I like the mysticism

Until a few weeks ago, I plodded along with my trusty usually working Dell mp3 player, which handled most of my portable music needs for the last eighteen months. It didn’t play Audible audiobooks and I’d begun to push the 20 gigabyte storage capacity, but I didn’t want to spend money for a new player. Those issues grew until I decided to upgrade to a new, not-iPod mp3 player. I saw zero reason to upgrade by spending $100 more on an iPod than on any other comparable player. After some research, I purchased a new player. When I heard the sound quality, I returned it. I researched the market a bit more, finally deciding that I’d risk the iPod’s extra expense once, just to understand the fuss. Three weeks ago, I bought an iPod. Today I’m a believer.

Now that I have an iPod, I’ve discovered the joy of iTunes, if obsessively spending 99 cents every day (or every few minutes) can be considered a joy. (Here’s a hint: It can be.) It offers the convenience of downloading individual songs that I discovered six years ago when Napster first made its appearance. If I hear a song I like, such as Alphaville’s “Forever Young”, but realize that it’s the group’s only song I like, I can pay 99 cents instead of $10. It’s amazing, but you knew that already.

I mention this back story to lead into a discussion of this article about Steve Jobs, Apple, and an impending battle within the downloadable music industry. Consider:

Two and a half years after the music business lined up behind the chief executive of Apple, Steven P. Jobs, and hailed him and his iTunes music service for breathing life into music sales, the industry’s allegiance to Mr. Jobs has eroded sharply.

Mr. Jobs is now girding for a showdown with at least two of the four major record companies over the price of songs on the iTunes service.

If he loses, the one-price model that iTunes has adopted – 99 cents to download any song – could be replaced with a more complex structure that prices songs by popularity. A hot new single, for example, could sell for $1.49, while a golden oldie could go for substantially less than 99 cents.

Can the music companies be that stupid? That’s rhetorical because it’s the same industry that fought downloadable music for years, choosing to sue its customers instead of altering the product to meet their changing demands. Apple has already sold more than 500,000,000 songs, but consumers paying for downloads is still in its infancy. The “training” that record companies should’ve done five years ago is just beginning. The rules shouldn’t change yet. And yet, this is the logic of one record company:

Andrew Lack, the chief executive of Sony BMG, discussed the state of the overall digital market at a media and technology conference three months ago and said that Mr. Jobs “has got two revenue streams: one from our music and one from the sale of his iPods.”

“I’ve got one revenue stream,” Mr. Lack said, joking that it would require a medical professional to locate. “It’s not pretty.”

It’s not Mr. Jobs’s fault that Sony BMG can’t figure out how to diversify its business. That assumes that Apple screws the record companies with each sale, which isn’t true because the record companies earn approximately 70 cents per song. I haven’t verified the cost structure, but that seems impressive when assuming that Apple bears the costs of operating iTunes.

The other aspect of the impending battle involves Apple’s closed standards for the iPod and iTunes. Currently, users must burn songs purchased through iTunes onto blank discs before transferring the songs to a player other than an iPod. I encountered that tedious procedure, which is why I bought only a few songs before I purchased an iPod. Now that I have an iPod, the restriction is annoying but trivial. As much as I’d like to see Apple open its standards, it doesn’t seem to be necessary right now. I purchased an iPod, and I was adamant about not paying the extra $100. Apple is doing something right.

That makes this statement interesting:

Hilary Rosen, the former chairwoman of the Recording Industry Association of America, agrees on that point. “If Apple opened up their standards, they would sell more, not less,” she said. “If they open it up to having more flexibility with the iPod, I think they’d sell more iPods. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s their fault that nobody else has come up with something great” to compete.

