April 22, 2007
University of Wisconsin Varsity Band Annual Spring Concert
Posted by Gordon Smith

Last night I attended the University of Wisconsin Varsity Band's Annual Spring Concert in the Kohl Center. When my friend Paul Hunter invited me, I had no idea what I was getting into, but it was a blast. Seriously, I haven't had that much fun in a long time. There was nothing subtle in this concert, just two hours of brass, percussion, and pyrotechnics. Band Director Michael Leckrone is insane, and he had everyone in the place dancing and singing. It also explained a lot about certain members of the Alumni Band.

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December 29, 2006
Popular Music
Posted by Gordon Smith

I hardly ever listen to music anymore. Strange because I was a music junkie as a teenager.

As I romped around my favorite blogs tonight, two music posts caught my eye. First, Brayden lists five albums he "can't wait to buy." (People still buy albums?) I hadn't heard of any of the bands, except Radiohead. But I couldn't name a single one of their songs, even though Brayden touts them as "simply the best band in the world, no question."

Second, Paul Kedrosky lists the ten most-played radio songs of 2006:

Rank   Songs              Artist                              on Radio
     1     Be Without You     Mary J. Blige                       395,995
     2     Unwritten          Natasha Bedingfield                 336,276
     3     Temperature        Sean Paul                           324,555
     4     Me & U             Cassie                              312,073
     5     Hips Don't Lie     Shakira Feat. Wyclef Jean           308,903
     6     Promiscuous        Nelly Furtado Featuring Timbaland   292,264
     7     Bad Day            Daniel Powter                       291,256
     8     Check On It        Beyonce Featuring Slim Thug         290,231
     9     So Sick            Ne-Yo                               277,958
     10    Over My Head
           (Cable Car)        Fray                                276,601
    Source:  Nielsen BDS

Um, ok. I have heard three of these songs. Two of them because they were favorites of my daughter.

This year, after being frustrated in her attempts to buy me a Christmas gift, my daughter proclaimed, "you need a hobby!" I have hobbies, of course, but they aren't the sort of hobbies that require a lot of maintenance. (I gave up golf some time ago.) Maybe I should take up listening to music again. That would be good for a few stocking stuffers every year.

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August 12, 2006
Pandora's Box
Posted by Gordon Smith
August 08, 2006
Music Blog Aggregators & MP3 Search Engines
Posted by Gordon Smith

Fred Wilson is hyping The Hype Machine: "It just proves that aggregating music blogs (letting the people create a music service) is better than trying to work with the record labels to create one."

Fred convinced me to take a look. I searched "Garfunkel" and found a short list of songs by my favorite singing duo, and Hype Machine streams all of them to my computer seamlessly!

Hypemachine

You can get much longer playlists by searching "Beatles" or "U2" or any recent flavor of the month. For example, here is the playlist for Nelly Furtado:

Hypemachine2png

You can't download the tracks from The Hype Machine, but with a site that is this easy to use, that will be only a minor annoyance for most users. Plus, if you really want a track, just go to the blog where it was originally posted.

Oh, perhaps you are worried about copyright? No worries. From The Hype Machine:

The Hype Machine supports and respects the artists, writers, editors and producers who create original content available on the web.

The Hype Machine site users are encouraged to enjoy legitimate downloadable media and support artists by purchasing music after sampling it online. We provide full acknowledgement of the source and author for all audio that provides it - and we recommend that blog publishers include appropriate metadata when making audio available on the web. We also provide links to purchase music from Amazon.com, iTunes Music Store and the eMusic digital music store, where possible.

Additionally, authors of all postings that we index are clearly identified whenever they appear on the Hype Machine website or in the search results. All such mentions have a link to more information about the specific blog and a link directly to where the post appears on the Internet.

As a search/indexing engine, we enable users to find all sorts of audio. We can't be responsible for what people post on their blogs, and we can't be responsible for what you do with it when you find it.

The search/indexing interface contains links to other weblogs/websites. The Hype Machine neither controls nor endorses these web sites, nor reviews or approves any content appearing on them. The Hype Machine does not assume any responsibility or liability for any materials available at these web sites, or for the completeness, availability, accuracy, legality or decency of these sites.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (the "DMCA") provides recourse for copyright owners who believe that material appearing on the Internet infringes their rights under U.S. copyright law. If you believe in good faith that materials we link to infringe your copyright, you (or your agent) can contact us requesting that we remove the links to the material.

Ok, my "no worries" comment obviously was tic. As far as I can tell, the Recording Industry Association of America has not launched an offensive against The Hype Machine, Elbo.ws, G2P, and other sites that link to copyrighted music, but that can't be far away. Last month a Dutch court shut down Zoekmp3.nl (more here), which seemed to offer a similar service. The underlying legal rules are different, but the common theme is that the sites are linking to infringing materials.

