The Death of DRM

The big news is that Apple and EMI may be dropping Digital Rights Management. In case you are wondering DRM is the worst thing ever — it makes everything it touches crappy. If you are unlucky enough to have Windows Vista it is what a lot of your OS was designed to enhance. If you buy music on iTunes it is what forces you to authorize each computer that plays your music. If you do just about anything with a computer it is the thing that makes things either slightly (or pants-kickingly) difficult.

eliminate drmNot too long ago Steve Jobs wrote an open letter trash talking DRM (he’s a bit late to the party[1][2][3][4], but a welcome addition). Now Mac Rumors is reporting that it is very likely that EMI music will get rid of DRM. Personally, DRM-less music what would get me buying music from iTunes— and I am sure that I’m not alone here. It’s a bit early, but if this is a signal that folks are finally starting to understand the dangers of DRM then it’s time to break out the noise makers.


iTunes & Lame

There used to be a really helpful application called iTunes Lame that would let you import songs from a CD into iTunes. It is still out there but it has become a monster. Where it once worked smoothly and easily it now works like crap. The big problem is that it doesn’t seem to tag songs properly anymore, which makes it nearly worthless to me.iLAS icon

So I wrote iLAS. It works and that is all I need. It isn’t fancy, so no one will be impressed but that isn’t what I was trying to do. I just want to be able to import CD’ s into iTunes with Lame, because I don’t like Apple’s built in mp3 encoder.

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TuneDNA update

So, it was a month or so since I first tried tuneDNA and I thought I’d give it another shot.

One big problem when I tried it last time was that there wasn’t enough users to give me any information useful. A month later that problem is still obvious, though a bit less so. tuneDNA did in fact find one user with some similar music taste, but the rest was a bit of a wash.

tuneDNA screenshotEven after an update the user interface is still pretty unimpressive. I’m not one to push for flash over substance, but I did feel like I was using home-cooked software. Given how young the project is I’m willing to over look the UI, it would be nice if it got spruced up a bit, but I’d rather see improvements to the function before the form.

One thing I noticed is that tuneDNA needs to connect outside sources a lot more than you’d expect or want. When it comes to applications I’m the jealous/controlling type— I don’t like my programs talking to anything but my computer unless I tell it to. Little snitch reports an annoying amount of requests for tuneDNA to connect to various places. I doubt any of these connections are malicious, but my bet is the job could get done with half as many.

A big problem is the use of ratings to get your DNA. I like that it uses the ratings, but I have a lot of tracks and not many of them are rated. But the real problem is that songs with one star are treated as if they are preferred over unrated songs. You may ask why I bother keeping songs with one star, but that isn’t the point, the point is one star means it’s not a favorite and so shouldn’t be considered part of my “music DNA.”

All said, the experience was better, even if only marginally. I imagine that in another month the results might be even better, but ultimately I was left wondering what the point of it was. Even if I did get interesting results I’d still only have a bunch of artist and album names, but I’d still have to hunt down the music in order to see if I even liked it. It seems to me that, while not perfect, Pandora Radio is a much better solution.


Initial Notes for tuneDNA

The problem I discovered is that my laptop doesn’t have the ratings for most of my music. iTunes stores the ratings in a library file, not in the song files themselves, and that file didn’t make the transfer. This is annoying, but I won’t get into that because that is an iTunes issue.

It’s just that ratings and play counts are how tuneDNA is supposed to work, so I had to play around with things for a little while in order to get enough info to feed tuneDNA.

tuneDNAI rated about twenty songs and listened to a bunch of music this weekend. I hoped that between the ratings and play counts that there might be enough to get something from tuneDNA. Well I did get something back, but it was not what I was expecting. The suggestions were… well… off. I recognized almost all of the music, but I recognized it as music I wasn’t excited about. I’d be able to comfortably bear listening to about ten percent of the music it suggests, the rest would leave me angry and/or annoyed.

I don’t want to write off tuneDNA too soon. As more people use it the suggestions should get better, and as I continue to (re)rate my music things should get better too. That doesn’t change the fact that right now it is useless to me. Registration was easy, getting the info from iTunes was also easy, so I don’t feel like it was a huge investment of time that I lost, but I’ll probably wait a month or so before trying it again.

[tags]itunes, mac software, music, music services, music software, review, social software, tunedna[/tags]


On Pandora Online Radio

So I haven’t had time to play with tuneDNA. What I have had time to play with is Pandora Internet Radio, since I can use it online independent of my Mac or iTunes. So far so good. I like it much better than though I can’t say if it really is better since was such a sort trial.

Selection: Pandora reports having over 20,000 artists and 400,000 songs. I’ve found just about all the indie and indie-ish music I’ve looked for, so I’ve been happy with that. Blues also seems to be pretty well stocked. I’ve yet to try other genres but I did read that they have no classical music just yet, so there’s that. My guess is that they aren’t hurting for major artist either since they have licenses with SoundExchange, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Having worked a lot with college radio years ago I’d say this has to be pretty expensive for them.

Pandora Online RadioInterface & interaction: The interface is pretty simple and intuitive. It shows cd cover images, the title of the artist, song, and album. You can skip tracks it suggests (though there is a limit due to license restrictions) and pause songs. You can’t go back, again because of license restrictions. You can create multiple stations rename them and add artists and songs to those stations. You can also bookmark artists or songs. You can do more too but I’m getting bored just writing this much— if you want know more you should go see the site for yourself. While there are nice things I should also add that the interface is also boxy, with a brushed metal theme… or put another way, it is ugly.

