Important Letter from Pandora Founder, Tim Westergren

I received this letter in my inbox today from Pandora founder, Tim Westergren and felt it was important to share. I’m not sure how many of you are aware of Pandora’s woes. The Internet radio giant has been struggling financially under unfair legislation issued by the Copyright Royalty Board that essentially doubled the royalties web radio stations must pay.  Clearly an overt attempt to thwart the propagation of Internet music. One that threatened to put Pandora out of business.

Thankfully, Pandora reached a resolution that will keep them in business.  But there’s a new bill in Congress, called the Performance Rights Act (H.R. 848), that’s being presented to address this issue for the long term.  If passed it will create a more equitable and fair system for compensating artists across all forms of radio.

Please take just a minute to call Representative Nancy Pelosi’s office to ask her to sponsor and support the Performance Rights Act (H.R. 848):

Representative Nancy Pelosi
202-225-4965

Picture 3

My Top 10 Music Discovery Tools

sonos_remote_lg

1. Sonos 

This powerful digital music management system is nirvana.  I simply cannot live without it. Not only does it enable me to have music in virtually every room in my house (through zone controllers), I can listen to and discover a limitless variety of music.  Sonos manages your own music collection and gives you access to Rhapsody, Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, Internet Radio, Pandora, Last.fm, and good ‘ol terrestrial radio.  And you can control it all from the palm of your hand.

On any given day, you will find me jumping from my ‘new music’ playlist in Rhapsody, to Sirius/XM Channel 26 for a little Blog Radio, then WOXY for some FutureSounds and occasionally, if I’m feeling uninspired and lucky, I’ll plug in a random band in Pandora or Last.fm.  I can’t think of any other tool that can allow you to do that in a quality listening situation (i.e. real speakers).

2. Rhapsody

I’ve long been a fan of the subscription-based music model and, therefore, have been an advocate of services like Rhapsody for quite some time.  The fact that, for $15 a month, I can play ANY artist or album I want, anywhere, anytime is priceless to me.  The integration of the service into Sonos is just the icing on the cake.  Whenever I read an album review or hear a new artist on the Internet, I just go to Rhapsody and queue up their album for a listen.  Granted, there are times they don’t have what I’m looking for but 80-90% of the time they do.  And that’s impressive!

3. Mojo

Another favorite music discovery tool of mine is Mojo, a free music sharing application that makes it ridiculously easy to share music online with your music buddies. With just a couple of clicks, you can browse, select and download music from any Mojo user directly into your iTunes library.  It’s a fabulous tool I use to troll my inner music circle’s music libraries on a regular basis.  I frequently hit their iTunes/Recently Added folder to see what new music they’ve uncovered and what they’re listening to on a regular basis. Music voyeurism at it’s finest!

4Songbird

Good bye iTunes, helllloooo Songbird! Developed by a group calling themselves ‘Pioneers of the Inevitable’ (love it),Songbird is a free open source media player and web browser rolled into one.  It’s like the power of iTunes and Firefox combined.  Not only can you manage and play your own music, now you can play the web too.  

For example, any media files stored on a website will show up as a playable file in the Songbird application that you can download or save to your library.  Even better, it has a built-in RSS subscription and MP3 file download so now you can subscribe to your favorite MP3 blogs as playlists!  Plus, it’s already integrated with HypeMachine, eMusic and InSound.  To get a better sense of all the features, watch their online demo here. The potential of this application is mind-boggling!

5. Internet/Satellite Radio

As unsophisticated as it sounds, I use both Internet and satellite radio on a daily basis to discover new music.  Mostly by listening to my favorite stations and programs, a few of which include:

6Blogs

More than anything, I rely on my trusted music blogs to keep me on the pulse. There’s no better source for cutting edge music information. Of course, there’s the tried and true, Pitchfork and Stereogum.  I follow all the blogs listed in my blogroll, but my personal favorites include: My Old Kentucky Blog, MBV and Aquarium Drunkard, See What You Hear, Hear Ya and The 405.  The MOG network is a good blog aggregator as well.

7Twitter

But why blog when you can micro blog with Twitter!  And I do so more and more these days.  It’s quite addicting and a great way to stay on top of music releases, events and news.  Hell, I even read the NY Times via Twitter these days.  I’m so ADD.  To efficiently use Twitter, you need to install an application like TweetDeck. Otherwise, it’s completely unruly. Get started by following me @indierockgirl, then check out this great Wired blog post on tips for discovering music through Twitter.  It’s a good tutorial!

