Can Anyone Dethrone King i?

Steve Jobs became an iCon (see what I did there?) of the 21st century

The i has been on top for quite a while now. There is no use in arguing that the products that have been introduced to the market by Apple Inc. particularly those by Steve Jobs (may he rest in peace) have changed the market as we know it. But they have been in control for quite a while now, and there are plenty of companies that would like a peace of that pie.

Here are a few stats to explain what I am saying.

  • The iTunes store launched in 2003 with some 200,000 songs available for purchase. Since then, the library has grown to 20 million songs.
  • Apple announced in February of 2010 that it had sold its 10 billionth song, a number which is, by now, no doubt much higher.
  • Over 300 million iPods have been sold worldwide since they were first released in 2001.
  • Over 140 million iPhones have been sold worldwide since the launch in 2007.
  • Over 40 million iPads have been sold.
  • Apple has a total revenue of over $100 billion per year. They have over $75 billion cash on hand, which is more then the federal government.
So now the question becomes: can anyone best the iPod and the iTunes store? Their dominance of the music market has been astounding, but with Apples future uncertain, the time to ask this question is now.

A Visionary

As you probably recall, Apple CEO Steve Jobs recently died from cancer. To the average consumer who knows very little about Apple corporate culture, this may seem like a trivial problem. One CEO dies, just put someone else in the spot right? Well it just so turns out that its not that simple. Back in the late 90s Apple was stuck in a rut. In fact they were on the verge of being bought out. The return of Steve Jobs (the saga of which is a whole other topic) brought Apple out of the mire and grew it to what it is today.
But Apple doesnt have Steve Jobs anymore. One might argue that Apple without Steve Jobs is nothing.  No doubt other companies have noticed this and are trying to take advantage. Although Im not at liberty to divulge the information of various companies (cause I know EVERYTHING about ALL of them) I can tell you for certain that this is the case.
OK, not really.
Where Apple will be in two or three years is not up for debate. They will no doubt be a highly successful company. The question is where they 5-10 years from know. Steve Jobs had (at least we think) several years worth of products planned out. Apple can continue with those products. What we dont know is if Apple can come up with new stuff for after those few years that will keep the customer base.

The Competition

Everyone and there brother either has, used to have, or plans to have some sort of music service. Apple has iTunes, Google has Google Music, Microsoft has Zune. You have Amazons MP3 store, and Rhapsody. All of these services have high quality Mp3 downloads for similar prices, yet iTunes has risen to the top. Although why is for another place and time, the question of whether it will last or not still lingers.

Can They Hold On?

For all hopeful competitors out there, I have a sad little fact for you. iTunes will remain on top for a few years to come. But keep an eye on them. I will predict that Apple is going to hit a bit of a rough spot in 4-5 years. Whether they will pull through all right, I cant say for certain. But that may be just the right time to give them a nice broadside hit.

That Thing You Do: What Makes a 1-hit Wonder

Many of you may have seen the 1996 film, That Thing You Do! Directed by (and, not surprisingly, starring) Tom Hanks, it follows the tale of a fictional 60s band called the Oneders (pronounced wonders). In the film the band becomes immensely popular with a song called That Thing You Do. Soon after this, the band falls apart, leaving everyone to wonder what happened.

 

This is a classic (although somewhat stereotyped) example of a one-hit wonder. The idea is that a band or artists records a song which comes immensely popular, but never manages to write anything all that great ever again. Sometimes the band might even break up soon after their immense success, although most of the time this is not the case.

Defining One-Hit Wonder

What really makes a one-hit wonder is something that is still debated by many. For example, the book The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders by Wayne Janciks defines it as

an act that has won a position on Billboards national, pop, Top 40 just once.

This is seen as a little to inclusive by many (including me). Many artists who would not be considered one-hit wonders would fall under this definition. A good example would be Jimmi Hendrix, who only had one song ever in the top 40, but is considered by many to be the greatest electric guitarist of all time. Although this is the technical definition generally used by the industry, it is not always considered the best.

So, if this definition doesnt work, how about another one?  A one hit wonder is often defined as any artist that reaches the Top 100 just once, regardless of where it peaks. This would mean that anyone who got on that list once would be considered a Wonder. Maybe this doesnt work either.

