Archive for April, 2009

Novel Concept

Posted in Blog, Free Music, Music, Music Download, P2P, Qtrax, Qtrax Blog on April 30, 2009 by David

franz
Here’s an interesting idea for all of you music fans. Get off your ass and go see a band—live. First of all, you’re helping them financially. Secondly, you’re providing emotional support in the dysfunctional, brave new world of music. Last, you’ll likely have an awesome time, if you like music. You do like music, don’t you?

I checked out one of my favorite bands, Franz Ferdinand the other day. A couple of years ago, they pretty much sold out the “Enormo Dome” when they came through town. This time, they played at First Avenue, the legendary club once owned by Prince. It was a packed house, and the Scotsmen didn’t disappoint. Despite the busted foot of guitarist Nick McCarthy, which kept him in a chair for the whole show, they brought their A game. You can always tell which bands have got mad talent by their live shows. Especially when they play the intimate setting of a smaller club. Franz Ferdinand exemplifies this. Their back-line was simply amazing, keeping the back beat going all night while the guitars, keys and vocals provided the flavor.

Franz Ferdinand has made it big. They’ve sold a bunch of records, played sold out shows, won awards and have lived up to their critical tag of being the “next big thing.” Yet being the next big thing these days means something entirely different. Consider this, Jimmy Page may have been the smartest musician who ever lived. As a studio guitarist who worked with some of the most influential rock acts in England prior to starting Led Zeppelin, he understood the industry. He understood the value of publishing rights. He financed all of Led Zeppelin’s albums and maintained the publishing rights for the band, allowing them to keep nearly all of their royalties. Last year, the band cleared over $500 million dollar in royalties—for just one of their songs. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Stairway to Heaven is still the highest played song on the radio every year.

Since Led Zeppelin is not going to rev up a reunion tour, ever (let it rest, people), I suggest you go out and see bands that need your support. Especially when you can get their music for free from Qtrax (like Franz Ferdinand).

Norwegian Wood

Posted in Blog, Free Music, Music, Music Download, P2P, Qtrax, Qtrax Blog on April 25, 2009 by David
Gammel Skole Norsk Sjørøverene (Old School Norwegian Pirates)

Gammel Skole Norsk Sjørøverene (Old School Norwegian Pirates)

It’s finally paid off. For those of you who thought going to school in Norway and subsequently getting a second major in Norwegian and Norwegian Literature was perhaps a waste of a good education—ha ha ha, I laugh in your face. Not only did I get to spend over a year among the world’s most beautiful women, playing hockey all over Scandinavia and Russia, but I also learned a second language that only a handful of people outside of Norway speak. Fast forward a few (ahem!) years, and suddenly a study on music purchasing habits by those who download music illegally surfaces, untranslated, from all places, Norway. This, coupled with the news of the sentencing of The Pirate Bay founders out of Sweden (I can also read Swedish—they are quite similar), and the previously noted Swedish P2P study and I suddenly hit the education jackpot. We’ve got multiple studies coming out in languages that I understand, on topics I’m involved with and the timing seems rather good too. Beat that Econ majors!

Technically, you can get a roughly translated copy of the story, titled: Pirates Are The Best Customers through Google and Ars Technica. I’ve read this study, and I’ve also read numerous stories in the Norwegian press summarizing the results. The point that the study makes, and you can read it for yourself—don’t just take my word for it—is that people who illegally download music buy ten times more music than your average law-abiding music consumer. Although it never clearly states it as a conclusion, we are led to believe that illegal downloading is not what is causing the demise of the record industry. The study is a poll of over 1000 Norwegians ages 15-20. Add that to the Swedish study from a couple of days before (see previous post), and you’d actually think that music sales have seen steady increases over the past few years. So, if the billions of tracks that are downloaded on almost a daily basis via various illegal sites are done so by big-buck spending music fans, why aren’t these super-stealers-slash-super-consumers also fueling a music industry boom? Is there something that the record industry executives are not telling us? Are they really flying commercially (instead of the Gulfstream) as a ruse to keep us in the dark about their record profits? Holy crap, are we uncovering the next Madoff scam? Is this Enronesque? Where’s my Pulitzer?