If the sun comes out tomorrow, it’ll be light. If it doesn’t come out tomorrow, it’ll be dark. What kind of idiotic statement is that? While Ms. Rosen does acknowledge that Apple “invented a better mousetrap”, she wants to believe that they should give away that advantage. Why? To sell more iPods? That logic is ridiculous. Considering it comes from a former representative of the RIAA, I’m not surprised. In not opening its standards, Apple is “reacting” to consumer demands. As long as iPods outsell other mp3 players 4-to-1, Apple’s executives have no legitimate reason to change their strategy. I’d entertain the idea that it’s not a viable long-term strategy, considering what happened to the Mac in the late ’80s, but for now, I see few flaws. Ride what works.

Finally, consider Sony BMG’s strategy for gaining an advantage:

Sony BMG in particular has taken steps that may apply pressure to Mr. Jobs to make Apple’s software compatible with that of other companies. The company has issued dozens of new titles – including high-profile CD’s from the Dave Matthews Band and the Foo Fighters – with software to limit the number of copies that can be made from the disc.

The software is compatible with Microsoft’s music software, but not Apple’s, and as a result music from those Sony BMG albums cannot be transferred to iPods that are hooked up to Windows-based PC’s. EMI has been test-marketing similar software with a handful of titles.

Those albums must be labeled. If I buy an album with that nonsense on it, I will be angry. I have complete faith that hackers will produce software to break the security scheme, just like the pointless DVD regional codes, but I shouldn’t have to go to such extremes to use my music in a manner most convenient to me. Stupid.

Why am I admitting this?

Today is Michael Jackson’s birthday. I didn’t see this on a celebrity birthday list or on some random website today. I know this useless fact from memory, which amounts to more than twenty years of precious grey matter real estate wasted on a trivial piece of non-information. Why do I know that today is Michael Jackson’s birthday? I know because, like every other pre-teen in the early ’80s, I couldn’t listen to Thriller enough or learn enough details about Michael Jackson. That meant no end to watching every fluff-piece MTV could air. One of the details I learned was that his birthday is August 29th.

Like every other fact I ever encountered, his birthday should’ve bypassed my brain as it passed through my ears. It didn’t, and here is the embarrassing reason it didn’t. I was born in July, six weeks early. If my mom had carried me to term, her due date was August 29th. As a child obsessed with pop culture’s biggest star, I thought that would’ve been the height of cool. Michael Freaking Jackson! Instead, I share my birthday with Linda Ronstadt. That crushed my then pre-teen spirit.

Today, I can’t tell you which year Michael Jackson was born, and I’m as pleased as possible about that for someone who still remembers the day. But not knowing the year doesn’t mean this post doesn’t offer proof that we’re wise not to let children make meaningful decisions without some form of intelligent supervision. How many ten-year-olds would’ve written “Michael Jackson” on their presidential ballots in 1984?

What aisle did you find that in?

Yesterday Wil Wheaton posted this when referring to Sun Volt:

Heh. If the 1990 me ever met the 2005 me and discovered that I’d become a fan of alt.country, I think I’d kick me in the nuts. Goddamn know-it-all 18 year-olds.

The 1990 1991 version of me would do the same to the 2005 me because I love alternative country. With so many over-produced, talentless hacks on the airwaves today, it’s hard to believe anyone is still producing good music, but it’s true with alternative country. I find myself listening to Outlaw Country on Sirius more than other stations, including the Big ’80s. Specifically, artists like Kasey Chambers, Maria McKee, Kasey Chambers, Kim Richey, Kasey Chambers, Josh Ritter, and Kasey Chambers. Oh, and Kasey Chambers.

I’m shocked by this evolvement (or is it Intelligent Design?) of my musical tastes, but I’m prepared for whatever the 1991 me can dish out, should we ever meet. I like the music so much, I’m not even scared. That may have more to do with his weight of 135 pounds than any virtue of my current self, of course, but I’m still not scared.

As I listen to a DJ report on the best artists for the next decade

I heard about the radio payola scandal while listening to the news on my way home last night. Consider:

In late 2002, an official at Sony music was trying to boost interest in the song “A.D.I.D.A.S.” by Killer Mike, and considered sending disc jockeys at WAMO-FM one Adidas shoe to promote the song. Jocks at the Pittsburgh station, and others throughout the Northeast, could get the second shoe after playing the song 10 times, he mused.

