3/30/08

Mixwit Makes Me Feel Young Again

MixwitI agree with the Washington Post's Kim Hart: Playlists really are the new albums. That is why I go to such ridiculous lengths to embed them on my blog, even as I'm thwarted by technology at every turn. Still unable to create a mix tape at Muxtape, I decided to try my luck over at Mixwit, the latest oddly-named make-your-own-mix-and-save site.

The results were far superior - for one, I actually got to make a mix! That was exciting. The whole process of making it was ridiculously simple: the site lets you search for music using either "the world's greatest mp3 search engine" Skreemer, or "why has no one arrested us yet" Seeqpod. [Editor's note: actually Seeqpod seems to be relatively legit - they were a sponsor at one of the SXSW parties I attended, and their t-shirts are top-notch.] If neither of those has your song, you can simply post a link to your mp3 file wherever it's hosted, no questions asked. That's pretty cool. I see sites like this kind of like head shops: hey, we don't know what you're going to put in that 4-chamber water pipe covered with grinning skulls and Phish logos, but we trust you to do the right thing.

Of course because I'm a bit on the obsessive side about my music, I had to upload my own versions of a couple songs that I found via the search...because they weren't tagged correctly. That drives me crazy. But other than facing my own anal-retentive demons, the site is a breeze to use. It streams the uploaded tracks like a champ - I'd love to know more about how the site works. Their blog says that they're running on a Rails host, and I think I know that playlist grid control from the Adobe Flex toolbox, but it might just be a regular Flash element. Either way, it rocks.

This whole process made me feel young again (I haven't made a physical mix tape in approximately 1,000 years) so I decided to make a mix of songs that I'm way too young to enjoy. These songs aren't necessarily aimed at someone older than me in every case, but I feel like liking them means I should be a lot older than I am. Anyway, I love them all. Enjoy, and please post links in the comments to your own mixtapes!



UPDATE: Holy crap! The little wheels turn as it plays! And the tape moves to the other side as you progress through the playlist!! I am amused!!!

3/27/08

Muxtape: Barely Legal

Muxtape LogoRemember the good old days, where you could make a mix for a friend without getting your ass sued back to the stone age by the RIAA? Muxtape remembers. The site is kind of like imeem minus all the crazy features. In fact, it's ridiculously simple: You register for an account, upload some songs, and....that's it. From what I've read, they're not really doing much in the way of looking into the rights associated with the songs you're uploading...yet.

Their terms of service crack me up:

Muxtape is a service for creating mixtapes. Users may not upload multiple songs from the same album or artist, or songs they do not have permission to let Muxtape use. Individual users may not create multiple muxtapes. Accounts not meeting these restrictions are subject to termination without notice. Muxtape will never reveal your email address to a third party. Muxtape is alive.

People have definitely made mixes using the same artist and album and apparently haven't been terminated yet. By the by, don't click too hard on that link - apparently Muxtape is suffering the Slashdot effect [Editor's note: do people still call it that? Is it "the Digg effect" now? Or simply "shitty infrastructure?"] and a lot of things are timing out. When you do get on, you may find, as I did, that no tracks play for you - instead of sweet, sweet music all I get is a javascript error informing me that the function I'm trying to call doesn't exist (I would give you the actual message, but in the few minutes since I started writing this post, all of the mixtapes have become completely unresponsive - one of them loaded for a minute, but instead of giving javascript errors it just did nothing at all).

Assuming they get their shit back together, I will make a mixtape and let you all know how it goes. In the meantime, here's hoping they don't get sued before they can fix their javascript.

The Magic of the Octave

Piano Keys by flickr user sp3ccyladAh, the octave. The foundation upon which rests over 1,000 years of polyphonic music. The incredibly simple yet amazingly powerful concept that every note on the scale has a twin 8 notes away in either direction. Middle C, High C, Low C - they're all different notes, but in a fundamental way, they're all the same note. That might sound obvious, but to our ears, it's a revelation.

What I find fascinating about the octave is that throughout the history of music, musicians have made use of it the same way writers use bold or italics: for emphasis. By jumping up (or down) an octave and repeating something that came before, the music suddenly has a heightened sense of urgency, power, and intensity. No need for a new melodic line, no need for new words... just go 8 notes up the scale and repeat. Suddenly your ears tell you "oh, it's serious this time."

