Today’s Free Download – Mindy Smith

3726631_mindy_200.jpgOK, it’s a MySpace stream, not a free download. But “Out Loud” is a strong advance track from Mindy Smith’s upcoming “Long Island Shores” CD, a record I’ve been anxiously awaiting.

She reminds many of Patty Griffin, but the deeply personal nature of her songs set Smith apart.

The upcoming record draws from childhood memories:

… a nod to her family and her heritage growing up in Smithtown, New York. The album is scheduled for release on Oct. 10th. “Long Island Shores” retains the raw, emotional intimacy of Mindy’s songs and haunting vocals but adds some sharp edges both musically and lyrically, broadening the landscape of Mindy’s storytelling. Mindy co-produced this record with Steve Buckingham and Lex Price along with additional production by Roger Moutenot.

“Out Loud” is a richly textured, complex track. It retains the frail vulnerability of “One Moment More” and “Angel Doves” but also has the urgent power of “Come to Jesus,” the breakout track from her first album.

“Why should we stand in lonely shadows/when there’s so much light around?” sings Smith, and the song emerges joyously around those sentiments.

Is Goombah MySpace Inside My Mind?

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I’ve been playing with Goombah this weekend, and though it’s not perfect (what beta is?) it’s very intriguing. It’s an application that catalogues your iTunes library and feeds it into a database containing the libraries of other users. Goombah looks for matches between your playlist and other users, analyzing similarities. It then generates a ranked relevancy list.

It also creates a list of other Goombah users based on musical compability. You can drill down into their playlists to sess what they’ve got. Finally, and perhaps best of all, the service has a few hundred free tracks that are placed at the top of the list for your consideration. Every “Free Music Friday,” Goombah adds new tracks, some of which are from reasonably big names like Ani DiFranco, Sufjan Stevens, Calexico, XTC and Spoon.

Goombah is powered by BitTorrent, at least in terms of how it gathers user data, but it runs on trust. By standing between the record companies artists and music fans, it acts as a taste broker. That only works if Goombah’s user community is confident that the program isn’t gathering data for piracy lawsuits, and artists are certain that it’s spreading their music without depriving them of a chance to earn a living from it.

With that understanding in place, there’s a real opportunity to build a new and different musical order that levels the field and allows all artists unprecedented reach to their fans.

Of course, the algorithm has to work, and I’m not so sure at the moment. I have over 10,000 tracks in my library, ranging from vintage blues to metal, with pop, folk, country and world music situated in between. Why, then, did the free tracks (the new stuff that I likely haven’t heard before) situate on such a narrow range of styles? I glanced at the entirety of Goombah’s free library, and there were several other songs that might have been recommended based on my tastes.

It’s unclear which metadata is used for the relevancy matches. Does the program check play count, last played, play order? There’s also a basic problem with ID3 in iTunes – if a track is skipped before it ends, it’s not counted as having been played. With live albums that’s a real issue, since many tracks end with the long spoken introduction to the next song. I tend to jump to the end of those. As far as iTunes is concerned, I never played them.

It doesn’t look like Goombah does ranking based on iPod data, but if play count isn’t factored in, that’s probably irrelevant.

Most iTunes metadata is provided by CDDB, which can be problematic. For example, CDDB classifies Ellis Paul in the “Soulful Rock” genre when he’s pretty much a folk artist. Blank fields present a unique issue. There are more blank “genre” tracks in my library than I can count. Add in tracks traded on Limewire and the like, with bad or no data, and it gets worse.

These aren’t Goombah’s problems, but unless these challenges are addressed, it will affect the usefulness of the program.
These problems are in the current Goombah release (0.9661).

Here’s a specific issue, which I’ve reported to Goombah. When I first fired the program up, the “free track” list included five recommended artists, with an “adventurousness” scale set near the middle. When I increased that level to “high” the artist count DROPPED to one. Further, the remaining name was conicidentally a “featured artist” on Goombah’s home page.

On the other hand, the non-free list is packed with cool looking suggestions. My top ranked user match had a Mindy Smith record listed that won’t be released for another six weeks. What a cool way to get a news flash.

One note: I’m running both the PC and Mac (Panther) versions. The aforementioned problem only occurred my Win box (XP SP2).

With Zune, Toshiba Triangulates

mp3players.jpgAn FCC filing announced Friday indicates that the Microsoft Zune is being built by Toshiba. It will feature a 30 GB drive and a wireless connection for song and photo swapping, although early reports indicate that the music-sharing component is, typically for Microsoft, ridiculously restrictive.

According to documents filed Thursday with the FCC, Zune has wireless networking abilities that once turned on, allow people to send and receive photos, as well as “promotional” copies of songs, albums and playlists. It sounds great, but the filing does not define “promotional copies”. I believe it is a term also known as “controlled sharing”, usually involving a few selected songs with a time limit of how long you can keep them.

Two interesting notes here. First, the iPod hard disk has long been built by Toshiba; how do they avoid non-compete problems? Second, the Gigabeat S, Toshiba’s own MP3 player recently beat the iPod in a CNET Prizefight, winning in all categories. So, really, it’s three-pronged dominance for the Japanese behemoth.

