up that immediately. And thousands more a year.

Will Apple limit the space?

And why would I not let someone else log into my iTunes and use my collection to “match” as theirs? I should just spend a few weeks matching friends collections to my Apple ID. I’d break 100K in no time.

Which brings me to another problem. Why not use Spotify? That’s millions of tracks, that you can stream from lots of devices.

10) Finally, what if I leave?

Living in various countries, I’ve had a couple of Apple IDs. This has caused me lost of problems, and I’ve had to re-buy stuff.

So what if I leave Apple? Will I lose everything? I bought it, outright! I am only really subscribing to Apple’s music service, not buying it. Or am I?

It’s the final worrying point. If a spend years cultivating my collection with iTunes, will I lose it all when I leave?

There are a lot more questions. Sound quality? Wave files? Who gets the money? Is this financially viable?

It seems the iCloud is great for the mainstream. But less so for the music fan. And for us, we are waiting to see how it all works out in the wild. There are kinks, but maybe they can work out. Hopefully Apple can keep the repertoire owners at bay.

Wk23: Close Your Eyes – the flagging power of advertising and clickthroughs

Ads are getting quite silly these days

Is anyone else worried that there might not be enough advertising money to fund the internet?

By all accounts, the online market is STILL growing. Yet, right now, I am already sick of advertising covering just about everything I see online. Is it only going to get worse?

Be it apps, social networks or websites, everywhere is an ad. Advertising funds the internet. It funds Google, it funds Facebook, it funds Twitter. It funds newspapers online, blogs and more. It’s almost to the point where if you don’t have ads, it’s not a real site.

But it is lowest common denominator stuff. Pop up ads. Expanding video ads. Ads with sudden audio. Plenty of scantily clad ladies. Ads before videos. Ads before websites. They might as well hit you in the face with a coke can.

It is all about eyeballs and click-throughs.

Eyeballs is how many people see the ad. Click-throughs are how many people click on a follow through.

Which has turned the internet into one big game of eyeballs. And plenty of under-handed tricks are around to make you click on things just to add to someone’s eyeball count.

Take the Huffington Post. Possibly the worst site on the internet. Amongst the many under-handed and sly tricks they use is pumping out list after list that means nothing, just to get people looking at their ads. They are really, really good at it too.

Some topics bring in more hits than others. The Dark Knight, Harry Potter and Radiohead seems to draw bigger numbers, despite the value of the news. Constantly reporting about these topics, even when there is no news, makes more money than reporting on actual news.

It is not good for journalism. But it is how the internet has been running for years now.

Are we getting sick of ads? I know I am. In fact, many small ones I tune them out completely.

But ignoring them also leads to a worrying slide.

The more we mentally block out ads, the less we click on them.

The less we click on them, the less effective they will be (and… cheaper to buy too).

Meaning? There could be even more ads.

People say they want digital content for free – but it’s not free. It’s crowded with fucking ads.

You have artists like Tom Waits who take a hard stance against the use of their music for advertising. But when Waits’ music is already on Spotify, paid for by their ad clients, is there any difference?

And will anyone make a Tom Waits-like stand in the online world? Will any site with hundreds of thousands of readers refuse advertising on a cred argument? I’d like to see it but I doubt it. I think the online world has decided that ads are the way to make money.

And so we get to things like Content Farms. These are sites that are surrounded by ads, with one small piece of content. Say – how to tie a tie. Because people type those questions into search engines, you have these sites pop up and they will make money off someone.

Shitter still is the current run of “free” Apps filled with ads. Even when you buy games, some decide to show you ads as well.

Can anything be done?

Maybe.

I am toying with building a website naming and shaming annoying ads and boycotting them. Maybe it wont work, but I know I do it. But so far it’s all about dishwashing liquids and stuff where the audio pops up. Although if I was John Safran or the Chaser, I would go to the homes of these people and suddenly pump these ads at them at volume.

I am also careful where I click. It might seem stupid but I avoid shitty sites that are all about the ads. I also boycott the Huffington Post’s stupid lists. Or looks slideshow lists that make me click ten times. All these stupid tricks to get me to see ads.

