business


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Digital Thought Leaders @ MusicTech

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Copyright Panel

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Audience @ Copyright Panel

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Tech Talk

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Tech Talk

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Paul Lamere

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Search Inside the Music

Today I attended the SanFran MusicTech Summit. The name says it all: this conference brings together technologists, musicians and business people to discuss trends and challenges at the intersection of music and technology. What follows is a brief run down of the highlights of the talks I was able to attend. I haven’t had much time to digest any of the talks, so there isn’t much insight here – just the interesting tidbits as I saw them.

Legal Issues in Searching, Linking & Blogging

Panelists: Howie Cockrill, Esq (BEAT LAW), Andrew Bridges, Esq (Winston & Strawn), Mark Palermo, Esp (ASCAP). Moderated by Joe Gratz, Esq (Keker & Van Nest)

The twenty minutes I spent in this talk made me super super stoked I didn’t chose law as a career. The talk focused on the nitty gritty details of the legal implications involved in maintaining music blogs – interesting from an intellectual perspective, but rather mundane in implementation.

Digital Thought Leaders

Panelists: Michael Petricone (Consumer Electronics), Ty Roberts (Gracenote), Tim Westergren (Pandora), Aza Raskin (Mozilla). Moderated by Brian Zisk (SF Music Tech)

Aza Raskin had some great comments on the need for better utilities for search and discovery of music (I think, I didn’t take notes).

Tim Westergren made some interesting observations about how musicians might better take advantage of the new music landscape. He suggested bands might add a member whose sole responsibility was to deal with the emerging technological aspects of the band – blogging, marketing, promotion, and all the various social networks and publishing channels now available. “The 5th Beatle” he called it.

There was a great question asked by an audience member regarding music metadata, and why Gracenote feels entitled to build a business model off other peoples’ data. Ty Roberts effectively brushed off the question, but it does raise the ongoing question of why this kind of data should be proprietary to begin with, and if it is proprietary, why a third party could own it. There were also some interesting points made on the problem of the metadata standards and normalization. While it wasn’t explicitly raised, the MusicBrainz model provides a very compelling counter model to Gracenote: At its core it is an open source, user moderated, better designed alternative to Gracenote.


Copyright Issues in Music Law

Panelists: Richard Idell, Esq. (Idell Seitel), Fred Von Lohmann, Esq. (EFF), Zahavah Levine, Esq. (YouTube), Maia Spilman, Esq. (INgrooves). Moderated by Whitney Broussard, Esq.

This was a great talk about the challenges of building a business given the terribly murky legal issues surrounding music distribution. It was nice to hear some of the newer problems arising in this space, particularly around the differences between purely audio tracks (like MP3s) and audio visual works, which have entirely different licensing requirements.

I really enjoyed listening to YouTube’s counsel discuss some of the ridiculous requirements and challenges she confronts trying to be sure YouTube’s content is legitimate and rights holders are compensated.

I don’t always agree with the EFF, particularly on the music/copyright issues, but this was one of the better talks I’ve seen Fred give over the years. There are clearly some new emerging problems at the intersection of music & technology, and he was a great advocate for the little guy and the disruptive technologies that make this intersection of music and technology so interesting. I left with a much greater appreciation for the value that EFF contributes in this particular arena. They are very good at thinking about, advocating for and articulating the problems that other lawyers, technologists and the “in” businesses might not care about or think about. Overall a great panel, with some good Q & A afterward as well.

Tech Talk

Panelists: Tom Conrad (Pandora), Marc Urbaitel (In Ticketing), Not Ethan Kaplan (Warner Bros.), Jack Moffit (Chesspark / Xiph), Jeremy Riney (Playlist.com). Moderated by Colin Brummelle (Rilli).

This was basically just serious music tech geek goodness. All the panelists talked about the technology behind their sites. Most were fairly straightforward, Drupal or other PHP implementations. An interesting conversation on Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing app and S3. On balance, Tom Conrad’s discussion of what Pandora’s tech stack took the cake. Their challenges and subsequent solutions are truly unique and worthy of more discussion. Tom did a great job of describing their infrastructure and the numerous challenges of storing a serving up a complicated set of music, playlists and recommendations all in a dynamic, highly scalable, high availability environment. Pandora’s technology: Java, Postgres, C, and Flash for the front end, among other technologies. In another life I’d work on their backend systems.

