New Music Related Habits

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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.


  1. You might be happy to learn about this: http://hymn-project.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=1553

    The last time I used it, it worked a little screwy, but it did ultimately do the job right on all of my iTMS files.

  2. Have you considered converting your iPod to use rockbox? It’s had last.fm support in CVS for a few months: http://www.rockbox.org/viewcvs.cgi/apps/scrobbler.c

    There’s two alternatives for de-drming your iTMS 7 purchases – http://hymn-project.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=1555 myFairTunes (.NET) and http://hymn-project.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=1553 QTFairUse6. They both work by grabbing the raw AAC frames from memory after iTunes has decrypted them.

  3. Why Songbird over Amarok, Banshee, or Rhythmbox? I ask as someone who has not used Songbird but, despite my use of GNOME, find Amarok to be really good and was wondering if there’s a compelling reason to switch?

  4. So, one of the things you can do is rightclick on an artist cell (or any cell) in any playlist, and then run searches directly on the celldata.

    We haven’t hooked up Hype Machine to the search (we’re too busy designing an API to let everybody else hook into such places too), but the Singingfish search is another good resource for finding blogs with more of the music you’re looking for. Or eMusic directly to the album you want to buy, etc.

    We’re trying to create a system where the users go from playlists to the web and back again to easily find, sample, and collect media online.

    Here’s a screencast of some more functionality:


    As it is, tho, Amarok is a much more “finished” player at the moment. We’re still very rough hewn.


  5. As others have said, myFairTunes is your migration plan. It is lossless (it does NOT re-encode, it just grabs the decrypted AAC bitstream from memory), but it is slow. The “high-speed dubbing” plugin driver helps somewhat, but it’s still a finicky process. Or so I’m told. Good luck.

  6. Danno: I thought of that, but according to Wikipedia, Hymn is for 5 and older music only (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hymn_(software)).

    James: hmm…dunno if i’m aggressive enough to replace the iPod’s firmware. apart from the DRM and all, it’s pretty damn good.

    thx much for the decryption suggestions: maybe a holiday project for me.

    Brian: mostly b/c Songbird’s a different design than the players mentioned. i don’t know Amarok that well, but i’ve used both Banshee and Rhythmbox fairly extensively. they are fine players, but a bit traditional in their approach. it’s rather Songbird’s new features – the downloading and so on – that make it compelling for me.

    it’s got some major shortcomings, but it’s a nice project.

    Mig: yeah, i’ve used Singingfish b/c that’s the Songbird default, but i’ve found The Hype Machine to be far more extensive.

    thx for the tip on the inline search – hadn’t used that.

    as for being rough hewn, don’t sweat it. it’s true, but the player is still really impressive. keep up the good work.

    Mark: well, if it’s got your endorsement that’s good enough for me.

    the slow thing is a concern, though. i’ve got a LOT of iTunes tracks.

  7. Thanks for the tip on WOXY. Didn’t realize they were a Cincinnati-based station (note the spelling!). Having been raised in Cinci (even easier spelling that most people will understand!), that’s prompted me to actually give them a listen.

    Personally, I’m a radio paradise fan-boy.

    And I’ve come to the conclusion over the last year or so that I don’t really ever have a need to buy CDs anymore. I’m so lazy that even buying and ripping a CD, and then specifically playing it, and then having to pick something else, or do ratings in the player, etc … is all waaay too much work. When instead, I can double click an internet radio station that plays stuff I enjoy listening to, new and old, all day long. NPR and podcasts are filling the bill for not-near-a-computer listening needs.

    Also had it with the ITunes store; never bought much there anyway, but I used to give the kids a gift certificate for X-mas. This year it’ll be a GC at my a local music store (Record Exchange).

  8. I have a Songbird iPod extension available. I’m working on an update to it.

    I also have a Songbird eMusic extension available. I have a screencast that shows how to use it. It makes using eMusic much easier.

  9. Erik: outstanding. i’ll probably hold off on the iPod one for a bit, given that i just got mine back from the shop, but i’ve already loaded the eMusic one and will play with it. thanks for dropping a note.

  10. I noticed you said you loaded their feed into your feed reader. I went and checked out the link you posted and you can actually load and subscribe to that directly in Songbird. I went to the main page: http://hype.non-standard.net/ scrolled down and clicked on the link for the rss feed. It shows up in the left pane (the service pane) as a playlist.

    From there you can click on the playlist to listen and view the tracks and the Subscribe to the playlist (using the buttons on the bottom) and get updates everyday ( or every hour, or every 134 minutes). Voila!

  11. Gah! So I should’ve taken another step in my process. I just realized the blog feed isn’t music, but apparently links to websites. So it doesn’t do much good to subscribe to it in Songbird right now. :-

    However, what I did outline _does_ work great, if the rss feed is actual music (or podcasts etc…)

  12. You didn’t even look in that thread, did you?! I’m insulted (not really).

    Hymn has been updated to work with iTunes 7.0.2


  13. […] You might even have the chance to meet the author(s) of some of your favorite web applications. I was honored to have met, as an example, Adrian Holovaty at the first Mashup Camp. I likewise was thrilled to be introduced (by Laura) to Anthony Volodkin – the man behind The Hype Machine (mentioned previously here) – this afternoon. Hope to have the chance to chat with Anthony more extensively tomorrow, but I felt compelled to hand him my nickel (the Mashup Camp equivalent of a vote) because I’ve been using his application so extensively for at least three months. […]

  14. […] Because I’m no longer buying music through Apple’s iTunes store (with the exception of one Christmas giftcard which I used to buy new albums from Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins and The Oohlas), it was more or less inevitable that I’d be buying CD’s. So it was yesterday, when I visitied Denver’s Twist and Shout to pick up the the new Beck, the new Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and the new Shins discs. These are probably the first physical CD’s I’ve bought since Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief. It’s amazing how irritating the medium is still, with it’s difficult to remove plastic wrapping and that damn sticker at the top. At least they came without DRM like those awful Sony discs. All three albums are good, incidentally. […]

  15. […] of you may remember that I cut over to the Mozilla based media player Songbird a while back. For the most part I’ve been a very happy camper with Songbird, particularly when I use it in […]

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