I would list the sites but it might inspire curiosity in you, and get you googling.

But look out for these shitty sites. They use headlines like traps. They republish articles by others and hype them up to get traffic. You will notice them more. And if we all made a bit of an effort to avoid them, they wont grow.

Basically, the internet is moving away from the Encyclopedia Britannica and more like a Big W catalogue.

But back to my original worry. Is there enough internet money to go around?

How much stuff is there to advertise? It was a 2.3 billion dollar market in Australia last year. Will there ever be a ceiling? Or can we actually hit 5 billion? Or 10 billion? Is there that much to advertise?

Or if we hit the ceiling, what happens then? Then will there be even more underhanded tricks to get your eyeballs?

If we expand our number of readers, can we grow beyond a reasonable amount for anyone to advertise with? It’s the problem YouTube has. What do you advertise next to a cat video with 20 million views? What one product has any chance of appealing to 20 million people from such disparate places?

And then there’s the places they don’t advertise on yet. Like my operating system. Like my mp3 program. Apple’s iCloud perhaps? When the money runs out, you know some bastard will get there.

Hopefully the era of advertising paying for the internet will end before any of that happens. Google, Facebook, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo make billions a year in advertising. They are not going to let that go. But if there was just ANY other way to make money, we could solve this.

Which is maybe the first step of asking if the internet is free. People pay for Spotify to get rid of the ads. Or if a site takes a stand as ad-free, we should support them. And perhaps subscriptions is the future after all.

I don’t know. All I know is that I’m sick of being sold things every second of my online life. And it’s only getting worse.

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/

Wk16: Up In the Air – the battle for Cloud Computing

Just a really good album with the word cloud in it

Amazon opened up a Pandora’s box a few weeks ago in the US. They offered a “cloud service” to their customers for music. A 5GB (or 20GB with conditions) “locker” where you can upload your music and stream it back to your devices. It opened up a larger debate about the legal issues – what new rules are needed in this new space.

But does it matter? Will technology once again speed past the ability for lawyers to make decisions. The conversations around cloud computing – are they the right ones?

And the fight over the rules for music – how does it effect the internet as a whole? Are we short changing the idea of the cloud for something as small as music?

Tech heads have been talking about “cloud” computing for a long time. But it’s been with us for a while now – in the form of webmail. No need to download your emails to a computer – it’s all online to be accessed from any net capable device. That is the idea behind Amazon’s service – for music.

Record companies and Amazon immediately locked horns. Amazon didn’t seek permission from labels to do this – they just did it. Whereas Apple and Google have been talking to labels for months about doing the same thing.

This has good and bad consequences. Good that progress is made by those willing to drag the rest of the world to it. Bad that the pressure is on and some snap judgements could be made in hot blood.

I will say this – at this level of business, and with the money at stake, it’s pretty silly to imagine any new business ventures involving music can be done without talking to lawyers. Which makes Amazon’s move much more interesting. Is it bravery, or bravado? Have they decided this is the way the world is going, and they might as well get there first?

It is the way the world is going, and it’s interesting once again that the fight is over music when it could be over anything. And it will affect everything.

Cloud computing should ultimately stream anything. Documents, videos, books and more. The ramifications for what Amazon is doing will affect everyone. The laws put in place now will govern all other industries.

It’s surprising that it’s left to music lawyers to clean this up. With the record companies barely the bones of what they once were, are they really the best team to be doing representing all content? Especially in their desperate state?

And like piracy before, will we wait another ten years before the might of the TV and film studios get involved? Or books?

Because here’s the problem – if the cloud is our only way to “own” content, should we be paying for each play? Or should there be ads in that space. Should everyone have access to my locker to see what I bought so they can advertise to me?

Above and beyond retail (like Amazon) and industry (like the Music Industry), who is protecting the consumers?

Another big pro for cloud computing is we don’t have to worry if we drop a harddrive on the ground. My friend Bret recently took his hard drive into work to copy a few things and ended up corrupting it somehow. It is this sort of stuff that will seem as hokey as those circular dialers on telephone. The idea of losing a file – ever – will be gone.

This is a wonderful thing – yet we still have to argue about red tape.

What the hell are these companies complaining about?