Nope. The answer is really quite simple. Illegal downloading really does hurt overall music sales quite significantly–especially when overall consumption is down. Digital music is about buying one song at a time. Obviously, this is where the biggest dent in overall music sales has occurred. Overall music sales are at roughly 25% of what they were 10 years ago. Even if it’s totally accurate that music pirates are buying ten times more music than non-pirates, the overall purchase number is so much lower due to such drastically reduced consumption, that the stolen music, is actually having a bigger impact. Consider it this way. You’re a baker and make some really kick ass donuts. You sell them only by the dozen. If you have a million donuts and everyone is paying for them, you’re bakery will be a success. However, you now let people buy one donut at a time if they want. You now are making only 250,000 donuts, but your warehouse of donuts keeps being broken into by some really big donut fans who also buy ten times more donuts than people who don’t steal donuts. Guess what Mr. Baker, you’re hosed. Now, think about it, who are you going to blame? The customers who are buying less donuts or the customers who are buying lots of donuts, but then stealing even more of your yummy treats? Both are at fault, but I would argue that since the theft is up while consumption is down dramatically, it’s the thieves that have the greater impact. Get your Freakanomics book out for that one Econ majors! All in all, if both continue, that bakery’s going to have a “for lease” sign plastered in the window mighty quick.

Are the Norwegians lying? Nope. I think it’s probably true that people who steal music are likely to buy music. Especially 15-20 year olds. These kids probably get iTunes gift cards at every holiday, birthday or graduation. They are in the formative years of their music acquisition. They probably do spend money from their summer jobs on music. The truth is, however, they steal even more. Consider these kids music addicts acting like a drug addict. When you got money to pay for it, you pony up. Even if you have money to pay for it, sometimes you don’t have to. When you don’t have money for it, you still gotta get your fix and, “what’s that? Is that a bile pile of my drug of choice over there? Don’t mind if I do…”

This was actually a much more interesting study than the Swedish one. Certainly it was much more believable, but sadly, less conclusive. The idea that illegal music downloading is not at the heart of the demise of the music industry is preposterous. The stats, once again do not lie. Music sales are down dramatically. Illegal file sharing is up dramatically. Let’s not patronize piracy and the thieves by saying that they are also good for business. That’s just plain stupid. They’ve ripped the heart out of the business. Any out-of- business donut shop can tell you that.

Survey Says? Don’t Believe It!

Posted in Blog, Free Music, Music, Music Download, P2P, Qtrax, Qtrax Blog on April 23, 2009 by David

OK, I’m feeling frisky again. Ever hear that old saying that actions speak louder than words? Well, nothing could be more evident than this than in the case of a recent article on Billboard.com. The article, titled: Study: 86% Would Pay For Legal P2P, is about as big of a crock of you-know-what that I’ve seen on digital music in a long time. Go ahead and read it. Sure the article seems believable since the author does cite and post a recent study that polls a decent sample size of Swedes. However, to take findings off of a Swedish survey of music users and report it as if it were fact, when every ounce of data says otherwise, is bad reporting. It’s a little bit like reporting on foxes who have been stealing and eating chickens from the hen house. “Hey foxes, would you be willing to pay for chicken too?” Well, let’s look at this dilemma with our reality glasses on.

First of all, Scandinavia, with it’s highly educated, wealthy, tech-savvy consumers have a nice long track record of hacking, hosting and redistributing copyright protected material. Sweden, as is noted in the article, is also the home of The Pirate Bay. This BitTorrent web site has been the thorn in the side to record companies, movie studios and legitimate services for years. They are fueling the 100-1 ratio (conservative estimate) of illegal to legal music downloads which has basically crippled the industry. Times change. It is what it is, but now we’ve got to evolve and figure out a way to legally support the rights holders and artists that create what we covet. Simply stating that 86% off people would be willing to pay for legal P2P is one thing. Actually getting people to do it, when convenient illegal services continue to flourish is something entirely different. I’d prefer to trust the statistics that continue to show the year-over-year massive increases in illegal file sharing despite the readily available resources already providing a “for pay” model. Anyone hear of iTunes or Rhapsody for heavens sake? I just checked, they exist in Sweden. If you’re so willing to pay for it, well…why don’t you pay for it?

