iTunes Plus Launches

Post ImageSteve Jobs has finally made good on his promise to offer DRM-free music through iTunes. Apple is announcing today the availability of iTunes Plus:

Apple® today launched iTunes® Plus—DRM-free music tracks featuring high quality 256 kbps AAC encoding for audio quality virtually indistinguishable from the original recordings—for just $1.29 per song.

In addition, iTunes customers can now easily upgrade their library of previously purchased EMI content to iTunes Plus tracks for just 30 cents a song and $3.00 for most albums.

I think this is great news. The more retailers that offer DRM-free music the better! I am kind of confused by the pricing though.

Why are DRM-free tracks more expensive than DRM’d ones? They are higher quality encodings, sure, but so high than an extra 30 cents is warranted to cover the costs of storage and transfer? I don’t think so. Not when Amazon S3 sells bandwidth for 20 cents per GB.

I also find it kind of insulting that they named the store “iTunes Plus”. A more appropriate name would be “the iTunes you actually want” or something. Seriously.

Read: Apple

Facebook Music Coming Soon

Post ImageI would say that Facebook is well on its way to becoming the definition of social networking. There are only a few more features it needs (like an API that can edit data), and of course there are a lot of features that would be nice to have. One such feature that I place in the latter category is music, and it’s coming soon:

It is being rumored that Facebook will be announcing an online music service on May 21st.

Facebook is supposedly lining up several partners from the music industry for their music service, which is sure to be a hit amongst Facebook users, and a rival to MySpace Music and Bebo Bands.

Sounds cool, so long as Facebook doesn’t screw it up. I hope the dev team is repeating this to themselves over and over:

NEVER AUTOPLAY MUSIC ON PAGE LOAD! AUTOPLAY IS EVIL! SITE-WIDE MUTE IS IDEAL!

Yes the capitals are required. If they allow music to be played on the site without my explicit permission, I’m going to blow a gasket.

Read: Mashable!

A sign of things to come? DRM free music from EMI

Post ImageI certainly hope so. EMI announced today that they will begin selling higher quality, DRM free music for $1.29 USD per download. I can’t stand MP3 files at less than 192 kbps, so they’ve got that solved – the files will be 256 kbps. And the price is pretty good – not great, but good. The only thing preventing me from dropping some cash right now is that only iTunes is selling the music so far. I can’t stand iTunes.

Eventually stores will be able to sell the music in either AAC, WMA, MP3, or “other unprotected formats of their choice.” Works for me! You can read much more analysis at TechMeme.

Did you know Napster had suggested this idea more than seven years ago? Don Dodge explains:

We suggested free file sharing of 56 kbps files that were good enough for “sampling” and probably analogous to AM radio quality sound. We would offer higher quality versions in 256 kbps format for sale at $1.00 per download. This way Napster could continue to offer free downloads of low quality files and sell high quality music.

We know how that turned out. In more ways than one, Napster was ahead of its time.

Read: EMI

Starbucks Records featuring Sir Paul?

Post ImageThe New York Post seems to think that Starbucks is gearing up to launch a record label, called Starbucks Records. Creative, isn’t it? Of course a record label needs musicians, and to that end, Starbucks is going after none other than Sir Paul McCartney himself (via 901am):

Starbucks Records is expected sign, record and produce its own artists rather than licensing songs from other labels.

That’s where Sir Paul comes in. The wrinkly rocker not only fits with the Starbucks demographic, but also is a free agent not signed to any label, sources said.

The reason Starbucks thinks they can do this is their targeted, efficient distribution channel. I mean they have stores on just about every corner in major cities, and they attract a very specific clientele.

If it’s just putting CDs on racks in their stores though, Starbucks is missing a big opportunity. The Post article mentions a good idea:

There have been talks about putting kiosks in its shops so that customers can shop for music and create their own compilations while waiting for their $5 cup of joe.

That would be awesome! There should also be a DRM-free digital component to the project.

To say they are creating a “record label” sounds fairly antiquated to me. Starbucks should use this opportunity to redefine the term “record label.”

Read: New York Post

Ringtones are a complete rip-off

Post ImageI’ve never purchased a ringtone for my cell phone, and I don’t ever intend to – they are just too damn expensive. How expensive? On Telus, ringtones cost $3.50 CDN each. With Bell, they range from $2.50 to $4.00 CDN each. And on Rogers, comparable ringtones start at $3.00 CDN each, excluding a 75 cent download fee.

So after a little math we get an average cost of $3.50 CDN for a single ringtone. What else could you buy for $3.50?

  • My favorite – two items from the McDonald’s Value Picks Menu. And for 49 cents more, you could get one of the Value Meals.
  • You could purchase three complete songs from iTunes.
  • Two 710 ml bottles of Gatorade at Wal-Mart.
  • Almost two Grande coffees at Starbucks, or two Extra Large coffees at McDonald’s.
  • You could store 20 GB of data at Amazon S3 for a month. Or 1 GB for 20 months. Or you could transfer up to 15 GB in a month.
  • Any one of the 63,275 items available on eBay in just the DVD, HD-DVD & Blu-ray category that are less than $3.50.
  • A breakfast sandwich from Tim Horton’s.
  • And of course, three items from pretty much any dollar store!