8MP3 Services

I subscribe to both eMusic and Amie Street and find they have great music recommendations.  Particularly Amie Street. Their community-driven site has become a bit of an obsession and enables you to get music for cheap or for free depending on how much you participate with reviews, recommendations and such.  eMusic’s 17 Dots blog gives me the insider scoop as to what’s hot and what’s coming on the site.  Their subscription based music download model keeps me regimented in my music acquisition!

9. Music Recommendation Sites

Everyone loves Pandora, Last.fm, LaLa.  I personally find limitations with these algorithm-based recommendation engines. They are all fundamentally flawed to me.  I always find the same artists coming up over and over again.  I have been turned on recently to tools that take a more interesting approach to music recommendation.  One is We Are Hunted, the first online music chart.  It aggregates social networks, music blogs, torrents to chart what people are listening to on the web.  A true indie music chart!  

The other I’ve been playing with is The Filter,  the brainchild of rocker Peter Gabriel and uses a model based on Bayesian mathematics to predict the similarity of bands. It logs what you play, runs it through the maths-grinder, and pops out a list of what you’ll like.

10. Music Mapping Tools

Music mapping tools are a bit of a novelty for me.  I don’t reference them all the time but do play around with them occasionally, out of skepticism mostly.  I want to see if they can stump me. Try  TuneGlue, StumbleAudio, and Music Map for shits and grins.  After typing in your favorite artist name, you’ll be served up a visual array of related bands to explore.  Here’s a link to a whole review of music visualization tools if you’re into that sort of thing.

Happy hunting!

eMusic Gets New Recommendation Engine

emusic2

I’m an eMusic subscriber and supporter and noticed that they’ve overhauled their homepage centered around a new music recommendation engine called MediaUnbound.  Now, when you sign into the site as a member, you’re presented with a grid of music you’ll like made up of personalized recommendations based upon your history. You can also sort the list by new arrivals.  

I’ve been checking out the recommendations but am cautiously optimistic.  Like any music recommendation service I’ve used, I don’t expect much.  Most of them are disappointing, especially if you’re an avid music fan. But I understand eMusic’s need to upgrade. As a subscription based model, it’s important that their members find music they like.  Otherwise, they’re apt to cancel.

What makes this new music recommendation service, MediaUnbound, supposedly unique is that it  combines both algorithmic and human inputs to try to come up with better recommendations for users right from the start. And how are MediaUnbound’s human inputs different from say Pandora?  This is where the story gets interesting, or amusing at the least. MediaUnbound CEO Michael Papish answers this question in a recent TechCrunch post and added a most amusing critique of other music recommendation services in existence. 

On Pandora’s human input process:

Pandora has created a feature factory of humans chained to headphones attempting to objectively rate the sonic features of every song ever made (well, ok, only ~200k hand-picked songs). We think this is a horrible use of use of the creative, constructive, opinionated, and (sometimes argumentative) resource called the human music geek.

On the rest of the music recommendation technologies out there:

    —Pandora. Purely sonic-based as determined by team of human experts classifying every song into features. Not scalable. One-trick pony only able to determine that one song sounds like another song, not anything about user preference or other personalized recommendations.   
    —iLike. Purely algorithm-based utilizing only data from other iLike members. Service is meant to be embedded in a widget, not a full-fledged recommendation platform across an entire music service.

—iTunes Genius. Sub-standard, algorithm only – developed in-house. Only uses iTunes data. Steve Jobs has creepy man crush on John Mayer and Jack Johnson.

—MySpace Music. Crazy flashing yellow buttons that randomly start playing Buffalo Springfield songs when you visit your friend’s page.

—AmazonMP3. Utilizes the Amazon recommendation platform which is based mainly on collaborative filtering. We assume they use some human tweaking, but they’ve never publicly stated this fact. The AmazonMP3 recommendations are crippled because they are based on regular Amazon recommendations which are very focused on closely related items (i.e. Bob Dylan’s _Blood on the Tracks_ returns Bob Dylan’s _Blonde on Blonde_. duh!)

—Last.fm. Purely algorithm-based utilizing only data from other members and their scrobbles.

Where Have All the Hipsters Gone?

