Not Blogging Lately — Blame The Fonz, Timmy von Trimble, Thelonious & The NY Times.

 

I have been slacking off from blogging. Time flies by. Here are 11 things I have been doing instead:

11- Understanding & Pricing Out The Cloud: If you are like me, and flit around from site to site streaming and buying — I’ll easily hit iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, RDIO & Rhapsody in a week — then the various cloud-music propositions presented lately will make your head spin. Keeping track of which one is $20 a year for 15GB’s, which one is $25 for a year for 20GB’s, which one rewards you for shopping at their store, which one matches and duplicates your existing content, etc. — is a crazy jumble. Heck, the Amazon, Google, iTunes options alone make the NY Times pay-wall rules seem positively simple. Jon Pareles from the NY Times on The Cloud That Ate Your Music here.

10- Testing Cloud Music Offerings: Wow. Has setting up something geared for convenience , ever been so inconvenient?! I tried Amazon (glacially slow), Google (makes Amazon look nimble) and what iTunes has to offer so far (you try finding the correct preference prompts to set up an iPad, iPod, iTouch & MacBookAir) — it takes the patience of Job to even experiment with the existing library options.

9- Obsessively Listening To A Reclusive Artistic Genius Who Locks Himself Away At Home: If I told you that I was listening non-stop to a morose, funny, poignant, cutting singer-songwriter who refuses to record with a band, make videos or tour — I’m sure you would say “Really, Paul Westerberg again Jack”. Well not this time, mister. FM Coronog is an incredible singer-songwriter, who in between his 9-5 slog at Home Depot, somehow manages to home-record a brilliant album every few years under the moniker of East River Pipe. Check out his page on Merge Records here, and an unofficial, naturally, YouTube clip below.

8- Thelonious Monk: Universal just put out the complete Riverside collection. 16 CD’s for $80 at Amazon. Redundancies and all, it’s just too much to resist. Details here.

7- Fighting with Anthem Blue Cross: Just how incompetent, obstructive and systematically infruriating is our health care system? Ladies and gentleman I submit to you, from the California Watch website – Anthem Blue Cross:

In its own way, Anthem Blue Cross became the Toyota of the news cycle yesterday. The company was credited with reinvigorating the health reform drive, stood accused of violating California law hundreds of times and was found to exhibit a prolific pattern of profit taking.
It was also linked to a denied liver transplant and a plan motivated by its famous 39 percent rate hike that, well, might not work….The Los Angeles Times reported that state insurance commissioner and former gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner accused the company of violating state law 700 times between 2006 and 2009.

I have spent countless hours on hold with Anthem, back-tracking through paperwork, and generally fighting for my families money. Yet I understand, interrupting my blogging is the least of Anthem’s moral offenses.

6- Driving: I live in (East) Los Angeles, work in San Diego, and have friends and business contacts clustered all across the west side of L.A. Have you ever tried to get to Venice Beach from Pasadena after 2pm on a weekday?

5- Turntable FM: If you are over 30, you no doubt remember gathering at a friends house and playing each other music. Chances are the M.O. was a variation on “OK, suckers…can you top THIS?” Turntable FM recreates this by layering a Social Media blanket over a full song streaming interface. God, that sounds like tech-speak gobbley gook. How about – Turntable FM allows you to go online, play songs for your friends, and is crazily addictive fun. They may or may not have a prayer of a business model, but you should check the site out now here.

4- Thinking about the New York Times: Last weekend I thought I could get some blogging in, but on Friday night I went to see Page One, the new movie about the NY Times. The movie covers a lot of territory – Wikileaks, the run up to the Iraq war, the recession, etc. — all unified by the Times’ struggle for economic stability in the age of the internet. It’s a great movie. My excitement about the film, lead to buying the book Hard News, which covers the history of the times through the prisim of the Jason Blair scandal, and reading the book took up much of Saturday. Next thing I knew it was Sunday, which, naturally, means it was time for the Sunday Times…

 

3- The NY Times iPad App: Back in March, I wrote about the NY Times pay-wall strategy, and theorized that the approach was just too convoluted and expensive to be successful. Now, after experiencing the total brilliance of reading the NY Times daily on my iPad, I am happy to have my Fonzie moment…

I WAS WRONG.

The digital version of the NY Times, with it’s elegant interface, and superb use of interactive elements like photo galleries, is spectacularly good. I find myself gladly paying for the full subscription, and consuming more content in both print and digital form during the course of a normal week. You can read more about how wrong I was here.

2- WFMU’s The Best Show hosted by Tom Scharpling : I came to this show late. It is tough to explain how a program this meandering, could also be this good. The best I can tell you is that if you could imagine a parallel universe where Howard Stern was 15 years younger, magnitudes hipper, and deeply immersed in indie-rock you would start to paint a picture. Add in recurring guests like John Hodgman, Patton Oswalt and Paul F. Tompkins, and a host of faux callers such as “Philly Boy Roy” (an unflinching supporter of all things Philadelphia), “Timmy von Trimble” (a genetically modified, two-inch-tall racist), and “The Gorch” (a senior citizen from York, Pennsylvania, who claims that the character of The Fonz on the TV show Happy Days was based on him) and you start to get the picture. The fact that all these callers are voiced by Superchunk drummer Jon Wuster just adds to the appeal.

