Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Gone Frontin’

September 29, 2008

I went to an MC Frontalot concert Saturday night with a friend and had an incredible time. Let me preface this all by saying that I am not a concertgoer: I don’t enjoy crowds, am not a people-watcher, prefer studio-produced music, and am a cheapskate. The only concerts I have ever paid for was Public Enemy and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy twice; aside from that, I’ve either gotten free tickets or the concerts were entirely free. I do, however, love music and spend plenty of money buying it on CD, through iTunes, or, lately, Amazon MP3.

I’m a longtime fan of the Front and went to his concert last year when he came to town. He puts on a great show and so I just had to go. Plus you can’t beat the price at $10. Also appearing were the Minibosses and MC Lars, whom I had heard of but never heard.

I knew it was going to be different this year as soon as we pulled into the parking lot. There was a line stretching through the entire strip mall and we were half an hour early. We passed the time joking about the various misfits we saw and most revolved around these weirdos with long hair who were wearing black jumpsuits with yellow pentagrams and dripping with fringe. They looked like Satanic disco goers.

Turns out those freaks were the unannounced opening act, Totally Radd!! (which they weren’t, incidentally). I won’t waste valuable electrons fully describing their set since they were really not worth mentioning.

The Minibosses were next. Apparently, they’re a local band; their schtick is covering video game theme songs like Super Marios Brothers or Castlevania. Like last year, I appreciated their skill but couldn’t identify of the video games they were re-creating. I had a Colecovision and a Nintendo in my childhood, but they never made a lasting impression on my because I wasn’t very good.

The biggest surprise of the night was MC Lars. After listening to his set, I was annoyed that I had never listened to anything of his. The songs he played—“Mr. Raven,” “iGeneration,” “Download This Song,” “Generic Crunk Rap Song,” and “Hot Topic is Not Punk Rock”—were awesome and his stagecraft was perfect. He had his laptop powering two projectors and he amazingly never lost synchronization with their presentations.

MC Frontalot was excellent, as always. He even improvised for a bit while his guitarist changed instruments. He had a new drummer since his last tour and I didn’t like him as well. The only bad thing I can say about his set versus last year’s is that I think his vocals were sometimes overwhelmed by the band. He performed three songs from his new CD but due to the music I wouldn’t have known what he was saying if I hadn’t listened to the songs previously. It could be that he was just really tired since he didn’t start until after midnight and finished around 1:30 AM.

If you ever have a chance to go to one of his concerts, I’d recommend it highly: $10 for four bands and 4½ hours of entertainment is an astounding value. I don’t know how they make much money but they obviously do—they’ve earned it!

Music by the Megabyte

September 14, 2004

AllOfMP3.com is a music service based in Russia that sells music by the megabyte. It starts at 500MB for $5 and offers the music in a variety of formats (including 320kbps mp3, which is roughly equivalent to straight off the CD). I heard about this service a year or two ago and I immediately though, “Uh huh, and I can get DVDs for $2 in China too.”

Apparently, it’s legal. A review of the service also suggests that it is legal. It’s essentially taking advantage of a rightful Russian distributor of music’s willingness to make a sweet deal. I like to think of it as music arbitrage.

The million dollar question, though, is whether it’s ethical. As we all know, what is legal and what is moral aren’t the same. The publisher and composer seems to be getting paid satisfactorily, but the performers and record companies seem to be left high and dry. Applying Kant’s universalizability test, it would clearly be a bad thing if this became the norm. That, obviously, is not a proper guide to the morality of an action but it is helpful in recognizing the effects of an action in extremis.

It seems like this would be akin to trying to find the cheapest price on an item or looking to outsource work to a foreign country. You are trying to get the maximum value for your money. You endeavor to deal with third parties that are legitimate, ethical, and good. If you found out that the goods you bought were stolen, you have no right to them after such knowledge. But what if sellers were just cutting sweetheart deals and the goods were legitimately theirs to offer?