So I suppose a one-hit wonder would probably be a subjective term. Perhaps it varies from occasion to occasion. I would define a one-hit wonder as an artist who has one song that is known very well, but the rest of his songs are not known almost at all.

One-hit Wonders and the Internet

Before the advent of the Internet, all music had to be distributed on CDs, tapes, or records. Now, with Internet music distribution, it is much easier for an artist to get out there. A good example of this is Rebecca Black, who would not have become famous (infamous?) without YouTube. Myspace is another good example of a service that could cause someone to go viral very fast.

One hit wonders may be difficult to define, but we can still see that they do exist in the wild.Who knows, you may be the next one

Question: Who is your favorite one-hit wonder?

The iTunes Conspiracy

iTunes is currently the top dog in the music business. Apple sells millions of songs every day to millions of customers. This is far more then any online and most likely any physical store in the world. But the question becomes, is all that trickling down to the artists in the way it should? Well, according to a recent piece from the Huffington Post, its probably not.

As you probably know, when an artist signs with a record label, the also sign away a lot of the rights to the profits. In return though, they get distribution and professional help.  Now, in general, there are two types of ways that distribution can happen

  • Selling copies: Selling actual physical CDs to a store somewhere, this typically earns an artist 10-15%.
  • Selling a license: This is when a record company sells a store or another company the license to reproduce music and sell. An artist typically earns around 50 percent.

Now the problem comes when you try to figure out what sales from iTunes and other online retailers count as. If an artist signed their contract in the last 10 years or so, chances are online music sales are specifically provided for in that contract. However, for contracts older then that, there is nothing about internet music sellers. Internet music sellers didnt exist then!

There where two court rulings (you can see more in the article), one in 1998 and one in 2003. They decided that online sales in those contracts that had no provisions for such sales should count as licenses. The nice guy over at Huffington did some calculations. He calculated that the amount of unpaid royalties from just iTunes sales could be up to 2.15 billion dollars. Thats a lot of money.

And look at it this way. If this happens, new artists will likely demand it for their contracts as well. This could shake up the entire music industry as we know it.

I think it would be great to see musicians making more money. I think that an industry where the creator of the content only receives 15 percent in some cases is not a very good industry. People need to be rewarded for their efforts.

I highly suggest you read the article from Huffington Post. It goes much more in depth then I do here.

How iTunes Has Changed Music

Back in the day you had to go to a store to buy music. Now, with the advent of the internet, alternative options have become readily available. Most prominent amongst these is iTunes, Apples digital music store and management system. Since it first debut in 2001, iTunes has radically changed music.

The first thing you should know is that iTunes did not start out as a music store.  The very first iTunes was, quite simply, a music managing device. It allowed you to manage all your music, rip CDs, and create playlists all from one program. And, compared to the other music managing programs, it was downright sexy. Steve Jobs said as much at the unveiling of iTunes in 2001 (using different words though). And he was right. The music managing programs of the day were, in general, ugly and complicated.

Bellow you can see how iTunes has morphed over the years. It all started out with iTunes 1. You may notice that Steve Jobs was right, the interface was nice and simple. With iTunes 4 the music store was released. This is the main thing that revolutionized the music industry. And now we have iTunes 10, which, I might add, is a player I use extensively.

iTunes version 5

The most recent version of iTunes, iTunes 10

In 2004, when the music store was released, someone looking to get music off the internet had limited options. Napster existed but, as you may well know, it was distributing content illegally. Rhapsody existed. But it was a streaming service. You had to pay a fee on top of your subscription to download the music and listen to it offline.

Thats why Apple decided to make this store. But it wasnt that simple. They had to get the approval of the record companies. They enlisted the help of The Big Five labels (Sony, EMI, BMG, Warner Music, and Universal). They managed to negotiate deals with all of these companies.

Now the iTunes music store is much bigger then it was them. It has close to 15,000,000 songs. Someone recently bought the 1o billionth song, and millions more are being bought every day.

This has changed the world. That cannot be debated. I really like iTunes and the iTunes store. What better way to get my music then instantly.

But the biggest change that iTunes has brought to music is what I call the getting it out there factor. Back in the day, you couldnt really get major distribution for your music unless you were licensed by a big record company. Now, anyone can get on iTunes, including all of the little record companies that couldnt get good distribution before. This has been great for smaller companies. Although, I will say, a lot of people are still waiting for AC/DC.

iTunes has fundamentaly changed the way we get and use our music. I think many people are thankful for it. I know I am. How about you?

