Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Best World News Podcasts

Podcasting has introduced people around the world not only to new music, but to a wealth of international news as well. Here’s a look at some of my favorite podcasts from some of the best regarded news organizations.

BBC News: The granddaddy of Western news organizations offers more than 20 podcasts, but there are two I enjoy the most. Newspod offers a one-hour program each weekday that features about five segments in each program that take a deeper look at the day’s leading world news stories, from the U.K. and around the world. From Our Own Correspondent is a twice-a-week podcast featuring four or five segments from foreign correspondents stationed around the globe. These vignettes give a reporter’s-eye view of a topic in the world news; it could be a fresh glance at a major new event or a curious or amusing look at local traditions.

ABC’s All in the Mind: This approximately hourlong look at one issue related to psychology and the mind comes not from the American ABC, but the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Some of the topics are specific to the land Down Under, such as the mental health problems of homeless aboriginal residents; others are universal, such as a look at advances in brain surgery.

Deutsche Welle: Germany’s state broadcaster offers many world news programs, but two of its podcasts are of particular interest to the listener seeking news of Europe and the world. Inside Europe examines several stories regarding events in the European continent, while Newslink provides insight on events around the world.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Ahmet Ertegun, the Man Who Signed Aretha, Ray Charles, the Stones

Ahmet Ertegun, one of the true pioneers in popular music and the founder of Atlantic Records, died Thursday, Dec. 14. Perhaps fitting for a man whose life was synonomous with music, he died of injuries he suffered in a fall when he was attending a Rolling Stones concert in New York City in late October. He was 83.

Ertegun made a huge mark on American music, first signing R&B acts such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Big Joe Turner, as well as Joe Tex and Otis Redding. The label later signed what turned out to be some of the biggest rock and pop acts of all time, including the Rolling Stones, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Bette Midler, ABBA, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. And Sonny & Cher!

When I was a kid, Atlantic was probably the first record label I became aware of. This was the 1960s, and my older sister had a whole collection of 45s with the distinctive red and black Atlantic logo on them. She also had a hits compilation of Atlantic soul and R&B singles, which was one of my favorite albums to listen to.

A few years ago I bought the Atlantic R&B box set, which contained many of the tunes from that old vinyl LP of 40 years ago. And you know the songs sound as good now as they did when I was a kid. Thanks for all the music, Mr. Ertegun. We'll miss you.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Record Companies Turn the Tables on Downloaders

Facing slumping sales and increased online piracy, record companies have decided to turn lemons into lemonade. Companies have started planting advertiser-sponsored video clips of their artists on video sharing sites–the exact same kind of sites they've been battling for years.

The Wall Street Journal noted in October, for example, that rapper Jay-Z authorized a video clip from one of his summer concerts in New York to be placed on a variety of illegal music-sharing cites. The action occurred at the request of Coca-Cola, the Journal said, and the clip included promotions for Coke.

While record companies have usually battled file-sharing sites by planting fake "decoy" files to thwart and frustrate downloaders, this new tack by Jay-Z recognizes that the people who download files are also some of the biggest music fans and buyers, and that it may be more in their interest to market to them rather than sue them. So the decoy files being planted on leading file-sharing sites contain promotional materials, which are then seen by eager fans. So when fans turn to the file networks for purposes of piracy, they're getting a marketing message instead.

The article notes that other artists including Audioslave and Ice Cube have also benefited from decoy files, putting bits of a song into the files and promising that the user and this companions will be able to stream the entire song once the file is forwarded to a certain number of people.