Archive for March, 2009

Snowed Under

Posted in Blog, Music, Qtrax, Qtrax Blog on March 31, 2009 by David

The quickest of updates here. I don’t expect any sympathy or commentary, but your humble narrator is snowbound on a ski vacation this week. I’m checking in with the office daily to see if there are any updates to the preview/launch. I will keep you all informed to the best of my ability. I apologize for the silent treatment. Seriously, if there is anything new to report, you’ll all hear about it.

I won’t be replying to all your questions and comments until I’m back next week. Talk among yourselves, we’re still listening.

Cheers!

Qtraxer

Soft Shoe

Posted in ad supported, Blog, Free Music, Music, Music Download, P2P, Qtrax, Qtrax Blog on March 25, 2009 by David

whale-we_care
This music gig doesn’t pay very well, but the fans are all right.
Milkshake n’ Honey – Sleater-Kinney

I’m feeling a little like the emcee who keeps trying to keep the crowd entertained with jokes and witty anecdotes while the main act guzzles Jack Daniels and curses out the stage crew for wrong-colored M&Ms backstage. While the headliner takes their sweet time getting ready, the emcee is thrown out to the hungry masses to do a little soft-shoe. “Did ya hear the one about the lumberjack, rock star and mortgage banker? No? Hey, who threw that?”

OK, here’s an interesting tidbit to keep you occupied (enter big eyeroll here). The year was 1995 and if you were like me, you started your own college entertainment newspaper. The upside of this project was all the free CDs, concert tickets, interviews and listening parties you could handle. The downside? Besides not making a ton of money, you had to weed through the piles and piles of crap to find the good stuff. For every Pablo Honey, you had to listen to fifty not Pablo Honeys.

One day you find yourself bored in the office. You’re waiting for it to stop raining in Seattle (good luck) or a check to come in the mail so you can eat (stupid 30 day billing cycles) and you pop in a CD by a band called Whale. You recall a brief knowledge of a song called Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe getting some MTV spins, but for the most part, you are skeptical. Then you have one of those “holy crap, these guys are good” moments that lasts about a year. You tell as many people as possible about Whale. You go to their shows. You make your friends go to their shows. You play them at parties. You even write how awesome they are, but by the end of it all, it’s you and about 60 other people on the planet (including their native Sweden) who dig Whale. The album is titled, We Care, but in reality, no one seems to care, but you.

The truth is, I have countless bands like this stored in my head. Bands like Schtum, Figdish, 1000 Mona Lisas, and Prose n’ Concepts. Maybe they made a little splash, but there was never much of a ripple. These were bands that got a little love from a label for some studio time, a manager, and a van. Other than that, they were on their own. You never saw wide-eyed enthusiasm change into systematic contempt so fast. This was the era of the listening party and meet and greet. It was sad. Unless the label’s college rep had lots of drink tickets. Then it was awesome. Rock on!

The point is, you’ll be able to download Whale’s We Care on Qtrax very shortly. Then you can decide for yourself. Maybe we’re got a chance right an old wrong and soon Whale will be headlining Lollapalloza this year. Or, are my musical tastes now up for debate. I downloaded it (since I lost that CD years ago) yesterday and gave it a couple of listens. I stand by my first call. This is an awesome band and a great record.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some brown M&Ms to get rid of.

A Quick One

Posted in ad supported, Blog, Free Music, Music, Music Download, P2P, Qtrax, Qtrax Blog, Uncategorized on March 21, 2009 by David

This will be just a real short post.  There is still nothing too new to report on the launch front.  We’re getting closer and closer.  Thanks for hanging in.

I went to an Atmosphere and Brother Ali show a couple of weeks ago.  I don’t know if the rest of the world appreciates the underground hip hop scene that has emerged out of the Rhymesayers label and the Twin Cities, but if you’re not paying attention, you’re totally missing out.   Going beyond Atmosphere and Brother Ali, you must check out P.O.S, Doomtree and Cecil Otter.  In my opinion, this is the most talented music movement happening in the country right now.  Has been for a while.

One item that was really interesting durning the show was a couple of comments made by rappers Slug and Brother Ali.  Sean (aka Slug) of Atmosphere told the crowd that it was cool if they were recording the show on their phone or whatever.  He emplored the audience to not post it up on Youtube.  “Those are your memories.  Show that shit to your girlfriend or little brother or something, but don’t post it up on Youtube.  Make all of them (Youtubers) get their own memories.”