 

Blacks Friday

In a Justin Bieber-filled pop world, we guys are ALWAYS looking for someone new to criticize. And it seems we have found someone in the form of Rebecca Black. And theres even a bonus. Girls can criticize her just as easily! This may be, quite possibly, old news to you, but I think that I will share it anyway.

13 year-old Rebbecca Black exploded crashed onto the pop scene recently with her hit (actually there is still debate on whether it is a hit or not) song Friday. Watch the music video bellow if you dare.

This music video has been viewed over 44,000,000 times. Thats a lot of views. The music video was produced by a small indie record label called ARK Music Factory. They focus on discovering young (normally teenage) musicians and writing music for or with them, that they then record. There videos have a lot of views, but none has gathered as much attention as this one.

The song starts off just like almost any pop song. In fact, it sound distinctly Justin Bieberish. One thing I noticed right off the back is that the word ARK is included in that very beginning bit. Its not terribly easy to hear, but its there. In looking at there other videos, I soon discovered that it is in every song, as well as the name of the singer at some point. Which bugs me, if people like the music enough, they will find out who it is.

But in terms of the actual song. I will say this, the lyrics are terrible. Not that its her fault, she didnt write it. But, by perusing the other songs, I discovered that most of the other all the other lyrics are fairly bad. Now, most arent as bad , in fast some of them are OK. But I get the sense that the people at ARK think that they are good at something that they are really not terribly god at: Writing lyrics. The music is good. Which is why I cant get it out of my head. In fact, I would go as far to say that I liked it. And really, the lyrics are fine, expect for the verses, the rap verse, the bridge, and the end of the chorus

Shes got an interesting voice though. Should she sign with a decent record label, she could be good. But, in my opinion, as long as she sticks with ARK, she wont be going anywhere. She needs someone who actually knows how to write lyrics.

This is a classic example of an internet phenomenon. I wish everyone who had as much talent as her (I cant say its that much) could be that famous. I know quite a few people who would be very, very, very famous. Unfortunately, only a few of us can be that lucky. I am not one of them.

Oh, and it seems to me that the message of this video is to play hooky at school so you can go joy ride with your friends (none of which are 16) without wearing a seat belt. Thats great.

Oh, and by the way, I might add that Rebecca Black has been trending on twitter longer then #prayforjapan did.

 

A Comparison of 3 Music Streaming Services

Up until the advent of the internet, the only way to hear a song was to either get it on CD (or record or tape, depending on your era), find it on the radio, or go to a concert. You had no other options. This was really the only way to distribute media. Then, with the advent of the internet, music streaming took off.

Here I present a few options for you. There are plenty more, but these are three of the biggest.

1. Rhapsody
Rhapsody
The Good:

  • Unlimited listening
  • No commercials
  • Good Desktop client
  • Mobile devices supported w/offline playing

The Bad:

  • Only one mobile device aloud per account (unless you pay extra)
  • More expensive then other services
  • Only available in the U.S.

This is my current solution for music streaming. The arrival of Spotify, however, is really, if you will let me use this cliche, stealing Rhapsodys thunder. I Rhapsody definitely has its drawbacks. Most notably that you have to pay to start listening

Rhapsody premium ($9.99) gives you unlimited listening, as well as offline listening on a mobile device. You get access to all 12 million + songs in the database, as well as internet radio stations and community built playlists. For $15.99 a month, you can upgrade your account to let you download songs to up to three mobile devices instead of just one.

Rhapsody works. But its limited availability and slightly higher prices, I dont prefer it.

2. Spotify

The Good:

  • Cheap (free, $5/month and $10/month options)
  • Unlimited listening to what you want to listen to
  • Large song library (15 Million +)

The Bad:

  • Ad supported (free version)
  • Only available in some countries ( Sweden, Spain, Norway, Finland, France, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and the United States)
  • Not available on mobile devices unless you pay

Rise up and sing people of America, Spotify has landed. It was not until recently that this music streaming service was available in the states because of copyright issues. Spotify comes with three plans. Free, unlimited, and premium.

