I want to be wrong about music podcasts

There’s no path to legalization for (most) music in podcasts.

A podcast breaks every rule legalizing music in webcasts. A song in a podcast is entirely interactive, skippable, replayable, seekable, playlistable, saveable.

Labels and  bands have their hands full. Figuring out how to legalize (most) music in podcasts would be a lot of work, money, struggle, and time. There isn’t a lot to be gained.

Rights holders would probably say: if you want to do a music podcast, use an existing licensed platform like Spotify, YouTube, or Soundcloud. It’s true that this is not MP3, and that it doesn’t work on an iPod. But it works.

Podcast listeners want talk, not music.

That’s good, because pure-music podcasts are really hard to navigate in podcasting apps. The UX for finding the right thing is not there.

This is not to overlook killer music-oriented shows like Song Exploder or Afropop Worldwide,  which are talk about music.

Podcasters who want to focus on music are going to have tough sledding getting music licensed and finding an audience. A wise one will use YouTube, Spotify/Deezer/Apple Music/etc, or Soundcloud.

The one place where there is traction is in dance music, especially for  working out. But this is so unusual that it is the exception that proves the rule. And I’d guess these exist as one distribution platform among many; because the DJs have already created the sets for posting to Soundcloud, Mixcloud and YouTube.

So I am skeptical about music-oriented podcasts, though I’d prefer to be optimistic. I hope to be proven wrong.


Nutrient Rich Slurry News

I have been living on Soylent for the past couple weeks. This is to diet.

My thinking is that this makes it practical for me to count and ultimately limit calories, since the calories in Soylent are measured in advance. One cup is 500 calories. If I eat four meals, I get exactly 2000 calories.

As it turns out, that has produced a 6.5 lb weight drop.

I push the calories up a bit because I like to make smoothies or even soupies:

  • With banana and cinnamon, like a muffin, to go with coffee
  • With cucumber, carrot, and flax, like a salad, for lunch time
  • With salt, pepper, chicken stock, and steamed broccoli, like a soup, for dinner.

For the sake for variety, I am starting to explore the smaller brands. I just ordered 100%FOOD.

AR music today

Something like Google Glass would be great for Pokemon Go. They should rebrand as Pokemon Glass.

MusicAlly profiled prior art for music AR, an app called Landmrk. Landmrk framed this as a promotional campaign for a couple different album releases, creating visibility by motivating fans to engage with new releases.

“When someone enters one of these locations, the content can then be unlocked on their mobile device. When they leave, the content becomes inaccessible again,” explains the company’s website.

Account director Tom Nield explained to Music Ally that the team was originally part of music group PIAS, where it worked with artists including Alt-J. After striking out on its own, the band came calling.

“They were releasing their new album, and wanted to create a unique first-listen experience around the release. They had some ideas around placing park benches where fans could plug in their headphones and listen, but it would have cost an absolute fortune,” said Nield.

“So we had the idea of creating an app that would allow them to highlight the locations where they wanted to place the album, which would populate the map within the app.”

Should be an AR layer

A photo posted by Lucas Gonze (@lucasgonze) on

I came across a dongle for iOS devices that allows you to look at the real world using infrared. It struck me as something like augmented reality layer. You could write messages that were only visible with infrared.

Which reminds me of Boris Smus’ idea to emit ultrasonic audio using the web audio API.

connecting devices is a pain and we have been squarely at stage 2 since the release of the iPhone. There are many competing approaches to do this: Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE, WiFi direct, discovery over the same local WiFi network, and many many others. This post is dedicated to attacking this problem from an unexpected angle: using ultrasound to broadcast and receive data between nearby devices. Best of all, the approach uses the Web Audio API, making it viable for pure web applications

It strikes me that you could also use that for music, so that the music was available as an AR layer, discoverable using ultrasonic listening.

One-drop vs mixed-race

The one-drop rule is the cornerstone of American racism, but we are hardly aware of it. You may not even have heard the phrase.

It’s the difference between “Black” and “Colored.” If African genes joined your family tree within the last 400 years, you may be light or dark, but you’re a Black person.

No source but Africa can make you Black. Not Native America, Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia, or Polynesia. Lots of roots can give you pigment, but African genes are magically powerful.

The one-drop rule is a ratchet, not a bidirectional pipe. President Obama is 50% White, but he is Black.

Americans actually act like this is based on reality. Blackness is such a powerful state of being that the slightest hint of a taint appears and you’re at the Black table. Nobody ever calls Obama White.

I love the phrase “mixed race.” It’s the opposite of one-drop thinking. A mixed-race person is not one-drop Black. They are a confluence. The existence of “mixed race” thinking makes me hopeful.

Deezer, Spotify

An end game for Spotify is to gain enough market power to get better deals from rights holders. Critical mass of subscribers would create leverage.