Brother Ali added, “yeah, store this in the SIM card in your head.”

These are also guys who release music for free online from time to time.  They play all ages shows.  They show up at record stores and talk to fans.  They hand out fliers on their own at other hip hop shows.  I’ve been to a few of their shows now, and they have always appreciated their fans.  They are always thanking the fans for letting them do what they do and coming out to support them.  I don’t get this kind of customer service at my bank.  No wonder I’m more loyal to these guys.

Slug and Ali

Slug and Ali

Just a Little Patience…Yeeeeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhhh.

Posted in ad supported, Blog, Free Music, Music, Music Download, P2P, Qtrax, Qtrax Blog with tags , , , on March 18, 2009 by David

patience_small

Inspirational poster or a GN’R song off of GN’R Lies? Apropos for Qtrax? Of course. We want to thank everyone for their continued patience during the move from beta to our V1.0 launch. I know it’s not easy waiting for free music. Hell, I get testy when I have to wait for a free sample of chicken nuggets at the grocery store on Saturdays. We understand that you’re all hungry for free and legal music downloads. Seriously, we get it.

Without trying to over-fill this post with a bunch of cliché song quotes about how waiting is the hardest part, we want you to understand that we’re working on some last minute updates and upgrades.   We realize that we planned on having launched by now. We’ve been a bit quiet about it too.  We know this sucks.  There’s nothing worse than waiting on the runway and not getting any information from the captain, right?

We’re tweaking. Not as in “been-up-for-72 hours-straight-on-meth-tweaking.” I take that back.  Now that I think of it, it actually it is kind of like that, but without the stimulant. We’re staying up tweaking the site/player. It’s a long laundry list of things we want to get right before we launch. Keep in mind, we’re dealing with a massive influx of third party files. We’re double-checking our triple-checking so that we can get it up and go forward. This is a massive undertaking and it’s very important that we get it as close to perfect as a first-of-it’s-kind-tech launch can be. We anticipate big traffic, we anticipate massive consumer interaction and we anticipate unique advertiser participation. We take all of these aspects seriously as do our partners. There is a lot at stake. Launching for the sake of launching to meet some pre-determined deadline isn’t the goal.

How long is it going to take? That’s a tricky question. We hope that it’s just a couple of more days, but we’ve said that before. Sometimes, when you uncover a tech issue, you need to unravel the whole code. This is a little like rebuilding a piñata after finding a piece of bad candy. It’s doesn’t make sense, but you’re glad you caught the issue. We sincerely hope that you’re all knee deep in free and legal music downloads by the end of the month at the very latest. Keep the faith. After all, you waited 13 years for a new GN’R album and all you got for your trouble (besides a pretty good album) was a stinkin’ can of Dr. Pepper. Or not.  We really hope to do better than that.

Power To The People

Posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2009 by David

hippie-bus“Don’t know what I want but I know how to get it.”

Anarchy in the U.K. – Sex Pistols

You’ve got the keys to the magic bus. How does it feel?

The success of bands and popular music clearly rest in the hands of the fans, now more than ever. If you think that this has been the case for a while, you’re fooling yourself. In the early days, it was radio and independent promoters who were the hit makers. Payola was the name of the game. Exposure over the airwaves insured a chance to sell your music and tour and maybe make a little money. Later, as retail and distribution channels increased, the label fronted media and marketing machines started to take over. You (the fan) had some vote, but let’s face it, you were pretty much along for the ride. Music discovery was still done over the radio airwaves, and let’s just say it wasn’t a level playing field. MTV came along and changed the media format, but not the marketing machine. Some great bands emerged out of this machine, but many industry people constantly remind us, it couldn’t have happened with them and their A&R departments.

Digital music distribution, file sharing and the advancement of high speed internet access really messed it all up. We’ve had ten years of stripping away the layers of a machine that controlled us. Now, this machine is almost completely broke, and no one’s going to fix it. This is a good thing. Time for the next phase.

So, what’s it all going to look like? I’ll break it down into a few categories to get a better understanding. I’ll be brief, since you could write a book on each topic. However, what we do know, is that consumer interaction, artist-to-fan (and back) communication and internet exposure will matter more than ever in pretty much each category.