The free version allows for unlimited listening in the USA (this will change soon), or 10 hours a month elsewhere of whatever you want to listen to. It will even keep track of your local files (and synch them to your mobile device) for you. The only downside of this is that it is ad supported, and you cant stream music using Spotify on you portable device (you can, however, listen to those local files that it synced).

The unlimited version ($4.99 USD/month or £4.99/month) removes the ads from the service and allows for unlimted listening (not a problem right now in the US). There is still no mobile device streaming however.

The premium version ($9.99/month or £9.99/month) gives a few additional features. Most notably is the ability to use Spotify on mobile devices. With Spotify Premium you can stream music to your phone, or you can download them to your mobile devices (or compupter) for offline listening. Note, downloaded tracks can only be played and used by the Spotify application. You can use these mobile features on up to three devices.

Overall, Spotify is an excellent service, and one that I will hopefully be switching to in the near future. I recommend it for anyone.

3. Pandora

The Good

  • Free (with paid options)
  • Can help you discover new music
  • Runs on almost all platforms (mobile included)

The Bad

  • You cant select your own songs (it is internet radio)
  • Listening limited to 40 hours per month (can pay for more)
  • Ad supported (for the free version)
  • Only available in the U.S.

Pandora is no doubt the leading name in internet radio. Backed by the Music Genome Project, Pandora does an incredible job at selecting songs that you will like. The service is free for 40 hours of listening a month, which is plenty for most people. There are ads, but there are relatively few and they are all less then 30 seconds. If you run out of your 40 hours never fear! For 99 cents you can extend your listening time to unlimited for the rest of the month.

For $36 a year you can upgrade to Pandora One, which gives you unlimited listening and no ads, as well as a desktop application.

All in all, Pandora is another good service. However, if you live somewhere besides the U.S. you will need to search for other options.

Obviously there are a ton of other music streaming options out there. These include services like Grooveshark, Last.FM and Slacker. But these are the three leaders in the market.

What about you? Do you use any of these services? If so do you pay for them, or use the free version? Id love to hear from you, leave me a comment below!

Black is Back

If you live in a hole there is a chance you have never heard of Rebecca Black. Actually, not really. If you have not heard of Rebbeca Black, I dont want you to feel bad.

Most people know here as the teenage sensation that sang the hit song Friday. Quotation marks are there for a reason. Friday was hated by many and loved by very few. Some people have gone as far as saying it is the worst song ever. Others have sent hate letters and death threats (many of the former and only a few of the latter).  All in all, this 14 year old from Southern CA. has garnered a lot of attention.

So why do I bring her up? Well, I think the title pretty much sums it up. She released a new song, which one critic described as her Im her to stay, b****es! anthem. Or, in other words, please welcome Americas newest pop star.

But what about the song itself. Well, I will say this. Its a lot better then Friday, which was pretty bad. Dont get me wrong, Im not a hater. In fact I believe that haters (aka, the people that were giving those hate letters and death threats) are somewhat immature. Although the tune of Friday was catchy, the words were horrible. This seems to have changed.

The first thing she did was get away from ARK, which was the studio she recorded Friday with. ARK can best be described as a vanity recording studio, allowing anyone to record a song and make a professional looking music video (for a price of course). The result in Rebeccas case was a poorly written song with so much auto tune on the voice it didnt even sound real.

This time through it is all changed. She managed to connect with a writer who had worked with Justin Bieber.The lyrics are much more poetic (and even have a message) the voice is clearly processed, but it is done much more artfully so the voice sounds relatively natural on average (i.e. no more processed then Justin Bieber). Obviously there are parts where the voice is more heavily processed, but this is clearly purposeful and there is a difference between it and what goes on throughout the rest of the song.

The lyrics have a clear message. Fresh of being hated by millions, Black is back with a song that lets them all know that she doesnt give a darn what they all think. Take these four lines from the bridge as an example:

Haters said Id see ya later
Cant talk to you right now
Im getting my paper
Then Im doing big things
Things you never dreamed of

I applaud her from this. Too many people would simply not try again after a reaction like the one she got. She dared to come back and tell them they were wrong and that she can be something. And I say good for here. I like the song as well, so thats a bonus.

The question becomes: is Rebecca Black going to be the next Justin Bieber? This remains to be seen. She will be releasing an EP later this year. I will be watching her career closely.

