DRM-free tracks on iTunes? Better sound quality to boot? I’ll buy that…

Wow.

I’m blown away by Apple and EMI’s latest announcement that the company will makes its artists’ music available through the iTunes store without DRM (digital rights management, a.k.a. copyright protection). On top of that, the tunes will be offered at double the normal iTunes sound quality– not CD quality, but you will be able to hear the difference. The store will charge an additional 30 cents US for these tracks, but albums will be the same price. In all, a good deal.

(!)

I have been vehemently anti-iTunes (the store, not the software) because of the combination of the crippling DRM features and the proprietary AAC file format. I can live with AAC vs. MP3 if they let other players play them– aside from the iPod that is– but the DRM was a deal-breaker with me. With the exception of some toe-dipping, and my support of the recent “Bum Rush the Charts” event, I have refused to buy from the store. I just don’t like DRM, as it cripples the fair use aspects of music enjoyment. It makes it a pain to transfer tunes from one device to the next, and yes, share it with friends.

Steve Jobs recently came out with a statement saying he would like to get rid of DRM, but there were skeptics– was he just covering his ass because of pending court cases in Europe? Well now he and one of the major labels are putting the money where his mouth is. Very nice.

(!!)

I understand piracy concerns, but the record companies have a lot more to gain from seeing as a friendly corporate entity that wants everybody to hear their products, rather than a paranoid, obsessed bunch of Captain Queegs that runs around suing their customers.

I have no data to back this up, but I think that by letting go of DRM- and assuming a certain amount of piracy that is going on anyway– record companies could thrive. Fair use is a loss leader. I ripped a friends’ copy of the Beatles’ “Love.” a few months ago, played it for my wife, and she went out and bought four copies for friends. Extreme example? I don’t think so.

This news makes me want to go out and buy some EMI tunes. Isn’t the Jazz Label Blue Note on EMI? Why yes– yes, it is– now I am really excited.

Now, AAC still bugs me, but only because my current player won’t handle them. But that is easily fixed, I think — and if other stores follow suit, it won’t be an issue.

(!!!)

Of course, most of us know the Beatles are on EMI, but are not yet on iTunes. When they do go online, will they be part of this new, enlightened deal?

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Bum Rush the Charts Post-Factum: Who are your favorite indy musicians?

Several friends in the social media-sphere were rabid supporters of Bum Rush the Charts last Thursday, March 22, and I joined in.brtcblack

In short, BRTC was an effort to show that people could join together in a grass roots fashion to push an independent musician to the top of the iTunes charts. the song “Mine Again” by Black Lab was chosen.

My immediate reaction was to object to the iTunes platform. I hate DRM (digital rights management), and in particular I detest the closed iTunes system (Apple’s protected AAC file format), which basically means you have to have an iPod if you want to buy and play songs from the iTunes store. There are workarounds, but to a one they are each a pain the ass.

I got over that objection quickly, deciding that refusing to support iTunes tyranny could temporarily take a back seat to seeing people try to flip a collective bird to the major record labels.

Other people objected to the song– they hated it. I say that’s beside the point– participate in the social experiment, concentrate on your own musical choices later (more on that point below). By then I had decided that whether I bought into the movement–or the song–or not, it would be fascinating to see a massive social media experiment at work.

And work it did. Getting the song to number 11 on the U.S. Rock charts was pretty impressive (more results here). Pushing aside some of the dreck on the charts for one day is a pretty good exercise.

But now what?

Can we do it again? Do we want to? Do we need to? It might be a thought to do this a few more times, just to get more attention to independent artists in general, and perhaps expand America’s pop palette (too much to hope for). Subsequent go ’rounds could include more of a press campaign, not just a couple of press releases (great effort by Christopher Penn et al though, and I got BusinessWeek’s blog to weigh in this first time)– I’m thinking busting into the music publications, online and in print– Rolling Stone, Spin, etc., to get the message outside of our social media clique and into the main stream.

(Update: Christopher Penn kindly told me about some other coverage he got for BRTC: Billboard, WashPost, Spin, Wired, Newsweek, CNET, CBC, BBC. I knew about a couple of these, but of the ones I didn’t, Spin and Newsweek in particular are impressive–I’ll stick with my point that all that and more is needed)

My other thought– everybody recommend some independent artists that you love and would like to see get more listeners– even just a few. You don’t need to have your own Accident Hash podcast to be able to identify worthy artists. Here are my two (both of whom can be found on iTunes, if you must):

Amelia WhiteAmelia White: Back in the 80’s she was part of the folk-rock group Sara Laughs, but has worked under her own name since at least the early 90’s. Boston-based until a few years ago, she has been making some great music in Nashville. She’s an old friend of my wife’s in Boston, and I have been proud to know her for the last 15 years. Amelia has several CDs, not a bad one in the bunch. And if you catch her live, buy her a Johnny Walker Black on the rocks and tell her I sent you.

