Today’s Free Download Redux – Mindy Smith

mindy.jpgThere’s been a link to a stream from Mindy Smith’s upcoming “Long Island Shores” release elsewhere on the blog, but until now, no MP3s from the album. With Vanguard Records’ posting of “I’m Not The Only One Asking” Mindy fans finally have something they can move over to an iPod (or Zune, if they’re so inclined). The track is a soaring gospel tune, co-written with Fred Williams, that’s been in Mindy’s catalog for awhile. Note: Be sure to add the MP3 extension to the file after you download – it’s not there by default (it’s simply called “Mindy”).

This song and other spiritual numbers prevalent in Mindy’s work lead some to wonder whether her music belongs in the Christian, not Americana bin at Borders. She has this interesting observation in the song notes:

Most people know there aren’t really keys to Heaven. It’s just a metaphor for wanting somebody to come and give you some absolutes, to help your life make sense. But nothing really is absolute … not until you die.

Guess that means that while you may see Mindy in church on Sunday, she’s not on the same page Rapture-wise as Dubya (who doesn’t, as I recall, even attend church – at least not publicly).

Enought of that. Mindy Smith’s awesome soprano holds the key to my personal Heaven. Enjoy.

Today’s Free Download – Cansei de Ser Sexy

canseidesursexy.jpgWhat better lead-in to a long weekend than this frothty, synth-soaked fun, mindless romp from this Sao Paolo-based Brazilian technopop combo. They remind me of Dee-Lite or fisherspooner, but with goofier lyrics:

You’re so talented I’m in love/Lets make love and listen death from above/I’m back with a smack and I’m ready to attack/Stare at my lips and see they are wet/I know how you doing by looking at your pants/And this is how we call it a comeback…

The track combines an dance-trance music bed with a ‘shroom infested lovesick lullabye singsong, inspired it appears by a bout of listening to the smash and crash antics of the now sadly defunct Death From Above 1979.

For the download, I’ve provided a link to their page at Sub Pop Records because it includes not only an MP3 of “Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above” but also a stream of the irrationally exhuberant video.

The band is currently on tour with Ladytron; they land at Boston’s Avalon September 30.

Goombah Gets It

goombah2.jpgGoombah is the best example yet of using technology to harness the Internet’s power for artist direct distribution. I had an experience today that exemplifies this, but first, some background. Gary Robinson, CTO of Emergent Music LLC and the creator of Goombah, explained his vision to me in a recent email:

25 years ago I was hanging out in singer-songwriter circles in Greenwich Village, NYC … I saw how much absolutely fantastic music was never going to be heard outside of a couple of folk clubs in NY and Boston. As soon as I got the idea about what could be done about it, which I thought of around that time, I started investigating the math aspects.

Whatever math lies beneath Goombah’s recommendation algorithm, it hit a bullseye with me this morning. After Goombah catalogs your library, it allows you to build lists of specific artists. It then creates lists of “recommended tracks” and “recommended users” from those specialized subsets. Today, I built a list called Folk Rock that included some of my favorite artists like Patty Griffin and Kasey Chambers. Sometimes, an artist isn’t in their user database. This happened with Antje Duvekot; Goombah didn’t allow me to type her name in, but I was able to drag it in from my library list.

After a few minutes of searching (I’ve found the time varies), Goombah located and ranked 100 tracks from their 2 million user song catalog They were all good selections, and none of them were in my music library. It also put 5 free tracks in the top window – one of which, “When the World Ends” by the Bittersweets, is my favorite piece of new music today. I guess the Bay Area is all over this band; they’ve opened for Rosanne Cash at the Mountain Winery, and KFOG, my morning drive station back when lived there, plays them like crazy.

But I’d never heard of them until Goombah sent me their track. Now I know that their label, Virt Records, is also home to Shane Nicholson, a favorite of mine from down under (and the new Mr. Kasey Chambers), as well as Ellery. Ellery’s free track popped up in the five song window after I’d moved the first batch of suggested music into iTunes. I’m listening to it now. Not as good as the Bittersweets, but not bad either.

That’s the way it’s supposed to be. I tell the Oracle of Music what kind of mood I’m in (Americana Girls, please), and it responds with some great new stuff I’ve never heard before. If I like the track, I can click through to iTunes Music Store and sample the rest of the album.

A note on free music – I recently blogged about Goombah and observed some odd behavior there. Gary Robinson had this to say:

The recommendation algorithm for free music is different from the recommendation algorithm for non-free music. In particular, the free music recs will be getting major improvements in coming weeks and months. It’s been a lower priority because we don’t (yet) have many thousands of free tracks.