The music suggestions are pretty okay. Nothing blew my mind though I did find some interesting things. More often than not I was at least okay with what was playing, though there was the occasion that I raced to the “skip track” button.

A warning: right now there are no ads, but there will be soon. As it stands I would recommend trying Pandora Online Radio, but that recommendation may be revoked if the ads are done poorly. From their website:

Q: What about advertising?
The free version of Pandora is supported with advertising, which we’ll ramp up over the next few months. If you don’t like ads, you can banish them altogether by subscribing.

The biggest disappointment is the lack of community focus on the site. It seems like a no brainer to try to emphasize community, not only is it nice for the users, but it also builds brand loyalty while adding a service that requires little work (the users are responsible for most for the vast majority of the content).

I’m also aware that there is an exchange going on here, they capture my information (age, area code, gender, and music tastes) which they treat as a commodity. For that I get to listen to music for free online that might be slightly more tailored to my tastes than other free form online stations.

I am also aware of the fact that if I used only Pandora I’d lose the opportunity to be exposed to different music that I might not even be aware of and which Pandora would have no reason to ever play for me. Independent radio still has it’s place, though if there was a community aspect to Pandora this might negate the issue, even if only slightly.
That’s all I have to say about Pandora at the moment.

[tags]music, online music, online radio, pandora, pandora online radio, radio, website review[/tags]


Speaking of Social Software…

I know it is all the rage, there is WPopac, flickr, youTube, etc, etc. I find most of them useful but the list of things I am really excited about is pretty short. I am honestly excited at WPopac, not just because I am friends with Casey, I am also excited about things like wikipedia.

What I am interested in lately is music social software. First I heard about the Music Genome Project. The theory of which is put in practice at Pandora Internet Radio, but it isn’t social so much as technical. You tell it what you like and it tells you more of what you *might* like, using more than 400 attributes to capture the “essence” of music. The project itself isn’t focused on socializing, but it lead me to others.

The first I found was, which sounded interesting but didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. It uses scrobbing to figure out what you might like. Basically scrobbing happens either by listening to music online where you can say if you love or hate a song, or by letting it see all the music and their ratings on your computer. After that it uses some fancy pants algorithm that takes ratings and also play counts to figure out what you like and what you *might* like. Privacy concerns aside I wasn’t very impressed with the outcome. I did get a couple of good suggestions (and some terrible ones), but it seems like to get the real benefits of the service you have to pony up so dough. I’m skeptical of that especially since on my second (and currently last) day of testing I wasn’t able to listen to anything after ten minutes because of server issues. One the first day of testing I found the music often cut out, but at the time that wasn’t a deal killer.

The next thing I am excited to test is TuneDNA, which is currently Mac only (a windows version is forthcoming). I haven’t had time to play with it yet but it uses your iTunes ratings, playcounts, and playlists to connect you to new music and people. The site advertises:

  • One click scoring of iTunes or iPod tracks based on PlayCounts and Ratings
  • Save your Scorecard (Musical Dna) and send it to friends
  • Match your Dna with others to discover Music you like
  • Find your Musical Dna soul-mate and contact him
  • And much much more, its time to listen to Music that’s really you

I suspect you can also find a female musical soul-mate if that is your thing. In theory this sounds pretty okay, we’ll have to see how to turns out.

I am sure there are more of these things out there, but it seems like a surprisingly young idea to try to link things like ratings, play counts, other users, and attributes of music together. More on why I think this is so great at a later date.


The MPAA Might Need a Better Public Image

Recently a satirical news story had some people up in arms. The idea of the story was that the MPAA wanted to start charging each person that watched movies at home. The idea being that the MPAA though everyone who watched a movie ought to own it or at least pay for it. Outrageous, yes, but not outrageous enough to be put beyond the realm of possibilities. Lots of people thought this was the real deal. The question is why?

Could it be that people think the MPAA is greedy? Looking at the news we can see that just recently movie studios came out saying that they want to impose heavier limits on iTunes store movies (there are already some pretty crappy restrictions), people have a good reason to think they are greedy.

mpaaThe interesting thing is that they keep saying they don’t want to have the problems that record companies have had with downloading music. They say that, the question is whether they have considered that part of the reason record companies have done so poorly (aside from releasing terrible music) is because they were unable to adapt to new consumers.

Consider yourself that a movie ticket in Seattle costs $9.50, then you’ll have to watch five to minutes of commercials, and most of the movies out at these huge theaters are, at best, mediocre. Does this have anything to do with people not going to the theaters anymore? A family of five has to spend money on gas, probably some crappy over priced food and then there’s the tickets and maybe even parking. We are talking well over $60 for them to see a movie. Or they could watch one of the movies they just got from netflix for $17 a month. Best of all there are no commercials, annoying people in the audience (unless your family and friends are annoying), and if the movie sucks you just send it back— you’ve barely lost any money on the deal, certainly no where near $60-$70 dollars.

But that isn’t the reason movie studios are doing poorly. It’s clearly pirates, lurking in the filthy darkness where they grow rich off the sweat of the sweet hard working movie execs who just want people to play fair.