We've made a substantial upgrade to the look and feel of our Flyfi.com web site. The site does a lot, and this release has been geared toward making the functionality more readily apparent and easier to use.
If you're a Facebook user, you might want to check out my company's FlyFi Community Playlist app which lets a Facebook community collaborate on a playlist... but it's more than a playlist because it also provides tracks related to the manually entered ones.
A fair number of the tracks are legally downladable free MP3's, from superb artists like Randy Newman (one of my personal top 5 artists), Ani DiFranco, Suzanne Vega, Dar Williams, and many others.
Most people reading this blog will know that I am a founder of the company that makes Flyfi.com (basically a vastly improved reboot of the old Goombah site).
In the last couple of weeks we have added enormously to the site, including improved recommendations. If you haven't checked it out, please do!
Here's a note I wrote to introduce it to some high school friends who I recently reconnected with on Facebook:
Hi Everyone. You may remember me playing my guitar in the hallowed halls of B.H.S. In college I became interested in math & computer technology, and in recent years, I've come full-circle by finally merging my interests. I've co-founded a music-oriented Internet startup. Our product is FlyFi.
Our VP/Industry Relations who, in a former life, earned 10 Grammy nominations as a producer, is now dedicated to using his industry connections for getting us the highest quality free music collection on the Internet. We've got great indie artists like Ani DiFranco, some well-known, others up-and-coming. Unlike some of our competing services you don't just hear the music for free -- you can also download many tracks as free legal MP3's.
My area of focus is our music recommendation technology, which lets you type in artists you like and get music out that you'll probably also like. I love music from many genres, from the Beatles to Beethoven to John Coltrane to Leonard Cohen. But I think there are underlying commonalities in the music I most love, regardless of genre. So we have statistical algorithms that try to find music that has those commonalities for each person's tastes.
Over the last 6 weeks or so, I've been completely wrapped up in putting the finishing touches on the first full release of FlyFi (which is why some of you may have noticed that my Facebook communication flow has dropped pretty much to zero). It's out now, ready for your perusal.
So, if you love music, go check out FlyFi.com!
There have been rumors making the rounds that Apple has been looking at offering a music subscription service as an alternative to its so-called “a la carte” model where iTunes customers pay a flat fee for every song they buy. Naturally the a comparison with RealNetwork’s Rhapsody service comes to mind.
But now there’s a report from the Financial Times that suggests that Apple is instead looking at another model: Charge an extra premium for the iPod or iPhone device, and then offer consumers full access to the entire iTunes music library. It’s similar to a deal from phone maker Nokia. But the FT says the big difference is in scale. Nokia is said to offer a pot of money that amounts to $80 per device, and then divide the pot among the record labels according to market share percentages. Apple’s proposed rate is said to be closer to $20, which makes a lot of sense. Of course they’re pretty far apart on what constitutes a reasonable rate.
Meanwhile, I can’t help but remember that Steve Jobs years ago derided the idea of “renting” music. He often hates something before he loves it. Remember when he said music was a background activity and that as such video wouldn’t make sense on the iPod? It wasn’t long before Apple launched TV shows on iTunes. Yeah. It’s like that. This story is probably true. [BusinessWeek]
In a post entitled "Steve Jobs vs. Subscriptions" I once argued on this blog that a subscription model is superior, and that despite statements to the contrary from Jobs, it was for temporary, tactical reasons that Apple wasn't already moving in that direction.
I listed a number of reasons the subscription model is superior. The first comment to that post was from someone purporting to be Steve Jobs who said "And here's one reason it isn't superior: when I stop paying all the music goes away." (Personally, I see no reason to think it wasn't the man himself; that's something he has said in other contexts as well.)
My response was: "But, unless you were planning to stop buying music piece-by-piece, you'll be spending money in the future on music anyway. And I, for one, have no such plans. So, I don't see how the 'when I stop paying all the music goes away' has much merit in the real world."
I subsequently heard from some folks who claimed that they never needed to buy signficantly more music than they already bought in college, so in fact, they said, the Jobs argument was true for them. I find it hard to believe anyone is really like that, but I suppose some people are.
Others argued that subscriptions cost too much. My reply was basically that that was an illusion, undoubtedly brought on by the high price of the first subscriptions services. There was no reason that subscriptions had to remain that high -- if you thought they were going to, you just weren't thinking ahead enough. One solution, I argued, was to have different tiers of service.