It’s a bigger issue than music.

I have seen some discussion about how “cloud computing” validates piracy. It seems a petty thing when the ideas around ownership are challenged.

Music is also in a unique place when it comes to the idea of ownership. It is one of the few “media” we are used to owning. For decades, the music industry has fed itself on the revenues of sales – music fans buying a record or CD outright, playing it as many times as they wish.

In TV and film, this is new. Movies still make money at the cinemas, and TV on the box (although that money is quickly going away). We as consumers don’t really have that sense of ownership with movies. Many of us are happy to watch a film and not buy it. And then there are years of video rentals. This is a bit more like what music companies want from streaming – a bit of money per play, not per customer.

Then there’s books. Libraries have started to stock e-books! And the idea of accessing a book for free for a read has been around for centuries. Should publishers get money per “play” in the digital era?

Everything in the digital world comes down to ones and zeros. Books, films and music are all the same. All can be placed in a cloud.

We approach each media differently, but someone will have to come up with a rule that fits everyone. And someone is not going to be happy.

Of course, it all comes down to money. A recent Guardian article (link) published that Lady Gaga made only £167 for 1 million plays of Pokerface on Spotify. A figure used by recrd companies to show how unviable streaming and the “cloud” space are.

But lets unpack that figure. These are PLAYS, not SALES. In the CD era, how many times do you think people would have listened to this track per sale? Once? Twice? Ten times? Considering how beloved she is, and how some rabid fans probably listened every day, lets say it was ten plays. That’s 100K of listeners for £167.

Still seems like very little, but Spotify only has 1 million customers anyway (as of March this year). Might seem like a lot, but last year Apple had 50 million. Facebook has 500 million. We are dealing with global figures, and huge internet properties.

Think of it this way. If there was ONLY a Spotify version of Pokerface, worldwide – what would the plays be?

Would it be 500 million users? Lets follow our above formula (one in ten Spotify users listened to Pokerface ten times).

500 million plays.

500 x £167.

£83,500 for one track.

Now forget it’s Lady Gaga for a second. Does that not seem like a kind of reasonable amount of money for one hit pop song?  We are supposed to be moving away from flash-in-the-pan one hit wonders. And Gaga – with many singles, touring, YouTube royalties, publishing etc – sounds like it’s leading to a reasonable pay day – not a ridiculous one.

But we are so worried about now. And now isn’t going to matter in a couple of years for music. Everyone else will fly by us, and we will still be arguing about rates and royalties still. I looke at Metallica’s continued boycott of iTunes and laugh. And wonder if the entire music industry will go the way of Metallica.

There’s still a long way to go. Amazon’s opening salvo has it’s limits. It doesn’t play on Apple devices for example.

But it’s a start. And it’s a start that could get stifled really early. And push back cloud computing for a few years – or hamper it with stupid licensing rules forever. Luckily, I have faith in the piracy and boffins sector to circumvent any rules. With any luck, industries will remain short sighted about technology loopholes.

So if someone doesn’t build lockers for us, we will start building them ourselves. The beauty of the open internet.

Technology moves on. We can see this now, more than ever.

Yet big companies, especially in entertainment, still try to hamper progress. They have their reasons – money, rights – but they are trying to hold back a wave.

It’s time to ride the wave, and while you’re on the beach metaphor, look up and see how wonderful the clouds look.

Spotify sales article in the Guardian – [http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/apr/18/sam-leith-downloading-money-spotify]

Apple’s iTunes number – [http://www.informationweek.com/news/storage/virtualization/225800173]

Spotofy’s One Million users – [http://www.spotify.com/int/blog/archives/2011/03/08/spotify-reaches-one-million-subscribers]

Wk13: Lost In Translation – The Treachery Of English

Languages is still a challenge online

I consider myself, pretentiously, an international citizen. I speak a couple of languages and I’m learning another. That, coupled with travel has made me aware of what I call the “Treachery of English”. Why is technology so inherently English?

In the futuristic TV show Firefly, everyone speaks the only two languages that are left – English and Chinese. It doesn’t seem so much like science fiction anymore.