The DCMA provides some safe harbors for linking by service providers, but those safe harbors require that the service providers not have actual or constructive knowledge of copyright infringement. Could The Hype Machine make that argument with a straight face? I would be interested to hear from the copyright gurus on this issue.

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May 23, 2006
Dixie Chicks: Taking the Long Way
Posted by Christine Hurt

Dixiechicks The Dixie Chicks' new album, Taking the Long Way, debuts today, marking the best-selling female band of all time's first album after facing controversy for Natalie Maines' now famous statement about being ashamed that the president is from Texas.  After that statement, country radio stations across the country pulled their songs, listeners held protests, and some wacky people even sent death threats.  Even other musicians turned against them, including Toby Keith.  (Note that country radio played Mr. Keith's latest hit over and over, which featured a guy in a bar being propositioned by female twins who responds "I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was.")

Bill O'Reilly, who has recently changed his tune on the Chicks, had predicted that the album will sell no more than 2 million copies.  I am downloading it today from iTunes, so I have a question.  Do the normal album sales counts include downloads now?  Is going "gold" or "platinum" still tied solely to sales of physical CDs?  Does Billboard just assume that downloads affect all sales equally, so that sales are still a good comparison among artists?

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August 27, 2005
Strange Songwriting Meme: Evolution of Slang
Posted by Christine Hurt

I'm doing a lot of driving these days, and I play my game of paleo-iPodShuffle.  I scan the radio airwaves and stop on songs I like, then scan again when a song comes on I don't like or when the station fades.  You hear songs you haven't heard in a really long time this way.  I heartily recommend it.

Yesterday, I first heard John Mellencamp's Cherry Bomb.  It has the line, "Back when a smoke was a smoke."  (N.B., some lyric sites have "smoke" as "sport," which makes no sense at all, so I'm ignoring that.)  A few scans later, I hear a new Tim McGraw song, Back When, with these lyrics:  "Back when a hoe was a hoe/Coke was a coke/And crack's what you were doing when your were cracking jokes/Back when a screw was a screw/the wind was all that blew."  I did not ever find this song in my shuffling, but I recall a Merle Haggard song, Are the Good Times Really Over:  "I wish Coke was still cola/and a joint was a bad place to be."

Does anyone else have any examples of this theme in songwriting?  I have a feeling that there is at least another song that I am missing.  I don't find nostalgia songs compelling as a rule, but I really don't find historical connotation comparisons a compelling musical theme.  Even if I did, I would have to think that Tim McGraw's latest song was a tired re-tread.  I understand that he can sing anything and make it a hit these days, but I think he needs a new picker.

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April 07, 2005
James Taylor's Best Song
Posted by Gordon Smith

James Taylor is one of those "soundtrack of your life" voices for me. I recently purchased his "Best of James Taylor" CD for my wife's birthday, and I have had it playing softly in the background while reading over the past two days. It just occurred to me that my two favorite James Taylor tunes were recorded before I was making my own music choices:

1968 "Carolina on My Mind"
1970 "Fire and Rain"

In this short concert clip, James Taylor declares that "Carolina on My Mind" is his own favorite. He has good taste in music.

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March 30, 2005
Shopping for iPods
Posted by Gordon Smith

My newfound interest in podcasting led me to my local Best Buy recently, where I took a lesson from one of the employees on iPods. Of course, my children have been telling me that "all of my friends have iPods," which holds absolutely no sway in terms of buying iPods for my children, though it did pique my curiosity. So as I am pondering the prospect of dropping $300 to $400 on this little gadget, the clerk says, "If you decide to buy it, you really should get the service plan." Well, I never get the service plan, but as I was anticipating my "free magazine" offer, he added, "The batteries are internal, and they only last about a year. If you get the service plan, you can bring it in and exchange it for a new iPod when that happens." Hmm.

First of all, that doesn't sound like a "service" plan at all, so I was far from confident that whoever would be standing behind the Best Buy counter a year from now would remember this little conversation. Second, does everyone know that the iPod a disposable toy? Or is this guy just doing a hard-sell on the service plan?

I decided to consult an expert. I marched over to the service counter and asked whether they get a lot of iPods. Two of the technicians, in unison, exclaimed: "Whoa! You could say that!" One of them said that he had recently made calls for pickups after service was completed, and 9 of the 10 calls were for iPods! They offered all sorts of possible explanations -- people were too rough on their iPods; the iPods were made in California (?); more people bought iPods than other brands, so naturally they would see more in the service department. One of them owns an iPod, and he is happy with it. The other recommended Dell's mp3 player.

That was almost like Miracle on 34th Street.

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