To which I offer a resounding “duh” and “who cares?”. Who didn’t know, or at least assume, that this still occurs? Does anyone care, other than New York’s Attorney General? Yes, payola is against the law, but is it really the largest issue Mr. Spitzer’s office faces? So Sony has to pay $10 million to make the investigation go away. So what? How does this help the people of New York? The criminals are still free, with the newly confirmed opinion that they can pay a fine, courtesy of Sony’s stockholders, to whom they have a (now broken) fiduciary responsibility, and all is forgiven. How does that help enforce the rule of law? Perhaps, instead, it’s merely election campaigning.

But no matter, there’s a more important point in this. Consider:

How the Spitzer investigation will affect the way Sony and the other big music companies work with radio to get airplay remains to be seen.

What will it mean for the listener, who supposedly owns the public airwaves? Radio is already under pressure to compete with other forms of music — from satellite radio, with its diverse formats and commercial music, and Internet radio, which offers a smorgasbord of music for every taste.

Ultimately, tightening the definitions of payola and enforcing them may benefit both music makers and music consumers. For artists without a well-oiled promotion and money machine behind them, it may level the playing field. For listeners, they may get to hear what they want — not what the music industry wants them to hear.

Ummm, I already listen to the music I want to hear. Granted, some of the same issues of repetitiveness still occur, but I can change the station to one that plays something different. If that doesn’t work, I change the medium (not form of music – that’s stupid… form is chants vs. pop, not satellite vs. the Internets) to something else. It’s called competition and it works pretty well. Terrestrial radio, where this non-scandal (apparently) occurred, may not know that because they’re too busy being suckered in by free trips to see Celine Dion, but eventually they’ll learn. The free market has a way of teaching its lesson much more effectively than any bureaucrat could.

Do the Ickey Shuffle on “Newlyweds”

Dear Nick Lachey,

Instead of writing articles in The Cincinnati Enquirer about your passion for Cincinnati sports teams, please think of your fans. They don’t want to read this:

Now, I find myself questioning some of those loyalties because of the recent developments involving the Reds and Bearcats. I’ve tried to complain to Jessica about it, but she doesn’t have a clue what I’m talking about, so I’ve written this to assuage my frustration.

I doubt your fans have heard the word “assuage”, much less the definition. Because I’m nice, I will offer it to them here. I’m going to get more Google hits with your name so I’m offering this as a public service. Context makes a difference, so I hope most people can decipher the definition without the definition, but still. I’m here to serve. Behold and learn:

to make unpleasant feelings less strong

Really, though, would it be so hard for you to assuage your fans with what they want, which is a picture of your penis?


P.S. Your wife can’t sing. She should stop.

Luckily, I have ninjalike reflexes

Before I go into this mini-rant, I qualify what I’m about to write with this basic fact: even when I’m bashing Sirius, it’s still much better than XM. I first tried XM more than two years ago but cancelled it because the music channels began playing more commercials, quickly approaching the level of terrestrial radio. If I wanted terrestrial radio, I’d turn it on. I didn’t, which is why I subscribed to satellite radio. Also, the diversity of music became, shall we say, eclectic. More and more songs crept into the playlists that I didn’t know. I don’t mind hearing new songs; I’ve found some of my favorite artists and songs through accidental wandering across the (satellite) radio dial and browsing through music stores. But I don’t want a plethora of songs that are closer to cats copulating than actual music. I want to want to listen again. XM didn’t stopped providing that, so I stopped provided my credit card number.

Last year, I subscribed to Sirius, which was inevitable because I’ve been a shareholder for more than 18 months. I immediately loved it. There are songs I actually know on the mainstream channels and songs I enjoy discovering on the non-mainstream channels. Plus, I get to listen to Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, and Alan Hunter. I needed nothing else and completely abandoned terrestrial radio, except for Don and Mike and Howard Stern. I enjoy the change.