The model of tacking $20 onto the price of an iPod/iPhone fulfills that promise in a big way -- although it's so cheap it even eliminates the need for different tiers. According to the BusinessWeek article, folks in Europe tend to buy new cell phones every year, so at least for that group it's equivalent to a $20/yr subscription fee.
But, more likely, the music access would be time-limited and when it expires, Apple would offer a renewal on an annual basis.
I don't know if Jobs is able to do a deal with the labels that really gets the pricing down to that level. But if he can pull it off, it will be a huge step forward. (At least for those music lovers who also like Apple hardware! A group I happen belong to -- my family owns two iPhones, three actively-used iPods, two Apple TV's, and three Apple laptops.)
Update: It looks like it's not actually going to happen in the near future, but the idea is being "kicked around":
According to a story in the Financial Times, Apple (AAPL) would charge enough for iPod and iPhone devices to cover the cost of licensing entire music collections. It would use that premium to create a pool of revenue, a portion of which would be divided among the major music labels, the newspaper said.
Trouble is, no such talks are under way, according to people familiar with Apple's plans. An Apple spokesperson declined to comment. Insiders at major music labels were similarly dismissive. One person familiar with the matter said the idea of subscription plan has been "kicked around" for about a year, but said there have been "no meaningful discussions" on the subject. [BusinessWeek]
I continue to think that the long-run outcome will probably be some kind of iTunes music subscription service. This recent "kicking around" is a first step.
Jazz and smooth jazz are very different things. People who like jazz very often dislike smooth jazz. (Frankly, I can't stand it, though I listen to jazz quite a bit; for example John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" is one of my favorite recordings of all time.)
Or as Wikipedia puts it:
The term "Smooth jazz" seems to inspire controversy. Normal jazz purists contend that smooth jazz is, in actuality, not jazz of any kind, regarding it as a misleading marketing buzzword that represents an attempt to hijack the ostensible prestige of jazz in order to sell what is really a form of "elevator music". They consider the smooth jazz genre uninspired, lacking the depth of expression, harmonic and rhythmic sophistication, and complex improvisation that are hallmarks of traditional jazz; substituting, at times, trite and hackneyed musical phrasing.But there is no ID3 tag for smooth jazz. Id3 tags include one for Rock, and also distinguish many different kinds of rock (Southern Rock, Hard Rock, Progressive Rock, etc.). Many of those rock subgenres share fans much more readily than jazz and smooth jazz do.
This seems to me to be a significant oversight in the ID3 tag definition.
If any readers know who to lobby to change this, please let me know -- I think this could be a helpful change for music software.
Interesting research showing very positive correlations between musical tastes and certain predicted personality traits:
While videos and photos are good for assessing conscientiousness and extraversion, music preferences beat them in allowing observers to predict the participants' own ratings of their agreeableness, emotional stability, and openness to experience. In all, observers' ratings of participants were positively correlated with 14 different personality traits, including those listed above, as well as others such as forgiveness, imagination, and positive affect. [Cognitive Daily]
Microsoft is in the business of manufacturing monopolies. Ever since the deal with IBM that launched Microsoft as we know it today -- the deal where Microsoft sold PC-DOS to IBM but could also sell a fully compatible MS-DOS to other manufacturers -- their prime focus has been on that one task. Why do you own Word? If you're like most people, it's not because Word is the greatest word processor in the world for the money, it's so that you can exchange documents with the rest of the world. Everybody has Word primarily because everybody has Word.
Now imagine a world in which everybody had Zunes. You could exchange songs via wi-fi with anybody you want (OK, only for 3 days/3 plays). In that world, if you were the one person without a Zune, there's a good chance you'd want to have one. The lock-in is not as great as it is for Word, but it's the same idea.
Of course, today, the Zune's wi-fi is almost completely worthless because there is no local density of Zunes. But Microsoft is looking ahead to the time that they already have a critical mass of Zune owners. Then wi-fi will be the ether through which user interaction supports their monopoly, just as document exchange plays the same role for Word.
Of course, this all depends on the Zune getting to critical mass. My bet is that it will never happen, because there is little reason to choose Zune over various competitors today. While Microsoft's patented monopoly-machine thinking is clearly visible, in this case it seems more like wishful thinking.
You, too, can make a Radio Free Goombah player and add it to your blog, email it to someone, or just listen to it yourself. Pick the free tracks you like best and load 'em in. When a track the listener particularly enjoys comes up, she can click the Keep button and it's saved to her hard disk. No DRM -- play it anywhere.