I've compiled a little playlist of some of my favorite examples of the octave jump used for musical emphasis:


In the Arcade Fire track, octaves are present right from the beginning - the ascending melody on the piano is an octave above the one on the guitar. But what really gets me is how Win Butler starts the first couple lines in the lower register, then jumps up an octave at 0:54 for the last 2 lines of the first verse. He goes back down for 1 more line, then spends the rest of the song an octave up from where he started. The second verse just sounds so much more intense, even though it's essentially the same notes. That octave jump really makes a big difference.

The Soundgarden track isn't their best by any stretch, but it shows the benefits of having a huge vocal range like Chris Cornell's. It doesn't just come in handy for singing the National Anthem (yep, the jump from "say" to "see" in the first line is an octave), it also lets him jump up an octave not once (at 0:34, when he doubles the vocals an octave up) but twice (at 1:01, when he goes balls-out and shows us what those pipes of his can really do). The first time I heard this song, I had to play that part over and over again to believe that he was really singing that powerfully and that high. I love that guy.

Okkervil River is far less theatrical about it, but they understand the point of the octave as well as Soundgarden does. In the first 2 verses, Will Sheff jumps that octave after the first 4 lines, just as the piano and drums kick in. The point is taken: "pay attention now, this part's important!"

Kurt Cobain definitely knew how to wring intensity out of his voice. This Nirvana track is a great example of that, as he waits until the end to do a call-and-response thing with himself, going up the octave from where the chorus was before and ending the song on a powerful note.

And even my old buddy Brahms (and thousands of composers before him) got in on the action, jumping 2 octaves in the first 3 notes of the Allegro Con Brio movement of his 3d Symphony (if you've never heard the whole thing, check it out - it's fantastic). He builds a solid foundation of intensity right at the top that he can then fall from and come back to throughout the piece, to great effect.

What do you think? Are there any musical tricks you're particularly fond of? A favorite drum fill? The fade-out? Let me know in the comments.

3/23/08

I Like Saving Money

I was reading an interview with Sam Simkoff of Le Loup today at BrightestYoungThings when I came across this line in one of his responses about a show they did at the Black Cat with Bellman Barker and the Ruby Suns:

i’ve only ever seen bellman barker’s live show once, and it blew me away. anybody familiar with the DC music circle knows why they should see bellman barker.
As much as I love music, I guess I'm not as familiar with the "DC music circle" [Editor's note: "circle"??? WTF?] as I should be. So of course I went to some of my favorite bittorrent sites in search of this band. (If you're curious, sometimes when I use bittorrent, I try-before-I-buy, and other times I just outright steal.) Well it seems that the users of those sites aren't familiar with the DC music circle either, because I struck out. Much as I loathe MySpace, I headed over to the band's MySpace page to see where they sell their CD (no point posting it to my lala "Want List," they haven't sent me anything in months). I was only half-surprised to see that they are selling it via Amie Street.

Amie StreetI looked at Amie Street a couple years ago when they first opened shop, and at the time, I couldn't find any music I was interested in. Time has passed, and now there is a ton of great music up on the site, all priced using their innovative "demand-based pricing" model: the more demand (i.e. downloads) there is for a particular track, the more that track costs, topping out at 98¢. That's a pretty cool model, especially when you factor in that if you recommend a track on the site (by writing a little review for it) and the price for that track subsequently rises, you can earn a credit that you can apply to downloading more music. And free money is the best. (I don't know if the prices ever go back down if an artist gets less popular - that would be funny).

At the moment, the site only has MP3s (uploaded in various bitrates by the bands themselves, for the most part) but supposedly higher-quality formats are coming soon. All tracks are DRM-free, or else I wouldn't bother posting about them. If you want to sign up, please let me know in the comments and I'll send you an invite code. I don't want to miss out on the 50 cent credit I could be getting!

Bottom line: I got the album for $2.68. Upon several listenings, I would give it a B-. But hey, it cost me less than $3, and I got a blog post out if it. Woohoo!

3/21/08

Does This Make Me A "Citizen Journalist"?

Apparently The Washington Post has been reading me. Or they have some other way of getting information about the world of music and technology, though I can't fathom what that might be. However they worked their magic, the Post has discovered imeem, my favorite blog topic (apparently). Their piece on imeem in today's paper, Breaking the Law To Get a Break, provides some interesting insight into the company's past:

Imeem lets its members upload and swap songs, music videos and photos and is the first start-up to get all four major labels to sign off on an ad-supported model for distributing digital music.