BNL Didn’t Get The Memo, Either

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Barenaked Ladies, in anticipation of “Barenaked Ladies Are Me” on September 12, has put 3 songs up for sale on their website. Not news, you say? Haven’t you ever heard of iTunes? OK, I know there are childless, houseless, underpaid twentysomethings with time on their hands, who can surf the net like it’s their own private Mavericks, but hey, bear with me.

The news is that Nettwerk Records is releasing each song as a 16 piece set. The producer’s building blocks. The basic tracks. And holding a contest for the best remix. Eventually, Nettwerk plans to release EVERY SINGLE SONG from the record this way.

Artists have played around with this, offering slightly-opened up music for fans to play with (David Bowie, Beck), but this is the new gold standard. It’s also a pretty nifty way to persuade fans to pay for music.

Finally, it’s a surefire way to involve hardcore fans and recruit new ones. Each song produces a groundswell of interest that will only help BNL when they tour.

Weird Al – RIAA Tool?

weirdal.jpgWeird Al Yankovic, who is to the song parody what Jerry Douglas is to the dobro, is at it again. The latest sacred cow on his barbeque is the nefarious practice of file sharing. “Don’t Download This Song,” he implores over a “We Are The World” music track, and here’s why:

“You start out stealing songs, then you’re robbing liquor stores/and selling crack and running over schoolkids with your car”

Of course, the song’s a free download, on MySpace, Weird Al’s website (both of them, weirdalyankovic.com and dontdownloadthissong.com). There’s probably kids at the mall offering to beam it to smart phones, and Bluetooth billboards being built right now.

The whole song is Yankovic at his snarky, irreverent best. Don’t mess with the R-I double-A, he cautions, because “if you’re a grandma or a seven year old girl, they’ll treat you like the evil, hard bitten criminal scum you are.” And if you decide to do it anyway, he wonders, “how can I afford another solid gold Humvee?”

C’mon, Al says.  “Even Lars Ulrich knows it’s wrong.”

Are you with me? DO download “Don’t Download This Song” and share it with all your friends. I envision a mashup of this one, “We Are the World” and the great Billy Crystal-as-Prince SNL parody from 1985, “I Am Also the World.”

Today’s Free Download – Asobi Seksu

CitrusEverybody’s arguing about sound quality these days. Paul Rappaport incited a Lefsetz flame war that boiled down to “compression sucks” on the one hand, and “I cut my teeth with crappy 45’s stacked on a mono record player that looked like a princess suitcase” on the other.

Even Bob Dylan got into the act:

You listen to these modern records, they’re atrocious, they have sound all over them,” he told Rolling Stone. “I don’t know anybody who’s made a record that sounds decent in the past 20 years, really.

Interesting, since the Bobster (who I admire more than any musical figure apart from John Lennon) plays mostly low-fi records from 1940’s and 1950’s on his XM Radio show. But I digress.

I agree that a lot of modern records are often packed to the density of a fruitcake, but is that always a bad thing?

Take “Thursday,” the latest from Asobi Seksu’s “Citrus.” It’s stuffed with synth banks, a drummer that seems to hit a cymbal every time he aims at a snare, multitracked guitars, a house dub bass that slaps like a broken door, and no matter what I do with the volume controls, it seems to get louder. But keyboard player Yuki’s sweet, Blondie meets the Cranberries singing swirls miraculously over “Thursday,” and other equally dreamy tracks, like a Grand Marnier float on an orange blossom cosmopolitan.

The band’s name is Japanese for “Playful Sex,” which must be the reason Yuki’s bilingual switch from English to Japanese on tracks like “New Years” feels so seductive.

Sure, the waveform likely resembles a caterpillar conga line, but it’s atmospheric and hypnotic music designed to take your mind elsewhere. Something I enjoy

Citrus

Asobi Seksu
Friendly Fire Recordings

Consumer Coup?

sweeney.jpgAt a recent media gathering, Disney-ABC Television President Anne Sweeney lamented the state of her business:

“We all thought we were in charge of the consumer experience,” Sweeney said. Today, “it’s all about when a consumer wants it,” what device they want it on and where they want to view it, Sweeney told attendees of the Aspen Summit on Monday.

That’s an interesting,and typically adverserial, way to put it. What’s really happening is consumers finally have the tools to shape the entertainment experience any way they want to. Whether that means using a DVR to skip commercials, remixing a song or video or making their own content and bypassing the majors completely, consumers are running the table, no matter how many lawmakers the RIAA or MPA pay off.

In a now-familiar whine, Sweeney said, “Piracy is a pretty darn good business model when you think about it” – as if that were the problem. The fact that millions of netizens see a digital copy of “Desperate Housewives” 15 minutes after it airs is GOOD for Disney’s business. It’s the watercooler effect mutated into King Kong.

Let me put it another way. How do you think a DVD market for reruns came to be in the first place? Not due to some pent-up demand for the mediocre crap that passes for TV’s best work these days. People saw the shape of things to come. The industry had little to do with that awakening; in fact, if left to its’ own devices, it would have killed it.

It still wants it dead, so blind are they to the exponential growth opportunities it represents.

With that reality so clear, what else do consumers have left to do? Of COURSE they’ll YouTube, ABSOLUTELY they’ll fill the Internet with the content they want. If the industry can’t figure out how to make that work for them, that’s their problem, not one for our laws to remedy.

“We all thought we were in charge of the consumer experience,” Sweeney whines.

You WERE. You’re fired.