At the very least, it should be titled: Survey: 86% Of Swedes Would Pay For Legal P2P. Also, if my logic is correct, and we can apply the Swedish survey model to the rest of the world, wouldn’t this number be even higher in other countries? Music fans in other countries that have stronger laws surrounding copyright infringement would be even more likely to pay—right?. Countries that already had legal teams litigating against illegal downloading would have more users willing to pay—right? I mean c’mon, Sweden is known for having a massive government and super high taxes which has created an underground economy that practically everyone uses at some point. Working around the system and getting things off the books is everywhere and part of the culture. Read about it for yourself here. Fact is, it just makes the survey that much less believable, and that much more ridiculous.

Another bone I do have to pick with the author of the article, is the comparison of the Swedish survey to another survey out of England. He writes, “The STIM survey findings are similar to those of a 2008 study of UK music consumers by the University of Hertfordshire and British Music Rights.” But they are not. In fact, there is no mention at all about the British survey asking consumers if they would be willing to pay for anything. Isn’t this the central theme of the article? The British survey, merely discusses the P2P stats of a different demographic (predominately teenagers). It mentions nothing about anyone paying for anything. It does mention that 80% of teenagers would be in favor of legal P2P. To borrow a phrase from my first grader, “well, duh!”

With digital music sales flattening out, and physical sales almost vanishing before our eyes, it doesn’t take a survey of Swedes to tell us what we already know. Actions do speak louder than words, and we here at Qtrax have been on a long crusade to get the labels on board with consumer actions. Finally, they seem to get it. We’re doing our very best to make our service as consumer-friendly as possible. We were criticized in the article for not being “in line with P2P users’ desired product features.” Well, if supporting the artists and rights holders while delivering free and legal music downloads is not in line with users’ desired product features, there needs to be some consumer education on our part. We know that. We’re working on ironing out all the kinks and delivering exactly what consumers want. We get the fact that everyone wants DRM-free music. Artists and right holders want fair compensation. Everyone wants portability. We get it, and hopefully we’ll be able to make everyone’s dreams come true. However, what’s crystal clear here (and why the article reports only half the story) is that the real desired product feature for P2P music is one thing and one thing only–that it doesn’t cost you a damn thing. Sorry Swedes (and I lived in Scandinavia for a long time), it’s a nice sentiment, but I don’t believe you for one second and any real journalist should’ve seen right through that survey for what it was. Actions speak louder than words—especially in Sweden.

To give it some more perspective, we should look at some other outlandish survey ideas that could easily garner equally preposterous results. Think about it. We might be remorseful on paper, but reality is often quite different. Feel free to post some of your own.

1. Let’s ask recently married couples if they’ll ever get a divorce or cheat on their spouses.
2. Let’s ask baseball players to tell us if they’ve ever taken steroids.
3. Let’s ask drug addicts if they’ll ever use again.
4. Let’s ask obese folks if they eat healthy.
5. Let’s ask fund managers if they ever trade on insider information.
6. Let’s ask priests if they’ve ever had sex.

Survey says? People lie. Even ridiculously attractive Swedish people lie. Good intentions are one thing, actions are another.

The follow-up survey to the survey should be this. “Despite what you said on this survey, how many of you will actually ever pay for music again? No, seriously, tell the truth.” Then apply a truth serum and a polygraph, and I think you’ll get closer to the real results. Or, you could simply take a look at what’s been going on over the past seven years and report on that.

86% Would Pay For Legal P2P? C’mon…we’re not that dumb.

Comedy Rocks

Posted in Blog, Free Music, Music, Music Download, P2P, Qtrax, Qtrax Blog with tags , , on April 21, 2009 by David

comedy
It’s not always about the music. Sometimes, it’s about the comedy.