It seems an odd by-product of the internationalisation of our culture. That language seems to be moving to a Highlander model – there can be only one.

Digital success favours the English. How many great digital products have come from non-English properties? Perhaps only Spotify. Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, YouTube, etc. All from English speaking countries (mainly the US). No wonder some countries see the internet itself as Western Imperialism.

How did we get here?

Sometimes the language itself is the problem. I worked for two years on a project to create a Chinese version of a website and was thrown head first into the problems of double byte. After we spent thousands, we would have had to rebuild the whole thing from scratch.

URLs are in English. HTML uses Roman characters. The whole internet would have to be reinvented to make it otherwise. To work in the digital space you have to learn English. And sadly, this battle may have been fought and lost. Maybe some future iteration of HMTL may change it but I think not.

But there is a bigger threat. That framework of English washes down river, with major consequences.

New technologies start in English or Roman characters. With luck they expand futher, but usually they don’t. Twitter is reliant on English. iTunes only has one store that displays non Roman characters – Japanese. And most computers can’t disply it correctly because it uses a plugin for Windows. Even the Chinese keyboard on an iPhone, a device of infinite possibilities, is clumsy.

But it isn’t just east versus west.

Everything starts with one language – English. How far down the list is Danish? Czech? Or French Canadian? These are the languages that are dying out.

These smaller languages always get screwed. Movies, even big tentpole ones, don’t get translated into many languages. You might get a French, Chinese or German, but Serbian?

But here is the point of all this:

The digital revolution should destroy these market concerns.

We can reach anyone who can speak any language – online.

I am going to use Harry Potter as a barometer for languages. Those books were published in over 65 languages (including language variations like French Canadian, Cantonese and more). This says to me that there is a) a market, no matter how small and b) a translator probably looking for work.

Point a), the small market, should be big enough to support the zero printing cost of digital. And hopefully the profits from that small market can support the wages of Mr b).

And if that market is there, and it’s attended to and supported – it can grow

Then there are the books that already exist. For some reason, my iTunes/iBook account doesn’t let me buy any French books. Why? Why can’t I get the Serbian digital version of Harry Potter. Or at least the French one?

Like most things, it’s a hangover from the old world. Why would you print up French Harry Potters in the UK, when there is a small audience for it? But now it’s clicks of a button, the changing of territory rights in a table. Yet no one is looking at this. Or worse, someone is still thinking it’s not worth their time.

This might horrify right wingers who believe in one language for one country. But I believe otherwise. How great to be able to access books, movies and music in their original language.

Film, books and music companies are bleeding money. And online sales are healthy, but they are still missing out on a massive financial trick. All because we are still used to promoting and selling one language version in one country. Everything else is a niche market.

If we are all looking for money, surely catering to all language speakers everywhere is the first step.

Let’s look at it from another angle. I want to buy Roald Dahl’s works in French.

It exists. It’s been digitised. iTunes has it on their servers. I have a credit card. You want my money. I want to give it to them.

What’s the hold up?

How do we avoid the vision of the future from Firefly? How do we stop culture from sliding into a single language monotone?

We have to make the internet admit that there is more than just English. And the underused, under appreciated non English market could be a critical key in making digital products more profitable.

It’s a world wide web after all. Lets reflect the whole world.

Wk8: The Spotify Jukebox Idea

The Jukebox ... mark 1?

Spotify launched in a flurry in Europe in 2008. Already people are ripping off the idea (Music Unlimited anyone?). But at it’s heart, Spotify is cloud computing at it’s purest. It has hit many burdens on it’s bumpy rise, but if they can smash through those walls, there is so much potential.

One idea I have is a Spotify pub jukebox.

Not sure about Australia, but computerised jukeboxes are pretty big in the UK. For a pound or two, you get a number of songs. They usually have all the current chart hits. Some even have every chart hit ever!

(Some still have CDs on spindle racks. Pretty sure they can be improved too…)

But every chart hit ever is small beans compared to the entire Spotify catalogue. And if we are playing in credibly possible fantasty – it should have every song legally relased, right?

The Jukebox, as it currently stands, pays for itself. The pounds that are put in pay for the machine rental and sometimes the broadcast fees.