Can you think of a worse deal? Cupcakes are expensive. Perhaps gas – you could only get 4.3 liters in Edmonton today for $3.50 CDN. Transportation in general sucks actually. One trip on ETS costs $2.50 CDN.

The high price of ringtones is just sick. Why pay Bell $4.00 for a ringtone when you could pay them $5.99 and get an entire movie streamed to your phone? It’s absurd.

Please don’t buy ringtones – it only encourages the wireless carriers to charge such ridiculous prices.

Dixie Chicks win all five? Seems suspicious to me

Post ImageDid you watch the Grammy Awards last night? I didn’t. I figured there wasn’t much point. It’s the same with all awards shows – why watch? You can find out the results almost immediately online anyway. And if there’s a performance you wanted to see, it’ll probably be on YouTube. It’s amazing that anyone at all watches marathons award shows anymore.

Anyway, I read about the Grammy’s today. Turns out the Dixie Chicks won all five awards for which they were nominated, including album of the year. Call me crazy, but that strikes me as being somewhat suspicious. Can you really go from being one of the most hated music groups in the country to winning five awards in a single night? It’s almost like they won simply because the academy felt sorry for them. I guess the “return to glory” plotline always makes for a good story too.

It’s not like such a big win happens every year:

The last time an act won the album, record and song categories was in 1993, when Eric Clapton led the field. The last country act to win album of the year was Glen Campbell in 1969 with “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”

I mean, sure, Taking The Long Way is a decent album. I guess I have to admit that I even enjoyed it. But seriously, album of the year? Plus record and song of the year? I dunno. Just doesn’t feel right.

Here are the winners I’d have picked:

Record of the Year: “You’re Beautiful” – James Blunt
Album of the Year: FutureSex/LoveSounds – Justin Timberlake
Song of the Year: “Not Ready To Make Nice” – Dixie Chicks

Read: Yahoo! News

Steve Jobs leads the charge against DRM!

Post ImageI never thought it would be Jobs, but in an open letter titled “Thoughts on Music”, the Apple head honcho seems to support getting rid of DRM altogether. Just over a week ago I mentioned that music should be free – no need for DRM if it is! Here’s what Mr. Jobs has to say:

The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

Bring it on! I am so glad he has written this letter. If nothing else, it will simply increase the pressure on the labels to give in and realize that DRM is a stupid way to sell music.

When I read about this letter today, I had the same thought as Jason Calacanis did: Somewhere Cory Doctorow is smiling! Indeed it sounds like he is…kinda:

Well, this is pretty excellent news! Now, let’s see if Steve means it.

I hope he does. The way I see it, there’s only a few people that will be hurt by abolishing DRM – the product teams at Microsoft, Apple, and other companies who have put a lot of time and effort into creating the DRM technologies. No one likes to see their hard work end up being ignored. Though I suppose, if they truly like music, they’ll benefit from having no DRM too.

Read: Apple.com

Make the music free and sell the show

Post ImageChris Anderson’s post today at The Long Tail is about the music industry and provides a really good analysis of what should be happening with music. Essentially, bands should give the music away for free and make their money on live shows. He explains:

Music as a digital product enjoys near-zero costs of production and distribution–classic abundance economics. When costs are near zero, you might as well make the price zero, too, something thousands of bands have figured out.

He points out that the average price for a ticket increased 8% last year, reflecting demand. Indeed the fastest growing part of the music industry is live performances, up 16% in 2006 in North America.

And don’t think that live shows are not profitable. They are extremely profitable for the artists, just not for the record labels. Chris includes a list of the top ten grossing touring bands of 2006 – and their numbers total a truly astounding $970.3 million.

I say – goodbye record labels, hello free music and awesome not-free shows!

Read: The Long Tail

Midomi worked for me!

Post ImageMichael Arrington wrote about a new startup called Midomi today over at TechCrunch, and he reported that he couldn’t get it to work. Midomi is a voice-based music search engine, which means you can sing or hum part of a tune and it will tell you the artist and name of the song.

I first saw a service like this back in 2003 at the Imagine Cup finals in Spain. I forget where they were from, but there was a team with precisely this kind of search engine. It worked pretty good too, if I remember correctly.

I just tried Midomi out for myself, and it worked great! I hummed the chorus of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, and it came back as the first result (the reason I chose this song is that I had to hum it on New Years Eve during a game of Cranium…and I did very well that time). Pretty impressive. Give it a shot, see if it works for you!

The only thing I don’t like about Midomi so far is the social networking features they evidently felt compelled to add. I think it is largely unnecessary for the site, even if it is the feature du jour.

Read: Midomi

How could Zune's software suck so badly?

Post ImagePerhaps you’ve heard on the news recently that Microsoft’s new digital media player, the Zune, is hardly flying off the shelves. I guess that’s not too surprising given the early reviews the device has received. Now I know Microsoft is pretty good at hardware (Xbox, mice and keyboards, etc.) but they are still a software company. How is it then, that they could have screwed up the software side of the Zune so badly?

Now I haven’t seen or tested a Zune, so I can’t say I have had similar experiences. And granted, not all of the reviews are so negative (indeed there are quite a few positive ones), but still. A software company should have gotten the software part absolutely right, don’t you think?