Individual Presentations

Presenters: Paul Lamere (Sun Labs – Search Inside The Music), Mike Troiano (Matchmine), Paul Anthony (Rumblefish), David Gratton (Project Opus).

I was eager to hear Paul’s talk on the Search Inside the Music project, as this is an area I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. His lab at Sun is doing some really promising work in making use of audio data to power visualizations and recommendation engines. His talk covered the basics on the SITM features, as well as some of the future directions the project may go in. Most exciting was his statement that this technology will be open sourced and available by September. This folds in wonderfully with my research needs. The rest of the presenters were interesting as well, although I had to leave.

There’s a lot more to talk about and see here. For more info, check out the sfmusictech tag on Flickr & Twitter, and the sites of the people who presented.

Major thanks to Brian and Shoshana Zisk for putting this together!

Happy Tax Day kids! Who feels like this?

Death and Taxes

Olive DJ Booth
View From the DJ Booth @ Olive

Jeannie and I are very pleased to announce our new, regular DJ engagement at Olive. We’ll be on the decks the 3rd Friday of every month. Tonight is the inaugural set, so come check it out! The fun starts at 9PM and will go until y’all go home.

Drop by for a drink, some delicious food and good music. Olive is under new ownership, and they have a revamped menu and some new faces behind the bar, but the same great vibe and tasty stuff. Jeannie will be spinning her eclectic house records, and I’ll be augmenting her set with intermittent old school hip-hop, soul, funk and anything else that pops into my head. I’ll be aided by the wonders of my new toy, Serato Scratch Live.

Radiohead - In Rainbows
Radiohead – In Rainbows

Over the last 3 weeks, several major artists have parted ways with record labels and their traditional business and marketing strategies in favor of leveraging new-fangled Internet mechanisms for distribution and promotion.

Radiohead announced a week or two back that they would offer their new album “In Rainbows” for digital download, and let their fans pick the price they wanted to pay for it. This is a revolutionary (and maybe crazy) idea, and we’ll need to wait to see how it turns out. As one commenter put it, this “cuts straight to the moral dilemma of downloading,” but it also puts the question squarely on the fans: how much is this music worth to you?

For me, it’s less of a moral dilemma than a simple question. I don’t quibble with the argument that stealing music is wrong, but I do take issue with the cost of music, DRM-strapped files, and the fact that some record label is taking ninety cents on the dollar for every CD that goes out the door. The behavior of these major corporations doesn’t change the basic laws or ethics around illegal file sharing, but it is refreshing to see artists taking the music industry out of the equation. I downloaded Radiohead’s album today, and my price point was about 5 euros (about $7). I would pay about $10 for the CD or vinyl. That’s the standard Dischord price and I think it’s fair.

The album, by the way, is worth every penny I paid. Go get it. Besides the music, I’m thrilled that the money goes directly to Radiohead and whomever they have worked with to get this album out. This is what it should feel like to interact with your music and favorite artists. It feels good, empowering and personal.

Shortly after Radiohead’s announcement, Nine Inch Nails announced that the band will no longer have a relationship with a record label, and will heretofore be considered “free agents.” I don’t know what that means, and frankly I don’t care, but it’s another chip in the foundation of an already weak music empire. Funk rockers Jamiroquai and the crap Brit-pop outfit Oasis have made similar announcements.

Yesterday came the kicker from the godmother of pop, Madonna, that she too would forgo the support of the major music industry. Madonna’s business savvy has always been part of her brilliance as an artist, so the fact that she has made this decision suggests that the tide has turned conclusively against the labels.

Their options are slimming — if they can’t convince artists big artists like Madonna to stay on, they will lose their major revenue stream, which means they won’t have as much capitol to invest in up-and-comers. Conversely, if these young acts only view the major labels as a stepping stone to independence, rather than the other way around, the label’s expectation that they can milk an artist for 3 or 4 albums before putting them out to pasture will be gone. In short, their revenue model went bust.

The landscape is wide open, and fans and artists are winning. Digital downloads, Internet promotion, viral marketing, crowd-sourced videos, mash-ups. This has been on the horizon for a long time, but it’s by no means a stretch to say that the future of music is now.

Orpheus Logo
Explore the Musical Universe

Orpheus Visualizer
A Dynamic Graph of Artists

Despite my Waldorfian upbringing, I’m not schooled on the details of Greek mythology – otherwise I’d attempt a wise crack along those lines.

