July 18, 2005

Pocket Tunes plays subscription music

Filed under: — 12:12 pm

Pocket Tunes A while back I wrote about Yahoo Music and their subscription program. I was very happy with the subscription service, but unable to use it with a portable device since it only supports certain non-iPod devices.

Today there is good news—thanks to a $30 software download, my Treo 650 can play subscription music from Yahoo, Napster, and the rest. Version 3.1 of Pocket Tunes Deluxe, released today, supports Microsoft’s Janus/PlaysForSure DRM and I’m pleased to report that it plays Yahoo subscription music just fine.

I’ve been using Pocket Tunes for a couple of weeks already, since it beats Realplayer for playing MP3s on the Palm. It supports multiple folders on the SD card and can play an album in order, so I can use the same card with the Treo and with my car stereo.

The transfer process is a bit of a pain. Normally I would just pop the SD card into my computer’s card reader and copy the music files to it, but to support subscription music I have to put the card in the Palm, hook up its USB cable, and use the Yahoo Music application to transfer the music. The transfer takes a bit longer than copying using the card reader.

Once the files are there, though, it works well and sounds amazing. Now I can play music at home or wherever I go for $5 a month—I’m not sure if there’s any reason to buy an album again. Well, unless I want to play it on the iPod, the car stereo, or a CD player. You can’t have everything…

Two minor issues: there’s a delay (presumably DRM-related) of a second or two before playing each song, and a minor glitch skipping between tracks. Nevertheless, this is groundbreaking for a $30 shareware program.

May 17, 2005

New weblog: Sequenced Notes

Filed under: — 10:40 am

Sequenced NotesWhen I’m not working on websites, one of my favorite hobbies is making electronic music with computers and synthesizers. I’ve been thinking for a while that I’d like to write about making music, but this isn’t the place for it—first of all, I like to keep this weblog somewhat focused on web development and computers, and second, music can be an obsession at times, and it would take over this site for months at a time if I allowed it.

Besides, another of my obsessions is starting new websites.

Sequenced Notes is my new electronic music weblog, where I’ll be writing regularly about synthesizers, sequencers, and other aspects of digital music production. I think it will be fun to write about something a bit more “right brain” than anything else I do, and I’m hoping it will convince me to spend more time actually working on music. It will also be an outlet for another of my hobbies—building my own synthesizers.

I had a bit of fun with this site’s design, which is inspired by the “piano roll” editor used in sequencers. It uses a CSS layout loosely based on the one I did for Starling Fitness. It’s a bold, kind of intentionally geeky look—believe it or not, I toned it down a bit before finalizing the design. I’m particularly happy with the way the top graphic merges seamlessly with the background grid.

The logo font is Jason Kottke’s Silkscreen. I used this font directly for the tagline, and built the logo text in the sequencer grid one giant pixel at a time based on the letters in the font. I’ll probably use Silkscreen column headers in the sidebar too, but I haven’t done that yet.

This site is my first experience using WordPress 1.5, and the source of my earlier post about WP 1.5. I’ll be upgrading my other sites soon.

Let me know what you think, and I hope I have a few readers who are musicians and will find it worth a read. Stay tuned for next week, when I further expand my portfolio of multiple personalities weblogs with an additional unrelated site.

[The name of the site is a pun: “sequenced notes” could describe a weblog, as well as the primary component of electronic music. Get it? No? Congratulations, you’re not as much of a nerd as I am.]

May 12, 2005

First Impressions: Yahoo Music

Filed under: — 10:05 am

Yahoo just launched Yahoo Music Engine, their answer to iTunes. Like iTunes, it’s a music player and library organizer, and includes its own music store—Yahoo Music Unlimited. Unlike iTunes, it’s for Windows only, although I imagine a Mac version is in the works. Here are my first impressions of the software and the subscription music service.

Let’s start with the software: YME has a clean user interface that is clearly inspired by iTunes, but doesn’t try too hard to duplicate it. It has some nice touches, like showing pictures of album covers instead of a simple list of albums when you select an artist. Its playlist support is basic, with no automatic formula-based playlists, and the application is a bit slow to start, so it’s not likely to replace WinAmp as my primary music player until it improves. I am intrigued by its list of plug-ins, which include everything from mini-players to a command-line shell and a version of FreeCell that runs inside YME.