How Pandora Works

Pandora is certainly a wonderful service. You pop in a song or artist you like and just like that it plays a song by a group that you never heard of but you love. Its like magic, but behind the scenes there is a ton of stuff going on. More, in fact, then you could ever have imagined.


What became of it all? Something some would call neo-radio. Pandoras tagline is simple but descriptive: Its a new kind of radio stations that only play music you like. It seems to be a pretty good job of it too. But how does it mange this so well?
Back in late 1999 a man, Tim Westergren sent out a call for graduate students wanting to analyze music. Nolan Gasser, who held a masters degree in composition, and a Ph.D. in Musicology immediately answered. Westergren realized quickly that Gasser, who had been playing instruments since age four, and composing since eight, was not only capable of analyzing music, but also of help Westergren realize his dream: to create what would come to be called The Music Genome Project. The the idea was to create a database of attributes for songs so that a user could find new songs based on the attributes of songs they liked. Simple on paper, not so much in practice.

The Music Genome Project is the backbone of the Pandora Service. Westergren and his employees came up with several hundred  musical genes that a particular song could have. These include more easily understandable ones such as danceable grooves, and acid rock qualities to more technical ones such as chopped & screwed production and extensive vamping. Every single song in Pandoras database (of which there are some 800,000) was hand analyzed and assigned the appropriate musical attributes. Each genre has a particular set that are used. For example, Rock and Pop songs have about 150 genes, Rap songs have about 350, and Jazz has about 400. Each song is analyzed by one (or sometimes more) trained professionals, many of which have a advanced degree in music. Each gene is rated in a scale of one to five in half integer increments to indicate how much the gene is expressed. A single song generally takes 20-30 minutes to complete, but some, like classical pieces, can take an hour or more to analyze.

How it all comes together

When you type in a song on Pandora, several things happen. First, Pandora searches for your song in its database. Every song has a vector associated with it that indicates the rating of each of the genes. It then searches for songs that have similar qualities and adds them to the playlist. Unlike many other music suggestion services, such as Last.fm, Pandora does not take genre into account when selecting songs. Although, because songs of the same genre tend to have similar attributes, many if not most of the songs played will be of the same genre as the song you inputted. If you input an artist, Pandora will select a song from their discography at random match that song. The problem with this is that, because you have no choice over the particular song, Pandora may very well select a song you dislike, and play more songs like it. For this reason, many people suggest using songs to create stations if you want to get the most out of Pandora.

Like it or dont

Another very important aspect of Pandora is the thumbs up/thumbs down feedback system. This allows users to tell Pandora if they like a song, or if they dislike a song. If you give a song a thumbs up, Pandora will play more songs like the one you just gave the thumbs up to. If, on the other hand, you give a song the thumbs down sign. Pandora will play fewer songs similar to the one you gave it feedback on. This allows for a high degree of customizability. Pandora pulls data on songs from all of your stations, not just the current one, so songs thumbed up in your Foo Fighters radio will be taken into consideraton when you listen to your U2 radio (assuming, of course, you have two radios like that).

Pandora is free, but this gives you an ad supported version with only 40 hours of listening a month. There is a payed version of it, but I think 40 hours with a 30-second (or less) ad every now and then is pretty good for a free service. And, for now, that it how I intend to use it. Although it is not currently available outside the US, perhaps, someday.

Im had a great time peaking under the hood of this awesome service. I hope you enjoyed learning about it as much as I did.

Do you use Pandora? What are your experiences with it? Did I get something wrong? Feel free to leave me a comment below, or send me an email.

What iCloud Means For Your Music

You know, Im a bit of an Apple enthusiast. I try to learn about every new product announcement as it is happening, I own a iPod touch, wish I had a Mac, and use iTunes excessively. Needless to say, when Apple made their keynote presentation on Monday to kick of the annual World Wide Developers Conference, I was paying close attention. And what we heard was quite something.

The Moscone center being prepared for WWDC, image credit Apple Insider

The banner in the image above shows three different iCons (see what I did there?). The first represents the newest version of the Mac operating system Mac OS X 10.7, a.k.a. Lion. The second one indicates the newest version of iOS, the software which runs on iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. The third represents iCloud, the new service which Apple announced which is getting everyone so excited. But why?

