Deals, Deals, Deals

picture-1.pngUMG has just about made nice with MySpace, according to news reports. This clears the way for MySpace Music, an enterprise offering music streams, MP3s and concert tickets. Propping up the gazillion unknown bands already giving away music on MySpace with a Led Zeppelin or Radiohead wouldn’t be a bad move. Here’s one anonymous comment:

“It’s really creating a robust monetization component to MYSPACE and having a focused music effort that could be the MTV of a new generation,” said a music industry executive who asked not to be identified before the deal is formally announced.

MTV of a new generation? Well, they’ve got the reality TV part of it down – without the television.¬† 30 million lonelyheart scrapbooks – sort of makes “The Bachelor” seem like art, doesn’t it?

But until they fix the awful look and feel, I’m staying away. Thanks to all the DIY page-building tools made available to its denizens¬† (which is sort of like handing out SkilSaws to kindergarteners) there are more execrable sites per capita in MySpace land than anywhere else on the web.

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).

Antje Duvekot

antje26img49.jpgBackstage at the Newport Folk Festival, a box of promotional CDs sat innocuously on a table in the press room. I grabbed a few, including “Boys, Flowers, Miles,” because I vaguely recalled seeing Antje Duvekot’s name flash on XM one day while listening to the Loft.

Back in the hotel, I dropped the disc into the room’s ALARM CLOCK, and what came out of that meager speaker hit me like a train, flattened me dead in my tracks.

Antje Duvekot has the lyrical intensity of Patty Griffin’s best work AND a worldview that’s part shaman, part political scientist. At some point, I’ll detail the specifics of gut-punch masterpieces like “Judas” and “Jerusalem,” but for now I just want to curl up with them.

It’s been so long since something this beautiful wandered into my field of vision that I’d almost forgotten what it felt like.

You owe it to yourself to visit her MySpace site. Listen to “Jerusalem” and tell me it doesn’t reach you at some level, be it the heartbreaking story she tells, or Antje’s mysterious Celtic/Nordic hybrid of a voice.

Tell me – I don’t believe you.