It's no secret that the music industry has been in a bit of a bind over the past decade or so: they claim illegal downloading has lost them millions in sales while distribution deals with companies like Apple have left the labels feeling as though they've lost control over pricing.
Meanwhile, consumers have seemingly endless ways to download, stream and discover music. Streaming sites like Pandora, Blip.fm, Hype Machine and Last.fm are all great ways to listen to music from your browser while you're online, but picking specific artists to stream can be a haphazard process. Buying music presents a whole new set of problems, with companies (iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic, Amazon, Zune Marketplace) that all offer different pricing models and collections of artists.
Spotify (Windows, Mac, Linux, Free BSD), which has had a popular debut in Europe and the UK, is a new music service that hopes to streamline the way we both stream and purchase new music. The company was launched with the blessing of several major labels, in a refreshingly forward-thinking move on the part of the music industry. Because of this, Spotify is able to stream full, high-quality tracks from these labels without fear of retribution. Though not yet available in the US, we got our hands on a beta-code to test out the service.
DRM protection has been a bone of contention between content owners and anti-DRM activists. The latter party’s contentions seem to be becoming quite popular with content providers, with many music download services, including the august iTunes, opting for DRM-free music. However, DRM hasn’t been eliminated as a lot of downloadable content, including streaming/downloadable videos and streaming music, is still fettered by DRM protection.
“We reject the view that copyright owners and their licensees are required to provide consumers with perpetual access to creative works. No other product or service providers are held to such lofty standards. No one expects computers or other electronics devices to work properly in perpetuity, and there is no reason that any particular mode of distributing copyrighted works should be required to do so,” he wrote in a missive addressed to the Copyright Office’s top legal advisor.
It is quite unrealistic to expect online stores to perpetually maintain their DRM servers. But it is ludicrous to assume that shutting down of an authentication server or the whole online store is reason enough for the user to surrender his ownership rights.
We'll admit it - Olive's new Opus No. 4 looks pretty swank and offers a ton of storage for your groovy tunes, but is it worth $1,800? We'll let you decide that one.
The new flagship entry to Olive's Opus Hi-Fi Digital Stereo line includes 2TB of storage, which the company claims is enough to hold almost 6,000 CDs worth of music on-board in the lossless FLAC format. Sound quality gets a further boost by a high resolution digital-to-analog converter (DAC), as well as "optimized circuit design and a precision power supply."
Other features include a color-coded touchscreen menu, drag & drop playlist creation through the Maestro browser-based software, thousands of pre-set Internet radio stations, and both wired and wireless connectivity for music streaming in up to 10 rooms simultaneously using the optional Melody Hi-Fi Multi-Room Player.
The Opus No. 4 in 2TB will be available starting August 1, 2009. If that's too rich for your blood. Olive also plans to offer 1TB and 500GB versions for a little less scratch, $1,600 and $1,500 respectively.
Following in the footsteps of Napster, KaZaA has shed its shady past as an illicit download P2P vehicle and is making a legit comeback. The relaunched site is now a full fledged music service offering unlimited streams and downloads for $19.98 per month.
Under the new business model, subscribers can consume as many tracks as they want from both major and independent artists, so long as you're a U.S. resident with a Windows-based PC. Also similar to Napster, a subscription is good for up to three authorized PCs, however a major downside is the lack of portable media player support.
A review of the service is already up over at Arstechnia, who seemed generally underwhelmed with KaZaA's new identity
"The service tries to differentiate itself by allowing users to pay for the subscription either with a credit card or attached to their monthly cell phone bills, but this level of choice is comparable to being able to use either cash or credit card at the gas pump in terms of excitement," notes Arstechnica.
KaZaA offers a free 7 day trial if you want to see for yourself how the service compares. You can check it out here.
Apple's iTunes and other online music services might be all the rage, but don't go putting CDs into the same category as 8-track tapes. According to a new survey by The Music Ally Speakerbox, CDs are still the preferred medium.
The survey polled 1,000 people and found that a whopping 73 percent, or nearly three-quarters, preferred purchasing CDs rather than downloading their groovy tunes. And these aren't just older folk resisting change, either. The survey found that 66 percent of respondents between the age of 14 and 18 would rather buy a CD than shell out for an MP3 online.