Is it wrong to buy goods from a foreign land where U.S. companies are willing to sell their wares for much less than here? If so, then you would have to agree that purchasing American pharmaceuticals from Mexico or Canada was wrong. Obviously, that is ludicrous. It is not immoral to make such purchases; it is more a matter of inefficiency that prevents people from engaging in such arbitrage.

The matter seems to come down to whether the Russian organization is violating its rights to distribute music. It has a monopoly on the distribution of music within Russia. If a Russian citizen were accessing allofmp3.com, then it would be acting in accordance with its contract. If an American visited from within the United States, it arguably has no right to offer the music to him.

Is that properly any of my concern? Many Internet users have broadband connections. Most of their terms of use agreements forbid them from hosting open wireless networks. Many people do just that. If I were considering connecting to one of these open networks, is it my responsibility to find out what ISP that network is using, what the terms of service are, and whether the access point is in violation of the owner’s particular terms of service? It seems absurd as well. Your responsibility extends to making sure that there isn’t any obvious signs that the network isn’t open: WEP-enabling, MAC-address restrictions, or even station naming. Barring those, it’s the equivalent of a vacant lot without fencing or trespassing signs—you can use it temporarily but you can’t assume any of the usual property rights.

In the end, I’m on the fence. It seems too good to be true, but that might be a perception based on an entire life spent under the pricing scheme of the American music industry. I would be interested in any of your thoughts on the subject: feel free to email me or leave a comment.

[UPDATE (9/17/04): After some thinking, I believe that I’ll have to conclude that this is definitely an improper thing. AllOfMP3 is clearly trading on a loophole in the Russian copyright laws. The performer of the song should be compensated when you buy a CD or download music from the Internet. This service does not compensate the performer or the label that produced the CD. That’s the crux of the issue—the violation of the trader principle. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to pay 99¢ like everyone else.]

[UPDATE (4/7/2006): TechCrunch has included AllOfMP3 in their comparison of online music download services. For all of the reasons cited above, I believe it’s irresponsible to include them.]

Pay It Forward

August 19, 2004

Tonight I was effectively part of the road team for an obscure Seattle hip-hop group. I was in the drive-through at McDonald’s pumping out some Optimus Rhyme when I pulled up to the payment window. The guy at the window asked what I was playing and I told him the name of the band. He looked puzzled and kind of shrugged.

I asked if he liked hip-hop and he affirmed that he did. So I gave him the CD-R of the music downloaded off the site. He looked even more puzzled than before—obviously this was the first CD given to him through the drive-through window. I further told him that he should go to their Web site if he liked what he heard.

And so another human is exposed to Autobeat music.

Entranced

August 19, 2004

Generation Trance: lots of great looking trance music here, but I haven’t been able to successfully get a torrent going at greater than 9k/s. At 9 hours per CD, that ain’t gonna cut it. Maybe you’ll have better luck.

Sir iMix-A-Lot

June 23, 2004

I don’t normally surf through the tons of iMixes, just like I don’t look through Amazon Lists. There’s just not enough time in my life. Tonight, however, I found an iMix list that caught my eye and practically forced me to listen to a whole bunch of previews: the WORST Music on iTunes.

It’s not kidding either. There’s Arnold Schwarzenegger covering “It’s Raining Men.” The Brady Bunch singing “American Pie”, the inevitable William Hung, and so much more dreck.

The previews are plenty, to be perfectly honest.

Guaranteed Winner

February 18, 2004

MacMerc suggests a way to guarantee an iTunes song with every Pepsi bottle you purchase. I wish someone would figure out how to do this for the 7-11 cups. I’m currently at 7 songs with 38 cups (18% win rate).

[UPDATE: Tried it with a Sierra Mist and it worked well. If only I liked the taste of Pepsi or Sierra Mist. 😦 Or if only the Mountain Dew-capped bottles weren’t so expensive!]

