the power of limited catalogs

Pampelmoose is a music blog by Dave Allen of Gang of Four. It’s good and it gets a lot of traffic.

It has a rare quality: Dave has permission to post the MP3s.

My guess about how it works is that he personally emails the musicians, one rock star to another, and then they say ok in a half-assed way which is more like “Sure, no problem, just pass the bong and shut up” than a signing ceremony.

But still, he gets permission. That’s usually more or less impossible. Usually a blogger would have to do something on the order of getting Madonna on the phone.

The reason it’s usually impossible is that the application design requires permission from every rights holder in the world before a single song can be used. Like, iMeem may sign a deal to use Warner’s catalog, but not have a comparable deal for Sony’s catalog, and in the meantime users aren’t willing to listen to only Warner songs. Given an application where users pick the song, you have to have every song in the world.

But a music blog isn’t that. The songs passing through it are limited. You need ten songs at a time, not a million. It’s doable to find ten songs that you like and can get permission to use.

Usually music blogs don’t get permission, because they’re too low-profile to need it. But for them to keep growing they have to achieve a sustainable legal profile, otherwise they’ll be sued underground as soon as they go above ground. Obviously.

I don’t think this new application flow is enough by itself to make everything ok instead of whacked-out-as-usual. I do think that it’s an exception to the physics of internet music, which makes it worth pointing out.

Billboard’s in-browser player

Billboard has integrated the Lala in-browser player into their site to enable full-track playback of the charts and all the other reference music they need to have. (For example). Because the Lala player is a pixel-for-pixel clone of Yahoo Media Player (aka “Goose”), this is an instance of the work of our team at Yahoo continuing to spread.

A core issue for sites that play music has turned out to be not interrupting playback as you click around. One of the major ways to do that, and probably the best, is to completely abandon the idea of going from page to page. Instead use Ajax for in-page navigation and pop a new window for any page that would interrupt. The telltale sign of this is when you see URLs with an elaborate path after a ‘#’ mark. At Billboard, for example, will give you the top 100.

So Billboard completely reengineered to support this goal. You can’t use this technique without going all the way, and they went all in.

An interesting advance on the state of the art is a module they call “The Visualizer.” This uses the same kind of widget as the player itself: there a strip docked in a fixed position in the viewport; it has an expanded view and a minimized view; the minimized view is a tab with an arrow on it to expand; etc. If you know YMP/goose or the derivatives then you recognize the style. But Billboard’s “Visualizer” isn’t a player, it’s a data porn navigator for charts like “Mariah Carey vs Debbie Gibson, 1987-2009.” It’s a very cool little info tool.

Thanks to @jherskowitz on Twitter for the tip. Congrats to the visual and interaction designers on our team who invented this widget — especially Lino Wiehen, Douglas Kim, and Jeff Hurlow. (Did I forget anybody? Let me know).

corporatism in music

The way we think about music has been profoundly influenced by the needs of corporations. A lot of what we conceive as “best” is distinguished by ability to survive in a corporate environment.

Radio-friendly songs are ones that sound good between ads. Writing new songs may not provide material as compelling as using public domain songs, but it creates publishing income and copyright assets. Attractive singers may not be as good at singing as unattractive ones, but they can get better endorsement deals. And so on.

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WRT armageddon WRT armageddon

Britain’s music industry as a whole grew by nearly 5 per cent last year, according to independent research published yesterday.

PRS for Music, the body that collects royalty payments and distributes them to artists and composers, said that the overall size of the UK music industry had risen by 4.7 per cent to £3.6 billion during 2008.

The figures, which were calculated by Will Page, the organisation’s chief economist, show that while the recorded music sector shrank by 6 per cent last year, the value of the live music sector increased by 13 per cent.

There was also a 14 per cent rise in the revenues collected by PRS for Music and a 7 per cent rise in sums collected directly by record companies from digital licensing — from the owners of web-based services such as Spotify and from the use of recordings in film, television, games and advertising.

Mr Page said that such revenues had grown for a second consecutive year and accounted for almost a fifth of the domestic income enjoyed by record companies, while a quarter of the music industry’s entire income was now derived from “business to business” revenues, such as licensing, advertising and sponsorship, which rose by 10 per cent to £925 million during the year, despite a drop in spending by advertisers.

He added: “What [the statistics] provide is an understanding of a value chain, which helps to counter much of the Armageddon-style hysteria that surrounds the state of the UK music industry. The point is that value doesn’t just disappear — rather, some will be lost, some displaced and some new revenues will enter the industry.”

What I’m skeptical about is the extent to which the live business came from heritage acts selling to baby boomers, because that’s a market which can’t last. Also because those bands just aren’t my thing.

That a quarter of the music industry’s entire income was now derived from business to business revenues, such as licensing, advertising and sponsorship seems like really good news, because it’s a volume which is big enough to matter and a way of working that embraces innovative products.

metering ideas

What’s up with all the pay-to-play music products (except Lala) using the same approaches to drawing up the bill? Why not innovate on metering methods?

capacity based

Every time you download, you get charged. And a download can’t be revoked. So it’s like the iTunes music store and Amazon in that way.

But you can swap one download for another. Delete one, add one.

You pay for capacity. For example, 4GB costs $5 and 1TB costs $30.

listening based

Another way to do it: pay by listening time. You buy, let’s say, 10 hours of listening per month. You can use it for anything you want. You pay a flat fee, which is divvied up according to actual usage.

If you go over then you pay a per-listen rate.

It’s just like cell phone plans.

What interests me about these is the way they’d encourage some behaviors and discourage others.

By-capacity would be way of charging to have a less unpredictable playlist, because a smaller capacity would mean less range. People whose listening is satisfied by the 250-song playlists of commercial radio wouldn’t need more than a GB.

By-listening-time would divvy up the money more fairly between cool bands and bands who make music people enjoy. Maybe Cold War Kids would lose money while Andrew Lloyd Webber would make even more. Or acts with hits among children — who liten to the same songs over and over — would become really big business.


Godfather Robert Scoble hereby anoints a new buzz favorite: Soundcloud.

I really dig Soundcloud. They have great product discipline and stellar chops at making software.

But I worry about the buzz among techies, because it is such a stupid and brutish force. For example, Scoble describes Soundcloud this way: What is SoundCloud? A way to share music and audio files.

Uh, no. Scoble just described all the litle file hosting services like, Filehut, DenOfFiles,, etc. That’s just simply plain wrong.

Soundcloud is web tools for the practical work of making music. For example, musicians often need to share huge files like a one-file recording of an hourlong jam, in WAV format, which doesn’t really work with standard software. In my experience you need tech chops, a generous ISP, a FTP client, about a day, and plenty of cuss words to make it happen. Or Soundcloud.

But whatever. No point bitching. As much as the attention paid to comparable buzz startups like Delicious and Twitter can be vapid and fickle, Delicious, Twitter, and Soundcloud are all great work, and it’s good when the good guys win.

“Spotify and YouTube lead the way as habits change”

The Guardian: Collapse in illegal sharing and boom in streaming brings music to executives’ ears

Even though users of streaming services are not necessarily buying more music, the industry benefits by learning more about fans’ tastes. Steve Purdham, CEO and founder of We7, a music streaming service and download store, said: “They may not buy an album, though they have that opportunity, but you can sell them tour tickets and a T-shirt of their favourite band.”

Free plays in the browser are worth more to a band than free plays via a filesharing network that get played back in an MP3 player.

That’s an incentive for bands to make their own song pages rather than waiting for music bloggers and other third parties.

About the original story, my wild guess is that it’s a case of listeners following convenience. People will listen to their second choice before their first choice if it’s easier to access.