The site got the attention of users -- and music labels -- by first allowing the unauthorized exchange of music on its site. Like Napster and Kazaa before it, Imeem gained popularity by using music to promote its technology -- even before getting the necessary licenses from record labels. The lesson of Imeem, however, points out a dilemma in the entrepreneurial world: Is breaking the law the secret to success in the digital music industry?
I attended a very interesting panel at SXSW last week about the same topic; as soon as they post the podcast of the discussion, I'll link to it here. One of the panel members was Jason Schwartz, founder of the "don't call it a record label" record label Robber Baron Music. Jason spoke passionately and intelligently about how to help musicians embrace the reality of digital music piracy and work within the black market economy of bittorrent and p2p networks to help emerging music artists cultivate a fanbase. It was a great discussion, and I got to bust on the guy from MediaDefender about their shady business practices, as revealed in their leaked emails last fall. Good times.

What do you think? Is piracy necessary to survive in the world of online music? Are we approaching the day where people will no longer pay for CDs or iTunes downloads? Is giving away your product really "the future of business"? As iTunes ponders a subscription-based service and CD sales continue to fall, what is the future of digital music?

UPDATE: Michael Arrington has an interesting piece today over at TechCrunch taking Billy Bragg to task for his demand that some of the ridiculous sum AOL paid for Bebo.com go to the artists who uploaded their music there. That post links to a really interesting TC post about the future of online music. Arrington subscribes to the "music will be free so get over it and start preparing for the future because it's already here" model.

3/19/08

Songkick: Nudging You Gently Out Of The Basement

I like to go to shows. It's a habit my older brother instilled in me years ago, and I have yet to kick it. Sometimes I go through periods where I'll see upwards of 4 shows in a month, sometimes on back-to-back nights if I'm feeling saucy. But even when I'm not in the mood to drag myself out of the house well after my bedtime to go stand in a loud room with a bunch of 20-somethings, I still like to know who's coming to town.

To keep myself informed, I signed up for the email lists of the 9:30 Club, the Rock and Roll Hotel, and a couple of other clubs around town (sadly the Black Cat doesn't have an email list). That's OK, but more often than not I'm inundated by emails about bands I don't care about. For me, salvation came courtesy of tourfilter, a great site where you tell it the bands you like (it has a nice auto-complete feature to help you out there - the whole site has a very "my first RoR/AJAX site" feel, but in a good way) and it emails you when they come to your town. You can also add friends through the site, which I find is a great way to learn about new bands - I just check in on what bands my hipster friends have added from time to time and then go check them out. Tourfilter has some other nice features, my favorite being the ability to get an RSS feed for your upcoming shows. Very cool.

Still, you have to type in your bands manually. And nobody likes typing, right? Oh, if only there was some solution that involved nothing more than playing music on my computer! Enter Songkick. This site offers a plugin you can download that will scan your music library, add all the artists it finds to your profile, then start automatically tracking for you when those artists are coming to your town. I was so excited to discover this that it didn't even dampen my mood to learn that it only works with winamp, iTunes, and Windows Media Player, none of which I use. So, it seems will not be a Songkick user any time soon, but I'd love to hear if you guys are using it. If not, how do you keep up with shows coming to town?

PS They also have some cool widgets you can use to tell everybody that your bands are coming to town, or for you bloggers out there, they have one that will try to automatically parse your blog posts, figure out what bands you're writing about, then display any tour info it has for that band. You'd be seeing that somewhere in my sidebar if it worked with blogger. Oh, well. Hopefully that's coming soon.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention All Crazy Style, a great mashup tool that combines your last.fm favorite artists feed and your upcoming.org locations information to deliver a list of upcoming shows (also available as an RSS feed) based on your listening data. It's great, but relies on people adding things to upcoming, which doesn't always happen. And for some reason it sometimes recommends bands I've never heard of or listened to. But it's still really cool.

3/16/08

Experience SXSW...Without Having to Go Anywhere or Do Anything

SXSW Music FestivalAs you may have read in a previous post, I was fortunate enough to attend the awesome SXSW Interactive Festival this year. However, I was a little sad that the day we left, the totally amazing SXSW Music Festival was just getting started. Fortunately, thanks to the good people at the Internet, those of us who were not quite cool enough to be there in person this year can still enjoy a whole crap-ton [Editor's note: not to be confused with the British crappe-tonne] of awesome SXSW music.

My buddies over at imeem (whom I met in person at SXSW and who were both really nice to me) have a whole sub-site devoted to the bands of SXSW.

The hipsters at NPR were kind enough to webcast a whole bunch of shows live from Austin, and have now archived them on this awesome site which will take you hours to get through because there are so many great bands posted. You can also read some great personal coverage of the events on the All Songs Considered blog.