But having Spotify around should save a lot of money on those machines. Also theoretically – more choice should lead to more use. Less overhead and more use should hopefully lead to cheaper use, and could lead to even more use!

It can be done now. Plug in a cheap laptop onto your pub PA. Pay your broadcast fees. Ask for 20p for a song request from your patrons. See how it goes.

Pretty soon, it just looks like a jukebox, but powered by Spotify.

It’s the best way to think about technology. What if you could start from scratch?

If you were to invent a jukebox system for a pub, it would be crazy for you to come up with a new computer interface. Or to do the deals to license the music. Just use Spotify.

And let’s go really nuts. Lets do it on a iPad (because if a child can use one, so can a drunk). And the buttons are all colorful touch screen things. And it feeds jukebox recommendations. Imagine – if you will – it’s hooked up to a central pub jukebox server and you can see what others have listened to? Charts. More.

What about recommendations? How many time have you had three song choices but could only come up with two? How good would it be if, after a couple of beers, someone could help you with that decision.

There’s some start up costs but you can see the power behind the idea.

And there is a gap in the market coming – music for retail. Pubs. Shops. Malls. Etc. And these big emerging music services should be looking to service them.

Back in the day, big chain department stores woud send out cassettes for in-store play. It was a way of controling it. An anodyne cassette of Christmas music would be sent in November, intercut with some store IDs. Sent out to all stores everywhere – the same cassette.

Let’s make it a playlist. Let David Jones or M&S insert their store IDs. They can open a Retail account and all stores can log in.

Then you have stores like Urban Outfitters or those with a cooler vibe. Maybe the store workers can choose from a pool of tracks, to suit their tastes.

Cloud computing should, in theory, destroy the CD. Yet people still bring in CDs to shops to play over the PA. And their song choice is restricted to the half a dozen CDs they bring. Even a 160GB iPod seems hopelessly restrictive.

Why not set them free?

I love pub jukeboxes. I am fascinated by what makes it on there. Who’s behind it. What people pick on them. I have put quite a few dollars in them myself.

But cloud computing is coming. We can see this now.

In every situation where you can hear music, a service like Spotify should be able to supply it. It’s whether they can tailor their service to the needs of retail. And if they can convince retail to support Spotify – and generate another important revenue source.

And if Spotify doesn’t – how about Napster? Or Music Unlimited? Or Zune? Or Rhapsody? Any streaming service, really.

I deeply believe technology will lead to a better world. It’s why this column exists. And technology could reinvent – and improve – something as simple and humble as the jukebox. If we just think about it.

Spotify – http://www.spotify.com

A Question of Fidelity: Spotify Goes CD Quality?

Spotify - as good as a CD

Spotify - as good as a CD

We adore the Spotify service. It still has a way to go, but it’s getting there. For those in the dark – it’s a streaming service. There’s a free version with ads scattered across your listening experience. Then there’s a paid version with no ads, exclusive albums, pre-release stuff and, just announced, CD quality streaming.

The word is Spotify are finding it tough getting people to upgrade to their premium service. Offering albums before release date and exclusives will help. It’s already at a good price. But will CD quality streaming convince anyone to make the switch?

There’s a bigger question of sound quality here – if it matters – over convenience. It’s been a dog fight from the beginning. Vinyl sounded great, but it got damaged easily and was hardly portable. The cassette brought great portability but the sound quality was terrible, and cassettes snapped easily. The CD had a nice middle ground, and the war stopped for a while. Until DVDA and SACD came in, beating it’s chest about it’s 5.1 surround sound. It was around that time that the mp3 took over as the main way people listen to music.

So, are people going to care about CD quality streaming? With today’s headphones and computer speakers, it hardly seems worth it. But there is a niche consumer who can hook up their computer with a nice home stereo. But that person will no doubt have surround sound and high definition – something Spotify isn’t offering. It’s the CD all over again, a bit of each without being much of either.

Spotify are growing. They will hit mobile phones this year. Their catalogue continues to grow. We have faith. And we like the risks they are taking. We’re just not sure how many people are taking a risk on them right now.

NME covered the story quite nicely as well – http://www.nme.com/news/spotify/45507