As for buying music, you have two choices: you can buy tracks for 99 cents each, iTunes style, or subscribe to the Unlimited service for $4.99 (if you pay for a year) or $6.99 a month, which allows you to stream or download (but not burn to CD) anything in their catalog. Burnable tracks are only .79 for Unlimited subscribers.

The .79/.99 deal does not excite me. The DRM prevents me from doing everything I want (like playing the tracks on my iBook or putting them on my iPod) and the price isn’t amazing, so I’m better off buying a real CD or buying it from iTunes.

The subscription service, on the other hand, has me excited. I paid for a year, so for $4.99 a month I can download any album in their catalog. The music selection seems great so far, although not quite as diverse as iTunes. Yes, the DRM is annoying here too—the tracks don’t work on the iPod or on the Mac, and I can’t even burn them to CD—but at this price point, I don’t care.

Assuming I download five albums a month, I’m paying $1 per album. I listen to most of my music on the PC, so for $1 it’s almost as good as owning the album, and I can listen to the whole thing a couple of times before I decide to buy it from iTunes or the local CD shop. I can play the subscription tracks in the software of my choice—WinAmp and MusicMatch Jukebox both handle them just fine—and I can authorize up to 3 PCs to play them. I could even play them on a portable device, as long as it was one of these and not my iPod or my Treo. Sigh.

In short, I see this service as a nice way to preview and shop for music. At this price I don’t really feel like I’m paying for the music at all—I’m just paying $5 a month to preview it. By contrast, iTunes charges me $9.99 for each album, leaving me feeling like I paid for the album but still can’t do what I want with it.

Nice work, Yahoo!

November 14, 2003

MP3.com finally fades to black

Filed under: — 2:13 am

I just heard that MP3.com, one of the original sites for independent musicians, has been sold to CNET and will be taken offline. It’s no big surprise–they were a classic example of a misguided dot-com company that hoped to make money by giving things away for free. Later they lost focus on independent music and joined the file-sharing free-for-all. Not surprisingly, this made the record labels unhappy. MP3.com was already doomed when Vivendi purchased them in 2001.

Nonetheless, I miss them. Long before MP3 became synonymous with ‘illegal copy’, they were a source of interesting independent music and a godsend for musicians. You can still hear two of my recordings from a while back on MP3.com, until the site goes down on December 2nd.

I suppose I’ll have to move my music to one of the remaining distribution sites, like CD Baby. Better yet, I’ll probably go with Magnatune–an online record label that is doing some interesting things and is Not Evil ™. Or maybe I’ll give up on making money and just use a Creative Commons license.

October 17, 2003

Apple releases iTunes for Windows

Filed under: — 1:13 am

Those of us who own the Windows version of Apple’s iPod have long been disappointed that Apple’s iTunes software was unavailable for Windows and we were stuck with Musicmatch Jukebox. Now, Apple has finally released iTunes for Windows (for free).

This means that the iTunes Music Store is also available for non-Mac users, probably making it the biggest contender in the pay-to-download market. I’m impressed with their selection and the great interface, but 99 cents is still costly for a single track. If the competition drives the price below 50 cents, I’ll gladly use it instead of buying albums.

May 30, 2002

The Sounds of Silence

Filed under: — 2:56 am

Wired News has an article on an apparent music phenomenon called ‘lowercase music’, composed of nearly silent sounds. I’m not sure even John Cage would be impressed. I wasted 10 minutes downloading the MP3s, but I’m afraid I couldn’t hear anything over the “lowercase music” produced by my computer and air conditioner. Favorite quote from the article: “…most lowercase compositions do include sounds.”

May 3, 2001

Aimster steps into Napster’s spotlight

Filed under: — 1:18 am

In what looks to me like a publicity stunt, Napster relative Aimster is preemptively suing the recording industry. Meanwhile, Aimster founder Johnny Deep is using his 16-year-old daughter as a spokesmodel. Napster is starting to look downright respectable.

April 11, 2001

Napster in Trouble Again

Filed under: — 2:33 am

Judge Patel has noticed that Napster’s filtering isn’t working. They have to either make it work or shut down – essentially the same thing, since nobody uses Napster for non-copyrighted music.

April 10, 2001

Peter Gabriel wants to rent you a song

Filed under: — 3:01 am

First Thomas Dolby, now this: Peter Gabriel, another of my favorite 80s musicians, has started an Internet business, OD2, that will let you “rent” songs for preview before you buy them for good.

Whoops! Did we say thousand?