Music Discovery: Radio’s role is almost totally evaporated. Satellite radio may not make it though the year. Sites like Pandora do such a good job of helping people discover music that if radio was gone tomorrow, would we even miss it?

Music Production: The next generation coming up is going to be better than the current one when it comes to do-it-yourself production. Will this put music studios out of business? No, but it will help more and more bands produce quality music with a high production value without needing any label advances to get it going.

Music Sales: This is obviously the white elephant in the room. Problem is, the white elephant has trampled everything and decimated the bottom lines of every label in the land. Content, it’s been determined (by you, the fans), will be free. Paying for music can still exist, but there needs to be more value than just the song itself.

How Bands Make Money: The live music experience has always been the real money maker for most bands. Tickets, merchandise etc. This will continue. Bands need to concentrate on selling more than just music directly to their core fans. Fans will support their favorite bands financially, we know this much is true.

Building A Brand: Bands and their managers will have to learn how to market themselves beyond their music, merchandise and concert tickets. Back in the day, this was called selling out. Nowadays, it’s called good business.

I know that I’ve broken down the demise of a $40 billion-a-year industry into a few sound bytes. That’s probably a little unfair. There are a number of very important factors that will go into the success of the artists. What’s become more important than any marketing machine or unique distribution deal is the music. Great music will be any band’s first line to success. This wasn’t always the case. Right now, word of mouth, social networking and rapid communication (email, IM, Twitter etc.) are going to be as vital as the music video was in the 80s. We have the unique ability to get our music whenever and wherever we want, all the while tuning out the marketing noise which used to dominate our music experience. More than ever, it’s the music that matters. It’ll be up to you, the fans, to decide on what’s good or not.

The Art of the Album

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 11, 2009 by David

decemberists-story2Obviously, downloading digital music encourages musical cherry picking. Back in PDD (Pre-Digital Downloading), your music purchases had more at stake. Even if you were one of the eight people buying CD singles in 1996, there were fixed costs associated with marketing and distribution which pushed the price of your music higher. The best artists were adept at two things a) putting out music which was worth the $15.99 for a CD; b) rinse, tour, repeat. However, in order for fans to pay a high price for music, it was pretty damn important to know you were going to get your money’s worth. Same with concert tickets. Your favorite bands didn’t dare leave you hanging with one single and a bunch of crap. If they did? You dumped them like that psycho girlfriend in college that kept stealing your hats (totally another story).

In the ADD (After Digital Downloading and double entendre alert!) world, the reaction has been to select and buy the one or two must-have songs off of each album. In fact, digital downloads account for nearly 50% of all music purchased, of which, less than 5% are album purchases. This doesn’t even count illegal downloading, which not only blows away these figures in terms of volume, but also supports the notion of single-song acquisition. Even when it’s stolen, people tend to nab only the one song they want. Think of how much good music is being missed or overlooked. Crazy, right? However, things could be changing as free and legal takes over the music downloading world. I’m predicting that we see an album renaissance.

Why so, you ask? Well, gone is the day of cranking out one hit and a bunch of mediocre songs music with an expectation that you can turn a profit. For people to go out and buy a CD nowadays, it better contain a body of quality music worthy of all that hard-earned cash. Sadly, the opposite was an over-used model by labels and their marketing machines.  Until a few years ago, there were still enough people out there buying CDs and all it took was the momentum of one hit to sell an album. Money was made at high margins, but people got burned. Things are different now.

I like the direction that certain artists are going to promote their whole albums. A lot has been written about Radiohead and NIN giving away their albums online. Kid Rock felt that he’d make a kick-ass album and wanted his fans to invest more of their time and money in it. He opted to not allow single songs to be purchased on iTunes and subsequently he ended up selling a lot of CDs. In a quote from Rolling Stone last year:

“Rock points out a particularly ironic twist to his logic in holding out from iTunes. “It’s funny, I have a shitload of stock in Apple — I think it’s one of the greatest companies in America,” he says. “But it’s just not very American to me when Apple tells you how they want to sell your product and tell you what it’s worth.” [From Rolling Stone, Issue 1059 — August 21, 2008].”

Artists are really starting to take album making seriously again. This plays well into the hand of a free and legal music download site. You might as well grab the album and enjoy the whole thing, especially since it’s free. I’m glad there there are a number of new artists who get it.  Here’s a quick list of five albums from the past couple of years that really prove my point. Oh yeah, and they are all available on Qtrax (beta users now, 1.0 users very, very soon).