The more competitors they have, the more fragmented the market, the more labels can play subscriptions services off one another.

Deezer just entered the American market.


Quora conversation on this

Read John Ciancutti's answer to Will streaming music services (e.g., Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music) ever have buyer power over the record labels? If so, when? on Quora

Augmented playground

The playground was full of parents staring into Facebook while their kids had a lonely time on the slide. We were at the Tesla of playgrounds, Magical Bridge in Palo Alto, yet there was begging for Pokemon Go.

Eventually I caved. I wouldn’t have given in for straight screen time, like a movie or game, but AR is different.

My younger guy, who doesn’t totally get PKG, got bored and climbed a tree. My older guy fiddled with the phone, every once in a while looking up to square with the world. At one point he took off like a shot to run around a long fence between him and a virtual pokemon, and then withdrew into the virtual layer again.

Yes, augmented reality screen time is more active, engaged and physical than watching a video or playing a game. But I’m on the fence about whether it increases activity and engagement or detracts from it. AR screen time is less passive than ordinary screen time, less about the world in the phone. But that’s not much of an improvement if the kids were going to be out in the world engaging at full title. The question isn’t whether AR is better than than full-on screen time. It’s whether AR is better than full-on play time.

From a parent’s point of view, augmented reality needs to increase physical activity, or keep it steady but add an intellectual component.


I mentioned Biba in my notes on the Shape conference. It is an AR layer tightly integrated with a playground, for the purpose of improving on real world experiences. It’s funded by a company that makes play structures.

Biba games turn the screen-time kids love into the outdoor, physical and imaginative play that parents know they need.

Biba uses the smartphones found in every parents’ pocket or purse to unlock new and exciting games every time a family visits the playground. And it’s not just fun for the kids!

Every gameplay session generates a series of family friendly fitness metrics that let parents track their kids’ progress.

In this arrangement the real world comes first. AR is an enhancement.

Notes on Shape Conference

I went to the Shape conference today. Conference hipsters would not admit to this. None of the friends I asked would come along. But I am not too proud. I am going through a time of observing patterns and learning about developments outside my bubble in music tech, and conferences are great for that.

The talks were almost all weak, except for the keynote by Kurzweil, and even though he has a lot of worthwhile stuff to say you can tell he’s running through a well worn script.

Some startups whose booths I looked at –

Caruma is a connected sensor array that you attached to the interior roof in your car. It has a camera for the exterior and another for the interior. There are 4-5 other sensors, like an accelerometer. There’s GPS and a net connection. I think it was $300 + $10/monthly.

One thing you could do with this is capture video of accidents, even when you’re away, so you can find the miscreant. Another use is recording encounters with police.

Also in the theme of interior video cameras, Jaguar and Honda were both showing cars with eye tracking, so they can warn when the driver is dozing off. They also both had adaptive cruise control and lane drift notification. The Honda also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Honda is killing it for a mid-range car.

ActiveScaler is working on an Android rear view “mirror” that clips on in front of your actual rear view mirror. They leave about half for plain old mirroring and use the remainder of the screen real estate to display whatever whackiness you can come up with. It’s basically an easy way to add a device. $500.

There were a lot of VR booths. The line for the HTC Vive was psycho. Oculus and Samsung Gear had booths. I checked out a company with a head-mounted virtual monitor. You could use it to watch TV or do computer stuff. I was hoping for an IMAX-sized monitor, but no luck.

My favorite thing in this space was an augmented reality kit for play structures, from a company called Biba. They do virtual overlays on things like monkey bars.

I’m totally good on AR apps for kids, since the kids have to be out in the real world to use them. It’s not screen time. Pokemon Go is cool with me.

There were a bunch of Internet of Things vendors. These are dominated by mega companies like ATT, which makes me think IoT is a trojan horse for companies I hate.

Among the wearables, my favorite was a hybrid analog+digital watch from Withings. The face is a fully analog watch. The back is a fitness tracker. I loved the the idea of keeping sensors discreet.

I don’t feel like a fitness tracker is the end of the line for this kind of thing. It could have vibrate, take voice commands, play music, give turn by turn directions. An Echo on your wrist, with a deceptive analog face.

And the winner was the RoBoHon, a work of cute mad genius Japano-wtf-philia? It is a little robot, about the size of a Barbie doll, but much beefier. The robot can walk. It is controlled via voice (but only Japanese). It is a phone when you pick it up and hold it to your ear. It has a projector, which it can use to create a virtual screen on the table in front of it. Of course – why not? – it has a video camera. $2000.


I saw this as potentially incredible telepresence tool. The remote caller’s video face would be visible via the projection. The video camera would pick up the local member of the call. The remote caller would manipulate the robot to turn and look at the speaker during a meeting. Maybe the robot would actually walk across the conference table to be near the speaker; this would fix the problem of a conference phone being stuck in one place.