A couple times a week, I head over to the American Industrial Center in the Dogpatch District of San Francisco to attend my – near complete – patternmaking class at Apparel Arts.  Week after week, I would inevitably share the elevator with a group of hipsters heading to 4R.  The exclusive floor of Soundflavor. Curious as to what could possibly attract such a huge population of Mission District hipsters to one floor of a building, I asked one day while riding the elevator:

Me: “What is Soundflavor?”  
Hipster: “A Music recommendation service.”  
Me: “Hmm.  Like Pandora or Last.fm?”
Hipster: “Yeah.”

Well,  I think it’s safe to say the company needs to polish up that ‘elevator pitch’. I did some research myself and found that company seems to be differentiating themselves in the ‘video playlist’ arena.  Meaning you upload your iTunes playlist or type in an artist and the site will turn your musical tastes into a custom video playlist – like your own personal MTV.

I didn’t think much more of the Soundflavor hipsters until they became noticeably absent.  I haven’t seen them for months now.  Where have you gone, hipsters?  I miss your big glasses, scruffy beards, trucker hats, plaid shirts, tight jeans and Converse shoes. I checked your website and, while it says you’re still in the building, your cute little cherry logo is nowhere to be found.  4R is a ghostland.  What happened?

Bookmark and Share

Pandora Ready to Pull the Plug

I read a disturbing article today in the Washington Post that Oakland-based Internet radio giant, Pandora, is struggling on the verge of collapse due to exorbitant royalty fees.  This came as shocking news to me.  How can the leading Internet music site, with over 1 million listeners a day and nearly 40,000 new subscribers arriving daily, be failing?

Turns out some federal panel last year, called the Copyright Royalty Board, ordered a doubling of the per-song performance royalty that Web radio stations pay to performers and record companies.  What do traditional radio stations pay for royalties? Nothing, thanks to their corporate parents and lobbying power. Satellite radio stations? About 1.6 cents per listener per hour.  But Pandora and other Internet radio stations will have to pay 2.91 cents under this new ruling.  This year, 70% of Pandora’s revenue will be eaten up by royalty fees – threatening to drive them out of business along with many other Internet radio stations like it.

Is no one outraged by this? Have we all become so complacent in our expectations of free and easy digital music distribution that we’ve stopped paying attention to this issue?  Because clearly the fight is not over. And maybe it will take a giant like Pandora to fall before people start feeling the pain and actually caring. 

Bookmark and Share

Pandora Ranks as Top iPhone App

Techcrunch reported that Pandora is currently the fourth most popular free app on iTunes (behind Apple’s Remote, AIM, and WeatherBug), and has reportedly been seeing a new listener every 2 seconds. Usage over the weekend hit an all-time high for the service, with 3.3 million tracks streamed to iPhone listeners alone. Perhaps more impressive is the retention rate of listeners, who are averaging over an hour of listening per day.

The Pandora music stream is great on the new iPhones with the 3G and Edge networks.  Between the iPhone and Sonos Digital Music System, music lovers are no longer tied to their computer to enjoy the benefits of Pandora’s personalized music recommendation service.  Rock on.

Bookmark and Share

Sonos Digital Music System

Probably the most common question my friends ask me is how I have so much time to listen to all the music that I do. Well, here’s the answer: Sonos. It’s simply the best digital music system – period. It allows you to play any music, in any room, from anywhere, all over your house. (And it’s an excellent way to drown out the incessant whining of a 3 year old.) I can choose to listen to my own music library, any Internet radio station, Pandora, Sirius Satellite Radio or Rhapsody. You virtually have millions of songs at your fingertips.

I have this set up at home and in the office, so I’m constantly listening to and exploring new music without having to carve out a chunk of my day to sit down on my computer and ‘research’ the subject. Whenever I read a new album review, I simply queue it up in my playlist through my Rhapsody account (which costs you about $10/month to access to all the music you could possibly imagine) and play it in the background as I go on about my day.

It’s like having my own virtual radio station. But the best part is, if I hear something I like, all I have to do is pick up my wireless handheld remote (that I carry around like a newborn baby), check out the artist, click a button and add it to my library.

Voila. My music secrets are now revealed.

To learn more about how Sonos works, watch this demo. Do keep in mind that to listen to music in every room of your house, you do have to have speakers in every room in your house. Which is why I also highly recommend an in-wall speaker distributed audio system, which requires professional installation. But we’ll talk more about that in another post. Just wrap your head around Sonos for today.

Bookmark and Share