Back when I was in the 6th grade, a whole new world opened up for me. Yes, I was a member of the KISS Army. Sure, we’d rock Van Halen daily and air guitar along to every track better than the band ever did in their videos. The Rolling Stones, Some Girls, was better than a Playboy magazine, dirtier too. Yet, despite entering a world of music discovery, nothing compared to going over to a friend’s house and playing his dad’s Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, George Carlin and Cheech and Chong records. We mixed in some Monty Python now and again to expand our global horizons. This is where I learned that being funny was just about the coolest thing ever—rivaling being a rock star.

Of course, sitting around a stereo with some fellow 6th grade boys listening to dirty words, farts and other strange sounds off a sound effects record would’ve kept us occupied for hours. Yet we learned real comedy from the masters. It was dangerous, it was scary—and it was pure heaven. The best albums always had great production value, music, but best of all, comedy that lived on the edge. Live albums were often a bit difficult to grasp since you missed a lot of the physical comedy, but letting your imaginations run wild was easy to do. Then came cable TV. We put our imaginations on pause and were enslaved by everything visual. If we couldn’t see it, it didn’t happen. The video replaced the single, and MTV had more influence than radio. This also translated to comedy. The live special, tape or DVD totally took over comedy, which wasn’t a bad thing. But going back and listening to a comedy album is a real a treat too. You get fully lost in the words and you have to trust your imagination to provide the visual. Imagine that, you’ve got to use your brain.

Two newer school comedy albums that are totally worth a listen on Qtrax are Denis Leary’s Lock n’ Load and Sarah Silverman’s, Jesus Is Magic. Now, I’m not saying that this comic material is totally everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, you might have to have a pretty strong stomach to get through all of it, but for me it was a great discovery. You can search for your favorite type of comedy on the Genre page on Qtrax. I did and I’m going to do it again. I hadn’t sat and listened to a whole comedy album in it’s entirety since those days at my buddy’s house. It totally brought me back. A good comedy album is pure magic.

Gotta Get Get

Posted in ad supported, Blog, Free Music, Music, Music Download, P2P, Qtrax, Qtrax Blog on April 20, 2009 by David

black_eyed_peas
The number one song in the USA right now is Boom Boom Pow, by Black Eyed Peas. I didn’t know this was a fact until I checked in with the Billboard Top 100 today even though I went out to a couple of clubs on Saturday night and probably heard it no less than seven times. To be honest, my best clubbing days are in my rear view mirror getting smaller and smaller, but every once in a while I get out and see what’s moving feet and shakin’ dorsal fins. Boom Boom Pow pretty much followed me everywhere on Saturday night. Like most of will.i.am’s songs, he understands what is hot, and then he delivers a quick and tasty morsel that’s easily consumed in mass quantity, and then it disappears like the secret message in Mission Impossible.

So, your mission, if you accept it, is to go on Qtrax and download Boom Boom Pow and count how many genres and musical styles the Black Eyed Peas borrow from for this track. For example, I’m hearing Moby, T-Pain, Nelly, Daft Punk, Jock Jams etc. It’s almost as if there are absolutely no original thoughts in this entire song, which kind of makes it totally unique—if that makes any sense. You don’t know if they spent one afternoon on recording this track, or if it took years to create. Is it perfectly simple or simply perfect? Or is it somehow duping our brains into heading to the dance floor it so it can steal our credit card numbers and bank PIN numbers. I don’t know. Help me out here.

Total search time on Qtrax for Boom Boom Pow: 4 seconds.
Total download time: 8 seconds.
Total headshaking groovealisciousness: 4 minutes 12 seconds.

Amazingly Inaccurate

Posted in ad supported, Blog, Free Music, Music, Music Download, P2P, Qtrax, Qtrax Blog on April 14, 2009 by David

Normally, I’m a good sport about the ribbing of Qtrax. Hell, I’ll be the first one to admit that things haven’t gone so smoothly and I get of the enormity of that understatement. I’ll even let most of the opinions of others following our story go unchecked, regardless of how factual, opinion-laced or ignorant they are. Frankly, I enjoy the dialog and there is usually something to be learned or gained by simply listening. I’m assuming that consumers are aware that anyone can post anything they want online in blogs, tweets, emails, comments etc. and there is a massive chasm between genuine journalism and the un-checked, sloppy posts of your average blogger (see: Qtrax Music Experience). Yet every once in a while, someone goes too far, and needs a good old-fashioned bitch slap regardless of how small and insignificant their writing is. Such is the case following the post titled: Qtrax: More Frustrating than Q*Bert on a blog called Idolator.