But rather than embarrass myself, I’ll just put it like this: My Master’s thesis from UC Berkeley’s iSchool (then S.I.M.S.) was a music exploration and discovery tool called Orpheus. It was well received in 2005, and ever since I’ve been promising/threatening to resurrect it and try to improve some of the more compelling features and turn them into a web-based application. This latter part is in the works, but the first two steps were to get the Orpheus server installed and running, and make the Exploration Tool/MP3 Player client available for download. These two steps, I’m thrilled to announce, are completed!

Orpheus is all about mining a wide variety of information about music from Internet sites like Last.FM, Pitchfork Music, and Wikipedia; from structured sources like MusicBrainz and Freebase; from users’ music libraries, and from user contributed metadata, and turning this information into knowledge that can be used to discover new artists and explore the musical universe in novel ways. It’s about finding compelling new means of exploration and discovery.

As several of our professors pointed out at the time, our approach could prove useful for exploring the corpora around many other types of media – books, academic articles, movies, etc. But my primary joy and passion is music, so music is the first and foremost focus of this project.

Without further delay, you can download the Orpheus client and start using it right away. If you are new to Orpheus, you might benefit from watching this slideshow first. Before you get too excited, the rich information that Orpheus collects hasn’t been updated in a while (I’m working on adding new feeds and cleaning up the feeds we currently have). So you might not find too much about new artists in Orpheus at the moment. But don’t let that stop you! Please be sure to contact me with any problems or bugs you encounter. And stay tuned for updates and new features.

Enjoy!

Olive DJ Booth
View From the DJ Booth @ Olive

The infamous Jeannie Yang and I will be trading off on the turntables at Olive tonight. Drop by for a drink, some delicious food and good music. Olive is under new ownership, and they have a revamped menu and some new faces behind the bar, but the same great vibe and tasty stuff. Jeannie will be spinning her eclectic house records, and I’ll be augmenting her set with intermittent old school hip-hop, soul, funk and anything else that pops into my head. I’ll be aided by the wonders of my new toy, Serato Scratch Live. Come check it out!

As a vinyl collector/fanatic, I’ve complained for a long time how patently unfair it is that, if I want to own a vinyl copy of an album, that I’m faced with poor choices if I ever want a digital version of that album for my iPod or something. Consider the options:

  1. I buy two copies of the album: a CD and an vinyl copy, and burn the CD to my computer. There are a lot of albums I do own at least two copies of, and plenty of albums that I love enough to buy several times over, but it seems unfair that I would *have* to buy any of them
  2. I rip my vinyl copy to disk. This is a poor option for several reasons, among them poor fidelity, scratches, manually split tracks, poor ID3 tags, etc.
  3. Steal the digital version or ‘borrow’ it from a friend. Sadly, this is usually what happens. I figure I’ve already bought the album and thus I’m entitled to it in whatever format I choose.

Well, I’ve always reasoned that artists should offer a free digital copy of their music if one buys the vinyl. Why not? It only seems fair and would boost sales of the vinyl, perhaps. Well, today, my friends, I can see that someone has finally come up with exactly the same idea. RJD2 to the rescue!!!

Free Digital Copy

RJD2’s third album, The Third Hand, is available free for download if you buy the vinyl.  Good thinking, RJ! GMTA! I love RJD2, and now I have another reason to. The album, so far, is worth owning twice. Thanks! BTW – my record buying spree today can be heard live this evening at Samovar Tea Lounge in Yerba Buena Gardens 5-8.

The DNS changes appear to have propogated, traffic is flowing to the new server and email is up and running . If you encounter any problems, please post a comment here, or email me at my brooke this domain or bmaury the arcus domain above.

And check back in for details about the Orpheus rebirth!

Arcus Logo

This weekend I started migrating the Arcus Associates website to its new home on MediaTemple.com. I hoped to complete the migration last night, but it’s dragging on into the work week. I apologize for any disruption or problems with email.

This move to a dedicated server will allow me to better manage the Arcus environment and website, improve and upgrade some of my software and tools, and support running the Orpheus backend server, as well as the database documentation and automated metadata browser (more on the reincarnation of Orpheus in a later post).

The DNS migration is presently under way. Please be patient with any returned emails or errors you receive in the next 24 hours. I’ll post an update with any problems or once the migration is complete.