Over the past month or two, some of my music habits have shifted significantly – and perhaps permanently. It’s too early to draw any firm conclusions about what this means for me, but I figured that those of you who are into music might either learn something or have some suggestions for me.
- What’s Out:
iTunes. The store, not the player. I was never ecstatic about buying iTunes’ DRM’d tracks, because in buying those you’re also essentially committing to Apple’s platform – perpetually. Yes, you can burn the tracks onto CD’s, but when you have as I do better than a thousand tracks purchased through the service that’s not a particularly attractive solution.
But since all of my machines with one exception are non-Windows (with no Apples), Apple’s DRM is increasingly inconvenient. On the aforementioned Windows machine, I’m still an iTunes The Player user, because it’s a very fine piece of software (the horrendous 7.0 bugs notwithstanding). But I’m really trying to not pour any more money into the store component, because I lose the ability to play the music I’ve purchased on multiple platforms. Throw in the fact that the Fairplay de-DRMification software based DVD Jon’s work is not able to crack 6 or 7 DRM yet, and the decision’s even easier.
Is it cutting into my listening habits? Yes. I still haven’t gotten around to buying the new Beck or Thom Yorke albums because of my individual iTunes boycott. It’s unfortunate, but the price of liberty and so on.
- What’s In:
Songbird. Let’s start with what Songbird is not: a.) perfect, b.) polished, c.) able to handle devices like my iPod, and d.) stable. Sounds damning. But I’m actually quite happy with it after a month or two of moderately heavy usage. It handles the basics – media playback and so on – just fine, and offers some intriguing features that iTunes does not, such as the ability to input any URI containing embedded media and automatically download it to your library. It also handles music streaming – like WOXY’s – with aplomb. So while I’m still wedded to iTunes for my iPod, Songbird is my player of choice for most everything else.
And before you ask, James, yes Songbird does support Last.fm and thus population of your dorktunes library.
- What’s New:
WOXY.com/The Hype Machine. Most of the serious music fans I know are always on the prowl for new music. With the likes of Clear Channel rampaging through the radio industry and imposing its own brand of agenda driven homogeneity on listeners, it can be difficult to find new music over the airwaves these days. And hitting live acts can be challenging as your schedule becomes more and more crowded. Fortunately, I’ve begun using a combination of WOXY.com – an outstanding radio station based in Cincinatti (they play Camera Obscura regularly, Christine) – and a blog indexing service called The Hype Machine to help me discover new tracks. Here’s how it works:
- For a portion of the day, I listen to WOXY’s live feed via Songbird (just load the WOXY.com page in Songbird, and click on the iTunes feed link). As tracks come on that I like, I check to see the band and track information, and drop it in a Tomboy note.
- When the list gets to five or six tracks (or when someone gives you a disk with some great new music like Phoenix‘ track Rally), I hop over to the The Hype Machine and begin entering band names. The Hype Machine then scans music blogs for entries that have posted tracks matching my search, either live tracks that they’ve recorded or copyrighted tracks that are made available (probably illegally, sometimes not) for a set period of time (usually a week or less). I download the ones that are of interest, and they’re loaded into my library.
- For the tracks that have staying power, I hop over to emusic.com and purchase the artist’s album there if they have it. If not, I add it to a list for my next trip to Denver’s preeminent independent record store, Twist and Shout.
- Also, I subscribe to The Hype Machine’s feed in my reader. There are hundreds of new tracks every day, so I don’t do much more than scan this, but I’ve already found some great rare tracks from artists that I didn’t have already. Even for bands that I follow obsessively, like Pearl Jam (I have two or three thousand tracks of just Pearl Jam), there are tracks I haven’t heard before. Quite a few of them.
What’s interesting about the culture surrounding these new services is that they generally seemed well intentioned; while I tend to think that there were a variety of ways that Napster could have been monetized very effectively and fairly, it had little to no relationship with the bands in question. While The Hype Machine and the blogs that fuel it have no official relationship with the bands, they do generally speaking want the artists to succeed.
I don’t know how others are behaving with these services, but I can say personally that because of The Hype Machine I’ve bought five albums already off of emusic.com (Cloud Cult, Holly Golightly, M. Ward, Ratatat, etc), and have another dozen or so that I need to buy offline (Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton, Scourge of the Sea, The Oohlas, etc). I doubt the perennially shortsighted (and doomed) RIAA will see the opportunity here, and I expect The Hype Machine to receive cease and desist noises shortly if they haven’t already, but the fact is that they’re causing me to find more music. Which generally results in me buying more music. Which doesn’t seem like a bad thing.