The title was good. I thought I was in for a treat. Sadly, that’s the only thing that was good. I thought of providing a running commentary against the entire story, which is so far from the truth, but realized that would seem petty and would ultimately bore the hell out of readers. So, I’ll trust that you’ve gone to the above story and read it. Go ahead do it now, it’s fine. I’ll wait. Done? Did you read the comments? OK, I’ll wait a bit longer. Cool. Now, here’s my response to you, Mike Barthal, “the amazingly inaccurate blogger” or “the guy with the slowest computer and access on the planet.”

1. If you’re going to count the steps and time it took to download an application that provides you with free and legal music downloads, you should probably know what a “step” is. I counted only 15 actual steps to downloading and installing the application and downloading and playing music, which is about the same as Skype, iTunes, Google Chrome, and come to think of it, most other applications that require registration and action. Just so you know for your future posts, noticing logos, getting drinks, sitting there waiting, admiring bookmarks, reading about FAQs etc. are not steps in acquiring music on Qtrax. You know this, you were just trying to be funny and entertaining. I get that, but if someone comes away with the notion that it takes 34 actual steps to get music on Qtrax, well, then you’ve just lied to your readers.

2. I really started to feel sorry for you with all the time you spent during the download process. Could it be that I simply forgot how damn long it takes to download this beast (a third of the size of iTunes) of an application? Maybe. So, I uninstalled Qtrax and went through the process again. Readers (both of you) of this blog know that I’m not likely going to get a job with the Geek Squad any time soon, so don’t think I’ve got a huge IT advantage. However, I can install a program, have a 2 year old lap top with an Intel Core Duo 2 processor (shazam!) and a high-speed wireless router connected to a cable modem. Let me know if I went too fast for you there, as I can tell I went all nerdlinger there for a moment. Here’s a quick comparison:
a. Installation time. Mike: 10 minutes. Me: 18 seconds
b. Launch time. Mike: 5 minutes. Me: 10 seconds.
c. Music download time: 5 minutes. Me: 2 seconds.
d. Playing song (verify track): Mike: 1 minute. Me: 6 seconds

Now, maybe I’m just a brilliant super-user that should consider a career in something other than writing or digital media, but the whole process didn’t even allow me enough time to get a drink–and I like to drink. To top it off, it was all done in Firefox. That very same browser that you mentioned the downloader doesn’t work in. Damn, ended a sentence in a preposition. See what you made me do?

3. Here’s Mike’s summary, followed by my summary.
Total time: 45 minutes.
Result: A country cover of “Fat Bottom Girls.”
Was it worth it? Not really, no.
Overall impression? It’s like a shitty version of iTunes where you can download some random free songs. So maybe people will like that!

Total time: 3-4 minutes.
Result: Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face”
Was it worth it? Yes, if you like free music.
Overall impression? Thanks for the free music. It didn’t cost me anything which is totally unlike anything on iTunes. Plus,
Qtrax has all the catalogs of all the major labels and a ton of indies, hardly random at all. I bet most people will like that.

Mike, either you are less tech-savvy than me (which is hard to imagine), you need to update your service from dial-up, upgrade your computer from a Commodore 64 or start feeding that hamster some higher protein rodent mix to get a steady power supply. I’m sorry it took so much time. Speaking of that, I’m actually counting about 21 minutes of time for you, but you say 45 minutes. Did you actually go to another site and look up “Fat Bottom Girls?” Seriously, did you? It happens to the best of us, buddy–next thing you know, the whole morning’s shot.

