It’s good to be king, and with the twin juggernaut of iTunes and the iPod, Apple rules the legal online music world. They have no shortage of rivals, though. Lately, even Apple’s allies are gunning for them.
The latest issue of Business Week tells of Total Music, a new service spearheaded by Universal Music CEO Doug Morris. Morris, you may have heard, recently terminated his company’s iTunes agreement after battling over price (not high enough, apparently), and called upon his brethren to fight back.
Total Music repackages a couple of old ideas. Under the plan, companies that make digital music players (like the Microsoft Zune) would build the service’s cost into their price – a de factor music tax. The service would allow anyone who buys an equipped device access to all the tunes they could carry.
Sony BMG, home to Bob Dylan and Barbra Streisand, has signed up, and Warner Music is reportedly close. These three companies make up 75 percent of the business – a formidable foe indeed.
There’s a catch, lest you thought Big Music was just going to give away the store. First, Total Music tracks won’t play on an iPod – that’s sort of the point. Second, it’s a subscription service, so burning CDs or emailing songs to friends?
Not gonna happen.
You don’t own the music, the major labels do.
Such thinking flies in the face of the prevailing wisdom, best articulated by Yahoo! Music GM Ian Rogers. “Convenience wins, hubris loses,” he says. “Put more barriers in front of the users, I’m not interested.”
Rogers failed with his own subscription service, so he may know a thing or two. As must Amazon, Rhapsody and (wait for it…) Apple – they’ve all switched to selling MP3 downloads, playable on any device.
Is the subscription idea DOA, then? I’m not so sure. Currently, for the cost of one CD per month, I can listen to anything I want; Total Music reduces that cost to zero. If something really stands out, it can be purchased.
But there’s not much new music I really WANT to own.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ only response to the Total Music plan was praise for Doug Morris’s “old school” roots.
“He’s the last of the great music executives who came up through A&R,” said Jobs.
“A&R” is short for “artists and repertoire” – finding and nurturing talent. That’s pretty rare in the industry these days.
The record companies’ biggest problem is making better music, not coming up with more ways to sell it.
Thursday: Billy Rosen Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s – My personal favorite jazz band appearing at this downtown Claremont eatery, due mainly to their improvisational skills. Some may go for a Grateful Dead style of jamming. But give me variations on “Misty” or “Willow Weep for Me” and I’m in rapture. These guys play with finesse and style, finding new twists on old standards with surprising ease.
Friday: Kid Pinky, La Dolce Vita – Appearing every other week, they’ve become the unofficial house band at this New London Italian bistro. They prove that red Chianti, white clam sauce and blues music can mix surprisingly well. Bandleader Kid Pinky plays a mean harp, a sweet piano and sings with conviction – another nice combination. Kid and his band, the Restless Knights, play tonight and tomorrow.
Saturday: Last Kid Picked, Newport Opera House – This Newport band has been around in one form or another for over 20 years, playing good time rock and roll. Their annual masquerade party is becoming a local tradition – as well as a frequent sellout, so if you haven’t purchased tickets yet, don’t tarry. While you’re at it, get to work on your costume – Halloween’s just two weeks away.
Sunday: Jeffrey Gaines, Iron Horse – A powerful vocalist who’s perhaps best known for performing a song that was a huge hit for someone else. Gaines turns Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” into an anguished, pained primal scream, and on his latest live CD, the audience dutifully sings along. It takes a special kind of performer to pull that off. His original songs remind me of Elvis Costello with angst.
Tuesday: Acoustic Coalition, Murphy Farm (Quechee) – An ever-changing, blue ribbon lineup of the Upper Valley’s most talented players, including Terry Diers, Robin Russell, Ford Dailey among others. It’s an old fashioned song circle that occasionally goes in newfangled directions – Sam Moffatt calls out a French folk song; next, Mike Payton counts off an eight bar blues. Running from 7 till 11, the evening’s sweet spot is usually right around 8:30.
Wednesday: California Guitar Trio, Hooker-Dunham Theatre – These three virtuosos toured with idiosyncratic axe man Robert Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitarists in 1987, and formed officially in 1991. Their jaw-dropping dexterity has captivated audiences ever since. Mix Andres Segovia with “Hot Rats”-era Frank Zappa, and it would sound like this.