I asked the rep if RoBoHon could detect touches on the projection, so apps could do something like a touch screen. He said not yet.


Music Ally on Music AR

Music Ally replied thusly (paywall) to my post yesterday on musical versions of Pokemon Go:

 Pokemon Go’s success is about Pokemon more than AR: it’s hard to think of music brands that would generate a similar buzz, rather than (for example) story-based brands like Harry Potter or Star Wars.

My experience with my kids yesterday confirms that Pokemon is critical to Go.  They loved the game so much I almost couldn’t get them to glaze over in front of the TV instead of hunting Pokemon around the neighborhood. A big part of the appeal was imagining specific Pokemon characters existing in the real world. If they didn’t love the characters, they wouldn’t care.

That said, I think the product challenge for augmented reality music is to find a good reason for that particular sound to be in that particular place, and to be virtual rather than physical.

Annotating the space is a use case that satisfies both requirements.

As a practical, rather than artistic, example, people in a restaurant might review menu items.

The sound needs to be in that particular place because it is about that place; using the location to access the sound makes the app easier to use. The location establishes the context, which frees the user from having to tell the app what the context is.

One reason that posts need to be audio because talking is easier than typing . Another is discoverability: the user doesn’t have to be looking down at a screen to discover that relevant audio exists; the sound can just start as soon as it becomes contextually relevant.

Why does the sound needs to be virtual, as opposed to running over physical speakers? Eliminating the need for distinct speakers in every location creates economies of scale. Some types of audio – such as comments about menu items in a restaurant – are only relevant to one listener at time.  The owner of the speakers would only want flattering comments.

All this said, Music Ally’s thought about buzz suggests a marketing issue. Music is for art. Whether it works is a creative question. So what we need to figure out is the creative and artistic value of location-based music.

Dancing or going to a show is obviously a social activity, and location abets social gathering. So then we want to ask about the benefit of virtuality. Why is virtuality crucial?

Noise is one possibility. To the neighbors a virtual concert is indistinguishable from a silent one.

But I don’t know. This is all speculation. You’d have to do it to find out.

AR Music Layer

A Music X Tech X Future post on Pokemon Go speculates on augmented reality and music. In practice, what would that be like? I’ll try to visualize it.

There is music – well, audio – associated with a location. When you enter the location the music starts. When you leave it stops.

This is different than a speaker making physical noise in a couple ways. One, it is opt-in. Silence is an option, listening to your private earbud stream is an option, joining the public AR stream is an option. Two, you don’t need physical infrastructure. You can do this in places with no electricity and you can do it without anybody’s permission.

It can very specific to location, down to the finest physical resolution of the device. The magazine section of a drugstore might have the sound of celebrity voices, while the food section had hip hop. Or it might be very broad.

The soundtrack could be programmed by anybody, like a shared bulletin board. You might be standing in a dark alley and think of pinning up creepy footstep sounds. Or you might go into the park on a sunny day and decide to pin up “Walking on Sunshine.” More than one person might pin up songs in the same location, creating a conversation. People could leave spoken notes.

Music could be planted in very public spaces, or in very private ones.

As you drive down the street you might get a feeling of the places you are passing through from the associated music.

Some people would be better at it. You might go hunting for songs pinned by a specific person.

This feels fun and credible to me. If I had the tool I’d enjoy taking it for a spin.

Postscript —

Location Aware Albums as Apps

Washington DC-based duo Bluebrain’s latest release is not a traditional album — it can’t be listened to passively in one sitting or, for that matter, at just any location. ‘Central Park’ is a site-specific work of music that responds to the listeners location within the stretch of green of the same name in New York City. Available only as an iPhone and iPad app, the album will be released starting October 4th, 2011.

‘Central Park’ is the second in a series of site-specific app-albums, following ‘The National Mall’, released last May, designed to work within the boundaries of the park in Washington DC.

Both albums work by tracking a users location via the iPhones built-in GPS capabilities. Hundreds of zones within the landscape are tagged and alter the sound based on where the listener is located in proximity to them. Zones overlap and interact in dynamic ways that, while far from random, will yield a unique experience with each listen. The proprietary design that is the engine behind the app stays hidden from view as the melodies, rhythms, instrumentation and pace of the music vary based on the listeners’ chosen path. Unlike other music-related apps, these are not musical toys or instruments. Nor are they a compliment to a traditional album release. The app is the work itself. A musical ‘Chose-Your-Own-Adventure’ that does not progress in a linear fashion but rather allows the listener to explore the terrain and experience music in way that has never been possible before now. Chris Richards wrote in a Washington Post cover story, “Bluebrain (‘The National Mall’) is helping to redefine what an album actually can be…it’s truly magical”