Now, I realize that you’ll have to consider the source on this information. I’m obviously going to take the pro-Qtrax side of most arguments. I understand that the site and the download/installation process need some work. I appreciate any and all comments, especially ones that take a fair critical look at what we’re offering. Like I said, it totally helps us out. However, when a bogus story gets posted and has comments that actually thank the author for an inaccurate portrayal of the facts which support his dislike of our site, then we have to speak up. So, Mike Barthal and the Idolator team, we welcome your comments and criticism. We appreciate you taking note of our service. We applaud your efforts to inform the masses. We give you props for stating your opinions. We just wish you would take the time (really, it only takes about 3-4 minutes if you’re equipped with my space age technology) to get the story straight.

However, what’s really sad about the story, is what’s posted on Mike’s page on the site. Even though some 600 people viewed the story and 6 comments were made, one thing breaks my heart. As it so viciously states on Mike’s page on the blog, “Mike Barthal has no friends.” Seriously, someone change that.

Leakage…Release…What is He Talking About?

Posted in ad supported, Blog, Free Music, Music, Music Download, P2P, Qtrax, Qtrax Blog, Uncategorized with tags , on April 9, 2009 by David

unstoppable-fan-album-cover-chris-kubik
One of the bigger issues surrounding digital music is the leaking of material before the release date. Obviously, this created an issue for any band that was really trying to make a massive splash with their core fans and really boost week one sales. Everyone was so damned concerned that their music not be leaked online. Consider the case of Guns n’Roses, “Chinese Democracy.” Axel and company made everyone wait 13 years for a new album and a blogger with an advance copy had to go and post it on the internet. Tsk, tsk, young internet warrior. Savvy pirates and downloaders got their G n’ R on a week or two ahead of the masses, and now some blogger may find himself in jail (gasp!). However, what really happened was that the record label got a boat load of free PR prior to the release, week one sales got a big boost (even though lawyers sucking the bands and labels dry say otherwise), and the Gunners finally get some press over someone not in the band getting busted.

Consider another story of unintentional leakage (that might be my favorite saying for the next month). Buckcherry got their undies all in a bunch over the leak of a rather randy video of “Too Drunk.” They even issued a press release bemoaning those responsible for the egregious copyright violation and told fans to not to participate in such shenanigans. According to multiple articles, the leak can actually be traced back to the band’s management through the source IP address. The result was a ding to the über indie-cred reputation of the band, but ultimately gave a group that normally lives outside of mainstream PR channels, a boost in popularity. Don’t get me wrong, Buckcherry is certainly my cup of tea and I realize that you got to do what you got to do to get heard out there these day, but please, don’t play your fans for chumps. I’d rather have you say, “Hell yeah we made it all up. Suckers! Wait until our next stunt…” Own it.

Is there a point here? Sure. I want to make it clear that there are two kinds of music fans. Those who pay for music. Those who don’t. Very few people are in between, and bands have to embrace both audiences. The leaking of music actually affects both groups. Consider Rascal Flatts. You don’t need to be a country music fan to know the enormity of their popularity. They’ve got enough awards to fill the Grand Ole Opre, one of the highest grossing tours and a major retail partnership with JC Penney. Their new album, “Unstoppable,” was released yesterday. My guess is that it’ll be number one in sales by the end of the week. Prior to that, they themselves dropped an early single, previewed the album online, didn’t make a fuss when it showed up on various illegal sites ahead of time and here it is, one day after it’s official release (it was actually up yesterday), on Qtrax. Free and legal. For all to enjoy. Well, for all of those in the US with PCs to enjoy (for the moment).

Leaking music can help to inspire sales, gain some PR and even engage with new fans that don’t pay for music, but will pay for a concert tickets, t-shirts, official keg meisters or inflatable furniture. Leakage, although sometimes an issue is not going to hurt you too much in the long run (wait, did I just say that out loud?).

Let it be said that there really isn’t a blueprint for artists to follow anymore. It’s all in flux. A giant industry of trial and error. Certainly, there are some folks (Rascal Flatts) going about their business of self-promotion the right way which others can follow as an example. Other bands aren’t doing quite as well, but I bet they’re learning. Don’t take it personally if your favorite band goofs things up a bit. After all, it’s just business.