A whack of new tracks are added every “Free Music Friday” at Goombah, so today’s a great day to download the program, which is available for Windows 2000/XP and Mac (Panther and Tiger). As I continue to play with the beta software, I’ll post new discoveries.

For now anyway, here’s my new mantra:

Get Goombah – Goombah Gets It

SpiralFrog Gets Gigged

The SpiralFrog announcement is but two days old, and the for/against camp is shaking out. UMG’s new free download partnership doesn’t have a whole lot of fans, and that’s fine. What bothers me is the insistence that record companies not only give away their wares, but do it without any restrictions.

It’s sort of like, thanks for the free meal, but it’s a little, y’know, under-seasoned.

We’ll take your free music, the critics are saying, but only with no DRM and unrestricted playtime on an unlimited number of devices. While you’re at it, get those nasty adverts away from me as well.

It’s not much different from the long-standing industry position in terms of extremity.

Every time I want to read Salon magazine, I have to sit through an ad first, or pay for an annual subscription. Without a paid subscription, I can’t move it via AvantGo down to my Treo. The New York Times wants 50 bucks a year if I’m to read Maureen Dowd.

I love Comedy Central’s full-disclosure, tongue-in-cheek ad box that everyone looking for Daily Show or South Park reruns has to sit though. “Payin’ the Billz” is what it says.

So why should free music content be different?

Fortunately, there are a few moderate, albeit skeptical, viewpoints about SpiralFrog. The most provocative observation comes from an editorial in the Financial Times online edition. A free, ad-supported service can move people away from illegal download sites and bump revenue up for the industry, but it has some pretty scary dangers:

A service like SpiralFrog has to be sufficiently attractive to win back illegal music users, while not proving so compelling that legal customers decide they no longer need to pay.

Exactly. I’m generally enthusiastic about SpiralFrog, but I wonder how long the model will sustain itself. I remember the original incarnation of EMusic, which allowed “all you can eat” downloading for a monthly fee. I enjoyed it immensely, downloading unrestricted copies of the Creedence Clearwater Revival catalog, among others (it was mostly oldies then). The scheme lasted about one year before they started limiting tracks. Now, they’ve found a nice balance, selling 90 tracks for 20 bucks from a re-vamped lineup packed with indie bands like the Demonz, Neko Case and eels.

Another thing SpiralFrog doesn’t address is the plight of smaller bands from indie labels who likely won’t appear there, free or otherwise. For them, the future lies beyond the majors. I got an interesting email from Craig Hamilton of the folk-rock U.K. band Friends of the Stars, who proposed a scheme that’s as fraught with peril in its own way as SpiralFrog:

If you give us $10, we’ll send you 5 tracks from our forthcoming album. You can then distribute these 5 tracks to your small but dedicated group of customers free of charge, free of DRM and with our absolute permission.

You can send these songs as a goodwill gesture to existing clients, or use them as part of an offer for a new product. It’s your $10, so it’s your call.

Please feel free to tell your small but dedicated group of customers they can do with the music what they wish. They can share it, they can burn it to CD, and they can even ignore and delete it should they wish.

It sounds like a wonderfully egalitarian approach, but it is a lot like buying and ripping a CD, then emailing the tracks to all your friends. What’s different is that FotS is relatively unknown and looking for exposure. Once successful, what will happen to their policy? I don’t mean to criticize, just wondering.

Tamago is a more realistic marketplace model. It allows content owners to license their works to individuals, who then price and sell it over the Internet for whatever price is appropriate. The one problem I’ve always had with iTunes and their ilk is uniform pricing, though some smaller bands offer full albums for a low price (like Damone, a GREAT band from Boston, who sold their debut for 6 bucks on ITMS). Tamago isn’t limited to audio and video, either, with photos and written work available though the exchange.

In the case of Friends of the Stars, I’d suggest that rather than selling a blanket license for 10 dollars that allows for unlimited free distribution, they either limit it or build in a royalty system. The payout might even mirror the very successful “street team” approach used by a lot of bands, which rewards amateur, unpaid guerilla marketers with choice concert seats and other assorted swag.

The under-discussed message in all of this SpiralFrog hoopla is that it spells the gradual irrelevancy of record companies in the first place. The Internet has made a world where they aren’t really necessary, at least not until they start actually developing bands again, which probably won’t happen.

If the industry can’t make money from free music, what’s left?