"Music fans have spoken and digital is evidently not the clear cut replacement to the physical CD," said Tim Walker, chief executive of The Leading Question, the research division of music consultancy Musy Ally responsible for carrying out the survey.
Surprised by the results? Hit the jump and tell us which medium you prefer.
With revenues from music sales declining, many record labels have directed their attention to commercial US radio stations, who pay songwriters, not performers or record labels, for the songs that keep them moving.
And, it would appear, that these labels have Pandora Radio on their side. Pandora’s web model causes them to pay more for their music, which founder Tim Westergren sees as “fundamentally unfair both to Internet radio services like Pandora, which pay higher royalties than other forms of radio, and to musical artists, who receive no compensation at all when their music is played on AM/FM radio.”
Radio stations feel that they’re instead promoters of music, and their goal is to drive interest in artists. In turn, this will lead to more album and ticket sales, as well as more publicity opportunities. Though, one would have to wonder, how does this effect not apply to Pandora, and other forms of Internet radio?
With the threat of streaming rates for Internet radio rising to levels far above what many services could afford to pay, the future of Pandora and other Internet radio outlets remained very much in limbo. That's no longer the case, at least for Pandora, which reached an agreement everyone involved appears to be happy with.
For Pandora, the resolution means a 40-50 percent reduction in the per-song-per-listener rates. In exchange, Pandora will give up either a 25 percent share of its U.S. revenue, or the per-song-per-listener number, whichever is higher.
For Pandora's user base, the resolution means that anyone who uses the service over 40 hours per month will have to cough up $0.99 for unlimited access. The nominal fee is to help offset the royalty agreement, and is expected to only affect 10 percent of Pandora's users.
Despite the 25 percent royalty rate, Conrad remains optimistic that Pandora will reach its stated goal to be profitable by next year.
Through a partnership with Universal, Virgin Media said it plans to launch an unlimited music download subscription service. The well timed announcement comes just one day before a British report hits the public eye detailing how the creative and telecom industries should go about bumping up digital sales to cope with lost revenue due to online piracy.
"We listened to our customers, our fans, and our artists and we think that this is an opportunity to bring music to a wider audience," said Lucian Grainge, Universal Music chairman and CEO.
According to Reuters, people familiar with the service said it would cost around $16 to $24 per month. Both sides are describing the service as a world first, which would allow Virgin Media broadband customers to both listen to streaming tracks and download however many tracks and albums they want.
Unlike other unlimited subscription services, the downloadable MP3s won't come with any DRM shackles, which means the tracks can be transferred to and played from any MP3-capable device.
"This is really high stakes, if this can't work then what will," commented Mark Mulligan, an analyst with Jupiter.
Chances are good that if you’re a fan of streaming music online, you’ve heard of Pandora. And, apparently users of the service like it so much that they’ve actually been asking about ways to pay the company to guarantee its survival. At long last those (strange) questions have been answered, with the introduction of Pandora One.
Pandora One is a subscription-based model allowing users that shell out $36 a year access to some premium options. First off, premium users will no longer have to put up with ads of any kind (this includes the in-stream audio ads). Secondly, and most notably, they’ll gain access to a Pandora desktop app that includes high quality streaming audio (bumped up to 192 kbps), a personalized look, a mini player, and extended player time outs.
For many of us, the free-to-use service is just fine as is. The ads that are currently keeping it alive aren’t very invasive (even the audio ones), and with apps such as OpenPandora out there it’s admittedly a tough sell. But, for those looking to show their love for their favorite online streaming service, $36/year isn’t too bad a price.
Citing "legal issues," EMI nixed plans to release Danger Mouse's new CD, Dark Night of the Soul, a collaboration with rock group Sparklehorse that also features Iggy Pop and The Flaming Lips. But that doesn't mean fans of the mashup artist are completely out of luck, depending on how far they're willing to go. 'Just pirate the music,' is the message essentially being sent.
Since EMI refuses to release the project, Danger Mouse has decided to sell the album as a "100+ page book" of David Lynch photographs inspired by the music, and will toss in a blank CD-R.
'For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will."
The idea, of course, is for fans to illegally download the music via P2P/torrent and fill the CD themselves, and though EMI hasn't said yet said anything, it can't be too happy about the move.