Dave AaronoffThe other is Dave Aaronoff. I know Dave from when he was in a ska-ish band with my brother–Duck Duck, the toast (or Toast-’ems) of Lowell MA in the early 90’s. He later joined some Ducks in the Shods, but has several CDs under his own name (or with his band the Details). He has a bit of an Elvis Costello vibe, but his sound is his own. Trivia: he once was an assistant to Al Kooper (bow down to the great Al Kooper please), and told the Boston Globe that he did all of Kooper’s marketing; he went tot he vegetable market, the meat market, the dairy market….

So… who are your favorite independent musicians?

*I detest the term “post-mortem”– it reeks of death– no one died here, therefore: “post-factum”

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New Podcast Up- PRobecast #008

Just posted Episode 8 of PRobecast, Topaz Partners’ weekly Tech PR podcast.

This week’s panel, Tim Allik, Rob Capra and Doug Haslam, discuss:

Leave a comment! Whether you love what we said, hate it, or wonder why Doug didn’t mention Twitter even once in this episode, we welcome your feedback and will include it in the show.

Text: comment below or email bmoc@topazpartners.com
Audio: Leave a comment at +1-781-404-2419, or Skype doug.haslam
Video: email a file to bmoc@topazpartners.com,

You can subscribe to the podcast via Podcast Ready
or iTunes.

Or simply use the RSS link here: View RSS XML

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Bum Rush the Charts TODAY


I have been following Bum Rush the Charts, a massive social media experiment– and the eventtakes place today, March 22.

BRTC is an attempt to put an independent (non-major label) music artist in the iTunes Top 100 charts for one day, through word of mouth.

Go to Christopher Penn’s site at: http://www.FinancialAidPodcast.com/bumrush to participate, which means only purchaisng one track, Black Lab’s “Mine Again,” from iTunes for 99 cents.

More information on the project is at:
http://bumrushthecharts.blogspot.com/

Whether or not you like this band or this song, it will be fascinating to see the results of this effort. I bought the song (no, I won’t be expensing it). Will you?

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Link Wray makes my day (plus Pete Townshend’s blog)

While I often listen to podcasts during my workouts, I definitely just tune in some of my music part of the time, and I put a random mix of tunes on my MP3 player so I don’t know what I’m gonna get. Sometimes, this really makes me smile.

Today, it was hearing Link Wray and his Wray-men doing a live version of “Jack the Ripper.” According to my notes it was from 1961, meaning the feedback he used in the performance pre-dates stuff we heard from Pete Townshend of the Who by a few years. Wray was definitely an influence.

Speaking of Townshend (who name-checked Link Wray in the recent Who song “Mirror Door”); I have been following his site/blog/diary since 2001 at least, and it appears he has changed up his main site— now he is blogging preview chapters of his upcoming book– very engrossing stuff from a “rock dinosaur” who really gets the social media thing.

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RIP–Jimmy Smith

I’ve been hearing that Jimmy Smith died last night– this is the loss of a great jazz legend. I have often wondered why there have not been more organ players in jazz. While there are several any jazz fan can name at the drop of the hat (Lonnie Liston Smith, John Patton, Larry young, Groove Holmes), the organ (particularly the Hammond B3) has been relegated to “funk jazz” status in the minds of many fans.

Not that there is anything wrong with funky, or groove jazz, but the organ deserves a better shake– and there has been no better representative of the instument in jazz than Jimmy Smith. He will be missed, especially as he has remained active and vital in the music scene (I am told he has ana lbum due with Joey DeFrancesco).

What’s upsetting is a Google news search turns up nothing as of 2pm ET today. Pathetic.

Music Listening– in the P’s

I have way too many CDs (is ther such a thing?). Anyhow, at some point in 2004 I gave up being selective in packing my travel CD case (ok– I know I haven’t joined the iPod generation yet, but give it time), and just started throwing in my CDs alphabetically (right, that’s completely anal behavior). I am up to “P” now, which means I have been listening to…

Oscar Peterson— great Jazz pianist, but can bore the heck out of you with too much listening. I don’t think he changed his style or made any real innovations over 50 years, but a great player nonetheless.

Best of the CDs I have– Live at Zardi’s, just a great 2 CD set.

Overrated: West Side Story– eh. The jazz trio-playing-a-Broadway-show CD I wish for is actually the Shelley Manne trio playing “My Fair Lady”– not sure if it has ever been issued, but I remember it’s fantastic.

Tom Petty— I always liked Petty, but the Greatest Hits album that covers up until 1993 is enough for me. I loathe the Jeff Lynne-produced albums (as much as I enjoy the Wilburys), so this CD gives me no more than I need of that.

After that era, Wildflowers is a great CD– just Great. She’s the One, not so much, and Echo is alright.

I just want to move back in the alphabet and mention a group I fell in love with a couple of years ago: The Move (speaking of Jeff Lynne). For some reason this band never hit it in the U.S., charting only the song “Do Ya” (which was promptly forgotten when ELO re-recorded it and had a huge hit). This band defied categorization– within the 60’s Brit-pop scheme of things, anyway, and was led by Roy Wood’s zany genius. For some reason I can’t get enough of listening to othis band, whether it’s early songs like “Fire Brigade” and “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” to their late singles like “Tonight” and “California Man.”

There is something about finding a group that none of your friends knows about, then looking smart in front of Brits when you mention them, that I find compelling.