A few months ago, though, I decided I needed to give XM another try. I did this knowing that my subscription to Sirius would remain. I wanted XM for the baseball coverage. The additional music choices would be a bonus. Except they turned out to be junk. The problem of having a terrible playlist has gotten worse. After the first few weeks, I stopped scanning other music stations on XM. Now, when if I’m not listening to the baseball coverage on XM, I’m not listening to XM.

But baseball was enough to break the barrier to my wallet. Except it’s not any more. XM can’t even get the baseball coverage correct. It hooked me from the beginning because wall-to-wall baseball is excellent. Yet, my urgency to listen to anything other than the Phillies broadcasts and “The Show with Rob Dibble and Kevin Kennedy” died. I do not enjoy the morning baseball show, not because of content but because of the deejays. It’s baseball, not music, so I didn’t expect deejays. I don’t want deejays. Mark Patrick is a deejay from beginning to end. His “act” wore thin within days. His vocal inflection is pure large-market, focus-group-tested deejay babble. I hate it. Yet, he sounds like heaven when compared to Buck Martinez. I don’t know where Martinez learned to do radio but he needs to ask for his money back. He has the worst up-and-down, wobbly, half-drunk, half-stroke inflected voice ever broadcast on radio. I can’t listen. So I don’t. When I’m paying $9.95 $12.95 for the service, I have to question why I’m paying.

The decisive factor, though, is much simpler. It’s very simple to broadcast a baseball game that another radio station is covering. The only requirement for XM is to flip the switch. They can’t even do that right. I know there are technical issues, blah, blah, blah, but that’s not an excuse. The marketing literature lies promised me every game. Showing up near the end of the first inning is not every game. If you’re not giving me every pitch, they’re lying to me. And by lying to me, they’re stealing from me.

Sirius hasn’t lied to me. I get what they promise. At work, I used to listen to my mp3 player, but now I just listen to Sirius all day. (An actual benefit from having my desk in an atrium, to go along with the sunburn, is that I get excellent satellite radio reception.) That I haven’t tired of it even though I listen almost eight hours every work day is proof of concept. I abandoned terrestrial radio for something new. More often than not, Sirius satisfies that. Even when it fails, it fails less often and on a smaller scale than XM. So I stick with Sirius.

When it fails, though, it annoys me. Which is the point of my mini-rant, which seemed to have started a few paragraphs ago but is really just beginning now. Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, and Alan Hunter are the only deejays on Sirius who I enjoy. I enjoy them because of nostalgia (they’re on the Big ’80s) and because they don’t act like the normal moron deejays. They don’t give ridiculous inflections. I normally hate deejay stories, but when those three offer them, they’re usually relevant to something. There’s a theme. It’s acceptable.

Some of the other stations, though, pester lilsteners with deejays who think they work at the local Lite-FM station. Ugh. I don’t want dull stories about their dogs or their friends or their neighbors. Unless it’s me, I don’t care. Their mothers are the only ones who care and I’m not convinced about that. If they want to tell personal stories, they should get a blog and type with weird spelling and no punctuation like every pre-teen who might be interested. Otherwise, shut up and drop the needle onto the record push play on the computer. It’s not complicated. Sometimes, it’s so over the top that it makes me mad.

Listening to Jim Kerr this morning, the deejay on Sirius 31 New Country, provided me with a specific example of why I hate deejays with a passion. I will offer it to you now.

Because he can’t just shut up, he must “talk up” the record, giving an introduction until the moment before singing starts. The witty Mr. Kerr offered this wonderful transition.

That was “There Goes My Life” by Kenny Chesney. I’m looking forward to seeing the second episode of “Revelations” on NBC tonight. Here’s SHeDAISY with “Little Good-byes”.