Not be outdone, the SXSW site has this master list of who played where on what day complete with links to sample tracks from almost all the artists. If that's not enough for you, hop on your favorite bittorrent client and head over to the "SXSW Showcasing Music Torrents" page, where you can download massive torrents featuring the showcase artists from the last 4 SXSW festivals, comprising tracks from nearly a bajillion bands in total.

And if all that's not enough, as soon as they post the podcasts for the cool music-related Interactive panels I attended, I'll be linking to those too. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Famous DC blogger (and friend of mine) Catherine Andrews has a great post on the Washingtonion "After Hours" blog about the "DC Does Texas" event at SXSW, where several DC bands took the stage and showed Texas how we rock significantly less south of the Mason-Dixon line. Features some great video and pics of the bands.

3/9/08

I went to SXSW! No, the other one. No, the other other one.

SXSW Interactive 2008 LogoNo, not the super-hip music festival, not the crazy cool film festival, but the ultra-into-itself-anyone-can-be-internet-famous-for-5-seconds-but-you're-not interactive festival. And it's awesome. Yesterday I took a break from not attending panels to hit up the PBS "Weirdly Wired Party" inside the amazingly cool Austin City Limits studio. It was the best party we've been to yet. Great free food and booze, no lines, free shuttle service, fantastic location... and live music!

Lighstpeed Champion and The Spinto Band both gave killer performances in a setting that was truly built to deliver incredible sound. I had never heard Lighstpeed Champion before, but they really blew me away. And The Spinto Band played both of my favorite songs of theirs, plus several others that kind of sounded like those songs, so that was great, too.

I took some shaky Blair Witch-style footage of the event. Enjoy!

Lightspeed Champion - not sure of what song this is, sorry.
video

The Spinto Band - "Brown Boxes"
video

3/3/08

Washington, DC: Ridiculous Taxi Fares, Great Music

'Street Music' by flickr user gawnescoAs an excuse to use imeem's new playlist creation tool (see my review of it here), I decided to create a playlist of my favorite songs from DC-based artists. Inspired by this post on Creative DC, I recently started listening to some more local bands, such as Le Loup, Georgie James, and Jukebox the Ghost (I was bummed to miss them in concert recently - anyone know where I can buy their CD online?).

The results were fantastic. I'm hearing new music, and supporting the local economy at the same time. And I'm getting inspiration to finally get my band up and running. More on that later, if we ever get around to really doing it. Which we will.

Here's the playlist:



What are your favorite local bands from anywhere you've lived?

imeem: Inching Towards Usability

I don't mean to hate on imeem. I really, really want to use it on my site and I want it to work. When an imeem employee posted to my comments telling me about a new playlist creation tool, I was excited. So excited, I decided to try it out. (Playlist itself coming in another post).

At first, I was really happy with the new playlist creation interface. Much simpler than having to go through all those clicks just to add a song to my playlist. I was stymied a bit by not being able to find the "new" button - but there it was, hiding at the bottom. Once I found it, things proceeded quite smoothly. I even uploaded files without a problem! Woohoo! And I love the "upload image" box for a song - not sure if that was there before, but it's a nice touch. (I do have to say that it's really annoying that the upload tool defaults to "upload a photo" - the site is about music playlists. The time I forgot to change that, my MP3 upload was lost forever, tagged as a photo somewhere on my account.)

Unfortunately, my uploads never made it into the "create a playlist" search box. I had to go to my newly uploaded file's page and add it from there. Boo. Not being able to easily get to my recently uploaded songs (from the create playlist page) became more and more annoying as I would upload a song in a new tab, come back to the original tab, click on "upload," click on "recent," click on my song, hastily hit "pause" since the autoplay option is always set to yes, then click "playlist," then select my playlist from the list. Not as much fun as the nice search feature they built.

(Had my songs shown up in the search results, I wouldn't have known they were mine - when searching for a song, I can't tell what's mine and what's somebody else's. Not a huge deal, but it would be cool to have that option.)

Still, the process wasn't too painful. Much better than last time. However, that feeling of joy was undercut by the fact that many people (myself included) still have troube playing the tracks - for some people it simply skips through each song one by one as though it was some problem with that track, but it will play tracks individually. For others, it will play tracks one at a time but will not advance through the playlist. For others, some tracks work and some don't. Close, but no cigar.

I didn't try to upload multiple files at once, so I don't know if the "hanging forever" issue is still an issue. I'll keep you posted. But overall, I think imeem's getting better. The playlists play for me on Firefox 2 at least 85% of the time.

PS I did see a really cool feature - I clicked onto the page for a Jukebox the Ghost song and saw this little "On Tour" badge, which took me to a page of tour dates for the band. That's hot.