Imagine this scenario, you have an iPod touch and you want to buy a song, app, or video. Now imagine that you also have a computer with iTunes and an iPad that you wish to get this song, app, or video onto. Up until this point you have had to buy the song on your iPod, sync (short for synchronize, basically means to make sure both computer and iPod have same data on them) your iPod with iTunes to get the song on the computer, then sync your iPad with your computer to get it to the iPad. Pain in the rear right? Well, this is no longer.

With iCloud, syncing is no longer required. Now, whenever you buy a song on one of your devices, it is automatically downloaded to your other devices free of charge. No more bothersome syncing. This is awesome. I love this idea. There are currently 3 iDevices, plus a computer with iTunes, in my house. This will make things easier for me. Not only this, everything that I buy from iTunes is automatically backed up online. What this means is that if my iPod were to lose its data for some reason, I could get all that data back without touching the computer. I think this is awesome.

It just works

Steve Jobs 2011 WWDC Keynote Presentation

Apple also announced iTunes Match. Free iCloud backup is limited to things you have bought on iTunes. For someone like me, whose iTunes library is only about 10% purchased from iTunes, this is not very helpful. iTunes Match costs $25 a year and allows you to back up everything in your library. What is great about this is, because Apple has almost every song on the planet already in their database, you dont have to upload it to their servers. It scans your library, makes a record of everything you have, and uploads anything which is not in its database (of which there is very little). I will surely be using this when it becomes available.

But what does this mean for your music. Well, for one thing, your music is always available wherever you go. In other words, you cant lose it. Hard drive crashes almost always end up happening some day. And if you havent backed up you will lose a lot of data. My music is some of my most precious data. This will allow me to cheaply back it all up without uploading it. If I were to upload everything in my iTunes library to a remote server it would take over two days. With iTunes match, this process will take minutes to complete. This is completely new in cloud storage, and I think it is a wonderful idea.

Many people though have concerns about this. Is that data in the cloud really yours? If someone else owns a computer, do they own everything on it? This gets tricky. I would think not. If this is true though, I dont own this post anymore. Its Hostgators. Darn it, all that work for nothing.

Apple is taking a big step here. It is a huge game changer in the space of mobile storage.

Question: What are your thoughts on iCloud and iTunes Match? Will you use them? Why or why not?

Busting Out: How to Find New Music

I sincerely apologize for the lateness of this post. If you were eagerly anticipating this, refreshing my RSS feed every 20 seconds, forgive me. I owe you a soda.

You know, people can become rooted in their habits. This is particularly true with music. We find our artists, buy their music, and listen to it. Once we get to a certain point, we no longer go searching. Then, when we do eventually get tired of some of our music, we arent sure how to go about finding more. This can be a problem.

 

We know the scenario. You get on your iPod, choose a playlist you love to listen to, and then realize how sick you are of a lot of the music on it. You need more! I have a few suggestions for you.

1. Find out what your friends are listening to
This one is probably the best. I can guarantee that you and your friends have differences in your music libraries. Ask them to tell you what they like the most. Chances are they will have a few artists they listen to frequently and you will be able to find something you like.

2. Browse the charts
No doubt you have a particular genre that you are fond of. Billboard is a website (and magazine) that tracks sales through all the retailers and distributes in the U.S. and Canada that use SoundScan (over 14,000 of them including iTunes and Best Buy). The have a chart for all of the mainstream genres, as well as charts for the top songs overall, and even a few international charts. Looking through these can be a great way to find music that suits your taste. Whether you like classical, rock, metal, rap, R&B or gospel music, you can find the top songs through this site.

3. Use iTunes genius
This only works for people who use iTunes but can be quite effective. If you click on a song in iTunes, information should appear on the right. Towards the bottom you should see Genius Recommendations if you click on it it will take you to a page with all sorts of recommendations of music you would like based on what you have in your library. Also, rating your music will make this more effective. I would expect other music services, such as Rhapsody, would provide that feature as well.

4. Keep your ears open
Music is everywhere in our culture, in stores, in movies, even in commercials. If you hear a song you like on the radio, or anywhere else. Try to remember it. Generally a single line from a song is enough to learn the songs name through Google.

I hope this helps you out in finding more music to your tastes. I am always looking to expand my music library, and I want to help you do the same. Any questions ask bellow.