[UPDATE (2/19/04): As the Apple Turns has a hilarious take on tilting.]

Microsoft and Online Music

October 21, 2003

If Microsoft did decide to compete with Apple in the online music arena, this “innovation” would certainly be helpful in driving sales. In Microsoft’s world, if you can’t beat them, prevent users from knowing they exist or spread FUD.

[UPDATE: Salon has another good article about Microsoft’s chicanery.]

[UPDATE 2: The Register‘s Andrew Orlowski has a column up about Microsoft’s reaction to Apple’s iTunes Music Store. Orlowski suggests that Apple is looking to create a vertical monopoly on music distribution and playback. This is about the most ludicrous thing I’ve heard about Apple and iTunes—and I’ve heard a lot of ridiculous stuff in the last few days.

This is precisely why the Sherman and Clayton Anti-Trust Acts are so insidious. To say that Apple has a monopoly because of iTunes Music Store is to overlook all of the options available, all the substitutes already present. Sure, the iPod is wildly popular and the iTunes Music Store has had gangbuster sales—better than any other legal service out there by most accounts—but a true monopoly requires some forcible barrier to entry. Any company is able to enter the online music business, and many have done exactly that. The barriers to entry are minimal and getting lower because of Apple’s pioneering licensing deals.

The iTunes Music Store does use a relatively proprietary format, for now. AAC is really only supported by Apple and its iPod. There’s no reason why some other music player couldn’t implement AAC because its an open format available to anyone willing to pony up the licensing fees. In fact, there’s no reason why any other audio software couldn’t use the codec either. Orlowski would have us believe that AAC represents the path to monopoly.

Even Microsoft’s proprietary format—Windows Media Audio—isn’t really a monopoly because there’s so many other formats available to consumers, ranging from the commercial MP3 and AAC to the open-source Ogg Vorbis. Microsoft can’t force anyone to use WMA and they can’t prevent anyone from not using it. Even if they made sweetheart deals with music player manufacturers, the manufacturers could have chosen otherwise and consumers don’t have to buy them.

The substitutes here are prevalent and plentiful. Compact discs are widely entrenched in the marketplace and the majority of consumers buy their audio media in that format. There is also a sizable number of computer users infringing copyright via one of the various online download services. To say that consumers are forced to use AAC or WMA is crazy and perhaps disingenuous.

What iTunes and Windows Media Player represent are brands and brands are almost always linked to a single company. But that interferes with the perfect competition implemented by the anti-trust statutes. They envision the marketplace as one of commodity goods available to everyone—where the laws of supply and demand are perfectly realized and equilibrium is constantly achieved. Brands just don’t work in this model since they eliminate the possibility of commoditization. All purses are not alike and a lot of people pay exorbitant amounts to get a Prada, Dooney & Burke, or Coach bag, even though there’s no reason why these couldn’t be produced for much, much less. The brand here is quite powerful.

And that is why there’s no monopoly here—on either side. Monopoly comes when the barriers to entry are enforced by law. Local phone service is largely monopolistic, so is local power distribution. Software defies monopoly. And the Internet makes monopoly virtually impossible. Anyone who cries otherwise has probably been negatively affected by a competitor and has turned to the Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission for cover. These “political entrpreneurs,” to use Burton Folsom’s apt phrase, can’t compete in the marketplace so they turn to government to alter the marketplace in their favor. They probably had an excellent marketshare that they crapped away: Netscape pissed away its browser lead and Sun lost its server operating system preeminence.

What Microsoft and Apple are doing is competing. Microsoft’s way is to lock people in to their closed format and create hooks that prevent people from accessing competitors easily; Apple’s way is to try and create the best service possible with the best music player driving sales. Sure, Apple would like you to be a Mac user with their iPod but their software interfaces with practically any music player, can use MP3 codecs instead of AAC, and allows you to use music from other online stores providing a codec is available for their format. That’s not perfect competition, but Apple’s trying to establish their brand as the preeminent source for music.]