Not only is that the most ADD scatter-brained transition ever, it’s also flat-out wrong. Revelations is on at 9pm on NBC. Everyone knows that the only show on television tonight worth looking forward to is Alias. That it’s on at 9pm only makes the argument for Revelations more useless. Duh.

You want a revelation, Mr. Kerr, I’ll give you one. Just wait for the amazing way Jack Bristow evades his latest hurdle, a nuclear radiation-induced genetic mutation.

I don’t care who you are, that’s funny

Listening to “MLB This Morning” on MLB Home Plate (XM 175) this morning, the hosts discussed American Idol because Larry Bowa, former manager of the Phillies, is a huge fan of the show. The morning after each episode of American Idol, Bowa gives a recap and judgment of the performances. He was fairly accurate this week, except for completely ignoring Bo Bice’s outstanding performance. Preferring Travis Tucker’s horrible singing just because he can dance is absurd. And Mr. Tucker is a student at UVA, so no reasonable person can support him. When compared to Bo’s amamzing performance, Bowa must be deaf. So Bowa ignoring Bo is a big omission for me. But I digress.

My point is, listening to “MLB This Morning”, Bowa gave his review. The primary reason for discussing American Idol on the baseball channel, aside from needing to fill three hours of radio before spring games have started, is Nikko Smith. For anyone unaware, Nikko Smith is Ozzie Smith’s son. Ozzie Smith is the Hall of Fame shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals. The connection matters, sort of.

In the discussion, Mark Patrick set the scenario up with Bowa to discuss Nikko Smith, asking whether or not fans eliminated Smith. Bowa said no and then talked about Nikko’s resemblance to Ozzie. (The resemblance is apparent.) Mr. Patrick finished the discussion by saying that he didn’t know much about Nikko, but on American Idol, he always performs first or eighth.

That’s a bit of a joke grenade for baseball fans, so not everyone reading this will get it, I suspect, but let me say this: that’s funny. Sitting at my desk at work, I laughed out loud. An hour later, I’m still laughing. Okay, I’m not really laughing any more, but I still smile at it. I wish I’d thought of that joke.

I heart satellite radio

One benefit of converting from a portable cd player to an mp3 player is that it’s easier to carry around a significant amount of music. I won’t listen to all of the albums I have on a regular basis, but if I’m sitting on the subway and the urge to listen to something strikes, I can do so. I usually have a rotation of three of four albums that is constantly playing, so there’s no real need to dig into my archives. I am a techno nerd, though, so I must put my music into mp3, regardless of how often I listen to it. Even if I only listen to a specific cd in my car, I might listen to it on the subway or sitting at my desk. I won’t listen often, but that I might listen is the essence of my collection. It’s a good life maxim.

Over the lasts few days, I decided that I wanted to listen to Lila McCann, an artist I haven’t listened to in probably a year or more. She put out three albums in the past, with the last released three years ago, I think. I could look that up, of course, but it seems pointless. Let it suffice that it’s been awhile and she’s not on any music radar right now. But neither am I, because I’ve already used the word “album” three times, which is two more than anyone cool under the age of twenty-four has used the word in his life. And did I mention that I’m listening to Lila McCann? I mean, seriously folks, how not cool can I be?

So I listened to the albums in reverse order from newest to oldest. I enjoyed them, even though I realized how my musical interests have changed over the last decade. I listen to more adult, diverse music today but memory lane is fun.

The long lapse between listening to the albums had an additional benefit. I’d forgotten the songs and the specific details of the lyrics and musical buildup. Pop-type music is formulaic, so it’s not too difficult to imagine how songs will build. Listening to “Already Somebody’s Lover” from her first album Lila, I felt I knew how the song would build and finish. I should’ve known because I’ve heard it before, but I didn’t remember. It was “new” to me.

