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How I listen to Music January 1, 2007

Posted by mark in : Music, Personal , 3comments

My server is working again (after 12 months) and I’ve started to use Last.fm, so here are a few notes on how I listen to music at the moment, in case anyone has interesting comments.

My CD’s [...most of them! : **] are ripped and compressed (to FLAC files) with EAC, and the freeDB tagging manually corrected with Mp3tag. Music is streamed between my server and hifi (using SlimServer and a wireless Squeezebox v1), and a SlimScrobbler plugin sends the track data to Last.fm. Playlists tend to be albums, random, or with MusicIP (previously Predixis) …but that’s not integrated with SlimServer yet.

I buy new music I hear on the radio (or Pandora/ PandoraFM), or recommended by Amazon and blog articles. I hear unsigned bands on podcasts (Odeo : an aggregator) and may visit their MySpace pages, but rarely go to concerts. I ’subscribe’ to some podcasts with Songbird (as I said), so that the files are saved to my server (and played with SlimServer), but don’t keep them. I don’t buy downloaded music, because at that price I don’t want lossy codecs at low data rates (vs. CD’s) …and DRM [**]! AllOfMP3.com is an exception, but I haven’t used it.

Songbird has a lot of potential as a player, but it won’t read tags from FLAC files yet. So, no point using it to rate FLAC tracks in my library, and I use MediaMonkey for that. And any FLAC tracks I play with it won’t get recognised by Last.fm (even though it has its own audioscrobbler …which works for MP3), so I don’t play any!

I don’t think that SlimServer or Songbird record the number of times I play a track, nor handle smart playlists (but I may be wrong), and it’s the main reason why I began using Last.fm. When I get an iPod (or other portable device), I’d like to be able to combine the metadata it records with my other sources.

Plenty of software (eg. Songbird) seems able to handle file transfer and syncing between a library and a device, so I don’t intend to use iTunes. If the iPod firmware remains unable to play FLAC, I’d consider loading Rockbox onto it.

I’d like to set up SSH tunnelling (with Softsqueeze as the client), to stream music from my home server to workplace, and that track data would also go to Last.fm. (FLAC files are typically 1000kbit/s, but upstream ADSL is only 250kbit/s; so I’d transcode on the fly to a format with a lower data rate – MP3 or Ogg. My ISP provides static IP addresses, but others could use a dynamic DNS service – eg. dynDNS). If I got a flat rate mobile data plan, I may try streaming to my phone, but doubt it’d normally be an enjoyable listening experience.

** : “Defective By Design” sounds a good description of DRM-enabled music, not just because DRM tries to prevent playback of ‘your’ music on devices that are technically capable, but because distortion is deliberately added to the music, so that good CD rippers ‘think’ that there is a fault (…and there is : by design).

Bill Gates on The Future of DRM December 14, 2006

Posted by mark in : DRM, Music , add a comment

Some notes from a Q&A session with Bill Gates, by Michael Arrington (TechCrunch). Unexpected, because Microsoft is generally considered to be a supporter of DRM.

Gates didn’t get into what could replace DRM, but he did give some reasonably candid insights suggesting that he thinks DRM is as lame as the rest of us.

Gates said that no one is satisfied with the current state of DRM, which “causes too much pain for legitmate buyers” while trying to distinguish between legal and illegal uses. He says no one has done it right, yet. There are “huge problems” with DRM, he says, and “we need more flexible models, such as the ability to “buy an artist out for life” (not sure what he means). He also criticized DRM schemes that try to install intelligence in each copy so that it is device specific.

His short term advice: “People should just buy a cd and rip it. You are legal then.”

…Though, of course, in the UK that isn’t legal (yet).

Gowers Review December 6, 2006

Posted by mark in : DRM, Music, Review , add a comment

The Gowers Review of Intellectual Property, commissioned by the UK government, published its final report today.

So far I’ve only read the ORG summary, and comments from Lawrence Lessig. The recommendations seem surprisingly sensible, given that recent media coverage of it was ‘music industry’ lobbying to extend copyright (for existing works).