While I'm at it, I might as well make some comments about these particular tracks!
Allen Shadow is an old friend of mine. I love his music. It's not mainstream -- the lyrics are intense and attention-demanding (probably the single closest comparison is to Lou Reed) and the music is not the usual pablum. It's not background music, and it's a kind of music that's hard to mass-market, despite the well-deserved, uniformly great reviews it's received. Check out, for example, the beautiful half-step drop on the words "forty-second street" in Crossroads Of America.
There is an audience for this music, and one of the things in my mind as the ideas and technology for Goombah came together over a number of years was to enable him, and others like him, to reach their audiences. The Internet has provided the raw technological materials for quite some time, but only now is the problem really being solved.
Gunnar Madsen is an artist Goombah recommended to me. He's my favorite new artist discovery in quite some time. Unusual and interesting lyrics; compelling music. If your tastes are like mine you'll love his track "Something Special."
Girlyman is a group I'd heard of but never paid attention to before Goombah recommended it. Viola is a gorgeous track.
Ani Difranco's 2 Little Girls is a longtime favorite of mine. She does a great job in this live version. And a very energetic one too!
Al Di Meola is a truly great jazz guitarist. As far as I know his first recordings were with Chick Corea's Return To Forever band in the 1970's but he quickly went off on his own. Double Concerto is a beautiful track.
Morcheeba -- what can I say. It's not in a genre that I would normally listen to -- "Lighten Up" is very much a pop track. But Goombah recommended it to me so I gave it a try, and I think the music is great and I like the positive lyrics. Even though Morcheeba is a fairly well-known group, due to my personal listening habits there's no way I would have run across them without Goombah. Probably it won't be a track I'll be playing in 10 years, but it's really great to hear it five, or maybe ten, times. And if your tastes are like mine, you'll feel the same way.
This phenomenon -- getting a track just to hear and enjoy it a few times -- is something largely new in my musical experience. In the past I've tended to stick to certain beloved artists only because finding new ones has been so difficult for me -- most recordings out there consist of music I simply don't like, and I don't have the time to wade through them. Goombah eliminates that difficulty, thereby enabling me to have one night stands mixed with my usual long-term artist relationships. This is a good thing and really fun.
You may be wondering how you can make a Radio Free Goombah player with tracks that you choose. You can do it either from the Goombah application or on the web. On the web, go to our tracks page, check the checkboxes next to some of the tracks you like the most, then click the Make Radio button. A Goombah Free Music Radio will appear. Click the Widget button there. HTML will appear that you can paste into a blog. Or, click the Share button and an email will be created with a URL that links to a radio.
I encourage you to drop me a line and let me know what you think.
I once wrote that one reason iTunes doesn't support a subscription model is for the sake of iPod lock-in: once you've bought a bunch of tracks with Apple's DRM, you can't switch to a non-Apple player without losing that money.
I also wrote that I have continued to buy most of my music from Amazon rather than iTunes because of the low bit-rate of iTunes downloads. I can tell the difference between an iTunes 128kbs download and a CD and it's significant to me.
It looks like the Apple/EMI deal does away with both of those objections to buying from iTunes, at least when I buy EMI tracks. They may now be purchased without DRM and at double the bit-rate -- basically good enough that I have not been able to reliably discern a loss in sound quality. In fact it's the bit-rate I use when ripping CD's.
I still think lock-in was part of Apple's strategy. But since it's turning out that only 3% of the music on iPods comes from the iTunes Music Store, the hoped-for lock-in is just not occurring. Apple will do better by giving users a better experience, and that means getting rid of DRM.
I predict that now that EMI has made the first move, other labels will follow suit, akin to the way other airlines tend to follow when one makes a major change in fares. As long as everyone is doing the same thing, things can go on as they are. But then when one makes the inevitable shift, the others must follow to remain competitive.
But it is not as inevitable in this case as it often is with airline pricing, because music buyers can't just switch over to EMI. They want the albums they want, and those are available only from the labels that make them. The general switch to non-DRM'd downloads may take quite some time. Other labels appear to be betting that they can maintain DRM until CD's go the way of vinyl, at which point, they appear to be assuming, DRM will actually help them rather than merely be a nuisance to consumers. (DRM doesn't help them now because most recordings are still purchased on CD without DRM.) But CD's appear to have a fair number of years left in them, so my prediction is that that's a bad bet.