The build came as expected. The finish, not so much. I snapped out of my zone where I was aware of the music but it was in the background (despite the headphones). What was that, I thought. Did that just happen? Then I remembered that the song had always perplexed and annoyed me. I don’t know who wrote it and the lyrics don’t deserve the effort required to look it up, but the songwriter was clearly nuts when he or she wrote the song. Since I can’t do justice to the asinine lyrics, I’ll show them here. Behold:

Maybe he lives in the city
Workin’ on a college degree
Or maybe he’s a boy in Paris
Tryin’ to paint a picture of me

So I’m sorry that I can’t go any further with you
And tonight may be a night I’ll regret
But I’m already somebody’s lover
He just hasn’t found me yet

Maybe he works on the railroad
Or he’s drivin’ from town to town
Saving his pay for our wedding day
Then he’s gonna settle down

He’s just lookin’ for a girl to send some flowers to
He’s as honest and true as they get
See I’m already somebody’s lover
He just hasn’t found me yet

I see his face in my dreams every night
And I wake up with the taste on my lips

— Highlight the next two lines to reveal the lyrics —

And he’ll never pack it in or walk out on me
The way my father did

What?!? The song has one more verse, but who could bother to care after those last two lines? That songwriter cheated, leading me to deduce that the songwriter wanted to make a specific point and wrapped it inside the first “story” that came to mind. What started out as a hodgepodge of sentimental, tender imagery (a song genre not lacking in Country music) blew up into a bumbling diatribe against absent fathers. Huh? I don’t get it? How did this song get used in this format? Lila McCann was fifteen (I think) when she recorded that song, so I guess she gets a free pass of sorts, but still. No one in the recording studio read these lyrics and thought “We can’t use it that way because it’s a mess”? I can’t believe that. I just can’t. I want my money back.

When good shoes go bad

After the entry I wrote on Monday about Jessica Simpson’s hideous version of “Angels”, I assumed that I’d be safe from more horror for at least a few weeks. Not so. I read this article and nearly cried. Celebrities get a ton of free stuff because kids tend to buy the same brands that celebrities enjoy. If Converse applies this theory and sends a pair of “Peace Chucks” to Jessica Simpson, we’re screwed. Written on the toes of the shoes are the words “Imagine All The People Living Life In Peace”.

I speak on behalf of the world when I beg of Converse, please don’t send her a pair. She can’t be trusted to respect the lyrics. I’m telling you in advance, she just can’t. Please.

That’s why England is better than America

Robbie Williams. If I mention him to people, odds are good that I’ll get a blank stare. But if I say Jessica Simpson, even a 2-year-old will know who I’m talking about. Outrageous, if you please.

Why do I mention this? Because Jessica Simpson’s singing is proof that Satan exists. How else could she get a recording contract with so little talent? Because I didn’t care, this didn’t occur to me until I heard the singles for her new album. The first song was forgettable, since I can’t remember the title and can’t be bothered to look it up. I know the video had rampant hilarity as she poked fun at her “stupid” image, but it doesn’t matter. Her songs after that first single are the problem.

Her remake of “Take My Breath Away” annoyed me. Considering that Mrs. Lachey has none of the range of Terri Nunn, someone should’ve taken the microphone away from her when she hinted at singing that classic. I imagine the producer commanding her to “Emote. Emote. Emote!” during that recording session, but the important lesson that her fans need to learn is simple: screaming does not equal emotion. So I said “Ugh”.

That “ugh” was a minor whimper compared to the violent tantrum of obscenities I spewed when I heard single #3, the current release from her latest album. Not only has she botched an 80’s classic from my youth, she’s butchered a new 90’s classic from my early adulthood. She covered the brilliant Robbie Williams song “Angels“. When I write “covered”, I mean “tortured the life out of it“.

When will the madness end? When will the talented musicians be popular? Every parent who has purchased her new album for their kid(s) should be sent to remedial parenting classes as punishment. Allowing a child to believe that Jessica Simpson is talented because she made an album is equivalent to teaching a child that placing her hand in fire is good because it leaves a cool scar or that not stabbing himself while running with scissors is the entrance exam to Harvard. It’s a fucking travesty. I pray she never finds the lyrics to “Imagine”.