Tom Coates has some initial comments that include DRM and orphaned works, but his preview from yesterday is more interesting :

People in favour of copyright extension argue that it’s necessary to give artists income into their pensionable years, but for the most part artists very rarely make any money at all from recordings that record companies refuse to distribute.

Read the ORG summary.

Design is how it works November 3, 2006

Posted by mark in : Design, Music , add a comment

SoundJam; Jeff Robbin; Jon Rubinstein; Tony Fadell; PortalPlayer; Jonathan Ive; Phil Schiller; Tim Wasko; Vinnie Cieco …and Steve Jobs :

Wired.com tells about ‘other’ people behind the birth of the iPod, and the design considerations.

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” Jobs told the Times. “That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Digital rights in question as business model October 22, 2006

Posted by mark in : DRM, Music , add a comment

Via DefectiveByDesign.org :

“Last week Billboard (the music industry publication) ran a great article about DRM and the digital music market. The article was picked up by Reuters and ran in many other publications”

The Billboard article says that any DRM scheme is likely to be cracked, and so its use inconveniences people who want to do the right thing, rather than people who want to steal music. And that it isn’t a smart way to treat customers who have a choice.

A recent Newsweek article quotes Steve Jobs saying that customers knew along that iTunes Music Store (iTMS) songs will only play on an iPod; and from the public figures [*] he’ll know that his informed customers fill the majority of their iPods with non-DRM’d songs from elsewhere. However, the sale of iPods is driven by available music, and iTMS (and its Fairplay DRM) could have been ‘merely’ a way for him to make the ‘music industry’ complicit in their sale, preventing lawsuits. The Economist says “Mr Jobs persuaded the record labels (which were panicking about illegal internet downloads) to sell music on iTunes for 99 cents per song, and then used music as a loss leader to make money from his gadgets”.

The Billboard article also says that legal digital downloads have not grown this year, and iTMS is dominant. So, if even a dominant player can only sell 24 DRM’d songs to a device probably containing thousands of non-DRM’d songs, then presumably there’s a customer need to be satisfied. Can you spot one? Thousands of artists on MySpace can.

* In 2004, itunesperipod.com had a data point of 21 iTunes songs per iPod. In 2005, Steve Jobs said “The average iTunes account holder has purchased 60 songs” (so <60 average per iPod). As of early 2006 the figure was an average of 24 tracks per iPod, according to Chris Anderson in his book “The Long Tail” (42 million iPods and 1 billion iTunes tracks over nearly 4 years)

“Downhill Battle” October 22, 2006

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New posts at the Downhill Battle ["Music Activism"] blog restarted recently, after a few months absence, (though the RSS feeds at Bloglines don’t reflect it)

Review – Songbird 0.2 “Test Flight” September 30, 2006

Posted by mark in : General, Music, Review , 3comments

Songbird seems to have improved a lot since the v0.1 media player that I tried last year. It supports video and plays my FLAC music files (though doesn’t display the ‘ID3‘ info), and the memory use seems a bit more under control. More comment when v0.2 launches properly

I’d like a management tool with ratings and smart playlists, but no DRM (and I used J River Media Center, not iTunes, before I switched from MP3 to FLAC). I’ll have Squeezeboxes, so if it worked with Slimserver : great

Songbird’s networked features look interesting, but I had an app for Odeo (like iPodder) that collected podcasts for my server, so I need to view the screencast again, to see what it could really add for me

FairPlay DRM cracked September 4, 2006

Posted by mark in : DRM, General, Music , add a comment

Macworld reports that :

Anti-copy protection activists have released a new solution that breaks Apple’s FairPlay DRM, which secures iTunes-purchased tracks.

The solution, QTFairUse6, comes from the same activists who this week unleashed FairUse4WM, which can strip copy protection from Windows Media files

…[Found via Dave Farber's IP list]

Update: Microsoft has released a ’security patch’ for FairUse4WM