Try the Music Scholar call,  here.

1- Working at Slacker Radio: Between the natural arc of learning the intricacies of a new business, and diving into the complexities of music label licensing from the other side, working at Slacker is a time-consuming affair. I consider myself shockingly lucky to be enjoying it as much as I am so far, and can’t wait for everyone to see the things we are working on for the rest of this year. Today’s AOL/Slacker announcement is just the tip of the iceberg, read about that here.

So there you have it. My Spring of non-blogging, cataloged and perhaps a bit rationalized.

Blame the Fonz, Timmy von Trimble, Thelonious Monk, the Times, and gainful employment.

If I can tear myself away from these obsessions, then I’ll talk to you soon.

The "S Factor" — What Apple Lacks In Music

Do you remember the scene in Almost Famous when pre-teen William flips through his older sister’s vinyl album collection?

I flashed on this great scene as I thought about this week’s events.

Apple’s recent iCloud announcement was warmly received by most digital music proponents. In the first couple of days after the announcement the mainstream press fawned over Apple and the iCloud, and Apple stock gained.

That’s not to say that everybody was impressed — there was grumbling from well informed digerati, as well as Apple competitors, that this was much ado about very little. After all, the dissenters argued, Apple still hadn’t rolled out a subscription music play to obliterate the old model of paying for music track by track, album by album.

This all makes for a fun digital debate, but I think both camps miss the musical mark.

While the Apple cloud integration might be the best we have seen so far, it offers no surprises. Your collection remains your collection. You can simply access your music now much more easily. This makes Apple devices more attractive, and that’s smart business for a company still driven by hardware and design, not software and content.

Think about the biggest music fans you know — the people who call themselves music junkies.  Chances are that while they love their devices of choice (classic 160gb iPods, Sonos systems, vintage turntables and vinyl) they still spend the majority of their waking hours engrossed in discovering music. Talk to them at length and they will tell you that they live for that Oh Wow moment of discovery. The perfect moment of surprise.  Surprise with a capital S. Their favorite music story invariably revolves around “the first time they heard or saw Elvis, The Beatles, Springsteen, Nirvana, Wu-Tang, Arcade Fire, etc.”

Music fanatics live for surprises and discovery above everything else. That’s why they are so loyal to the bands, magazines, fanzines, radio stations, and websites of their youth. They’re constantly trying to recapture that moment that young William has, flipping through those albums, in Almost Famous.

I’ll never forget this comment from a Warner Bros. Records co-worker a couple of years back:

“I go to Best Buy to get the music I know I want to buy, but I go to Amoeba a helluva lot more, to get the music that I didn’t know I wanted to buy”

With the iCloud, Apple has made progress on getting you the music you already know you want. But what about discovery?

The battle for the Oh Wow moment of surprise — for the music you didn’t know you wanted, for that elusive “S Factor” rages on.

The Neon Billboard Says 'Brain Drain" — Evan Harrison Departs Music

Evan Harrison, who lead Clear Channel’s digital effort for the last 5 years, was my boss at AOL Music for a good part of my run there. Evan’s good people, and an excellent executive. He taught me many things, and was especially good at working through complex issues and organisations to get things done. Evan was a terrific boss…whip smart, judicious, disciplined and fiercly loyal.

Admist all the Apple noise today, word spread that Evan had landed a new gig at  Billboard/Outdoor Advertising company Van Wagner Communications.

While I’m happy for Evan, and pleased that he landed a senior position so quickly, it is more than a little troubling to see another really solid music advocate exit our industry. This is a guy who loves music, who made me stay through to the final encore of a magical Paul Westerberg show, the night before we had a 8am breakfast scheduled with a crucial brand client.

I hope Evan has a great run in his new job, learns a lot, gets to be creative, makes good money, and comes back to music and media in a few years.

We can’t afford the brain drain to wish for anything else.

Q: Who was the big Cloud winner today? — A: "Yes".

I once worked for a brilliant guy, an artist manager, who when you asked him:  “Should we play Dennver or Salt Lake City?”, would invariably answer: “Yes”.  After a month or so,  I figured out that he wasn’t really distracted, he simply wanted you to figure it out.

So, who exactly had the best day today as Apple announced their iCloud launch?

Was it the labels who finally figured out how to get paid for your whole digital music collection, legally aquired or otherwise?

Was it Apple who patiently slogged their way through the tangled web of major label licensing, and came out the other side with a cloud offering immediately superior to Google’s and Amazon’s, that amplified their iTunes meets Apple device ecosystem?

Or was it the consumer, who for $25 a year instantly upgraded all their IOS devices to stream their music collections without having to tether into their computers, and without the time-suck of sifting through files, device capicity issues, or getting “back” to their devices?

So, the question is — Who was the big winner today?

“Yes”.  Yes, is the answer.