Tha Carter III – Lil’Wayne. The self-professed best rapper alive is also making the best hip hop albums. It has pace, rhythm and a complete-ness unlike most hip hop albums.

Dear Science – TV on the Radio. Brooklyn funk rockers create an album that is eclectic, but bound by a unique sub-text that is honest and soulful.

Hello Hong Kong – The Kicks. Ok, this stretches us all the way back to 2004, but rarely has a pop-punk outfit delivered consistency like these Little Rockers have on this album.

The Crane Wife – The Decemberists. British folk meets 70s Prog rock with a story. What’s scary is that there is still massive upside to their potential.  That’s them and their story-telling ways in the picture.

Third – Portishead. Crazy good and to be enjoyed in its entirety regardless of what else is on the agenda.

Qtrax DRM, Michael Jackson and The Ebola Virus.

Posted in Uncategorized on March 10, 2009 by David

billie-jean-jackson_l2

In 1983, Michael Jackson had a helluva year. He spent 15 weeks atop the charts with 3 #1 hits. Other songs making it to the top of the charts that year were “Come on Eileen” by the Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie, “Flashdance…What a Feeling” by Irene Cara, “Every Breath You Take” by The Police and “Maniac” by Michael Sembello (I hope you’re picturing Chris Farley in Tommy Boy every time you hear this song like I do). Man, those were the days. I can practically smell the hairspray. The era was equal parts mega-stars, one-hit wonders and MTV-fueled video bands. To download nearly all of these classic hits, just go to Qtrax and search by keyword “80s”. You’ll be knee deep in these hits, Pat Benetar and Lionel Richie before you know it.

The same year, but with much less hype, The Replacements released Hootenanny, Hüsker Dü was recording Zen Arcade, and The Clash were finishing up Combat Rock. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. That God for that.

What’s this got to do with anything besides the usual “available music on Qtrax” and some glorious self-promotion. Well, I’ll tell you. According to my extensive, web-based research, the same year (1983) a Japanese software engineer, Ryoichi Mori developed Software Service System (SSS) which is one of the earliest implementations of DRM (Digital Rights Management). Similar to the DRM today, SSS specialized hardware that controlled decryption and also enabled payments to be sent to the copyright holder. DRM is one of the hot-button issues in digital music. In a future world, all music may be stripped of DRM, but for now, it’s here and part of pretty much every music fans digital experience–like it or not. For most music sites, DRM encrypted music was there to limit the redistribution of copyright protected music. This is why you had such a difficult time uploading music from CDs from certain labels or sending that cool tune to a friend of yours that you just downloaded from iTunes. However, from a copyright protection issue, many “for pay” download services are removing DRM. This has created a buzz around the acronym and subsequesnt media hysteria has turned DRM into the digital equivalent of the Ebola virus.

So, if the future of music is free and legal, why do Qtrax songs come loaded with DRM? If you’re giving the music away, what’s the big deal? It’s pretty simple, really. We’re counting plays. That’s it. We’re not culling information (Facebook). We’re not infecting your computer with spyware (Limewire). And we’re certainly not giving you the Ebola virus (bat-bitten African monkies and mice). Naturally, we would love to have all of our music on Qtrax be DRM-free and able to be played on anyone’s portable device (that even includes you, Mr. iPod). In fact, we’re working hard with everyone to develop innovative software and systems to see that this becomes a reality in the near future. However, we pay  the artists and publishers based on the amount of plays each song receives. Our DRM is used to do one thing only, count plays. Our agreements with all the major labels and artists gives us rights to distribute their music freely, provided we share in the advertising revenues. We base these payments based on exactly which music is being downloaded and played via Qtrax. It’s a true reflection of the popularity of each song and the most fair way to compensate the artists and publishers of the music. This is why we need to count plays. We encourage users to download as much music as they want and tell their friends to do the same. Play it as much as you like on your computer, for now.  Soon, we’ll have the portability aspect nailed (you will hear something on this topic very soon) and all you’ll need to do is synch up your device once a month so we can, you guessed it, count plays. It’s quick and easy. The beauty is you get to keep the music. Just try and avoid getting bitten by a bat or crazed monkey in the Ebola River valley and you should be OK.