Filed under: — 2:47 am

MP3.COM was happy to learn that it would only have to pay about $300,000 in damages to settle its lawsuit with TVT. Then the jurors in the case announced that they made a mistake: they really meant $3 million or so. Considering their fine grasp of math, I really wonder if the jurors understood the complex intellectual property issues involved here.

March 12, 2001

Are CDs Obsolete? Again?

Filed under: — 11:07 am

Slashdot reports on USA Today’s report on the new DataPlay discs, basically CDs the size of a quarter, coming this fall. They seem cool, but I think they’ll go the way of minidiscs.

March 8, 2001

Napster Update

Filed under: — 3:25 am

Napster got the injunction they expected on Monday. Nonetheless, they haven’t been shut down, and I can’t see any reduction in the number of files on their servers. They meet with record companies for settlement talks on Friday, but many don’t expect a settlement.

March 6, 2001

Napster’s Filtering: Spell Check in Reverse

Filed under: — 5:35 am

Napster started filtering songs on the RIAA’s copyright list, as promised, at about 10PM on Sunday. However, as reported by InfoWorld, the filtering only works on exact correct spellings. In a quick search I found over 200 Metallica songs available, albeit with slightly misspelled artist or song titles… (more…)

March 4, 2001

The End is Near (again) for Napster

Filed under: — 4:44 am

The result of Friday’s hearing in the Napster case: The judge is drafting an injunction. Exactly when that takes effect, nobody knows. Meanwhile, Napster has made a preemptive strike: They’re starting to filter songs on the RIAA’s copyright list… (more…)

March 1, 2001

Napster Wishes they had This Problem

Filed under: — 3:40 am

While Napster fights the record industry, leading Napster competitor Gnutella is fighting its own battle – with Nutella, “the original hazelnut spread”. Ferrero, makers of Nutella (and my favorite, Rocher) has shut down the Gnutella.de and Newtella.de sites because of their similarity to their trademark. (more…)

February 28, 2001

Napster’s Fate Decided on Friday

Filed under: — 3:09 am

A hearing is scheduled on Friday in the Napster case, and it may be taken down the same day. Meanwhile, the RIAA is collecting republicans for their side, but my local Republican (and space alien) Senator, Orrin Hatch, likes Napster.

February 27, 2001

The Golden Age of Wireless

Filed under: — 5:16 am

Thomas Dolby, one of my favorite 80’s musicians, has been running Beatnik for a few years. Now the Beatnik music software is being integrated into wireless devices. I’m still not a big wireless Web fan, but I wish Dolby the best of luck.

February 26, 2001

Napster’s Billion-dollar offer: Now it’s an auction?

Filed under: — 5:45 am

Apparently Napster‘s billion-dollar offer to the record industry has started an auction. Self-proclaimed Napster competitor J. River, also known as Music Exchange, has made their own $3 Billion offer. Napster, meanwhile, is filing another appeal.

February 21, 2001

Napster Throws Money at its Problems

Filed under: — 4:02 am

According to this CNET article, Napster has apparently lost some faith in its lawyers, and decided to see whether throwing $1 billion at the record industry will make their problems go away. I doubt it.

February 14, 2001

Napster Followup

Filed under: — 1:38 am

Salon.com has an excellent 3-page article with opinions on the Napster verdict from a wide range of experts on both sides of the issue. Read on for my own non-expert opinion. (more…)

February 12, 2001

Napster Isn’t Dead, Yet

Filed under: — 12:57 pm

The federal appeals court has released their ruling on the Napster case. They have maintained the stay on the injunction (in other words, Napster stays up for now) but have acknowledged that Napster has infringed copyright. The record companies are claiming victory. InternetNews.com has more.

February 9, 2001

Napster Wants to be Free

Filed under: — 12:46 am

Robert X. Cringely says in his latest column that Napster won’t survive as a paid service, which is probably right. Then he goes off the deep end and says that Napster is already bigger than television. Not only that, it’s saving the PC industry by selling people CD-R drives… and he calls it “The killer app for this decade.” (more…)

January 24, 2001

Imminent death of CDs predicted

Filed under: — 2:00 am

Rob Reid, CEO of Listen.com, predicts that CDs will go the way of LPs, 8-tracks, and DOS “by 2003”. See this Newsbytes article for more. Personally, I predict that CDs will last a few years beyond 2003, but Listen.com won’t.

(c) 2001-2007 Michael Moncur. All rights reserved, but feel free to quote me.
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